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The Strange Science of Post-Nut Clarity

Seconds after your boner deflates, the animalistic rush of sex dissipates and you're hit with a bout of shame-tinged self-reflection. Why, god?

After years of joking about sex, dumb decisions and cum shots with his guy friends, 33-year-old ecologist John logged on to Reddit in 2012 to pose a question that had been clearly rattling around his mind for some time: Is there a scientific explanation to post-nut clarity?

“It was something my friends and I always talked and joked about, and I just happened to use that phrase to describe that moment of semi-euphoria you get after you finish,” he tells me of the post, which is one of the earliest mentions of “post-nut clarity” — let’s call it PNC for ease — online. “I was hoping the internet would have some answers, but there wasn’t much.” Eight years later, there are podcast episodes, lengthy forum threads and, of course, countless memes dedicated to PNC — think of the endless variants of the “Did You Cum? Yeah, to My Senses!” memes.

Generally speaking, the internet describes PNC as the fateful moment after orgasm where the horniness wears off, and you suddenly see your poor, boner-induced decisions with depressing clarity.

Popular podcasters have built on this definition, too. As a guest on The Joe Rogan Experience, comedian Andrew Schulz likened it to “a werewolf… running around doing crazy shit, and then you wake up and you’re covered in blood.” Call Her Daddy co-hosts Alexandra Cooper and Sofia Franklyn had a similar take, although they told it through the lens of a guy who fucked a “cum savage” so keen to make him nut twice that she threw up all over his soft dick, and then swallowed it back down “like clam chowder.” After blankly asking her to leave, he showered and experienced a 30-minute case of PNC so hardcore that it bordered on existential crisis. “It’s the post-nut clarity! After a guy cums, his entire life flashes before his eyes,” they laugh. “Everything becomes crystal clear, 20/20 vision, and he’s just like, ‘Wow, what just went down?’ [Guys] literally just sit there, and they’re in a different dimension.”

These stories paint the picture of a uniquely male phenomenon: Raging boners whip dudes into a frenzy of poor judgment, creating a brain fog that dissipates sharply after they bust to leave a lingering sense of shame-tinged self-reflection. 

But this is the internet’s definition of PNC — an entity that’s also spawned 5G conspiracy theorists, Flat-Earthers and QAnon, so it’s worth being skeptical and digging a little deeper. Is there legit science to back up PNC? Does it really not affect women, or is that assumption driven by the same misguided logic that maintains the orgasm gap?

In short, whether you’ve got a dick or a vagina, there’s a standard sexual response cycle: First comes desire (getting horny), then plateau (getting hard and/or wet), then orgasm (self-explanatory) and finally resolution (the aftermath.) According to neuroscientist Barry Komisaruk, who co-authored The Science of Orgasm with sex researcher Beverly Whipple and endocrinologist Carlos Beyer-Flores back in 2007, the actual science of orgasm doesn’t differ that much across genders. “We’re finding the similarities are much greater than any differences,” he tells me cheerly from his office over a crackly video call. “That’s in terms of the brain activity and the brain regions that are active during orgasm.”

His past research has found that more than 30 areas of the brain are activated throughout this process, so when you’re gearing up to cum, your brain is literally firing on all cylinders. This increased activation doesn’t extend to all parts, though. In an interview with Insider, clinical psychologist Daniel Sher claims that the lateral orbitofrontal cortex, which is responsible for “reason, decision-making and value judgements,” becomes less active, a possible explanation for the “boned-up rampage” mentality that online horndogs describe as the precursor to PNC.

The orgasm itself brings a rush of dopamine, but it’s also where the biological differences between sexes really comes into play. For guys, ejaculation usually lasts anywhere between three and 10 seconds; for women, orgasms can stretch out for much longer. Another key variation is that men experience a refractory period that can last from minutes to days, depending on factors like age, physical health and medication. During this time, levels of neurotransmitters like dopamine and testosterone decrease, dampening desire. Women, however, “tend not to have the refractory period,” explains Komisaruk. “It’s a different kind of pattern.” Basically, this is why women can have multiple orgasms.

Neuroscience aside, the question of what actually happens during this refractory period is still hotly-contested. There’s a definite lack of responsiveness in the brain and a comedown from the rush of brain activity, which explains the calmness, but other issues could be at play, too. Some people experience post-coital dysphoria, a kind of post-sex depression linked to irritability or sadness; in other, extreme cases, some have post-orgasmic illness syndrome, which Komisaruk describes as “a feeling of malaise that can last for days.” 

When I ask him about feelings of lucidity or clarity, he says there are too few studies to give a solid answer. At Rutgers University, he did teach a student who was eager to unlock these secrets, though. So much so that she designed an experiment that involved giving sophomores take-home IQ tests. “Half the tests they were supposed to take before genital self-stimulation; the other half they were supposed to take immediately afterward,” he recalls. What did she find? “There was no data afterwards. We asked the students why they didn’t do it, and they said, ‘Well, after my orgasm, I didn’t care anymore — I didn’t want to do an IQ test!” He laughs at the memory. “So the experiment failed. Let’s call it a lack of cooperation!”

The unpredictability of horny college kids is one obstacle to research, but the U.S. government’s pearl-clutching attitude toward sex is another — Komisaruk once landed funding for an important study of vaginal self-stimulation producing a pain-blocker, but only after going along with a request to remove the word “vaginal” from its title. The reasoning was that Congress would see the title, so the funding institution wanted to avoid any controversy. “Imagine — just the word ‘vaginal’ is enough to get Congress up in arms!”

Interestingly, this stigma colors most accounts of PNC. When we’re fired up and ready to fuck, our bodies and brains are in overdrive — in John’s eyes, it’s an almost primal urge that makes us “do anything and everything to get laid.” As our decision-making capabilities fade out, replaced instead by carnal, illogical desire, we do shit we wouldn’t normally — whether it’s trying out hentai porn, hastily dropping $20 on an OnlyFans subscription or begging to be choked just a little.

But, as this anonymous redditor tells me, “Immediately afterwards, I’m saying to myself, ‘You’re disgusting. Why did you just [jerk off] to that, you sad bastard? Get yourself cleaned up, we’re never doing this again.’” It doesn’t last long. “Within 20 minutes that’s completely worn off, and I’m back to my usual self!” Basically, when the dopamine wears off, the shame society attaches to sex comes rushing into sharp focus, intensified by a mental comedown. Sure, the refractory period might intensify things slightly for guys, but it’s not exclusive to them, either — culture cracks down doubly hard on horny women.

That said, these are just theories. Again, scientists know comparatively little about sex because carrying out the research means earning grants from uptight institutions reluctant to be framed as even remotely sex-positive, so it’s up to forum users and cultural commentators to fill in the gaps. The thing is, there’s nothing to be ashamed of when it comes to sex, and if we accepted that, maybe we’d view our own fantasies a little less critically when the horny brain fog wears off.

Still, Komisaruk is cautious when it comes to discussing the positive impact orgasms could have on your mental health — there are no studies to prove it, he says — but what he does say is that, “with orgasm, there’s a big increase in blood-flow and oxygen to the brain.” I nudge him for clarification, desperate for assurance that jerking off is genuinely good for the mind, body and soul. He laughs, shrugs and then grins: “Well, it can’t be bad!” 

Even John admits his PNC doesn’t last too long. “Hey, give it an hour or two, and your sex drive begins to rekindle. That same video you were jerking off to suddenly starts to look pretty good again!”