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What Are the Pros and Cons of Breakup Sex?


~ April 2021 ~ It seems very understandable that sex with an ex-partner might have some benefits and why it has a good measure of social acceptance. It may be tempting to have sex with a former partner as opposed to waiting to find a new partner or having sex with someone you don’t know at all.

However, research has found that while breakup sex is very common, there are both positive and negative aspects to this trend. Learn more about the studies behind breakup sex and how to know whether or not it’s right for you.

How Common Is Breakup Sex?

On the surface, the familiarity and comfort of an old flame may seem appealing—particularly because many people are frustrated with the current dating climate. This may be especially true for women, who may be hesitant about the potential risk and vulnerability involved in sex with a new partner.

But what have social scientists concluded based on studies and peer-reviewed journals about this trend? Firstly, this behavior is fairly common. In fact, 27% of 17 to 24-year-olds report having sex with an ex within a 2-year period.

Almost 1 in 4 couples who are legally married but separated continue to have regular sexual contact. Additionally, for 14% of individuals, their last sexual partner was someone with whom they were previously in a relationship.

Why Do Couples Engage in This Behavior?

 There are many reasons a person would choose to have sex with their ex. Whether it’s simply out of pleasure or comfort, or this person wants to reconnect with their ex in some way, here are some of the reasons sex with an ex is quite common.

For Pleasure

 According to studies, many couples engage in post-relationship sex for their own purposes that have little to do with their ex. Actually, the number one reason cited for sex with a former partner is “for fun.” The second most common reason is sexual frustration or “missing sex,” but not necessarily with that specific person.

Missing being in a partnership and the desire for a connectedness with another person with whom they have some familiarity may influence a person’s decision for breakup sex.

 This may be particularly relevant in the post-COVID-19 era, when the options for forming new connections are complicated by quarantine mandates and social distancing measures.

Men are more likely to identify pleasure as their primary reason for continuing to have intercourse after a breakup. This may be due to the fact that, across all cultures surveyed, men are more likely to value quantity over quality with respect to sexual partners. This is true despite men and women reporting equal enjoyment during sexual activity.

Relationship Maintenance

A desire to rekindle a union with a former partner may also be the motivation for continued sexual contact. The third most common reason for this behavior is a hope for “mate retention,” or in other words, keeping your ex in your life.

Almost 1 in 4 couples who are legally married but separated continue to have regular sexual contact. Additionally, for 14% of individuals, their last sexual partner was someone with whom they were previously in a relationship.

One may be motivated by wanting to keep the other person in their life in some form, maintain access, and potentially get back together. There may be a longing to at least keep alive the option of a reconciliation.

Relationship Ambivalence

 Confusion about how one feels about the ending of a relationship may also be the incentive for breakup sex. A person may want to keep the partner on the “back burner” or as a “just in case” option for the future if there are unresolved feelings. This holds true more often if the person has doubts about their potential for success with prospective partners.

Some may be more likely to continue a physical relationship with an ex if they are unsure if they want to be part of a committed romantic pairing at all.

The arrangement of occasional hookups with a previous sweetheart may have the appeal of feeling like the best of both worlds. You have the comforts of familiarity minus monogamy. Men are more frequently motivated by relationship uncertainty.

 Others might have a more “laissez-faire” attitude towards physical intimacy and feel that it simply doesn’t matter who their partner is. Some admitted that a desire to maintain a friendship with an ex was actually fueled by a wanting continued sexual access to that person.

Emotional Distress

Broken-heartedness seems to be a major influence in a person’s willingness to engage in sex with a past love. This may be where the distinction between ex sex and breakup sex becomes relevant.

Breakup sex is defined as occurring within 2 weeks of the end of the relationship, whereas “ex sex” is the term used to describe what happens past that point. This may seem overly nuanced; however, social scientists have determined that the psychological and emotional pain caused by the end of a pairing seems to peak at the 2 week mark. So, inside of this timeframe, grief may be the main motivation for wanting ongoing contact.

Others feel that sex with a past partner will actually help them heal and recover from the end of their union. There are individuals who believe that continuing a sexual relationship offers some measure of closure following a breakup.

Photo by Tim Samuel from Pexels

What Factors Influence Ex Sex?

Someone feeling that they are, or were, in love with the other person increases desire to engage in sex after the end of the relationship. Perceived attractiveness of a former partner is another major factor. Those who feel that they are suffering a loss in social status or financial resources tend to participate in ex sex more often and to view this as a possible mate retention tool.

Continued sexual contact is not gender-specific behavior. Men and women are both equally likely to report engaging in communication with an ex-partner for the primary purpose of eventually arranging a tryst.

Whether or not one is the initiator of the breakup seems to be of little consequence when it comes to post-relationsip hookups. With equal frequency, those who identify as the dumper or the dumpee participate in physical intimacy with their ex.

Are There Psychological Consequences of Breakup Sex?

Couples who continued to engage in sex acts with a prior partner for 2 months or more felt that this behavior had no impact on their overall well-being.

Perhaps not surprisingly, those who had started new relationships within this time frame reported that continued sex with their former flame negatively impacted the quality of their current partnership.

Furthermore, there is data to support the notion that women tend to have sexual regret and feel badly about themselves following sex with an ex. They also tend to feel better about their relationship with the other person involved. Whereas, men tended to actually feel better about themselves in the same scenario.

A Word From Verywell

Sex after the end of a relationship is complicated. Someone may feel that the popularity of the behavior suggests that there are few consequences. Research suggests that this may be true, but an individual should be sure to tease apart popular opinion from what may be best for themselves and their own emotional well-being.

Make sure that you listen to yourself if you are tempted to have sex with an ex—you might confide in a trusted loved one, reflect on past experiences on how breakup sex made you feel, and giving yourself the time and space you need after a breakup to have a clearer mind moving forward.

A version of this article originally appeared here on


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