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The Ravenous Science of the Post-Sex Munchies

I just wanted a glass of water — but he craved a calorie-laden Burger King binge. What the heck does Business Time do to the human stomach?

It’s pretty easy to tell when a man has been disproportionately affected by Friends With Benefits canon. I am, of course, referring to the 2011 flick starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, released in the same year as the nearly identical No Strings Attached starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman. Both movies have the same premise: A hunky guy and a gorgeous gal make a bargain to have sex, drink a ton and high five. Y’know, friend stuff. It’s a tale as old as time, and it almost always involves one bizarre post-coital ritual: slamming some kind of fast food moments after climax.

A college boyfriend of mine was clearly influenced by these films, a fact I first noticed when he asked if I wanted to swing by Burger King after a trip to the Sex Zone. I, being famously delicate, really just wanted a glass of water — but this dude was making a huge show of being absolutely ravenous. “How cool would it be if we just chowed on cheeseburgers in bed?” he asked. Later, it made me wonder: Did he want me, or did he just want the vaguely Steve Stifler-y memory of eating a burger in bed with a naked lady? And why in God’s name are all of these people so incredibly hungry after a round of pretty standard sex?

According to immunologist Lina Velikova, the hunger is less about calorie burn and more about hormones. “You really don’t burn that many calories during the average sexual encounter,” she says, explaining that the average man burns about 100 calories during sex, while the average woman burns only 70-ish (big hmm there). In reality, the hormonal changes associated with sex are way more likely to spark a Big Mac craving. 

“Foreplay before sex causes [estrogen and testosterone levels] to rise,” she continues. “During sex, the level of these hormones keeps on increasing, and after an orgasm, the levels slowly go back to normal.” Here’s where things get interesting: According to Velikova, high estrogen levels suppress hunger, while high testosterone levels stimulate it. That, combined with the fact that cis men experience higher hormonal spikes than cis women do during sex, may lead men to feel hungrier than their female counterparts. 

Velikova explains that there’s also a nervous-system component to the phenomenon. “During sex, our sympathetic nervous system takes over, which causes increased sweating, increased breathing and heart rates,” she says. “After an orgasm, the body’s parasympathetic nervous system — which is responsible for hunger and sleep — becomes more dominant, and thus makes you feel tired and hungry afterward.”

All right, fine, science supports the post-sex munchies. But, unsettling Friends With Benefits vibes aside, what are people eating after sex, anyway? Are folks chasing a moderately challenging bedroom cardio sesh with Muscle Milk, or is fast food the norm? More importantly, how can I exploit this to convince my partner to whip me up a romantic pasta dinner after our next sexual encounter? 

• Read next: The Chaotic Art of Eating in Bed

I started by scouring IMDb in search of cinematic inspiration, but unfortunately, if you search the site for films that feature “eating in bed,” the top result is bewildering Schwarzenegger vehicle Kindergarten Cop. Next, I hopped on Twitter and opened my DMs to mutuals with after-sex food rituals. Amanda (not her real name), a twentysomething bartender in the Midwest, opts for classic Pop-Ice popsicles. “I think it’s because we’re hot and sweaty and it’s a nice cold treat after our hard work,” she writes. “[My boyfriend] goes for red or orange; I lean blue or green.” 

Danny (name has also been changed), a 32-year-old in the Pacific Northwest, opts for heavier fare. “Honestly, nachos,” he writes. “It takes two seconds to throw some shredded cheese on some chips and pop them in the microwave. They’re also really easy to share. Plus, it’s fun when a partner has the confidence to down a bunch of cheese with me.”  

According to clinical sexologist Sarah Melancon, Danny’s desire for a fun, sloppy post-sex nacho platter may have more to do with bonding hormones than anything else (at least in the case of hetero sex, which is unfortunately where most clinical sex research begins and ends). “During sex, females [may] enter a state of the nervous system termed ‘immobilization without fear,’” she writes over email. 

That objectively bizarre term originated in polyvagal theory, a markedly heteronormative neurological theory that refers to activity around the vagus nerve which, coincidentally, is stimulated during vaginal penetrative sex. Whereas a mouse in the jaws of a cat might be immobilized with fear, someone in the throes of a vaginal orgasm may find themselves immobilized without fear — basically, comfortably chilling in the throes of ecstasy. “This state requires a high level of trust and vulnerability,” Melancon says. “However, males tend not to enter this state until after sex. Eating together after sex allows both partners’ nervous systems to co-regulate in a vulnerable state.” 

The vulnerable co-regulation releases oxytocin which, in turn, facilitates bonding — especially if you’re delighted by a partner who can put away their share of nachos.

Despite the dearth of inclusive research, the phenomenon definitely isn’t limited to hetero couples. “Post-coitus thoughts for me typically revolve around enjoying the afterglow on the couch with a sweet snack,” says Dathan, a 28-year-old gay man in the Bay Area. “Breads, candies, sparkling water or even a beer if it’s not too early. I think that typically my brain is looking to continue those pleasure signals.”

Hormones aside, Danny and Dathan aren’t alone in their calorie-laden post-coital cravings. In 2017, Yelp surveyed more than 2,000 single millennials about their favorite thing to eat after sex. Seventy-five percent of respondents craved pizza more than any other food after a one-night stand, with tacos coming in at a “distant” second. 

But while copping a one-way ticket to Grease Town after sex initially gave me pause, I’ll admit that it makes way more sense than throwing back a hearty portion of ’za before getting busy, which, perhaps, is why sex advice columnist Dan Savage infamously advises people to “fuck first” (when you’re stuffed to the gills with a beefy ragu, the last thing you want to do is get stuffed to the gills with something else).

Let’s not forget, too, that food is often used as a form of sexy foreplay (lest we forget the infamous Sex and the City scene in which Samantha covers her nude bod in sushi rolls and waits for her lover to arrive). Of course, there’s the whole aphrodisiac angle involving foods that, according to Velikova, stimulate the body’s production of phenethylamine, a dopamine-releasing chemical. If that’s your goal, she recommends foods like chocolate, avocados, strawberries and oysters, as well as ginseng, which stimulates the nervous system

In hindsight, the fact that most traditional aphrodisiacs are relatively light bites further suggests that heavier fare might be best reserved for after sex.

In conclusion, if you’re craving junk food after sex, you’re totally normal. And if, like me, the only thing you crave is a hot little snug with a side of tepid tap water? Also normal. Either way, feel free to use this information if you feel the need to justify your desire to pivot from bump-and-grind to burger. But if you’re throwing a bro-y, Friends With Benefits-inspired high five into the mix? That, I cannot abide.