Sex

8 Things You Should Know About Having Sex With Your Ex

Plus, the secret reasons why it can be even hotter the second time around.

Sex with an ex can be even better the second time around.
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People tend to have a lot of strong feelings about having sex with an ex. Some are convinced the sex is better the second time around, while others assert that it only ends in heartbreak.

While it may not be for everyone, there’s no reason to be fatalistic. In fact, a recent set of studies published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that having sex with your ex doesn’t actually hinder overall breakup recovery. Participants kept logs of their post-break up experiences, including whether or not they tried to initiate sex with an ex partner. The data showed that that overall those who slept with an ex didn’t have distressed feelings about it.

“This research suggests that societal handwringing regarding trying to have sex with an ex may not be warranted," lead author Stephanie Spielmann said in a press release about the study.

And there may good reason that exes found comfort in pursuing each other. "Revisiting the sexual side of the relationship can help resolve some of that past hurt," Clarissa Silva, a behavioral scientist and relationship coach, tells Bustle.

But that’s not always the case, and if you’re not on the same page as your ex, you might wind up with some fresh wounds. Here are eigh things to keep in mind before you have sex with an ex.

1

Your Idealization Might Make It Seem More Exciting

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You might be more attracted to an ex in the first place because you’re remembering them at their very best. “It's easy to look at your past and see only the good parts and romanticize the things that we no longer have,” Dr. Isabelle Morley, PsyD tells Bustle. “We can be more selective when we look at the past, and exes often fall into that category.”

And we might be more inclined to overlook the bad depending on the state of our present social life. “If we don't currently have something that we're happy with that's taking our focus or making us excited about our relationships or our future, we want to find something. And something can come from the past, like an ex,” she adds.

That idealization paired with the uncertainty of where things with an ex might lead can make sex with them even more erotically charged, she explains. As counterintuitive as it may seem, there’s also a sense of novelty, like when you lose a favorite sweater but discover it hiding in the back of your closet — it feels so good to try it on again.

Silva agrees, adding that sex with an ex can offer some clarity. "Going back to move forward can sometimes make us see that we've idealized the relationship," she says.

2

You May Want To Be Cautious If You Still Have Strong Feelings

It could be riskier for your overall emotional well-being to pursue sex with an ex if you’re still pining for them in a major way.

It’s especially prudent not to go into it thinking that sex will bring you back together. "Hoping that sex with your ex will rekindle your relationship is setting you up for false hope," Silva says. "Chances are that the issues in the relationship that caused the breakup weren’t sexual."

Morley cautions that you also can’t expect your feelings to magically disappear, even when the hook up ends again. “I think there's no real right or wrong when it comes to wanting to have sex with an ex,” she explains. “But if you have feelings and expectations, you really have to think twice about the choice that you're about to make. We're kidding ourselves if we think that having sex with somebody that we had relationship with is not going to bring up feelings. They are unavoidable part of being human. So if you're going to go into it with feelings, it's going to be complicated,” she says.

Getting on the same page might be the antidote to some of that uncertainty.

3

You’ll Want to Set Some Ground Rules

Without some base-level communication, having sex with your ex could lead to a lot of unnecessary conflict. "While [sex with an ex] might seem like a harmless idea in the beginning, as time goes on your ex may find someone else and leave you again," Silva says. "If it is hard to resist, mentally prepare yourself and have a conversation about being on the same page about the encounters."

Morley recommends trying not to make the decision impulsively and having a conversation, ideally before things heat up, about what you’re looking for. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of questions you might consider asking yourself and your ex: Is this a one time thing? Is this going to be a recurring hookup that you both agree is going to be exclusive? Will you be seeing other partners? Is this hooking up with the possibility of reigniting your relationship? What are the indicators that it needs to end? What happens when one of you catches feelings? What if you see them out with someone else?

Basically, Morely explains, you want to know how you’re going to handle this hook up with some mutually agreed upon conditions. Otherwise, confusion between the two of you could damage the relationship further. “It's possible that you will have different understandings of what the situation is. If you're gonna go into it expecting different things, eventually, one of you will get hurt,” Morley says. This matters, she explains, particularly if you want to preserve any kind of friendship.

4

It Can Offer a Sense Of Security

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The reality is that having sex with your ex does offer some benefits that sex with a one-night stand may not. Emotionally, they can offer you a lot of comfort and security.

“When you break up, you lose that person who went through whatever shared experiences you had together in your life. To bring them back brings a little piece of your history back, and it can be really comforting,” Morley explains. But that comfort can be a double-edged sword. Going back to an ex might be a way we’re subconsciously pressing pause on the difficult things we’re dealing with at the moment. “It can be a way to kind of kick the can down the road. Even if an ex isn't going to be your forever person, it can be your ‘right now’ person. I think it can be a way of delaying the difficult things that we have to face,” she adds.

Silva thinks issues surrounding self-esteem might be at play, too. "A breakup creates self-doubt, anger, rumination, and lowered self-esteem which makes us feel less desirable to others," Silva says. "Sometimes sex with an ex helps to provide some sense of security because of the familiarity and mutual growth you both developed over time."

5

You Might Be Settling For An Ex Out Of Fear

When a relationship comes to an end, there's usually a good reason for it. If you find yourself returning to an ex time and again, it’s possible fear could be at play.

“I think after almost every breakup, people worry, ‘What if that was the best person that I could possibly have been with? What if I threw the one away? What if there is no better person out there for me?’” Morley says. Plus, she adds, dating can be hard, exhausting work. Going back to an ex out of fear you may never find someone else could be a way to settle and avoid that work, or even to avoid having to face other parts of yourself that new relationships can bring up.

Silva recognizes the role insecurities might play. "Sometimes people convince themselves that it is OK [to settle]," she says. "Other times they realize that they want more, but don’t think they can get it."

When it comes to realizing it, however, she puts stock in listening to your gut intuition. “[When you sleep with an ex] you're seeking happiness, but wind up settling with what is familiar to you," says Silva. "Deep down inside when you’re settling, you know it."

6

The Sex Might Be Better Than With A Brand New Partner

From a practical standpoint, there’s less you need to explain about your wants and needs to a previous partner than a new partner.

Morley agrees that sex with an ex may lead to an overall more pleasurable experience. “I think with clear expectations and communication going into it, it could be a chance to feel connected, to feel cared for, and to have a great time and feel sexually satisfied. And there's nothing wrong with that,” she says.

She adds that your shared sense of history and the built-in comfort level might lead you to let go of some of your hang ups and even try some new things, too.

If you’re "just looking for an orgasm," Silva says, then sex with your ex can be a lot of fun and even fulfilling. But if you're hoping those orgasms will lead to something more, like getting back together, the risks may not outweigh the rewards.

7

You May Want To Tread Lightly When It Comes To Telling Others

Be it friends or family, if they knew your ex, they’ll likely have something to say. Especially if you’re still trying to figure things out, lots of conflicting commentary is unlikely to be helpful.

“Chances are when they broke up with a person, people in their life had strong opinions either way. Whether that's like, ‘Good riddance, they were no good for you,’ or, ‘I can't believe you let that one go, what are you thinking?’ People get very invested in each other's relationships,” Morley explains. “If it's really casual, just for fun, just for sex, maybe you don't need to share it with that many people, because they're going to have something to say about it,” she adds.

If, however, you ultimately decide things are getting more serious, it might be worth opening up a conversation with close people.

8

It Might Offer Some Closure

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Similar to ending that over-idealization, sex with your ex might help you get the closure. It is, in some ways, like tying up loose ends.

"It’s easier to romanticize your ex and the relationship in those moments. Sex with your ex can help reveal why you chose to remain apart," Silva says.

It may come down to a cost-benefit analysis, Morley explains. Pursuing an ex for orgasms or closure isn’t a bad thing on its face, but you should do so understanding that time spent with an ex is also time spent away from friends, family, and pursuing other relationships. Essentially, she explains, you want to make sure you’re not giving up something you’ll later regret.

“You need to go into it without blinders on. Whatever choice you decide to make, have your eyes wide open, know all the information, and have fun,” she says.

Studies:

Spielmann SS, Joel S, Impett EA. Pursuing Sex with an Ex: Does It Hinder Breakup Recovery? Arch Sex Behav. 2019 Apr;48(3):691-702. doi: 10.1007/s10508-018-1268-6. Epub 2018 Oct 17. PMID: 30334130.

Experts:

Clarissa Silva, behavioral scientist and relationship coach

Isabelle Morley, PsyD