Illustration by Jim Cooke

If you are a person who has sex with men, you’ve likely encountered this very real phenomenon: After fucking, while you’re still a tangle of sweaty limbs and heaving torsos, your partner—probably still inside you—looks deeply into your eyes and whispers a husky and sensitive “hey.”

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What you say back depends on you as an individual (some options: “Uh, hi?” “We did it!” “WAZZUP?!”), though it doesn’t really matter what you say because this is not about you. It’s about the mysterious allure of the post-coital “hey”—or its other variations, “hi” and “hey you”—and why do so many men do it.

In search of the answer, I went to my one and only source for straight men—the staff of Deadspin, a sports blog that I’ve only read once. Unfortunately, I forgot that no one at that site has ever had sex before, so none of them knew what I was talking about. Stranger, though, is that no man, even the non-virgins, believed that the “hey” was a thing that happened in real life, even though almost every woman I polled has personally encountered it.

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Does this mean that (A) men don’t realize that they say it? Or that (B) they’re ashamed to be called out for it? Or maybe (C) all the women I know have just happened to sleep with same select few hey-ers (in New York media, anything is possible!) and it’s these guys who are giving the rest of men a bum wrap.

Option C seems unlikely, though, because many of us remember our first heys as far back as high school and college. We’ve been hey’d by writers, hey’d by musicians, hey’d by engineers, athletes, and accountants. The “hey,” no matter how many men deny it, is universal.

So again I ask: what’s in a “hey”?

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“It’s short for ‘Hello ma’am, I just penetrated you,’” said one Jezebel staffer when asked why she thinks it happens.

Another female employee of Gawker Media has a more cynical take, suggesting that “they say it to remind you that they’re there so you can compliment them or soothe them like the big fucking babies they are.”

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“I think there has to be some relationship to the ‘hey’ and the concern that they just went X minutes without talking (unless they were talking the whole sex time which would be interesting),” contemplates a more positive staffer who, along with many others, assumed the “hey” was just an ice breaker for pillow talk.

An editor offers, “My theory is that the man who says ‘hey’ after sex is a woke bae—a McGorry. It’s to say, ‘Hey woman, I see and respect you and what we just did together.’”

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Well, that’s nice of them.

Of all the men I asked about it, only one was able to provide an answer (and even then, he would not admit to ever hey-ing a partner.)

“If I were to hypothesize, I’d say it’s because you just got done doing something very animalistic and physically intense,” he says. “And so when you’re done you’re like ‘Hey, I’m still this regular, sweet, civilized dude.’”

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Noted.

Because my research was so anecdotal and everyone I spoke to was a Gawker employee, I decided to reach out to Jay Blevins, LMFT, a systems therapist in Madison, Wisconsin, who focuses on alternative sex and sexuality.

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“I don’t have any scientific support for an answer, but I’m happy to speculate,” he wrote over email, continuing:

We live in a world where we keep defenses high. That is particularly true for men who are taught to not show vulnerability. Sex is one of the most vulnerable acts there is. I would guess, both from my professional knowledge and personal experience, that it is a moment where defenses have been dropped and it is safe. I think it’s an attempt to acknowledge that and to be fully seen. It’s like your real self greeting another person’s real self. I think that moment can fade quickly as the chemicals leave and our fears rush back in. We don’t get the opportunity (or don’t choose) to be in that honest place most of the time. We are taking advantage of it when we can.

My mother, also a therapist with a focus in sexuality, had a similar answer, saying that immediately after sex is when many men are at their most vulnerable. (Yes, this conversation was very awkward for me.)

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So perhaps the “hey” or “hi” or “hey you” isn’t so much unseemly or sappy as it’s actually sweet. These bros, de-jizzed and momentarily free from the boundaries of masculinity, are just enjoying the brief few seconds wherein they get to feel safe with their emotions. If that’s truly the case, then let this be a message to the fellas out there:

Hey back, babe.