Sex comes with all sorts of twists and ambiguities that make intimate experiences notoriously hard to predict. Consider those after-sex chats we've come to know as "pillow talk." Some post-coital couples are all about sharing and connecting — feelings and secrets pour from their mouths like foam spilling over solo cups. Other twosomes might find themselves alternating between silence and uncomfortable small talk. And, of course, bedfellows don’t always align; one person might tune out while the other spews emotions. People vary considerably in their inclination towards opening up after they get down. But, a recent study, published in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, identified two factors that appear to influence pillow-talk behavior: testosterone and orgasms.
In both men and women, researchers found, high testosterone levels corresponded to less interest in pillow talk. But, they partially overcame their resistance to swapping sweet nothings after sex when they had orgasms. All in all, the study makes one thing clear: If you’re craving a post-coital tete-a-tete, don’t set your sights on an uber-bro who's five whiskeys deep.
For the study, 253 college students (most of whom were in relationships) submitted saliva samples, which researchers analyzed to determine testosterone levels. Participants also kept pillow-talk diaries for two weeks, and instructed to complete entries whenever they engaged in “below the belt” sexual activity.
In each entry, they described what they did (sexually), noted whether they had an orgasm and assessed their post-sex chats on four measures: intentionality (did they mean to say what they said?), magnitude (how private did they get?), amount (how much?) and valence (what was the tone of the thoughts and feelings they shared?). They also did a risk-benefit analysis of pillow talk — i.e., did they feel safe sharing information? Did they feel as though pillow talk left them vulnerable to some type of danger?
Most of the researchers’ predictions bore out. Participants with lower testosterone levels tended to see pillow talk for its emotional and relationship-building benefits, whereas those with more testosterone saw between-the-sheets banter as a riskier endeavor. And when they did share, their disclosures were less positive.
But, orgasms changed everything. Well, not everything, but they made a difference. For members of the no-O club, more testosterone meant “less positive disclosures” during pillow talk. (Read: no climax, no nice.) But, when orgasms were on the menu, high testosterone levels didn’t bring down the lovey-dovey mood. Call it the orgasm effect.
The researchers’ orgasm findings jibed with previous research. Another study found a connection between drinking alcohol and sharing less-positive feelings during pillow talk, but only for people who didn’t have orgasms. Additionally, lead study author Amanda Denes found in a different study that men and women who had orgasms got more share-y after sex than those who didn’t reach climax.
High-testosterone-no-orgasm people are the least likely to "experience beneficial effects of post-sex communication as they neither experience positive effects from oxytocin surge nor the intimacy that low-testosterone individuals feel easily," wrote study authors.
A lot of research on the hormones underlying post-sex behavior has focused on oxytocin, the “love hormone.” Oxytocin levels surge during arousal and orgasm. And high oxytocin levels are associated with heightened feelings of trust and greater ability to read nonverbal cues. It’s thought that post-sex upticks in oxytocin set the scene for pillow talk. How do testosterone and oxytocin fit together here? Well, researchers suggest that testosterone suppresses the effects of oxytocin. So, high levels of testosterone may hamper someone’s inclination to purge their feelings.
But, it's worth noting one weakness of the study (which authors pointed out): Participants were college students who'd been in relationships for, on average, nearly two years. Would couples who are far more established, or brand-new for that matter, report similar pillow-talk tendencies? After 40 years, are lovebirds — regardless of testosterone — still babbling after they get busy?