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The Science of ‘Bangovers’

Why your brain can’t shake that last great shag

Ah, Sunday morning. And lemme guess, you’ve got a massive “bangover.” If you don’t necessarily know the word, I’m sure you know the feeling. A “bangover” per Urban Dictionary, is a sexual hangover — i.e., “The feeling you have the day after an exceptional roll in the hay. You’ve been with someone skilled who can take you places no other can, and you can’t think about anything else. You’re in a blissful sexual fog, totally oblivious and incomprehensible to the world around you (except to your mate who is also in this state).”

Interestingly enough, a lot of metalheads also use the term “bangover” — but primarily as a means of describing the neck soreness they feel after a night of headbanging. “Headbanging is basically a very intense workout for your neck, so you must prepare as if you were actually going to work out,” takarblackangel posted in r/metal a few years back. “Stretch your neck beforehand. Do wide circles with your head and really get those muscles warmed up. Also, keep yourself hydrated as much as possible. I know chugging a water bottle during a gig is no easy task, but taking a few seconds in-between sets will really help you. Stretch after the concert as well so that you can bring your muscles to ‘idle-mode’ as smoothly as possible instead of an abrupt stop.”

Obviously, the biggest takeaway here is that headbangers who fuck after Mastodon shows know bangovers like no other. And so, I reach out to my favorite lover, who just so happens to be a metalhead. He says his bangovers are like a series of flashbacks that overtake his brain at different points of the day following an evening of great sex. “It’s like the opposite of a hangover,” he explains. “Great sex makes me feel happy and energized. The day is brighter when you feel good about what you’ve done.”

Neurologically speaking, we process sexual experiences similarly to other animals, like rats, which means some aspects of our sexual wiring are probably more than 650 million years old, suggesting the bangover is biologically programmed. Not to mention, neurobiologist Jim Pfaus asserts the brain is our biggest sex organ. “The brain is the organ that receives hormones and uses them to create proteins that change the levels of neurotransmitters in your brain, including how they function, what they sensitize and what they arouse,” he says. (Fulfilling sexcapades give us emotional highs because of the way they increase our brain’s levels of oxytocin and dopamine, the chemical reward for cumming.)

The opposite of a bangover is when this dopamine high drops — a state called “post-coitus depression,” or sadness after sex. Women are more likely to report experiencing this condition, but men do as well. Folkloric belief says it’s because men associate their power with their sperm, thus causing a feeling of loss and weakness when their precious seed has been released.

Similarly, in the BDSM world, submissive folks experience “subspace” during sex, a dreamy, delightful headspace resulting from the dynamic with their dominant partners.

“During the scene, the intense experiences of both pain and pleasure trigger a sympathetic nervous system response, which causes a release of epinephrine from the suprarenal glands, as well as a dump of endorphins and enkephalins,” writes one domme. “These natural chemicals, part of the fight-or-flight response, produce the same effect as a morphine-like drug, increasing the pain tolerance of the submissive as the scene becomes more intense. Producing a sort of trance-like state due to the increase of hormones and chemicals, the submissive starts to feel out-of-body, detached from reality, and as the high comes down, and the parasympathetic nervous system kicks in, a deep exhaustion, as well as incoherence.”

The conclusion of the scene also typically results in “sub drops,” too. “Sub Drop is the emotional and physical effects of the release and drop of endorphins in the body after a play session,” one such sub describes. “Most of what you read online are the physical aspects; the fatigue, sadness, aches and pains and recovery from marks. There is a more intense side of Sub Drop that gets very little attention because for each person it is different and describing how to recover can take many forms. If not cared for, though, you could go into depression just from one play session.

“The endorphins and other hormones released during play leave your body in such a way that it takes time to rebuild the balance of hormones in your system. You could feel like you have a hangover or partied too hard the night before, you could feel lost and depressed for hours or days. You may just want to sleep it off. These are the more extreme forms of Drop. Some people recover in a matter of hours, but others could exhibit signs of Sub Drop for weeks after an intense session.”

As such, BDSM pros suggest newbies always end sex with relaxing massages and honest conversation about what just happened (namely, what you liked, didn’t like, etc.). Personally, I think that’s good advice whether you’re extra kinky or relatively conservative. Because if your partner feels good after sex — both physically and emotionally — you’re much more likely to give them a bangover than a post-one-night-stand, “Oh No!”