Are You Sleeping with Your Ex?

Dating relationships are rarely linear. Generally, romantic love and relationships are messy, especially after a breakup.

The end of a romantic relationship often leaves people questioning how to handle sexual advances and interactions with their former mate. It’s common to have sex with an ex after a breakup. In a sample of 792 adolescent and young adult daters, for example, more than half reported having sex with an ex after their breakup (Halpern-Meekin, Manning, Giordano, & Longmore, 2013).

Yet, having sex with an ex can make it harder to move on.

Costs of Having Sex with an Ex

Having sexual contact with a romantic partner is an integral part of relationship satisfaction for most adults (AARP, 2010Zhang and Liu, 2020). For example, in a longitudinal study of 1,911 couples, Zhang and Liu (2020) found that being sexually active and having sex more frequently were all associated with better mental health among older adults.

Sexual touch and orgasm are important to romantic connection because they feel good, filling us with hormones and neurotransmitters like oxytocin that bond us to a mate. It increases our endorphins and offers health benefits that reduce stress and elevate mood. It is also an intimate and vulnerable experience, fostering a special connection with a sexual partner.

Given how sexual contact can affect us emotionally and physically, if you continue to have sex with an ex it can keep you connected to them. According to research by Halpern-Meekin and colleagues (2013), people who had sex with their ex were more likely to experience relationship conflict with their ex than those who did not. However, they were also more likely to share intimate details of their feelings and experience; have greater relationship commitment; and, have an increased likelihood of reconciling. Continuing to have sex with an ex is likely to keep you attached to them, fueling emotional connection and intimacy in a way that makes it hard to move on.

The Naked Truth: Although intimate sexual connection is a key aspect of most healthy, satisfying romantic relationships, continuing to have sex with an ex is common but can keep you from moving forward. If you want to start a new life without your ex, engaging in sexual contact or communication will make it harder to let them go.

Copyright Cortney S. Warren, Ph.D., ABPP

Note: This content is only for informational and educational purposes and should not be considered therapy or any form of treatment. I cannot respond to personal requests for advice over the Internet. Best on your continued journey.


If you’re struggling to get over a former romantic partner, my new book Letting Go of Your Ex, may help.

Image Source: Rilueda from Getty Images

Dr. Cortney S. Warren, PhD, ABPP

Exposed to a diversity of cultures and lifestyles from an early age, Dr. Cortney was intrigued by the ways cultural and environmental conditions affected the psychological well-being of individuals, groups, and even whole societies.


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