Article By Evangeline Polymeneas
~ October, 2021 ~ We hate to love it.
It’s everyone’s favourite trope: two people who hate each other suddenly forgo their inhibitions and lose themselves in a steamy and intense embrace of passion. It’s enough to have anyone squealing for more. But what is it exactly about hate sex that has our basements flooded?
Psychotherapist and world-renowned relationship expert Esther Perel says that our erotic desire is fuelled by mystery and distance. Perhaps this explains why we love the idea of two people who can’t stand being in the same space as each other getting all up in each other’s space. It’s a relief when they finally get together and cut the tension. But can hate sex be as satisfying in our own, real-life relationships?
To get a better idea I spoke to sex therapist Aleks Trkuljia from The Pleasure Centre. “It’s a problematic dynamic. There are so many different relationship dynamics in the media that present this idea of ‘I’m mean and guarded’ and it builds this tension. But when you really look at it, the character is just being defensive and then finally letting their guard down in sexual intimacy,” says Aleks.
Aleks points to Eric Effiong and Adam Groff in the television series Sex Education and Kat Stratford and Patrick Verona in 10 Things I Hate About You and says that seeing these sorts of relationships depicted in popular culture reinforces problematic ideas about how a relationship should manifest.
“In the first season [of Sex Education], Adam is bullying Eric, then when they have detention together, he kisses him. In 10 Things I Hate About You, Patrick has an agenda in needing to take Kat out because he is getting paid,” Aleks explains.
“There is this idea that the person who is often being pursued and is not consenting to the behaviour now thinks it’s been worthwhile to endure the abuse because they’ve been kissed and are being romanticised and desired and therefore are worthy.
“If we look at something like hate sex, you’re avoiding the actual process of learning to communicate your emotions and needs in a mature and constructive way, especially if it’s getting into this habit and it’s not really healthy. You’re avoiding what you actually owe yourself and the other person. I can see why having sex can act as the healing quality to any sort of relationship conflict but my first concern is whether your emotional needs are actually getting addressed.”
After Aleks points this out, the issues this sort of dynamic presents seem incredibly obvious. So why is the concept of hate sex still enough to get everyone hot and bothered? And why do I still love these hostile yet passionate relationships?
Aleks explains that if someone is refusing to be vulnerable emotionally, it can be gratifying to see them in a vulnerable sexual situation. Characters like Adam and Patrick show us this. I felt like I could finally breathe again when they let down their emotional wallsand allowed Eric and Kat in, even if it was just physically. But how does this approach fare in our real-world relationships?
If you’re in a relationship and experiencing a conflict, instinct might suggest a good round in the sack, but Aleks says that this can be quite a problematic solution to your problems.
“The function of sex here as a resolution or conflict management or diffusion technique can be quite problematic because if the same issue continues to arise, then a cycle forms that sex is just how you diffuse the intensity and conflict and obviously that would mean that your emotional needs are not being met or resolved and nothing is actually changing.”
But, as we all know, after we have sex we release a bunch of hormones and endorphins that make us feel good, so could you potentially stop hating someone if you have sex with them enough?
“You do have things like endorphins and dopamine which are the bonding connection hormones, which usually spike after sex,” Aleks explains. “You also have hormones like estrogen, testosterone and cortisol. Cortisol is the stress hormone which can make us a bit on edge if we don’t resolve that stress. It is possible to fuck away your hate for someone? I don’t think it’s that simple.
“We feel that connection and bond and maybe feel better but that’s a very temporary solution to perhaps a long-term problem. Sex is often used as a coping strategy, much like drugs, alcohol or spending money, it falls into that category of behaviour that we use to mediate our emotional state,” she explains.
Aleks does stress that it’s completely healthy to have an argument, resolve it and then have sex to reconnect but when you start to become dependent on a cycle of sex to ‘resolve’ issues within your relationship, that’s when it starts to become unhealthy.
“When people are having hate sex to resolve conflict, it ends up becoming a way to become vulnerable and intimate with each other because they don’t actually have the verbal or communication skills to do so. Like any unhealthy coping mechanism that we develop, we learn to do it because it’s what worked at the time.”
Aleks says that the most important thing is to reflect on the pattern of behaviour within the relationship and ask yourself whether it’s serving you and your partner. If the answer is no, then it’s time to change your conflict resolution style, and perhaps put hate-filled sex on the back burner for a while.
To learn more about your conflict style, try this.