what is break up sex

The Science Behind Breakup Sex

Most of us are very familiar with the lure of breakup sex. To have such a strong connection with someone that you just want to experience it one more time before you call it quits. Even if you know it’s not in either of your best interests.

So, why do we do it (literally)?

A study of 17-24 years olds found that 27% of participants reported having breakup sex within two years of ending a relationship. Even scientists are not immune to the phenomenon of breakup sex.

Why do people have breakup sex?

A comprehensive study by psychologists at Bucknell University and Tulane University made a list of the top 52 reasons people have breakup sex. The top five were:

  1. Sex is fun
  2. Miss sex
  3. Want to get back together
  4. Miss each other
  5. Loneliness

Let’s break that down and take a look at some other motivating factors.

Emotional regulation

Breakups can take a toll on someone’s self-esteem and emotional health. Although on average, women report fewer negative feelings about breakups than men do and tend to be happier about their decision to breakup.

Still, people are often tempted to have sex with their now-ex to help relieve these feelings of sadness and boost their self-esteem – even though it might further complicate things.

To maintain their lifestyle

Historically speaking, people may have engaged in breakup sex as an adaptive strategy. Trying to stay with a partner may help prevent a loss of resources and social status.

If we look at this through a modern lens, some of these concepts still probably apply. Like people trying to preserve the social groups they had with their ex or prevent having to move out of their home.

Breakup confusion

Breakups aren’t usually clean cut. In fact they’re often not. The confusion or ambivalence someone or both people have about the end of their relationship can make them drag it out by continuing to have sex with each other, without the other components of being in a relationship – like committment. 

Sex might also not carry the same weight for everyone. Some people may be able to have sex with an ex without old feelings resurfacing or creating more confusion. 

The downsides of breakup sex

One of the most difficult parts about having breakup sex is that it can prolong the healing process. Sometimes we just need space to be able to get over someone. Even if the dynamics of a relationship have changed, having sex can still make it difficult to move forward in your life.

Another downside is that breakup sex could amplify mismatched expectations that people may have, giving false hope. One person may want to get back together or keep having sex without committment while the other may want one last hurrah or have a hard time setting boundaries even though they want to stop having sex together.

There’s also the risk of regretting having sex with an ex and the emotions that can come from that. Studies show women are more likely to feel bad about themselves after having sex with an ex, whereas men are more likely to feel better about themselves. 

Are there benefits to breakup sex?

There’s always the possibility that breakup sex can lead to a rekindling of a relationship. That can be tempting especially when you still have strong feelings for someone. The reality is that while you may be able to make it work if you don’t address the underlying issues behind the breakup, sex is not going to remedy them. 

A study that followed people for two months after going through a breakup found that having sex at various times in those two months did not negatively impact their wellbeing. That doesn’t mean it won’t negatively affect some people, but it depends on the person and the situation. 

So, you just had breakup sex…

You just had breakup sex or maybe the other side of your bed is feeling cold and you want help warming it up just one more time. Well here’s some advice.

If you think we’re going to tell you not to do it, well think again. 

Being human is hard. Breakups are hard. Heartbreak sucks. Relationships (and breakups) are complex and nuanced. It’s pretty natural to want to have sex with your ex again, even when you know it’s not right. 

Our advice? Cut yourself some slack. Have grace with yourself. Then set some boundaries. 

You might have to go no contact for a bit just to give both of you time to heal. Lean on whatever support and community you have. Friends, family, a therapist. Let yourself be nurtured so that you’re less inclined to reach out to your ex just to have someone there.

We know this is hard, but you’ll get through it.