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Having Sex With An Ex Can Be Complicated — Here’s What To Consider

Deciding whether or not to have sex with an ex can feel overwhelming. Maybe you broke up with them a few months ago and you miss the chemistry. Maybe you haven’t seen them in three years, and after putting serious efforts toward manifesting love, you randomly ran into each other at Trader Joe’s and it feels like a sign. Or, perhaps you bumped into each other at the bar last weekend, one thing led to another, and let’s just say you didn’t think you’d end your night listening to audio porn and now you’re like, Now, what?! Whatever your situation, if you’re thinking about rekindling an old flame, there are some important things to keep in mind. 

Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, a clinical psychologist and professor of psychology at Yeshiva University, says that it’s worth identifying what, exactly, you’re going for by sleeping with your ex. “Be honest with yourself and your intentions,” she tells Her Campus. “It’s important to clarify before taking this step if you really miss them and want to maintain an intimate connection, or if you ultimately want to get back together.”

At the end of the day, sex with an ex will feel different for every person, and there are many factors worth exploring. On one hand, sex might feel exciting at the moment and could potentially help you move on; or, the experience might bring back complicated feelings. There are always pros and cons, so if you’re thinking about hitting up your ex, here’s what to know first. 

Before you start having sex with your ex, give yourself time to process the breakup

First thing’s first: Deciding whether or not to have sex with someone is far from “black and white.” Ultimately, it’s up to you to make a decision that feels right for you; and often, that means seriously reflecting on the relationship — and the breakup. How did things end? How long has it been since the split? Depending on your (and your ex’s!) timeline, it could be a good idea to sleep with them — or, you might be better off waiting.

“There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answer,” says Joshua Estrin, Ph.D., a licensed psychotherapist with a background in human behavior. “Sex can be a very enjoyable and fun experience if both people agree, but give yourself some time to process the end of the relationship before you start having sex with your ex.” Dr. Estrin also mentions that, if you broke up fairly recently, it’s important to let yourself “settle in” to being single before rushing into sex. “It can be harmful if someone is choosing sex to try and cover up unresolved issues or feelings,” he says.

Jennifer Litner, Ph.D., a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist, says reflecting on your breakup is crucial, and you should be wary of where sex falls within your healing timeline. “There’s a grieving process with breakups, and it’s typical for partners to distance themselves from their exes during this time,” she says. “Having sex with an ex may disrupt the distancing and grieving process.” 

Dr. Romanoff agrees that it’s important to reflect on the breakup and determine if now is the right time. “Have you gone through the grief period and mourned the relationship? If not, going from a serious to a casual partner can be a messy transition, and it’s likely someone will get hurt in the process,” she tells Her Campus. “Give both yourself and your ex time to mourn. Time is a great way to disentangle your feelings and will provide you with the opportunity to grow on your own.”

Weigh the pros and cons 

If you’re pretty sure the timing is right and you’re ready to move forward with a decision, it’s crucial to consider the benefits and potential consequences of sleeping with your ex. Alexander Burgemeester, a Netherlands-based psychologist, tells Her Campus, “Spend some time really weighing the pros and the cons. What happens if you start catching feelings again? What happens if your ex does? And what if they start dating someone new? What are your expectations for having sex? How would you feel if other people found out?” Burgemeester says to think carefully about your responses. “There are no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ answers,” he says, “but they can offer you some insight into what to do next.” For instance, if you know in your heart that you’d be devastated if they hooked up with someone else, it might not be the best time to have sex. 

According to Marie Murphy, Ph.D., a sociologist and relationship coach, sex with your ex could definitely come with some benefits. “You and your ex may know each other’s bodies really well — you may have great chemistry and a sense of how the other person experiences pleasure,” she says. “So, ‘ex-sex’ has the potential to be really hot! It can also provide a dose of familiarity and comfort that often comes with reconnecting with someone you’ve had feelings for in the past.”

At a glance, reconnecting with someone you care about might seem like a good thing. However, Dr. Murphy warns that the sense of intimacy — both physically and emotionally — can make things more difficult. “[Reconnecting] might be a nice thing, but if you’re trying to move on, sex might not be a very good idea at all,” she says. “Getting involved with someone you’ve broken up with has the potential to get really emotionally complicated — while the situation may not necessarily be harmful in any dire sense, it can make life confusing in ways you just don’t want to deal with.” 

“Remember that there’s nothing wrong with enjoying sex,” Burgemeester adds. “But it can come with unwanted consequences, and you owe it to yourself to consider them ahead of time!” 

Reflect on your intentions

At this point you might be thinking, What’s the harm in sleeping with my ex? So what if it’s a little complicated? Of course, the answer is yes — sex is complicated no matter how many partners are involved. But whatever your situation may be, it’s important to get clear on your intentions for sex and reflect on why you want this experience with your ex-partner.

“Before having sex with your ex, get really clear on what your expectations are,” Dr. Murphy says. “Are you hoping for great sex and little else? Are you secretly hoping to rekindle your relationship? What are the reasons why you might choose to have sex with your ex, and do you like those reasons? If you do, have fun! And if you don’t, it might be a better idea to back off.” 

Dr. Litner suggests being extra careful if your intention is to rekindle the relationship since sex doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll get back together — and it could overcomplicate things even more. “Having sex with an ex may feel enjoyable, but it likely will not change the reason why the relationship ended,” she says.

Whether you’re aiming for a one-time thing, ongoing casual sex, or you want to rekindle the relationship again, clarify your intentions to help inform your decision. And when you do, remember that your ex may or may not have the same ones in mind.

If your ex wants sex, but not a relationship, things could get tricky

As if sleeping with your ex wasn’t complicated enough, it can be challenging when you want seemingly different things. Maybe your ex is 100% down for casual sex but doesn’t want long-term commitment — or vice versa. Either way, if you’re planning to sleep with a former partner, you’ll probably have to redefine your relationship to determine the vibe moving forward. Dr. Romanoff says this can be tricky since it could involve viewing your ex in an entirely new light — which may be a different identity than how you previously viewed them.

“Our partners become associated with many different roles and identities during relationships. They ‘become’ our best friends, therapists, partners in crime, and companions,” she says. “Space is required to redefine their new role in your life. Don’t deprive yourself of this space, but also, don’t underestimate the possibility of finding someone new with who you could form a better relationship with in the future.” 

At the end of the day, sex with your ex could lead to a lighthearted, fun experience, or you may ultimately realize that it’s not the healthiest decision. You may also find that casual sex is sustainable for a while, but you find yourself falling for them again — which may lead to some strong emotions. Either way, be sure to check in with your feelings often and voice them to your ex. After all, clear communication in any relationship is key.

The six questions you need to ask  

If you’ve reflected on the breakup, weighed the pros and cons, thought ahead to the future, and you’re still having trouble making the final call, Dr. Estrin says to ask yourself the classic “who, what, when, where, why,” and “how.” 

  • Who will it hurt? Will either party be psychologically or emotionally harmed but having sex?
  • What makes this person special (looks, skill in bed, emotional attachment) that I want to have sex with him/her?
  • Why am I considering having sex with this person (i.e. revenge, boredom, unresolved feelings)?
  • Where will this lead after we have sex?
  • When I think about having sex with this person, I feel…
  • How will I feel after I have sex with this person?

Debating whether to have sex with your ex can be a tough call. Sex should always be consensual, and the goal is for you to feel safe, empowered, and comfortable with any activity you engage in. If sleeping with an ex makes you feel anxious, uncertain, or unsettled in some way, it may not be the best idea right now. If imagining sex with them makes you feel positive overall, it might be worth considering. However, if you feel like you could be in harm’s way in any shape or form, or that you’re being pressured into sex, it’s best not to engage at all. 

At the end of the day, only you know yourself best, so move at your own pace and remember, there is no “right” or “wrong” answer. Follow this expert-approved advice if you need some extra support. Good luck! 

Experts
Sabrina Romanoff, PsyD, Clinical Psychologist & Professor at Yeshiva University
Joshua Estrin, Ph.D, Licensed Psychotherapist
Marie Murphy, Ph.D., Sociologist & Relationship Coach
Alexander Burgemeester, Psychologist
Jennifer Litner, Ph.D., LMFT, Licensed Marriage & Family Therapist & Certified Sex Therapist

Tianna is an Associate Editor at Her Campus Media HQ where she covers all things pop culture, entertainment, wellness, and TikTok trends. She graduated from North Carolina State University and received her masters from Columbia University. Tianna currently lives in New York City where you can find her sipping coffee, practicing yoga, and singing show tunes.
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