A popular phrase for the recently “dumped” or broken-hearted is “the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else,” but is there any truth to this lore? According to a recent study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, "revenge sex" is real, with dumped partners using sex to get over their ex-partner and also using it as a form of revenge in the aftermath of a breakup.  

Members of the lonely hearts club are often conflicted about engaging in revenge, or rebound sex after a breakup because it can either give them a sultry ego boost, or it can end up in a naked nightmare. This kind of sex is the first sexual experience that occurs right after a breakup, opening the door to new love experiences. People on the rebound are typically thought to be emotionally vulnerable because of feelings of distress, anger, loss, and low self-esteem brought on by the recent loss of a relationship partner.

A rebound no-strings-attached relationship may mitigate the hurt, shame, and pain of a break-up for partners, says Psychology Today. These series of emotions may also lead partners to have sex as a means to “get back” at their ex-partner. The heightened risk of making poor or risky sexual choices are usually high for those who were dumped or were in more committed long-term relationships. Whether revenge sex is a huge relief or an emotional disaster is left up to one’s own judgment, but a team of researchers at the University of Missouri say it is a consistent, popular lore adopted by the broken-hearted, associated with various sexual motives and behaviors.

Lynne Cooper and Lindsey Barber, study authors, and their colleagues, examined the sexual motives and sexual relationship experiences following the breakup of a romantic relationship using a weekly online diary methodology among a sample of college students. One hundred and seventy undergraduate students who had experienced a breakup from their high school relationships within the previous eight months were recruited for the 10- to 12-week study. The online diary aimed to capture the courses of psychological recovery and sexual experience of these students.  

During the first four weeks of the relationship, one-third of the students reported having sex with another partner to rebound from their previous relationship. The findings revealed 35 percent of the participants said they had sex to get over their ex-partner, and 25 percent reported having had sex as a form of revenge, The Independent reported. Unsurprisingly, the researchers found those who had been dumped were more likely to have revenge sex than those who left their partners.

Overall, having sex to deal with distress, get over or get back at the ex-partner, was immediately used as a coping mechanism following the breakup and then proceeded to decline over time along with the probability of having sex with a new partner. However, “individuals who reported to having sex to cope with negative feelings or to get over their ex-partner at the beginning of the study were more likely to have sex with a stranger and to continue having sex with new partners over time,” the study concluded. These findings provide scientific evidence for the common revenge sex lore, showing it is used by people in the aftermath of a breakup to help them cope with their feelings of distress, loneliness, or vengeance.

The study could not uncover whether no-strings-attached sex post-breakup actually helps people because they were not able to assign participants to randomly try out rebound sex. There are individual differences that should be taken into account between people who have sex to cope after a breakup, and those who do not. Cooper told LiveScience the study suggests “people who are using these strategies are, in fact, more likely to take sexual risks, and that they may be having greater difficulty in moving on and establishing a new relationship.”

Experiencing negative emotions and engaging in risky behavior post-breakup have been observed in previous studies. In a study published in the journal Personal Relationships, researchers found participants who had broken up from a relationship in the past year reported in hindsight they experienced heightened feelings of depression, anger, hate, and resentment immediately after the breakup. A loss of a relationship partner had a negative effect on psychological well-being of the partner and possibly prompted risky behavior.

These studies document the increased negative effect that typically occurs in the aftermath of a breakup in partners. They provide a window to how people cope with adverse events in their lives, and how the coping mechanisms they choose affects their recovery, and well-being, as mentioned by Cooper. These findings warrant further research to investigate if the unhealthy behaviors among the dumped or broken-hearted actually help them feel better.

 

Sources:

Barber LL and Cooper LM. Rebound Sex: Sexual Motives and Behaviors Following a Relationship Breakup. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2014.

Sprecher S. Two sides to the breakup of dating relationships. Personal Relationships. 1994.