If you’ve ever been-let’s just come out and say it-dumped, you know nothing good comes after “We need to talk.” Even if your ex has legitimate reasons for breaking up, you just can’t understand them. You want to leave and never see them again, but you also want to hold them one last time.
After all, there’s nothing sexier than what you can’t have, so you suggest breakup sex. It’s supposed to be the best sex, right? Plus, the damage is already done, so what’s the harm?
Not so fast. Breakup sex might seem like it’s nbd, but is it actually a good idea? Probably not, according to Dr. Lisa Marie Bobby, PhD, a clinical psychologist and author of Exaholics: Breaking Your Addiction to Your Ex Love. “There is typically an imbalanced power dynamic when couples have breakup sex,” she says.
The person with less power is heartbroken and really wants to get back together, while the one with more power doesn’t, but does want to have sex with them since it’s available. “Romantic relationships are intrinsically addictive…[so] when an attachment is severed, the natural reaction is one of withdrawal: obsession, craving, and pain,” says Bobby.
Okay, but why does that make you want to have breakup sex?
If you’re on the receiving end of a breakup, you might initiate breakup sex as a way to keep your connection alive and even secretly (or not-so-secretly) hope this will reignite your ex’s interest in the relationship, she says. (Spoiler alert: it won’t.) At the very least, your “overwhelming emotional pain and craving for contact” is temporarily satisfied when you’re with your ex.
That may be the main reason why exes can’t keep their hands off each other, but Samantha Burns, LMHC, a relationship counselor and author of Breaking Up And Bouncing Back, says there are multiple others. It could be because you’re both still attached to each other, it’s comforting during a lonely and painful transition, and of course, because it feels good in the moment. “Just because you broke up, doesn’t mean your feelings or attraction to one another disappears overnight,” she adds.
Can breakup sex ever help you get closure?
The only time breakup sex **might** help you get closure is if it’s bad and confirms to you that the spark is gone, says Burns. Otherwise, “the risk usually outweighs the benefits,” she explains. This is especially true for women, whose sexual, emotional, and attachment needs tend to be more closely related than men’s.
If you really want to get closure, you have to “close the door” to your bedroom-and everywhere else, says Bobby. “You’ll likely feel anxious and upset when you do, because then the loss feels really real-but what you’re feeling is the honest truth,” she explains. “The relationship is over.” Plus, it’s better to end this on your terms than continuing to have sex with someone who doesn’t want to have a relationship with you.
So, is breakup sex always bad for you then?
Well, it depends. For the vast majority of people, it’s a bad idea (and not in the hit Ariana Grande song kind of way). Sure, you might feel better temporarily, but you’ll often feel worse afterward. “The hormones released during sex can be confusing, since they are associated with bonding, attachment, and excitement,” explains Burns. “…There’s an emotional high and high arousal state that comes with breakup sex.” You might be feeling some sense of finality, desperation, or even carefree, which can actually increase the physical gratification of sex.
Breakup sex is known for being super hot, but Burns cautions that your heightened emotional state will leave you with more questions than answers. All of sudden, you find yourself wondering if you still have feelings for your ex, even if you’re confident about the reasons why you’re calling it quits.
Breakup sex isn’t just confusing AF, it can also drag out your pain, slow down the healing process, and even make you feel ashamed or used by your ex. (Fun stuff, right?)
And that’s only if you have breakup sex once. If you keep doing it, you can even trap yourself into what Burns calls a “hanging-on hook-up dynamic,” where you’re unable to cut both the physical and emotional ties from your ex for months or even years. But regardless of how long it lasts, it doesn’t help you let go and move on-the whole point of breaking up in the first place.
In fact, the only possible benefit of breakup sex, Bobby says, is that you feel terrible over and over again, which finally forces you to realize that having sex with your ex is so toxic it needs to stop.
What should you do if you’ve already had breakup sex?
Oops, but it’s not the end of the world. Bobby encourages you to recognize breakup sex for what it is: “A temporary, emotional bandage that creates the illusion of connection but is actually harming you.”
Burns then recommends cutting off contact for at least 90 days so you can focus on yourself, work towards new individual goals, and create a new sense of purpose. “Depending on your current level of communication, you can let your ex know your intentions to be distant and that it’s what you need to do to heal,” she advises. “Say that you will reach out if and when you are ready in the future. Don’t feel the need to justify your actions, answer their questions, or let them convince you otherwise.”
This, she says, also allows you to move through some of the stages of breakup grief-denial, bargaining and anxiety, anger, depression, and eventually acceptance. If you stay connected to your ex, you’ll just end up in “a purgatory of attachment to someone who does not want to be in a relationship with you,” says Bobby. Not only does this prevent you from moving on, but she adds, it’ll likely damage your self-esteem, which can affect your ability to form future relationships.
Ultimately, “using physical intimacy to get back into your ex’s heart will likely only get you back in their pants,” says Burns. Instead of breakup sex, you’re better off breaking in a new vibrator.
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