This story begins like all great stories do: with an awe-inspiring Reddit thread. “How common is ‘phantom dick’ after sex?” the Redditor asked, clarifying that “phantom dick” is the phenomenon where “you can still feel the pressure from penetration hours after the deed has already been done. It doesn’t hurt or anything, just feels...interesting?”
The responses vary (“I only get phantom dick if it was reeeeeally good dick,” “Wow,” etc.) and ultimately settle on one truth: Phantom D is real, and much like other, non-phallic ghosts, it’s absolutely mystifying. But unlike the rest of the spiritual world, there *is* some actual science to explain the haunting, lingering sensation of penetrations past.
As the Reddit thread concluded, phantom dick (which has no official medical name other than “vaginal pressure”) is relatively common, especially during pregnancy—a fact that Lawrence Siegel, a sexuality educator with the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASECT), corroborated.
In the early stages of pregnancy, the ovaries release a hormone called relaxin to prep the uterus, and “for some women, this may also produce a sensation of vaginal pressure or even pain,” Siegel explains. When that hormone surge is met with penetration, a strong orgasm, and the natural movement of the pelvic muscles that happens during sex, Siegel says it’s totally normal for those muscles to remain tense after sex, resulting in a “lingering sensation of pressure.”
But phantom D isn’t limited to pregnant people. Another cause of that lasting ghost pressure is tight pelvic-floor muscles, according to Stephanie Buehler, PsyD, a psychologist and AASECT-certified sex therapist. “If pelvic floor muscles are tight, then intercourse and an orgasm may make them tighter,” Buehler explains, which, for some women, causes “lingering muscle spasms” that feel like pressure in the vagina. And contrary to what Siegel says about pressure being more common after a strong orgasm, Buehler theorizes that in nonpregnant women, a lack of orgasm could be the culprit behind phantom dick.
During the sexual response, extra blood is pumped down toward the pelvis, and if an orgasm doesn’t occur, Buehler says, that blood lingers in the surrounding muscles, causing a sensation of pressure or discomfort.
As Buehler suggests, if you’re regularly experiencing discomfort or pain after sex, you should mention it to whoever looks after your reproductive health. But like most of the enthusiastic commenters in the Reddit thread mentioned, the feeling of phantom dick isn’t necessarily uncomfortable or painful—it can actually feel good. If that’s the case, there’s no need to call your doctor. Just enjoy all the bonus ghost D.
This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.