Breakup Sex: Is Going Out With a Bang a Good Idea?

Breakup Sex: Is Going Out With a Bang a Good Idea?

By Sean Braswell

SourceAmyn Nasser/Gallery Stock


All things must end. Not all things come to an end.

By Sean Braswell

“Man is the only animal that contemplates death,” the American philosopher William Ernest Hocking once observed, “and also the only animal that shows any sign of doubt of its finality.”

The same can be said of breakup sex.

Just as we humans must periodically confront the reality of our future demise, we are sometimes presented with foreknowledge of another somewhat ominous, but potentially transforming, terminal event: our final sexual encounter with a long-term partner. 

When your relationship world ends, is it better to go out with a bang or with a whimper?

Coming to terms with the finality of that event can be as fraught with emotional upheaval as facing down our own mortality — however, breakup sex has at least two very important elements that death typically does not: Choice and the Day After.

And so, as Carrie Bradshaw might wonder, is this closing session of sexual congress, with its potential for mind-altering sex, worth the attendant heartache and its aftermath? When your relationship world ends, is it better to go out with a bang or a whimper?

In an era in which 24 percent of daters say they’d end an exclusive relationship or even a marriage via text message, the sort of advance notice of a defunct relationship that is the prerequisite for well-coordinated breakup sex is getting harder to come by. But, if its kissing cousin, make-up sex, is the more common pastime, breakup sex is the more elusive and alluring — the lunar eclipse of pair bonding that requires the perfect alignment of timing, chemistry, openness and understanding, not to mention mutually assured relationship destruction. Which is in part, some claim, along with its last-chance aspect, what makes it such a tantalizing activity.

“It’s like the day before a diet,” says Men’s Health contributing editor Ted Spiker. “Tomorrow I’ll start, but today I’m going to enjoy one last order of chicken wings.”

Another explanation for the power of both breakup and make-up sex is that they take place in a sea of other emotions, fears and anxieties. Some scholars argue that the heightened excitement and pleasure that can accompany these sexual encounters arise from a phenomenon called excitation transfer, whereby the arousal or anxiety generated by one stimulus — a recent fight or the potential flight — boosts the level of excitation we experience from a second stimulus, great sex. 

If there’s any question regarding the mutuality of the final act, it risks becoming ‘pity sex,’ ‘take-me-back sex’ or ‘see-what-you’ll-be-missing sex.’

But the same bittersweet, end-of-the-road forces that can combine with an inhibition-free atmosphere to produce what may be the best sex of your relationship can just as easily congeal around the doubts, questions and confusion still hovering over the state of affairs.

Is the monumental sex, and even the closure that some feel from a consummated ending, worth making the breakup potentially even more painful? The questions you’ve been wrestling with in connection with the end of the relationship — “Maybe we are good together? Maybe it’s worth another try?” — get swept into a whirlwind of passion and muddled by the potent injection of lust and intimacy.

If there is any question regarding the mutuality of the final act, then it risks being transformed into “pity sex,” “take-me-back sex” or “see-what-you’ll-be-missing sex.” And in some cases, as illustrated in The Wolf of Wall Street when Naomi (Margot Robbie), the unhappy wife of stockbroker Jordan Belfort (Leonardo DiCaprio), delivers the postcoital pronouncement, “That was the last time we ever have sex,” it can warp into an emotional sucker punch.

And, of course, there is the obvious pressure to make it memorable, to bring down the house on closing night. What if it doesn’t live up to expectations?

So many considerations, so many ways to complicate an uncomplicated act. On the bright side, the contestants can look forward to some very exciting parting gifts, including rebound sex, revenge sex and, most of all, the crystal meth of cracked relationships for which breakup sex is really just the gateway drug: ex sex. 

Tell us what you think: Is breakup sex worth it?