One of the sad truths about dating is that sometimes you get dumped, and when you do, you’re probably going to be pretty pissed at your ex. If you want to get back at them for making the worst mistake of their lives, jumping into bed with someone else will surely teach them a lesson, right? Or if your breakup simply has you feeling blue, maybe you think that hooking up with someone else will help you feel better, at least for a little while.
But are ‘revenge sex’ (to get back at your ex) and ‘rebound sex’ (to make you feel better) all that common? And does having sex with someone new after a breakup really help to get back at your ex or make you feel better?” Surprisingly, until recently, researchers had not investigated this topic. However, a new study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior1 begins to answer these questions.
Researchers collected data from 170 college students who were currently single but had been in a relationship that ended within the previous year (on average, their relationships had ended about 4 months prior to their participation in the study). After completing an initial screening questionnaire about who initiated their most recent breakup (i.e., were they the “dumper” or “dumpee”?), each week during the semester participants answered questions about their self-esteem, mood, sexual behavior, and reasons for having sex (“rebound motives” and “revenge motives”).
More that one-third of the people in the study reported having rebound sex (35%), and almost one-quarter had revenge sex (23%) in the month following their breakups. These behaviors were highest right after the breakup and declined over time. In other words, when a breakup’s sting is fresh, revenge and rebound sex are most likely to occur, and people are actually less likely to have new sexual partners for purely revenge or rebound reasons as more time passes following their breakup. This doesn’t mean that after a breakup you’re less and less likely to ever find love as time goes on. Instead, some people are more motivated to hook up right after a breakup (i.e., have more, and more frequent, new partners) and that over time they don’t seek out new partners at elevated rates.
If people are having rebound and revenge sex, you might think it must be an effective way to cope with breakups. Not exactly. People who had sex with new partners did not show less distress, less anger, or higher self-esteem afterward. The bottom line is that, although some people do use sex as a way to cope with a breakup, rebound and revenge sex don’t actually make you feel any better, although it doesn’t necessarily make you feel any worse either.
Read more about rebound relationships here.
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1Barber, L. L., & Cooper, M. L. (in press). Rebound sex: Sexual motives and behaviors following a relationships breakup. Archives of Sexual Behavior.
Dr. Le’s research focuses on commitment, including the factors associated with commitment and its role in promoting maintenance. He has published on the topics of breakup, geographic separation, infidelity, social networks, cognition, and need fulfillment and emotions in relationships.