Why we have breakup sex, according to psychology

Is breakup sex ever a good idea?

man and woman sitting on bed

Why do we have breakup sex? Could it be beneficial?

Credit: LIGHTFIELD STUDIOS on Adobe Stock
  • A July 2020 study aimed to better understand post-breakup behavior, specifically why we have breakup sex.
  • This research established there are three main reasons people engage in breakup sex: relationship maintenance, ambivalence, and hedonism.
  • Experts weigh in on whether or not breakup sex can be beneficial.

    woman and man on either side of door

    Why do we really have breakup sex?

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    A July 2020 research study sought to better understand post-breakup behavior by looking at the practice of breakup sex. This research consisted of two studies: one to identify how past breakup sex experiences made the people involved feel versus how they predicted they would feel in the future, and the other investigated why men and women engage in breakup sex at all.

    Men and women want to have breakup sex for different reasons.

    The first study included 212 participants. The results suggested that men are more likely than women to have felt better about themselves after breakup sex, whereas women were more likely to feel better about the relationship after having breakup sex.

    The second study included 585 participants and the results of this study revealed that most breakup sex appears to be motivated by three main factors: relationship maintenance, hedonism, and ambivalence.

    In other words, common reasons to have breakup sex include: because it feels good, because we are conflicted over how we feel about the person, and/or because we think there is maybe a way to salvage things. With this particular study, men tended to support more hedonistic and ambivalent reasons for having breakup sex more often than women.

    Most research says breakup sex is unhealthy

    man and woman laying in bed

    Is breakup sex healthy? Research claims it's not...

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    While the media may portray breakup sex as beneficial, does it actually do anything to help us cope with, mend, or move on from the ending of a significant relationship? The majority of research suggests that it's unhealthy, however, every situation is different and there are almost always exceptions to the rules.

    Psychology Today reminds us that when a relationship ends, those feelings that you had for the person don't just magically disappear. It can be a complicated and messy process—one that doesn't always have a clear path forward. The article goes on to explain some of the reasons breakup sex is unhealthy.

    It can give you false hope.
    Perhaps spending one more night together will convince you that the relationship isn't over or that you can continue just having sex without continuing the relationship.

    It stops you from moving forward.
    While there's no set time in which you should grieve the ending of a relationship, still seeing that person in any kind of sexual or romantic capacity is not going to help you heal and move forward to find better partners.

    The rush of hormones can make you feel differently than you actually do feel (temporarily).
    Oxytocin and other hormones released during sex are known for providing comforting, loving emotions. This can be quite conflicting when you don't actually feel that way with the person, but your body (due to sexual activity) is telling you that you do.

    However, some experts claim there are some benefits to breakup sex.

    man and woman breaking up concept of breakup sex psychology

    Can breakup sex ever be beneficial? Some experts think it can.

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    Psychosexual and relationship psychotherapist Kate Moyle spoke with Elite Daily about some of the reasons why breakup sex could potentially feel helpful to those involved.

    Breakup sex could allow you to be bolder in bed, leading you to more sexual satisfaction. According to Moyle, it can allow people to lose their inhibitions because they are less afraid of judgment or reaction because the relationship is ending.

    Breakup sex can also be therapeutic.

    In his interview with Elite Daily, licensed Psychotherapist Dr. John D. Moore explains that breakup sex can be one facet of the drawn-out process of ending a relationship. While most people assume relationship endings are an immediate event, Moore suggests it's more of an ongoing process.

    After a breakup, your feelings are in a heightened state, which can allow you to emotionally connect with a partner in a more intense way, which can allow you both to work through some of the emotions surrounding the ending of your relationship. In the interview, Moore goes on to explain that breakup sex almost has the ability to validate certain parts of your relationship (perhaps your physical connection or chemistry) that once worked really well. It can be a celebration of the parts of your relationship you both loved and a way to let go of the relationship due to the things that won't make it work.

    Is breakup sex worth it?

    Some research is against it, some experts are for it, so is breakup sex worth it? It seems almost entirely situational. If you're having breakup sex because you are still hoping to save your relationship, perhaps it's best to steer clear of it to avoid more hurt feelings. However, if you're interested in breakup sex to celebrate and validate each other and the good parts of your relationship, there is proof that it can do that.

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