Should You Have Sex With Your Ex?

There are plenty of online surveys about how many of us have sex with someone we’ve broken up with. One of the few scientific studies that asked the same question found that 53% of people reported having sex with an ex at some point in their life.

In the heat of the moment the question usually boils down to a simple: should I, or shouldn’t I?

But making heat of the moment decisions when it comes to sex doesn’t always leave us happy after the fact.

So if you’re ever planning on being in a relationship, which means there’s a chance that one day you’ll have an ex, here are a few sex with an ex considerations to mull over now, before you need to make the decision.

What Does It Mean?

Is having sex with your ex a sign of weakness? Does it mean you can’t “move on”?

Is it a way of getting back at your ex, or signaling something to a new, potential romantic partner? When you tell your friends you had sex with your ex (or that you’re thinking of it) there will be some who roll their eyes as if to say, “how cliché, can’t you just move on?”

But sexual relationships are complicated, even more so when there is history and emotional attachment. There’s no one thing that having sex with an ex means. Other than, hopefully, at one time you had good sex (or good enough sex) with this person. Just because it means something to everyone else in your life, it might me something very different to you. And what it means to you (and your ex) is what matters most.

CBA of Sex

Many people will say that they had sex with their ex and it “just happened.” But having sex isn’t like tripping on your shoelaces.

It doesn’t just happen, people have to make it happen. So when we say it “just happened” what we usually mean is that we didn’t want to think too much about it, so we went along.

This can be fine, but it can also leave us feeling like we really wish we didn’t just have the sex we had.

Which is when we can turn to our accounting background and conduct a quick and dirty CBA or cost benefit analysis of having sex with your ex.

Even if you’ve already done it, this is a helpful exercise to decide if you’ll do it again. Ask yourself these questions:

What do you get out of having sex with your ex?
Think before, during, and after, what positive feelings are produced, and how long do they last? How is the sex itself? Better than when you were in the relationship? What are the good feelings that linger long after the sex is over? Does having sex with your ex change the story you’re telling yourself (and others) about the relationship?

What do you lose?
Are there negative thoughts and feelings that go along with any good ones? Are you enjoying the sex, or is it a means to an end that isn’t being arrived at? Is sex with your ex keeping you from pursuing other new relationships? Thinking about before, during, and after the sex, do you find yourself feeling worse overall after the sex? Is there any emotional, physical, or psychological hangover from the sex?

In other words, ask yourself: is it worth it?

Protect Yourself (This Time)

One of the things we might like about sex with an ex is that it feels familiar, and it can feel easier than finding someone new to have sex with. But even if it feels the same, having sex with a former partner isn’t the same because you aren’t in the same relationship.

You can ignore those differences if you want, but you may at least want to think of a few protective moves to reduce the risk of pain and suffering after the sex.

One aspect of protection is emotional. If you think that having sex with someone you broke up with is going to leave you an emotional wreck, then the best protection may be to avoid having sex with them in the first place. But there may be other things you can do. Here are a few ideas:

  • Think of your own boundaries and respect them. This might mean you don’t share a lot of personal stuff about what’s happening in your life right now, you save that for people you can trust.
  • You might make a conscious decision not to linger after the sex, and not to stay the night.
  • You might choose to only have some kinds of sex with your ex and not others.

You also need to think about protecting yourself from STDs. Whatever agreements you had in place before you broke up, you should assume they are no longer active. If you only used one, or no, forms of birth control and protection from STDs when you were together, think about this as a brand new relationship in that department.

Chances are if you both want to have sex, neither of you are going to want to talk about other people you may have had sex with since the break up. That’s fine, but it means you can’t assume that your partner is coming to this sexual encounter with the same STD status they had last time you had sex. 

This isn’t about making either of you feel bad, and having an STD doesn’t need to get in the way of having great sex (even with an ex) but it means you need to decide what sort of barrier protection you’ll use to reduce the possible risk of giving or getting an STD.

What Ever You Do, Give Yourself a Break

Breaking up is hard to do. It can leave us feeling lonely, unloveable, undesireable, and without the energy to do anything about it (getting back on the horse is exhausting when you don’t even want to get back into a shower).

So it shouldn’t be surprising that many of us end up having sex with an ex at some point. Pop culture and academic surveys that have asked people about sex with an ex suggest anywhere from one third to more than half of us have done this.

None of the surveys say much about how it goes afterward, but in the cost benefit analysis one cost you can have some impact on is being hard on yourself. If you’ve done this already and are beating yourself up about it, try and give yourself a break. And if you really want to have sex with an ex, and they really want it to, even if it’s the absolute wrong thing to do, it may also be something you can do in the moment to show yourself some love.

And if it’s awful, then don’t do it again!