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.

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A landslide is imminent and so is its tsunami

An open letter predicts that a massive wall of rock is about to plunge into Barry Arm Fjord in Alaska.

Image source: Christian Zimmerman/USGS/Big Think
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  • A remote area visited by tourists and cruises, and home to fishing villages, is about to be visited by a devastating tsunami.
  • A wall of rock exposed by a receding glacier is about crash into the waters below.
  • Glaciers hold such areas together — and when they're gone, bad stuff can be left behind.

The Barry Glacier gives its name to Alaska's Barry Arm Fjord, and a new open letter forecasts trouble ahead.

Thanks to global warming, the glacier has been retreating, so far removing two-thirds of its support for a steep mile-long slope, or scarp, containing perhaps 500 million cubic meters of material. (Think the Hoover Dam times several hundred.) The slope has been moving slowly since 1957, but scientists say it's become an avalanche waiting to happen, maybe within the next year, and likely within 20. When it does come crashing down into the fjord, it could set in motion a frightening tsunami overwhelming the fjord's normally peaceful waters .

"It could happen anytime, but the risk just goes way up as this glacier recedes," says hydrologist Anna Liljedahl of Woods Hole, one of the signatories to the letter.

The Barry Arm Fjord

Camping on the fjord's Black Sand Beach

Image source: Matt Zimmerman

The Barry Arm Fjord is a stretch of water between the Harriman Fjord and the Port Wills Fjord, located at the northwest corner of the well-known Prince William Sound. It's a beautiful area, home to a few hundred people supporting the local fishing industry, and it's also a popular destination for tourists — its Black Sand Beach is one of Alaska's most scenic — and cruise ships.

Not Alaska’s first watery rodeo, but likely the biggest

Image source: whrc.org

There have been at least two similar events in the state's recent history, though not on such a massive scale. On July 9, 1958, an earthquake nearby caused 40 million cubic yards of rock to suddenly slide 2,000 feet down into Lituya Bay, producing a tsunami whose peak waves reportedly reached 1,720 feet in height. By the time the wall of water reached the mouth of the bay, it was still 75 feet high. At Taan Fjord in 2015, a landslide caused a tsunami that crested at 600 feet. Both of these events thankfully occurred in sparsely populated areas, so few fatalities occurred.

The Barry Arm event will be larger than either of these by far.

"This is an enormous slope — the mass that could fail weighs over a billion tonnes," said geologist Dave Petley, speaking to Earther. "The internal structure of that rock mass, which will determine whether it collapses, is very complex. At the moment we don't know enough about it to be able to forecast its future behavior."

Outside of Alaska, on the west coast of Greenland, a landslide-produced tsunami towered 300 feet high, obliterating a fishing village in its path.

What the letter predicts for Barry Arm Fjord

Moving slowly at first...

Image source: whrc.org

"The effects would be especially severe near where the landslide enters the water at the head of Barry Arm. Additionally, areas of shallow water, or low-lying land near the shore, would be in danger even further from the source. A minor failure may not produce significant impacts beyond the inner parts of the fiord, while a complete failure could be destructive throughout Barry Arm, Harriman Fiord, and parts of Port Wells. Our initial results show complex impacts further from the landslide than Barry Arm, with over 30 foot waves in some distant bays, including Whittier."

The discovery of the impeding landslide began with an observation by the sister of geologist Hig Higman of Ground Truth, an organization in Seldovia, Alaska. Artist Valisa Higman was vacationing in the area and sent her brother some photos of worrying fractures she noticed in the slope, taken while she was on a boat cruising the fjord.

Higman confirmed his sister's hunch via available satellite imagery and, digging deeper, found that between 2009 and 2015 the slope had moved 600 feet downhill, leaving a prominent scar.

Ohio State's Chunli Dai unearthed a connection between the movement and the receding of the Barry Glacier. Comparison of the Barry Arm slope with other similar areas, combined with computer modeling of the possible resulting tsunamis, led to the publication of the group's letter.

While the full group of signatories from 14 organizations and institutions has only been working on the situation for a month, the implications were immediately clear. The signers include experts from Ohio State University, the University of Southern California, and the Anchorage and Fairbanks campuses of the University of Alaska.

Once informed of the open letter's contents, the Alaska's Department of Natural Resources immediately released a warning that "an increasingly likely landslide could generate a wave with devastating effects on fishermen and recreationalists."

How do you prepare for something like this?

Image source: whrc.org

The obvious question is what can be done to prepare for the landslide and tsunami? For one thing, there's more to understand about the upcoming event, and the researchers lay out their plan in the letter:

"To inform and refine hazard mitigation efforts, we would like to pursue several lines of investigation: Detect changes in the slope that might forewarn of a landslide, better understand what could trigger a landslide, and refine tsunami model projections. By mapping the landslide and nearby terrain, both above and below sea level, we can more accurately determine the basic physical dimensions of the landslide. This can be paired with GPS and seismic measurements made over time to see how the slope responds to changes in the glacier and to events like rainstorms and earthquakes. Field and satellite data can support near-real time hazard monitoring, while computer models of landslide and tsunami scenarios can help identify specific places that are most at risk."

In the letter, the authors reached out to those living in and visiting the area, asking, "What specific questions are most important to you?" and "What could be done to reduce the danger to people who want to visit or work in Barry Arm?" They also invited locals to let them know about any changes, including even small rock-falls and landslides.

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