So you’ve broken up with your partner. Enter the post-relationship mop-up: coming to their house to pick up that really nice top you nabbed off Vinted last month and a half-empty Elf bar (blue razz). Owing to the deep-seated bitterness you feel for one another, you immediately begin to argue. The proper shouty kind that only happens between people who’ve seen each other naked. But all of a sudden, the venom slips away and they start looking… kind of hot? Safe in the knowledge they care about you enough to get so riled up, you decide to do something that in 20 minutes – give or take – you’ll regret: you fuck.
If, like me, you’ve slept with every one of your exes, it doesn’t take much to conjure up this scene. In fact, the memory of it is so burned into your brain that it often springs up at inconveniently arbitrary moments – a family dinner, say, or halfway through a job interview. And, after your stomach has finished churning at the sheer memory of your ex, a new feeling kicks in: horniness. It was hot, wasn’t it? It was probably the best sex the two of you ever had. And it only happened when you finally admitted that you hated each other’s guts.
Although most people agree that break-up sex is a Bad Idea, plenty of us still do it. Some people are sensible and mature enough to simply never speak again, but others (like me) prefer to agonisingly drag the break-up out for months, sometimes even years. Why have a clean break when you can shag and then cry about it every few weeks?
Often, there’s a very obvious reason why. For some infuriating reason, sex with an ex can be really good. It might not be as good as when you first got together; maybe it’s not even as good as when you were, you know, in love. But it’s guaranteed to be better than the sex you were having in that grey, pre-break-up area – that’s if you were fucking at all.
There’s more to it than just being good in comparison to dodgy end-of-relationship sex, though. Depending on how far into the break-up you are – and what the mood between the two of you is – sex with an ex can be unburdened by relationship pressures or minor annoyances, like remembering when they didn’t text you back that one time, or that they told your dad you were planning on overthrowing the company. And, as there’s nothing in the relationship left to lose, it can also be inhibition-free, aka carte blanche on the kinky stuff. So is there actual scientific evidence as to why it feels so good to fuck someone you hate? Kind of.
“In feeling passionate about someone, we can become physically aroused and reactive in a more intense way,” explains Kate Moyle, a psychosexual therapist and the author of The Science of Sex. “We can also experience what’s known as arousal transfer, when we can more easily move from one heightened state like anger to sexual arousal – they are both connected by feelings of passion.”
Despite my previous grand statements about deep-seated bitterness, you don’t need to have animosity towards your exes to have good break-up sex. You can feel sad and have really intimate, meaningful sex; you can feel contented relief and have levelheaded, purely pleasurable sex. You can even feel nothing and have unrestrained, worry-free, dirty sex. The world is your oyster.
Part of break-up sex’s particularly tempting appeal comes from the fact that most people get a thrill out of doing something they’re not supposed to do. Most people who’ve ever slept with their ex will implore you not to do it. “It’s messy,” they’ll say. “You’ll feel worse afterwards and it’ll take you twice the amount of time to get over them.” Blah, blah, blah.
What your friends don’t realise is that this kind of chat will only egg you on. You’re telling me I shouldn’t, under any circumstances, fuck my ex? Well, now it’s suddenly become my life goal. Funny that. Unfortunately, break-up sex also becomes much hotter when you have to keep it a secret from your finger-wagging mates, even when they’re probably right.
“Although we know they’re an ex for a reason, logically that doesn’t always line up with what we want sexually,” Moyle continues. “Sometimes the freedom of being out of a relationship with someone means that we’re more able to enjoy ourselves sexually with them, without the other parts of the relationship that weren’t working being such a dominant and interrupting factor.”
Plus, it can actually be a really healing thing, too. Many people struggle to maintain friendships with their exes, meaning lots of couples go full block-on-all-platforms after breaking up, which can foster bad blood. But hanging out sometimes, in a casual sex way, when you’re both on the same page, can help to cool any friction from the end of the relationship. Think of it as replacing bad memories with good ones, and letting go of hostilities. A final hurrah.
Saying that, you probably shouldn’t have sex with your ex if one of you is so heartbroken that it’ll fuck you up. “It’s worth really thinking about what having sex with your ex really offers you,” Moyle says. “The dynamic tends to continue, and at some point one or both of you may find a new partner, which means that someone is likely to get emotionally hurt. The lack of a clean break can leave us in a state of emotional limbo, which often does more harm than good.”
I’m not here to preach – we’re all adults here, and we can do what we want. If it feels like a fun, sexy, healing thing, go for it. But if you know it’s only going to make the getting-over-them bit that much harder, then don’t. Seriously, put your phone away. Or go and have the best sex of your life.