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52 Reasons Why So Many Couples Have Breakup Sex

New research explores why people have sex with their exes.

Sasint / Pixabay
Source: Sasint / Pixabay

What motivates people to have breakup sex? A new study forthcoming in the journal Evolutionary Psychology has an answer. A team of psychologists from Bucknell University and Tulane University found “sex is fun,” “missing sex,” and a “desire to get back together” to be the top three reasons why people engage in breakup sex. For anyone wondering, drunkenness was the eighth most common reason.

To come to this conclusion, the researchers asked 92 U.S. heterosexual adults, ages 18-34, to list all of the reasons why they, or someone they know, engaged in breakup sex in the past. Fifty-two reasons were identified in total. They are listed below and ranked from most common to least common.

52 reasons why people have breakup sex

  1. Sex is fun
  2. Miss sex
  3. Want to get back together
  4. You miss them/miss each other
  5. Lonely
  6. Still have feelings
  7. Knows what the other likes
  8. Drunk
  9. Still in love
  10. Closure
  11. You’re comfortable with the ex
  12. Sexual tension
  13. Show them what they are going to be missing
  14. Can’t move on
  15. Final goodbye
  16. Passion
  17. Bored
  18. To feel better/sadness/fill emotional void
  19. Try to get over the person
  20. Don’t want to add to body count
  21. Hatred/anger
  22. It is easy
  23. Have sex for the last time
  24. Broke up for reasons other than feelings
  25. See if there are still feelings
  26. Because you can
  27. Stress
  28. Regret the breakup
  29. View them sexually/physical relationship now
  30. Longing
  31. Needy/satisfy needs
  32. Get back on the market
  33. Exciting/thrilling
  34. To take back power in situation
  35. Curiosity
  36. To tell people that you did
  37. Didn’t mutually end relationship
  38. Needs attention
  39. Other people do it
  40. No STD risk
  41. Confidence
  42. Think they are your best option
  43. Opportunity came up
  44. Feel connection again
  45. Feel love
  46. Desperate
  47. Forget about breaking up
  48. Afraid to seek out new relationship
  49. Confusion about breakup
  50. Better than before
  51. They act like they miss you
  52. No idea

The researchers grouped these reasons into three broad categories: relationship maintenance, hedonistic, and ambivalent feelings. Relationship maintenance, according to the researchers, has to do with the emotional aspect of having breakup sex and the need for ex-partners, hedonistic motivations pertain to the physical nature of having breakup sex, and ambivalent feelings represent conflicting feelings and contradictory views of engaging in breakup sex.

The team of scientists also reported significant gender differences. Although hedonism was the most common motivation for both men and women, it was even more common among men. “This is consistent with previous research,” write the researchers, “suggesting that, cross-culturally, men tend to place a higher priority on hedonistic-type values relative to women.”

They also found men to be more motivated by ambivalent feelings (e.g., “other people do it,” “to tell people I did it,” “to get back on the dating market,” etc.) than women.

Next, the team of scientists examined whether engaging in breakup sex made people feel better about their ex-partner and their ex-relationship. Again, the results depended on one’s gender. Generally speaking, men reported feeling happier after engaging in breakup sex than women, perhaps due to their hedonistic motivations. However, when the scientists asked a similar question in a slightly different way, the results reversed. It was women who viewed the relationship more favorably after engaging in breakup sex than men, perhaps because breakup sex encouraged relationship maintenance or offered closure.

The researchers attempted to explain their results through the lens of evolutionary theory. They state, “Although men and women rate enjoying sex equally, sexual strategies theory and parental investment perspectives suggest that engaging in breakup sex for purely hedonistic reasons may be more costly for women than men.” From this perspective, it is not surprising that men were more likely to engage in breakup sex for hedonistic reasons.

However, evolutionary theory could not explain other patterns in the data. For instance, women were no more likely than men to engage in breakup sex for relationship maintenance reasons — something that might be expected from an evolutionary perspective given a woman’s desire to encourage male investment in a relationship. Future research, it seems, will have to look for other explanations to help square the data with the theory.

Facebook image: fizkes/Shutterstock


Moran, J. B., Wade, T. J., & Murray, D. R. (2020). The psychology of breakup sex: Exploring the motivational factors and affective consequences of post-breakup sexual activity. Evolutionary Psychology.