Conventional wisdom warns that jumping into bed with an ex-partner after a breakup can only lead to greater heartache.
This is true even for those who continue to pine after their ex, said study author Stephanie Spielmann, of Wayne State University in the US.
In two studies, researchers analysed the daily experiences of 113 participants who had recently experienced a breakup. Two months later, these participants completed a further online survey.
Participants were asked if they had tried to have any physical contact with their former partners, how emotionally attached they still were and how they felt after each day.
In a second study, 372 participants reported their actual and attempted sexual engagement with their ex-partner, as well as whether they were still emotionally tied to them.
The researchers found that pursuing sex with an ex did not seem to stand in the way of people’s subsequent recovery from a breakup on a daily basis or over the course of two months.
Most participants who pursued sex did end up in bed with their ex, but this did not influence how someone managed to get over the end of their relationship.
Those pining after their ex-partner more often sought out sexual activity, potentially as a way of fostering closeness and connection. However, doing this did not leave them distressed or feeling depressed. In fact, it left them feeling more positive in everyday life.
Dr Spielmann said: “This research suggests that societal handwringing regarding trying to have sex with an ex may not be warranted.
“The fact that sex with an ex is found to be most eagerly pursued by those having difficulty moving on, suggests that we should perhaps instead more critically evaluate people’s motivations behind pursuing sex with an ex.”
She said the findings highlight how important it is to study the nature of breakups over a longer period of time. It also underlines the multifaceted nature of how people recover from breakups.
She said it was an important subject to research because of the affect it could have on someone’s mental health, how distressed they remain and whether they are able to move on. The findings appear in the journal Archives of Sexual Behaviour.