Hooking Up With Your Ex May Not Be As Bad For You As You Think, A New Study Says

by Laken Howard
Ashley Batz/Bustle

It seems like there's one piece of post-heartbreak advice that's more common than any other: 'whatever you do, don't sleep with your ex!' While this admonition is typically given with the best of intentions, what works for one person doesn't necessarily work for another — so should sleeping with your ex really be a universal no-no after a breakup? According to new research from Wayne State University, having sex with your ex actually might not be a bad idea — in fact, it may even be a *good* idea.

The study, which was conducted in two parts, analyzed the daily experiences of 113 folks who had recently been through a breakup; then, two months later, those same people answered survey questions about whether they'd tried to have any physical contact with their exes, how emotionally attached they still were, and how they felt after each day. The second part of the study was a survey of 372 different participants, which asked them similar questions about physical contact with their exes and their attachment levels.

Rather than confirming that sleeping with an ex will leave you more heartbroken than before and hinder your ability to move on, the researchers found instead that pursuing sex with an ex did not negatively impact participants' day-to-day healing process. And, while those pining after their ex were more likely to seek out sexual activity with them, those folks didn't report feeling more upset after the fact; actually, hooking up with their ex left them feeling more positive in the day-to-day.

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"This research suggests that societal handwringing regarding trying to have sex with an ex may not be warranted," lead study author Stephanie Spielmann said in a press release. "The fact that sex with an ex is found to be most eagerly pursued by those having difficulty moving on, suggests that we should perhaps instead more critically evaluate people's motivations behind pursuing sex with an ex."

All that being said, it's still important to tread carefully if you're considering sleeping with an ex-partner. Particularly if the breakup was recent and you're still processing all your emotions surrounding it, it's crucial to be honest with yourself about why you're interested in continuing a physical relationship with your ex.

"From my experience, those who have sex with an ex do so because they want to prolong the relationship," Jonathan Bennett, dating and relationship coach at Double Trust Dating, tells Bustle. "And, rather than doing it to 'move on' or 'recover,' they do it because they hope it will create a renewed closeness and rekindle the relationship. So, the reported positive feelings [in the study] may come from a renewed hope in the future of the relationship."

While it might feel good in the moment, it can be tricky to tell whether or not hooking up with your ex will have a negative impact on you in the long run. If you're pursuing a sexual relationship with your ex and secretly hoping that it helps them 'come to their senses' about the breakup, it's likely that you'll wind up even more heartbroken when that doesn't happen.

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"If you still have strong feelings for your ex, having sex will only deepen those feelings and create confusion," Bennett says. "You might get a temporary mood boost, but that’s often based on false hopes of renewing a relationship. If you both agreed the relationship needed to end and want to hook up, that’s another matter. You can likely contextualize the sex properly. But, if you pine for your ex, having sex regularly could complicate long-term healing."

Fortunately, not every breakup is a messy, emotional whirlwind, and if you had an amicable, mutual breakup and want to explore the idea of continuing to hook up (even just temporarily) with an ex, it's not necessarily guaranteed to be a detriment to your healing. So how can you be sure that you won't wind up even more heartbroken thanks to a post-breakup hookup? The best way is by asking yourself how you'd feel if your arrangement suddenly changed — and sex was taken off the table entirely.

"If you’re having sex with an ex and you get a positive benefit, that is great," Bennett says. "But, I’d ask this question: what would happen if your ex cut off the sex? If you would be emotionally devastated, then the short-term benefit of continued sex is likely based on false hope rather than healing."

Ultimately, the best way to get clear with yourself on whether or not your motivation to have sex with your ex is healthy or unhealthy is by giving yourself ample time to process your feelings before hopping back into bed with them. If it's been a few months and you feel otherwise ready to move on but still want to take advantage of the physical connection you had with your ex, go for it! Just make sure you're both on the same page about what sex means (or doesn't mean) to you both now that you're broken up — and don't be afraid to call things off again if you notice that it's messing with your head or your heart.