Pleasure Follows Pain: Why Make-Up and Break-Up Sex Are So Good
One minute you’re fighting. The next minute, you’re performing sexual acrobatics that your teenage self could have only dreamed of. For a brief moment in time, everything is great: you like each other, the sex is hot and there’s no thought of the future.
When the dust settles and reality kicks in, any problems you’ve had still remain—the reason for your fight or breakup, the emotions involved and the realization that you’ll need to find some way to move on from it all.
It might just be a trap. So why does break-up and make-up sex feel so good? Psychologists believe they’ve found the answer.
Arousal transfer: not as sexy as it sounds
How is it that you can go from wanting to strangle someone to wanting to rip off their clothes? The answer is “arousal transfer,” a psychological occurrence in which negative arousal (fear, anger) transfers into sexual arousal. When you’re already experiencing one intense emotion, it’s easier to trigger another. It’s not limited to negative emotions, either—you can experience arousal transfer after a great concert or personal victory.
Arousal transfer impacts break-up and make-up sex. When you’re agitated and angry, your body may go into fight-or-flight mode. That floods your body with hormones like cortisol, the stress hormone. You’re literally in survival mode, and it can be hard to come down from that state. In the heat of the moment, your body and brain can transmute the anger and fear into sexual arousal.
That’s not necessarily a bad thing, if your relationship is healthy. It’s key to remember that even if the sex was mind-blowing, the underlying issues still need to be resolved outside of the bedroom.
When a relationship is healthy, make-up sex can remind you of why you got together in the first place. Arousal transfer can make either or both parties crave closeness. Partners might use make-up sex as a way to transfer those negative feelings into sex, which can build intimacy. “The fantastic sex that ensues is to some extent due to the change in mood and the (at least temporary) relief at reconciliation with the partner, but it is also the result of arousal transfer from the fight to the sex,” reports Psychology Today.
If you want to get the most out of your make-up sex, it’s important to remember that you still need to solve the problems that caused the fight. Without true emotional intimacy and understanding, you’re bound to get into a vicious cycle of fights, make-up sex, more fights… and eventually, perhaps break-up sex too.
…And breaking up
Break-up sex isn’t for everyone. Once one partner has decided the relationship is over, many people would rather throw their ex’s belongings out the window as opposed to throwing their clothes on the floor. Other people find it to be exhilarating and emotional. Once again, arousal transfer is responsible.
If a relationship ended mutually, you might be more likely to engage in break-up sex. It’s bittersweet: you both know it will be the last time, so all inhibitions and constraints are out the window. One minute, you’re dealing with the crushing weight of your emotions, and the next, you’re giving them a sendoff worthy of a sailor about to cross the Atlantic.
Use with caution
Make-up sex and break-up sex can make for some messy emotions, but as long as both parties are consenting, neither is inherently bad. However, you should proceed with caution, particularly if you suspect you’re in an abusive relationship.
Because these emotionally fraught types of sex feel so good in the moment, abusers can capitalize on them. Victims of abuse might feel that they’ve finally made a breakthrough: their partner loves them like they used to! It’s so loving and caring. Surely, it will last, won’t it? Unfortunately, without their real effort to change and break the cycle of abuse, the same pattern will likely repeat.
Break-up sex can also engender a lot of bitterness, especially if you’re not honest about what you’re doing. For example, if you spend a romantic weekend in bed with your partner and then drop the bomb, chances are they’ll feel used and degraded.
Ultimately, neither type of sex is “bad.” It can be a pleasurable, exciting, bittersweet and passionate experience. If you plan to stay with your partner, though, it’s crucial that you make a plan to address the underlying cause.