So, you’re at a bar…flirting with a guy who isn’t your boyfriend. Well, I guess I should say ex-boyfriend now (it’s only been a couple weeks since you broke up). He’s cute, and it’s very obvious he’s getting more and more touchy as the night goes on. It’s weird being touched by someone new, but not feeling that familiar comfort of your significant other doesn’t feel as bad as you thought.
It’s lighthearted. It’s fun. You can easily see where it’s going. And before you know it, he asks you to go home with him. The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else, right?
But is it really?
Is rebound sex with that random person from the bar just some lame-ass excuse for getting laid too soon after a breakup? Or is it actually helping you regain some of the confidence you lost after feeling rejected? The answer is not so easy.
What is rebound sex?
Whether you’re watching The Notebook and listening to “drivers license” on repeat, going to the Hawk four nights in a row and calling it “normal,” or having random, meaningless sex with strangers, you’re looking for ways to quiet that emotional hurt that won’t stop aching in your chest.
There is no linear way to get over an ex. But some people find rebound sex useful in accelerating their post-breakup recovery.
Rebound sex is typically defined as casual sex with someone to help cope with the pain of a breakup. Many times there’s a stigma associated with people who use sex to get over their ex – especially when it comes to women.
How can rebound sex help?
Haley*, a junior at the University of Kansas, says she allowed herself about two weeks to be sad and “purge” her feelings following her breakup with her long distance boyfriend. When she felt better, she went out and had rebound sex.
“I felt empowered and worthy again,” she says. “It gave me back my confidence…It definitely helped me get over my ex faster, because I showed myself I can move on and enjoy sex and relationships outside of my ex.”
Dr. Michelle Washburn-Busk, a clinically licensed marriage and family therapist, says by being intentional, you know you aren’t using sex as a Band-Aid, but as another way to continue enjoying life while experiencing heartbreak:
“If you know you want to have a fun hook-up experience to enjoy yourself and try to move on from your ex, if you are clear with yourself and your sexual partner about your intentions and boundaries, rebound sex can be a good experience.”
It’s normal to have tunnel vision in a relationship – as if you will never connect with anyone else in the world like you did with that person – but feeling desired by someone new, especially in a sexual light, can help you regain some of the confidence you lost and make you comfortable enough to put yourself back out there. That’s exactly how KU senior, Zoe*, felt after having rebound sex a little over a week after her breakup.
“I felt beautiful and appreciated in ways that I hadn’t in a while,” she said. “It reminded me that he is not the world and that there are a lot of good things out there that are not related to him.”
Not only can rebound sex help you feel liberated and empowered, but the physical act of sex itself is also scientifically proven to raise spirits. The endorphins and oxytocin released during sex activate pleasure centers in the brain which can help fight off anxieties and depressive thoughts that are common in breakup blues – another reason rebound sex might be for you.
Although sex is not an antidote to cure all problems, it just might help alleviate some of the pain you’re feeling and help you get back out there.
How can rebound sex hurt?
For one thing, it might not actually make you feel better. Ben*, a KU senior, had rebound sex a little over a month after his three year relationship ended. He admits that, while it seemed fun on the surface, the “she’s just not her” thoughts kept creeping in his mind, bringing the opposite of what he had hoped for – closure.
A study from the University of Missouri suggests that those who engage in rebound sex “may be slower to recover from the breakup.” Rebounding can oftentimes be used as an emotional crutch that suppresses heartbreak instead of fixing it.
Junior KU student, Maddie*, who had rebound sex the night after her breakup, explains that while she felt more confident and willing to get back out there because it proved men found her attractive, that confidence was only temporary. She admits, “Letting time heal my wounds instead of hoping someone else would heal them for me would’ve been a better coping mechanism.”
Crystal Rodenbaugh, a licensed clinical social worker and owner of Tenfold Counseling Group, agrees with Maddie’s conclusion.
“When you skip through the grief, you look for someone else to validate you and make you feel better about yourself,” Rodenbaugh says. “This is a pseudo self-confidence, because you are then reliant on someone else to make you feel good. This can lead to co-dependency and an increasing need to push down the negative feelings with the next sexual encounter.”
Some believe regaining confidence shouldn’t involve sex at all. Romantic or sexual attraction after a breakup shouldn’t be a redefining moment on the process to recovery. Finding true empowerment and independence can only be found within yourself, not through the eyes of others – even if it’s harder and takes longer.
“When you carry baggage with you that is unprocessed, it inevitably gets brought onto the next one,” Rodenbaugh adds. “Respect them and yourself enough to do the work, so that you don’t become another wounded person looking to add wounds to others, whether it’s intentional or not.” So, while you might feel great and empowered in the moment, it’s important to consider how you’re affecting the person you choose to get involved with as well.
In Rodenbaugh’s opinion, regardless of the time period, once you “do the work and feel ready,” it no longer becomes rebound sex, which is a good thing.
“It means that you aren’t seeking validation for being OK or enough from someone else because you are confident in those things already,” she says. “Be willing to do the hard work post-breakup. This shapes your character and better prepares you for healthy relationships in the future.”
Here’s the thing, there’s no obvious solution to getting over a breakup. If you’ve ever Googled “How to mend a broken heart,” – (like I may have done once or twice in my lifetime) – you know that unfortunate fact. Everyone deals with it differently, and everyone heals differently.
So, is rebound sex more beneficial or harmful in post-breakup recovery? – Well, the answer isn’t black and white.
Dr. Washburn-Busk says to consider “Sliding vs. Deciding,” a term coined by research professor Dr. Scott Stanley. Sliding is being unintentional and not thinking through a decision, and deciding is being deliberate and using your values to guide your decisions.
“Transitioning into any sort of relationship context – whether it be casual sex or moving in together – is best done deliberately,” Dr. Washburn-Busk explains. “If someone is deciding to have rebound sex and they are clear on what they want, and why they want it, it is less likely to end up creating more problems.”
It all boils down to one thing – be intentional. If you think having safe, consensual sex will help you get over your ex, do it. If you think it will only suppress your emotions and delay your healing, don’t.
Listen to what your gut is telling you because most of the time, it’s right.