Hi Yana,

I’m perplexed as to why, for the last 20 years, I start bawling like a baby when I masturbate and orgasm. It only happens when I envision my ex-lover, who I had a five-year extramarital affair with in the ‘90s.

We were both musicians in a college town. We started our affair in our early 30s and broke up in 1990. Since then, I’ve enjoyed a satisfying sex life with several men.

But when I bring myself to orgasm, I think of him and lose it emotionally — we’re talking literal sobs.

What’s going on?


Vexed in Vermont


Dear Vexed,

There are many reasons why we might succumb to a good crymax. Sometimes sex (whether partnered or solo) brings up overwhelming emotions related to love, facing our fears, releasing or feeling sexual shame, processing trauma, or sometimes we’ve just been carrying around a lot of emotion and, much like stubbing your toe, the act of climax can be the perfect break in the dam where it all just comes pouring out.

Chemically, orgasm can release natural substances like oxytocin and dopamine into our systems which, can signal us to feel emotions such as connection, love, and loss more deeply. Mentally and physically, orgasms are a small, concentrated moment where we might feel out of control of our emotions, brains, and bodies even if only for a handful of seconds. That’s a lot to pack into a mere moment of physical pleasure!

I wonder what kind of pent up emotion you’re feeling for your ex-lover that leaks out of your post-climax cracks when your body and mind seize the opportunity to let go. Perhaps you feel like a deep love has been lost, perhaps the affair was ended in a way you still don’t fully understand, perhaps he ended up “choosing” his partner over you (the way many extramarital affairs end) and you feel left behind, unloveable, or just plain second-placed, or maybe you feel residual guilt or shame for taking part in an extramarital affair at all.

If the crying feels disturbing to you (and it seems like it does or otherwise you probably wouldn’t be writing in about it), I have a few ideas that might help you process and resolve these feelings so that you might be able to handle them at a more opportune time than after a nice masturbation session. (But also keep in mind the option that crying after masturbation is your mind’s way of processing these feelings and that can be okay, too!).

The first step is trying to identify for yourself the specific emotions that are coming up about your ex-lover. I listed a few above, but knowing if the emotions are about feeling love lost, yearning for a relationship that didn’t happen, or feeling guilt or shame will help you better and more efficiently address them.

Once you identify the primary emotions coming up, you can find a way to begin processing them. As I usually suggest, a therapist who you feel comfortable discussing sexual topics with can be helpful both in identifying and resolving your feelings.

Other suggestions I have are engaging in relevant words from others who know a thing or two about these topics such as reading The State of Affairs by Esther Perel, watching Brené Brown’s TEDTalks about shame and vulnerability, or checking out my new favorite and darling illustrated book about heartbreak, You Always Change the Love of Your Life by Amalia Andrade.

You could also write a letter to your ex-lover about things you wish you had said or questions you wish you had answers to and then release it by burning it, sending it off in a small (preferably biodegradable) sailboat, or release it into the sky with a paper lantern (though I wouldn’t recommend actually sending the letter unless you’ve done a lot of thinking and preparation around what that would mean for you, him, and whoever he’s now in a relationship with).

No matter how you decide to manage the emotions coming up while you’re coming down from coming hard, they likely won’t evaporate after a solid 20-year pattern. So, if you want them to subside, it’s time to unpack that box.

Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and her professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.