Does Rebound Sex Help You Get Over A Breakup?

Illustrated by Anja Slibar.
By Dr. Benjamin Le

One of the sad truths about dating is that sometimes, you get dumped — and if or when you do, you might just find yourself pretty pissed at your ex. If you want to get back at him or her for that terrible mistake, jumping into bed with someone else will surely teach your ex a lesson, right? You might also think hooking up with someone else will help you feel better — at least for a little while. But, are revenge sex and rebound sex all that common? Does having sex with someone new after a breakup help at all?

Surprisingly, researchers hadn't investigated the topic until recently, in a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior. These researchers collected data from 170 college students who were currently single but had been in relationships that ended within the previous year (on average, their relationships had ended about four months prior to their participation in the study). After completing an initial screening questionnaire about who initiated their most recent breakup (i.e. whether they were the “dumper” or “dumpee”), each week during the semester, participants answered questions about their self-esteem, mood, sexual behavior, and reasons for having sex (“rebound motives” as well as “revenge motives”).

More than one third (35%) of the people in the study reported having rebound sex — and almost one quarter (23%) had revenge sex — in the month following their breakups. So, although the majority of people didn't engage in these behaviors, a sizable chunk still did. (It's important to note that as this study was self-reported, it's possible that the students weren't all 100% honest about their post-breakup sexual behaviors.) 
According to the students' self-assessments, revenge and rebound sex were (unsurprisingly) most likely to occur when a breakup’s sting was fresh. The students were actually less likely to have new sexual partners for purely revenge or rebound reasons as more time passed following their breakups — perhaps because they were instead seeking new long-term partners. Of course, this study was based on college students only, so more research on a wider range of ages is needed to make further conclusions.
Are rebound and revenge sex actually coping mechanisms? Not really. In fact, people who had sex with new partners soon after a breakup did not show less distress, less anger, or higher self-esteem afterward. So, although some people do use sex as a way to cope with a breakup, it doesn't actually make you feel any better in the long run. Good thing it probably won't make you feel any worse, either.

Read more about rebound relationships here.

More from Sex & Relationships