science of us

The Therapeutic Effects of Sleeping With an Ex

No but seriously hear me out
So I have this fantastic idea Photo: Lambert/Getty Images

Is falling back into bed with someone you’re trying to get over a terrible idea, as pop music, country music, everyone reliable, and common sense would have us believe? Or could it actually be fine — and even helpful?

The latter, according to a new study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior.

Although the authors acknowledge the world’s raised eyebrows, they assert that no one had actually done the research to prove what we all assume to be true. And so they set out to do the research.

In one part of the study, participants (113 of them, ages 18 to 55, in relationships that lasted between one month and 21 years) chronicled their feelings for their exes in daily diaries. Researchers found that even though the participants who pursued sexual encounters with their exes reported feeling more attached to those exes, the feeling of attachment wasn’t found to be associated with other negative breakup variables, such as “breakup distress” and “intrusive thoughts.” The researchers later concluded that they had not found “empirical support that pursuing sex with an ex impacts breakup recovery.”

Another bit of good news (I suppose, now that we’re all onboard) is that if you’re trying to pursue sex with an ex, you could have an 84 to 89 percent chance of success, as the study suggests.

The researchers come just shy of recommending sex with an ex as an out-and-out good idea: “While the present research does not necessarily advocate for pursuing sex with an ex following the breakup,” they write, “there may in fact be some benefits to continued sexual pursuit in the short-term.”

They don’t specify exactly what those benefits might be, however, beyond a general respite from loneliness.

While this study is a little unsettling, it does have the unexpected benefit of making one’s own personal experience feel small and universal among the numbers. It’s also reassuring to remember that few of us are certain about anything, and that on a day-to-day basis we all feel

happy/ cheerful/joyful, caring/concerned, grateful/appreciative/ thankful, compassionate/sympathetic, relieved/free

As well as

lonely/isolated, sad/depressed/down, angry/irritable/ frustrated, disappointed/let down, embarrassed/ashamed, put down/rejected, guilty/regretful/apologetic, miserable/heartbroken

On a more negative note, it could also be that having sex with an ex helps clear away any post-breakup idealization of that person: Oh right, I definitely don’t want this. Or, as the researchers speculate, it could be that the partners who pursue sex with an ex are the ones who didn’t care all that much to begin with.

Most important, though, as one Cut staffer said upon coming across this study: “I’m going to print out several copies for my college reunion this weekend.”

The Therapeutic Effects of Sleeping With an Ex