Dating & Relationships

Sex With An Ex: Is It A Terrible Idea?

November 19, 2018 by Justin Lehmiller

“Welcome to the wonderful world of ex sex. It’s hot, it’s naughty…oh yeah, and it’s a really stupid idea.” – Cosmopolitan Magazine

When a couple decides to end their relationship, the result isn’t always a clean break. There’s often some degree of contact that continues and, sometimes, that includes sex. So what exactly are the implications of maintaining a sexual relationship with a former partner? According to conventional wisdom, it’s a terrible idea (as exemplified by the above quote from Cosmo). However, conventional wisdom isn’t always right.

A new set of studies published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that ex-sex gets a bum rap. This research is the subject of a recent column I wrote over at TONIC. In one of these studies, researchers recruited a group of people who were currently in relationships and then followed participants for several months to track whether or not they stayed together. Those who broke up were surveyed about their experiences with ex-sex.

One-quarter (25%) of those who ended their relationships had sex with their ex at some point. And, importantly, ex-sex didn’t seem to be harmful psychologically, despite the fact that the people most likely to do it were the ones who were most likely to report having trouble getting over their relationship.

Believe it or not, ex-sex ultimately seemed to make people feel better, not worse—and it didn’t increase distress about the breakup.

This isn’t to say that everyone who has ex-sex necessarily benefits from it or that it’s never a bad idea. As with all things related to sex and relationships, there’s always going to be a ton of individual variability! However, these results tell us that sex with an ex isn’t an inherently bad thing and that, for many people, it just might be more beneficial than anything.

To learn more about research on ex-sex, check out the full article over at TONIC.

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To learn more about this research, see: Spielmann, S. S., Joel, S., & Impett, E. A. (2018). Pursuing Sex with an Ex: Does It Hinder Breakup Recovery? Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Image Source: 123RF/Peter Vrabel

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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