It’s late at night, you’re deep in your feelings, and you’re still pining over your ex after that big breakup you had a few days ago. The temptation is strong — maybe you’ll spend just one more night together, for old time’s sake.
Well, go ahead - it might actually help, according to a new study in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.
“Conventional wisdom suggests that people should avoid pursuing sexual activity with ex-partners following a breakup,” author Stephanie S. Spielmann writes in the study. But until now, she says “no empirical research has tested the veracity of this claim.”
So she decided to find out.
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Spielmann led two separate studies. In one study, researchers selected 113 people who had recently been in a breakup, including 57 men, 50 women and 6 people who didn’t specify a gender.
They filled out a general report over who initiated the breakup, and then filled out a survey each day where they reported things like how emotionally attached they still felt to their partner, if they were having intrusive thoughts, how they generally felt emotionally each day, if they felt distressed over the breakup, and if they’d tried to contact or have sex with their ex.
After two months, they filled out a final follow-up report.
In the other study, the researchers asked 372 people who had broken up with a partner within the previous four months about their breakup and if they’d attempted to sleep with or actually slept with their ex since then, and if they still felt emotionally attached to them.
The researchers found that sleeping with the partner didn’t seem to make it harder to recover from the breakup either when measured by the day or after two months, according to the study. In fact, for those who were most attached to their ex, having sex with them made them feel more positive about life rather than depressed.
The study discovered a few other interesting conclusions. For one thing, the vast majority of people who tried to have sex with their ex after a breakup wound up doing so — between 84 percent to 89 percent. The rate of successfully engaging in sex with a partner also did not seem to be strongly related to how emotionally attached the partner felt to the ex.
“This research suggests that societal handwringing regarding trying to have sex with an ex may not be warranted,” Spielmann said in a news release. “The fact that sex with an ex is found to be most eagerly pursued by those having difficulty moving on, suggests that we should perhaps instead more critically evaluate people’s motivations behind pursuing sex with an ex.”
The researchers go further than that in the study, and say the results might mean having sex with an ex could be downright helpful after a breakup. At the very least, it doesn’t seem to be harmful.
“These findings suggest that for those experiencing a breakup, pursuing sex with an ex may actually have positive outcomes in terms of boosts to positive affect during an otherwise trying period of time,” the researchers wrote in the study.
“While the present research does not necessarily advocate for pursuing sex with an ex following the breakup—and indeed, we do not know what the longer-term implications could be of continued sexual pursuit of ex-partners, particularly once one or both partners seek out new relationships or among those who continue to pine after ex-partners for an extended period of time—there may in fact be some benefits to continued sexual pursuit in the short-term.”