The Ex Factor: Should You Sleep With Your Ex?

Illustration by Pirate

During a rather dramatic break-up some years back, my soon-to-be ex asked me if I was absolutely sure I wanted to end our relationship. Was I ready, he asked, to forgo the heat of our bodies lying next to each other?  Was I ready to give up the feel of his flesh upon mine?  Was I willing to live with the finality of our lips – and other parts of our bodies – never touching again? “Yes, yes and yes,” was my unequivocal reply. As brutal as it sounds, I really was quite done with him and our relationship, which had spanned three years. The prospect of never sleeping with him again didn’t faze me at all. For me, when it’s over, it’s over – emotions and desire.

For some people, break-ups are never quite so uncompromising. Of course, it depends on who did the dumping and who the most aggrieved party is. The dumper walks away from the rubble feeling, maybe, a twinge of regret for hurting someone who was once loved and desired, while the dumpee struggles to comprehend what went wrong, still wanting the other person, and still hoping for reconciliation…and make-up sex…or comeback sex.

Whatever you choose to call it, sex with an ex may offer the comforts of the familiar, but it also comes with the complexities of the past. It’s like putting on an old T-shirt you used to cherish and finding out it doesn’t fit quite as nicely as before. But you figure you can still wear it. Some say, “It’s just sex.” They manage to detach emotion from the equation.  Some use sex as a means of luring the former partner back into a relationship. Is the sex any good? “Don’t bother,” my friends say in unison. “It’s always disappointing.”

I can understand the appeal of sex with an ex. But it is a fantasy that the sex may be better without the burden of expectations that a relationship brings, and the fantasy tends to be fleeting. If your dynamic was tempestuous – following a cycle of fight, make up and repeat – it won’t be long before the same elements that tore you apart come back into play. If you parted as friends, and the sex was good but not great, then it won’t be long before it starts to feel stale again. That said, if you know exactly what you want from indulging in sex with your ex and can handle any consequences from the involvement, go for it and enjoy it.

Viewed from a more calculating point of view, sex with an ex can also be a display of might. Ending a relationship is a form of rejection. You may have once driven your partner insane with desire, but now your sexual skills and whatever sexual chemistry you had are insufficient to keep your partner from leaving and seeking sexual fulfilment elsewhere. A bout of ex-sex is a way of reaffirming your power over a former partner, proving you haven’t lost your touch, you still turn them on and you still know what to do to get them off.

However, the amorphous nature of today’s couplings means relationships have become more fluid and less clearly defined, so much so that the very idea of the ex has become similarly vague.

How do you characterise someone you may have had some kind of sexual or emotional relationship with outside the parameters of conventional dating – someone you may have slept with casually but developed feelings for, or someone that comes in and out of your life and you have sex each time, with the strings either tightening or loosening? How can you say with finality that it’s finished, when you’re not sure it ever really started?

That uncertainty may lead to the most exciting coupling where each encounter could be the last, or the start of more.

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