The surprising psychology of sex with your ex

We all know sleeping with your ex is a bad idea, or is it?

The surprising psychology of sex with your ex
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  • In the first study of its kind, researchers have found sex with an ex didn't prevent people from getting over their relationship.
  • Instead of feeling worse about their breakup after a hookup, the new singles who attempted sexual contact with their ex reported feeling better afterwards.
  • The findings suggest that not every piece of relationship advice is to be taken at face value.

It seems like a rule about breakups so obvious it hardly needs stating; don't have sex with your ex-partner. However, even the most self-evident rules need to have their usefulfulness demonstrated. A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior put that advice to the test with curious results.

Participants related their experiences after a break up in two surveys. In the first, the test subjects filled out a form each day for two months after a breakup. They answered questions about how they felt that day, how emotionally attached to their ex they still were, and if they had attempted sexual contact with them. In a second study, test subjects answered questions about attempted and successful sexual interactions with their ex-partners and how emotionally attached they still were to them.

It was found that most people who tried to sleep with their ex-partner were successful, but that this didn't stand in the way of their recovery after the breakup. It didn't even depress them later, but instead, lead to reports of more positive emotions going forward.

What does this all mean?

It means that the idea that sleeping with your ex will only make you miserable is not always true. For some people, it seems to either have no negative effect or even a slightly positive one.

Stephanie Spielmann of Wayne State University, the lead author of the study, explains the findings suggest that "societal handwringing regarding trying to have sex with an ex may not be warranted." She further argues that we should alter our approach to the issue, focusing our attention on the causes of the desire rather than the action itself.

Would this apply to everybody? I’m asking for a friend. 

The authors suggest that the people who are going to seek out sex with an ex-partner are the ones who are the most emotionally attached to them after a breakup. The authors argue that this motivation might be a critical factor in the emotional outcome, saying:

Perhaps those who opt to pursue sex with an ex are less motivated to obtain closure regarding the breakup and thus do not experience conflict with goals for connection. For these individuals, satisfying connectedness goals by pursuing sexual activity with an ex-partner may be a globally positive experience. Indeed, Mason et al.'s finding that those with less acceptance of their divorce benefited from sex with their ex supports this hypothesis.

This is the grain of salt to take with the study's findings. Since not everybody in the survey even attempted to make physical contact with their ex after a breakup, it might be the case that the people who did make an attempt were the same people who would benefit from it. It is unknown how others would react after a hookup with an ex or if this proposed motivation factor is the cause of the emotional outcomes. More studies will be needed to fully understand the findings of this experiment.

What do relationship experts say about all this?

Thought Catalog via Unsplash

Relationship experts tend to advise you not to try and hook up with your ex. Sex educator Allison Moon explained to the Washington Post that breakups are like withdrawal and require similar tactics to endure. "When you're breaking up with someone, you're essentially going through detox. You need to level out your blood chemistry and keep from getting your 'fix.' Cold turkey is better. Sex isn't methadone or a nicotine patch. It's a full fix, and you can't get 'clean' if you keep visiting your dealer," she says.

Responding to this study, Gurpreet Singh, a consular for the charity Relate told the Huffington Post that the investigation is incomplete. "The data from the study is interesting but doesn't show the long-term impact of sleeping with your ex," he explained. He instead suggests seeking closure to help you move on, which having sex with them inhibits.

The notion that you should avoid sleeping with your partner is a commonly held one that might not be entirely backed up by science. Sleeping with an ex might be a bad idea for most people, but it seems as though for the people most inclined to do it there are few adverse effects. Of course, it might be a good idea to wait for another the results of another study or two before you try to act on the findings. Colloquially speaking, though, it may be best to try hooking up with someone else first.

Study: Unattractive people far overestimate their looks

The finding is remarkably similar to the Dunning-Kruger effect, which describes how incompetent people tend to overestimate their own competency.

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  • Recent studies asked participants to rate the attractiveness of themselves and other participants, who were strangers.
  • The studies kept yielding the same finding: unattractive people overestimate their attractiveness, while attractive people underrate their looks.
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Astronomers find more than 100,000 "stellar nurseries"

Every star we can see, including our sun, was born in one of these violent clouds.

Credit: NASA / ESA via Getty Images
Surprising Science

This article was originally published on our sister site, Freethink.

An international team of astronomers has conducted the biggest survey of stellar nurseries to date, charting more than 100,000 star-birthing regions across our corner of the universe.

Stellar nurseries: Outer space is filled with clouds of dust and gas called nebulae. In some of these nebulae, gravity will pull the dust and gas into clumps that eventually get so big, they collapse on themselves — and a star is born.

These star-birthing nebulae are known as stellar nurseries.

The challenge: Stars are a key part of the universe — they lead to the formation of planets and produce the elements needed to create life as we know it. A better understanding of stars, then, means a better understanding of the universe — but there's still a lot we don't know about star formation.

This is partly because it's hard to see what's going on in stellar nurseries — the clouds of dust obscure optical telescopes' view — and also because there are just so many of them that it's hard to know what the average nursery is like.

The survey: The astronomers conducted their survey of stellar nurseries using the massive ALMA telescope array in Chile. Because ALMA is a radio telescope, it captures the radio waves emanating from celestial objects, rather than the light.

"The new thing ... is that we can use ALMA to take pictures of many galaxies, and these pictures are as sharp and detailed as those taken by optical telescopes," Jiayi Sun, an Ohio State University (OSU) researcher, said in a press release.

"This just hasn't been possible before."

Over the course of the five-year survey, the group was able to chart more than 100,000 stellar nurseries across more than 90 nearby galaxies, expanding the amount of available data on the celestial objects tenfold, according to OSU researcher Adam Leroy.

New insights: The survey is already yielding new insights into stellar nurseries, including the fact that they appear to be more diverse than previously thought.

"For a long time, conventional wisdom among astronomers was that all stellar nurseries looked more or less the same," Sun said. "But with this survey we can see that this is really not the case."

"While there are some similarities, the nature and appearance of these nurseries change within and among galaxies," he continued, "just like cities or trees may vary in important ways as you go from place to place across the world."

Astronomers have also learned from the survey that stellar nurseries aren't particularly efficient at producing stars and tend to live for only 10 to 30 million years, which isn't very long on a universal scale.

Looking ahead: Data from the survey is now publicly available, so expect to see other researchers using it to make their own observations about stellar nurseries in the future.

"We have an incredible dataset here that will continue to be useful," Leroy said. "This is really a new view of galaxies and we expect to be learning from it for years to come."

Protecting space stations from deadly space debris

Tiny specks of space debris can move faster than bullets and cause way more damage. Cleaning it up is imperative.

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  • NASA estimates that more than 500,000 pieces of space trash larger than a marble are currently in orbit. Estimates exceed 128 million pieces when factoring in smaller pieces from collisions. At 17,500 MPH, even a paint chip can cause serious damage.
  • To prevent this untrackable space debris from taking out satellites and putting astronauts in danger, scientists have been working on ways to retrieve large objects before they collide and create more problems.
  • The team at Clearspace, in collaboration with the European Space Agency, is on a mission to capture one such object using an autonomous spacecraft with claw-like arms. It's an expensive and very tricky mission, but one that could have a major impact on the future of space exploration.

This is the first episode of Just Might Work, an original series by Freethink, focused on surprising solutions to our biggest problems.

Catch more Just Might Work episodes on their channel:
https://www.freethink.com/shows/just-might-work

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