A new study suggests that going to bed with your ex-partner is associated with better outcomes for men than women. The new research, published in the journal Evolutionary Psychology, examined the motivational factors and emotional consequences of post-breakup sexual activity among college students.
“I became interested in breakup sex research because I find it fascinating that people still go back to their exes. We live in a society where people can be on dozens of dating apps at once, swiping left and right on new partners at any time of day, yet people still contact their exes,” said Jimmy Moran, PhD candidate at Tulane University and lead author of the new study.
“Ron Swanson from ‘Parks and Rec’ has a great quote where he toasts his horrible ex Tammy, and says, ‘to exes, may they always stay that way.’ And although that’s the precise definition of the term, people everyday contact their ex, whether for sex or just to talk!”
“So it is a fruitful area of research. It turns out the term breakup sex had been extensively talked about in popular media, but not scientifically. Although research on ex-sex had been studied before our project, breakup sex looks at the specific period of ex-sex, right after a breakup. Mainly, because breakups can be so distressing, compared to having sex with an ex from 6 months or 1 year ago, there are different emotional components with breakup sex,” Moran explained.
The researchers first asked 212 college students who had engaged in breakup sex to report how they felt about their relationship before and after the event. The participants also reported how they felt about themselves after breakup sex and predicted how they would feel if they had have breakup sex again in the future.
Moran and his colleagues found no significant differences between male and female college students when it came to their relationship quality prior to breakup sex, having breakup sex while still in love with one’s partner, and having breakup sex “to show the person what they are missing.”
But the researchers also found that men tended to be more receptive to breakup sex compared to women regardless their partner’s attractiveness or who initiated the breakup. In addition, women were more likely than men to report feeling worse after engaging in breakup sex.
To better understand the motivations behind engaging in breakup sex, the researchers then had another 92 college students brainstorm reasons for why a person would engage in sexual intercourse with an ex-romantic partner. After the responses were independently reviewed, a list of 52 reasons was compiled.
A separate sample of 585 college students then reported how frequently each of the 52 reasons had led them to engage in breakup sex in the past. Compared to women, men were be more likely to indicate engaging in breakup sex for hedonistic or ambivalent reasons, such as because they missed sexual activity, because they were bored, or “to tell people I did.”
The findings from the two studies highlight that “men and women are different in their feeling and motivations toward breakup sex,” Moran told PsyPost. “We see that breakup sex does different things for men and women.”
“Due to its popularity in the media, individuals may believe that breakup sex is something they should participate in. However, the present results suggest otherwise. Deciding to engage in breakup sex involves a complicated stage in one’s relationship and may disproportionately benefit men,” the researchers wrote in their study.
But the study — like all research — includes some limitations. For example, the participants were mainly White young adults. And there is still much to learn about the consequences of breakup sex.
“Now that we understand how men and women differ on engagement in breakup sex, we should begin to explore how breakup sex impacts the individual longer-term,” Moran said. “Do those who engage in breakup sex end up having a more challenging time finding their next partner? Additionally, it might be beneficial to understand how others outside of the relationship perceive couples who engage in breakup sex. Does it cause potential suitors not to be interested?”
“There are plenty of studies that need to be conducted. I hope other relationship and sex researchers become interested in understanding this post-breakup behavior!”
The study, “The psychology of breakup sex: Exploring the motivational factors and affective consequences of post-breakup sexual activity“, was authored by James B. Moran, T. Joel Wade, and Damian R. Murray.