Everyone knows the golden rules of breakups: don’t get really drunk and send your ex lots of desperate text messages, don’t have sex with their best friend and most important of all, once you’ve broken up, don’t ever sleep with your ex again.
But this conventional wisdom might not actually be founded in scientific reality after a new study found that hooking up with someone you’re meant to have ditched doesn’t actually hinder you moving on afterwards.
The team from Wayne State University, USA, identified this yo-yo behaviour as common across all relationship types and age groups (even when we are older and should know better, we can’t resist), so it’s an important area of study.
Stephanie Spielmann and her colleagues analysed the daily experiences of 113 participants who had recently experienced a breakup.
Two months post-break-up they were asked whether they had pursued any physical contact with their ex, and if so, if they were successful. They were then asked how they felt after each subsequent day.
They found most participants who had tried to have sex with an ex did end up in bed with them (because apparently we don't have any willpower) but this did not influence how someone managed to get over the end of their relationship.
Those pining after their ex-partner more often sought out sexual activity, potentially as a way of fostering closeness and connection. However, doing this did not leave them distressed or feeling depressed. In fact, it left them feeling more positive in everyday life.
“This research suggests that societal handwringing regarding trying to have sex with an ex may not be warranted,” says Spielmann, who believes the findings challenge common beliefs. “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.”
Despite Spielmann’s research, other relationship experts have said that this doesn’t take into account the longer term implications of this behaviour. Gurpreet Singh, a counsellor for relationship support charity, Relate, is more critical of people going back to their ex.“The data from the study is interesting but doesn’t show the long-term impact of sleeping with your ex.”
Singh says in break ups it is important to get closure so you can move on. Having closure allows you to reduce any expectations you have of that person and having sex with them undoubtedly makes it harder to do that.
Not only does it increase expectation but it might create some faux-reconnection on either side. “If you’re pining for your ex, sleeping with them is definitely risky territory, and means letting go is likely to be harder,” says Singh.
“Whatever your situation, sleeping with your ex keeps the connection alive. The difference is around your perceived emotional investment and expectations. In the long-term, which this study does not address, feelings might change and with it – one or both partner’s expectations.”
He says if you’re considering sleeping with your ex, think about why you want to do it. If you’re not hoping to get back together with them, make this clear so that you both understand the terms of the arrangement.
And Suzi Godson, sex writer, tells HuffPost UK agrees: “Cue the reality check. Sex with your ex might relight your fire, but all the baggage that brought you down will still be there in the morning.”
Godson sums up the situation simply: “Samantha Jones from ‘Sex and the City’ summed it all up when she said: ‘Sex with an ex can be depressing. If it’s good, you can’t get it anymore. If it’s bad, you just had sex with an ex’.”