Critics say that rebound sex — casual hook-ups with randos shortly after a break-up — leaves you feeling like a worthless whore.
But many couples and sex therapists we spoke to argue the opposite. To get over someone, they say, you’ve got to get under someone else.
“The stigma surrounding rebound sex tends to come from very moralistic views,” says Tara Galeano, a certified sex therapist in Boulder, Colorado. From a sex-positive perspective, she insists, casual sex doesn’t have to leave you feeling filthy. “It can make you feel optimistic about your romantic possibilities with other people."
This defies decades of finger-wagging.
Conventional wisdom has always held that rebound sex is no good. For example, a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, which followed college students through the course of their break-ups, found that people who used sex to get back at their ex or cope with their distress were more likely to keep having sex with new partners eight months after the relationship’s end, “suggesting that they may be slower to recover from the breakup,” the researchers wrote.
However, our experts say it can be a very healthy part of the post-breakup healing process.
In fact, after a relationship ends, there are tons of reasons to turn to sex to soften the blow, says Indigo Stray Conger, a licensed marriage and family therapist in Denver.
“Love does not need to be the only motivation for having sex,” Conger says.
You can also do it to help you love yourself.
Alex, a 26-year-old restaurant manager from Fort Lauderdale, Florida, slept with someone entirely new shortly after ending a three-year-long relationship.
“I wanted to remind myself that he wasn’t the last person who would ever want to be with me,” explains Alex.
Another common motivation for screwing someone new is retaliation.
“I think it’s in human nature to have rebound sex out of spite, especially if there had been some infidelity or an affair that caused the break-up,” says Galeano.
When it’s done for the sake of getting even with your ex, rebound sex is more commonly called “revenge sex.”
After Hannah, a 24-year-old marketing assistant, was dumped by her boyfriend, she had revenge sex with his best friend. “I was really angry after my boyfriend [of two years] broke up with me. He blamed me for all of the flaws in our relationship, made me feel like a piece of shit, and then left me to pursue another woman he went to school with,” Hannah says.
Alex was the “dumper” in her relationship. Hannah was the “dumpee.” Research shows it’s far more common for the “dumpee” to feel more distressed after the break-up, and therefore seek out rebound sex.
Whether you left your partner or they left you, rebound sex is a fantastic way to realize what was missing from your previous relationship, Galeano and Conger agree.
“Sexual dissatisfaction is usually there when a relationship ends,” Conger says. To find that satisfaction in unfamiliar genitals can be invigorating.
“It’s a revitalizing experience to have great sex with someone different,” Galeano says. “It helps you find a connection that you never had with your ex and move on.”
Of course, rebound sex isn’t for everyone. Some people have an internalized sense of shame about having casual sex. Some people are at risk of establishing an emotional connection too quickly, and could end up feeling hurt all over again. Some people are just desperate to find their next relationship.
“People with a more religious background are more likely to get drunk, have sex and feel bad about themselves,” Conger explains. “Serial monogamists have a tendency to want to jump into the next relationship. When you have less of a sense of self, rebound sex can be unhealthy.”
There’s also the misconception that endless rebound sex can help you dodge the ugly feels. “It’s a great distraction, but if you become too indulgent and are avoiding your feelings then you’re not really healing,” Galeano says.
Odds are, you’re also not healing when you’re deliberately trying to hurt the feelings of your former partner.
Hannah’s revenge sex with her ex-boyfriend’s bestie didn’t make her break-up any easier. “Maybe my ex never found out or maybe he didn’t want to gratify my actions with a response, but he never gave me the reaction I was looking for. It didn’t make me feel like I evened the score,” Hannah says.
Alex, however, has no regrets. “I never felt more alive than when I was having rebound sex,” she says. “In the middle of such a miserable break-up, it was exactly the breath of fresh air I needed.”