“I need to say, ‘hey, it’s all me, just don’t go / meet me in the afterglow,” Taylor Swift sings on her new song “Afterglow.” While she’s singing about trying to resurrect the dying embers of a metaphorically burned-down relationship, there’s something of a double meaning here: “afterglow” has a sexual definition, too. It’s that post-sex rush of happiness and dopamine that can linger for hours or even days after a sexual encounter.
We have two chemicals in particular to thank for our postcoital bliss. “When we orgasm, our brain is awash with dopamine and oxytocin, two of nature's most powerful feel-good chemicals,” Engle explains. “Dopamine is our brain's rewards chemical. Oxytocin is known as the ‘love hormone’ or ‘cuddle hormone.’ It's gotten its nickname because this brain chemical contributes to feelings or love or closeness to a romantic or sexual partner. The afterglow is one of the reasons we love sexual gratification so much — it feels really, really good!”
In a 2017 study published in Psychological Science, researchers found that the afterglow has long-lasting benefits. "Our research shows that sexual satisfaction remains elevated 48 hours after sex," lead researcher Andrea Meltzer said in a press release. "And people with a stronger sexual afterglow — that is, people who report a higher level of sexual satisfaction 48 hours after sex — report higher levels of relationship satisfaction several months later.”
Another 2017 study, published in the Journal of Management, found that the benefits of sexual afterglow last for at least 24 hours — and can even make you more productive at work. Researchers found that employees who had sex reported better moods the following workday, and they also showed “more sustained work engagement and job satisfaction.”
"Making a more intentional effort to maintain a healthy sex life should be considered an issue of human sustainability, and as a result, a potential career advantage," lead researcher Keith Leavitt said in a press release. He argued that this afterglow is one reason employers should make sure their employees can "unplug" after work hours — having sex in the evening instead of answering work emails can boost performance.
But regardless of work productivity, that sexual afterglow just feels good. It’s easy to see why so many artists have released songs named after it.