Is Rebound Sex a Good Idea? Science Reveals the Real Reasons Why We Hook Up After Breakups

Rebound sex: it's not just the cliched stuff of sitcoms. Probably some of your friends have engaged in rebound sex, either intentionally or somewhat accidentally, and maybe you have too. It makes sense on the surface (sex is fun and will distract you, or something), but research into rebound sex is unfortunately scanty. However, finally, science has discovered why people have rebound sex: they're lonely and feel bad about themselves. But the details are complicated.

Psychologists Lindsay Barber and Lynne Cooper of the University of Missouri analyzed diaries regarding emotions and sexual behaviors that 170 college-aged experimental participants kept over the course of a semester. The participants had broken up with their partners three months prior to the start of the semester, on average. As it turned out, about one-third of the participants ended up engaging in rebound sex during the study, with the specific goal of easing their breakup pain. People who got dumped were more likely to have rebound sex, and a higher level of commitment in the prior relationship made rebound sex less likely.

Overall, people were most likely to have rebound sex when they wanted four things: revenge, self-affirmation, a way to cope with the breakup, and a way to "get over" their partner. However, that doesn't mean that the rebound sex was actually providing these things. Yup, this is where it gets a little tricky.

For one thing, the idea of having rebound sex can be much more appealing than the reality. The gendered "orgasm gap" actually exists, and it means that women are having as few as one orgasm for every three that men enjoy, with just 40 percent of women reporting an orgasm during their last hookup (as compared to 80 percent of men). So if you're hoping a little bit of rebound sex will help make you feel better during this emotional time of need, well, it's probably not going to be that simple... or that fulfilling.

And while you may be hoping to get something other than orgasms from your rebound sex (like a boost in self-esteem), you're probably going to start wanting something more sexually satisfying at some point too — and there's research to support the fact that women are more likely to orgasm when they're in a committed relationship. Mediocre to bad rebound sex may not be your best option.

And what about that one very special case of "rebound sex" — having sex with your ex all over again? (Since you've had sex many times before, he probably even knows how to get you off, to boot.) In Barber and Cooper's study, the psychologists excluded ex sex from the "rebound sex" category for clarity's sake, but previous research suggests that ex sex might not necessarily be as bad as it seems. In fact, it might even help you heal and find closure following a particularly emotional breakup. Do take note that not all ex sex scenarios are created equal, though: if you and your former partner just want to take things for a spin for old time's sake but agree about needing to split for good, then that's fair game. But if one of you has hopes of rekindling the relationship, then that ex sex is better skipped — the risk of hurt feelings in that case is too great.

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