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The psychology of breakup sex: Exploring the motivational factors and affective consequences of post-breakup sexual activity


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Popular culture has recently publicized a seemingly new postbreakup behavior called breakup sex. While the media expresses the benefits of participating in breakup sex, there is no research to support these claimed benefits. The current research was designed to begin to better understand this postbreakup behavior. In the first study, we examined how past breakup sex experiences made the individuals feel and how people predict they would feel in the future ( n = 212). Results suggested that men are more likely than women to have felt better about themselves, while women tend to state they felt better about the relationship after breakup sex. The second study ( n = 585) investigated why men and women engage in breakup sex. Results revealed that most breakup sex appears to be motivated by three factors: relationship maintenance, hedonism, and ambivalence. Men tended to support hedonistic and ambivalent reasons for having breakup sex more often than women. The two studies revealed that breakup sex may be differentially motivated (and may have different psychological consequences) for men and women and may not be as beneficial as the media suggests.
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Original Article
The psychology of breakup sex:
Exploring the motivational factors and
affective consequences of post-breakup
sexual activity
James B. Moran
, T. Joel Wade
, and Damian R. Murray
Popular culture has recently publicized a seemingly new postbreakup behavior called breakup sex. While the media expresses the
benefits of participating in breakup sex, there is no research to support these claimed benefits. The current research was designed
to begin to better understand this postbreakup behavior. In the first study, we examined how past breakup sex experiences made
the individuals feel and how people predict they would feel in the future (n¼212). Results suggested that men are more likely than
women to have felt better about themselves, while women tend to state they felt better about the relationship after breakup sex.
The second study (n¼585) investigated why men and women engage in breakup sex. Results revealed that most breakup sex
appears to be motivated by three factors: relationship maintenance, hedonism, and ambivalence. Men tended to support
hedonistic and ambivalent reasons for having breakup sex more often than women. The two studies revealed that breakup sex
may be differentially motivated (and may have different psychological consequences) for men and women and may not be as
beneficial as the media suggests.
breakup sex, sexual strategy theory, fiery limbo, postbreakup behavior, ex-sex, gender differences
Date received: May 31, 2020; Accepted: May 31, 2020
Engaging in sexual contact with an ex-partner can have diverse
consequences. The individuals in the ex-relationship could
experience heartbreak and want to get back with one another.
On the other hand, the members in the relationship could expe-
rience a positive situation where they rekindle their relation-
ship. Thus, deciding to engage in sexual contact with an ex
seems to be paradoxical, and for several years, researchers have
begun to further understand why this might be occurring.
Sexual Contact With an Ex-Romantic Partner
Individuals experience adverse outcomes from a breakup
which can lead to a decrease in self-esteem and an increase
in emotional distress (Slotter et al., 2010). However, gender
differences exist in the psychological experience of a breakup.
For example, women tend to report fewer negative feelings
relative to men do after a breakup occurs (Choo et al., 1996;
Hill et al., 1976) and report being happier with their breakup
(DeLecce & Weisfeld, 2015). However, women are also more
likely to initiate a breakup compared to men (DeLecce & Weis-
feld, 2015). When men experience a breakup, they report feel-
ings of sadness and grief more often than women (Rubin et al.,
1981). Besides experiencing negative effects of a breakup, men
are also more likely to experience more sexual frustration from
breakups than women because of the loss of sexual access
(DeLecce & Weisfeld, 2015). These emotional experiences
of a breakup should be of particular interest to social scientists.
If an individual is feeling grief or happiness about breaking up
with their romantic partner, then why do individuals stay in
contact with them? Research suggests that many ex-couples
Department of Psychology, Tulane University, New Orleans, LA, USA
Department of Psychology, Bucknell University, Lewisburg, PA, USA
Corresponding Author:
James B. Moran, Department of Psychology, 2007 Percival Stern Hall, Tulane
University, New Orleans, LA 70118, USA.
Evolutionary Psychology
July-September 2020: 1–14
ªThe Author(s) 2020
Article reuse guidelines:
DOI: 10.1177/1474704920936916
Creative Commons Non Commercial CC BY-NC: This article is distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 License
( which permits non-commercial use, reproduction and distribution of the work without further permission
provided the original work is attributed as specified on the SAGE and Open Access pages (
both continue communication and continue their sexual contact
with one another. In particular, staying friends with an ex is
motivated by wanting sexual access (Mogilski & Welling,
The research detailed above indicates that breakups produce
various emotions for men and women, which may lead people
to want to rekindle their relationship. Continued sexual contact
is not a gender-specific behavior; both men and women report
attempting to contact their ex partners for sex (Perilloux &
Buss, 2008). Neither gender nor whether or not one is the
initiator of the breakup predicts solicitations for sex with an
ex. Both men and women, rejectors and rejectees, are equally
likely to contact an ex for sexual contact (DeLecce & Weisfeld,
Continued sexual contact is a behavior that both men and
women—rejectors and rejectees—report requesting of their ex.
In fact, 27%of 17- to 24-year-olds report having sex with an ex
within a 2-year period (Halpern-Meekin et al., 2012), and 14%
of individuals reported that their most recent casual sex partner
was an ex (Lewis et al., 2012). Besides college students, 22%of
people who were separated from their married partner reported
having sex with their separated partner within the last 4 months
(Mason et al., 2012). Although sexual contact has been exten-
sively studied, a new term has entered the human lexicon
known as breakup sex.
Breakup sex. The term “breakup sex” has recently gained popu-
larity. Articles from Women’s Health, Buzzfeed, and Bustle all
proclaim the importance of breakup sex and assert that every-
one should participate in this activity (Emery, 2016; Miller,
2015; Moore, 2015). These popular press articles define
breakup sex as a decision between a romantic couple to termi-
nate their relationship but engage in sex after their breakup.
Thus, the information presented to the general public sug-
gests that breakup sex could be a beneficial postbreakup beha-
vior. However, there is little to no scientific evidence regarding
what breakup sex is, how it affects individuals, and why indi-
viduals agree to participate in breakup sex in the first place.
Here, we define breakup sex as sexual intercourse with an
ex-romantic partner with whom the individual was in a long-
term committed relationship, with this sexual activity occurring
within 2 weeks of the termination of the relationship.This
2-week window is informed by prior research detailing the
effects of an individual’s experiences after a breakup and post-
breakup behavior (e.g., Sbarra & Emery, 2005).
Breakup sex versus ex-sex. Ex-sex is not always breakup sex, but
breakup sex is always ex-sex. This distinction between the two
is that breakup sex can fall under the category of ex-sex, but not
vice versa because of the temporal restrictions used to opera-
tionalize breakup sex.
This 2-week period is informed by research suggesting that
psychological sadness postbreakup is highest in 2-weeks post-
breakup but then decreases 4–6 weeks after the breakup (Sbarra
& Emery, 2005). This period of sadness thus establishes a
boundary where sadness has yet to be experienced. Therefore,
limiting the breakup sex definition to a period of 2 weeks or
earlier does not make sadness the driving motivator for why
men and women have breakup sex. This time period distinction
is crucial because it allows researchers to determine that enga-
ging in breakup sex was not mediated by emotional distress
after a breakup because research suggests that individuals with
higher breakup emotional distress have more frequent intrusive
thoughts of their relationships, which could affect the desire to
have breakup sex (Field et al., 2009). Specifically, if a person is
experiencing sadness, that might motivate them to have
breakup sex more due to emotional closeness than due to a
desire for closure.
Besides sadness, an individual’s behavior must also be
considered when one establishes the duration of breakup sex.
Specifically, individuals tend to report having sex with a new
person an average 4 weeks after breaking up (Barber &
Cooper, 2014). Therefore, limiting breakup sex to 2 weeks
allows one to focus on a stage in the breakup before sadness
new partner.
In a recent longitudinal study, Spielmann et al. (2018) inves-
tigated breakup recovery after engaging in ex-sex. The research
team recruited participants an average of 8.55 days after the
participants’ romantic relationship had ended and tracked the
participants’ pursuit of sex with their ex-partner for 2 months
and found that engaging in sexual contact with their ex at
various time points did not influence their well-being.
Although there seems not to be adverse reactions toward one’s
well-being, deciding to have sex with an ex-romantic partner
can be complicated. But, the timing of when an individual has
sexual contact with an ex-romantic partner compared to ex-sex
is driven by different mechanisms. For example, when individ-
uals in new relationships still have unresolved feelings for their
ex, it can negatively affect their relationship quality with their
current partner (Spielmann et al., 2013); thus, sexual contact
with an ex may be functional. However, what if the breakup
occurred over 2 days versus 2 months? The individuals in the
couple are certainly experiencing different levels of upset at
those time points.
Furthermore, ex-sex may be a strategy used to rekindle the
relationship with their romantic partner. For example, research
suggests that individuals may hold on to a second optional mate
known as a “back burner.” These back burner relationships
suggest that men and women tend to place a potential romantic
partner to the side, when already in a committed relationship
(Dibble et al., 2015). This may be a strategy used with ex-sex,
engaging in sexual intercourse with an ex, to keep them in
one’s life, for the future, which is highlighted in research on
the “on-again-off-again” literature. Specifically, individuals
may be unsure if a romantic relationship is what they want;
therefore, engaging in ex-sex helps them deal with the uncer-
tainty of this relationship maintenance (Dailey et al., 2010).
However, there is no data to verify this. Thus, an examination
using evolutionary perspectives can assist in the understanding
of this postbreakup behavior.
2Evolutionary Psychology
The Adaptive Function of Breakup Sex
Evidence suggests that in many nonindustrialized cultures (the
!Kung San of the Kalahari and the Ache of Paraguay) breaking
up was common in romantic relationships (Hill & Hurtado,
1996; Howell, 1976). This is not surprising, given the potential
adaptive benefits of terminating untenable relationships
(Wade, 2012; Wade & Mogilski, 2018). However, breaking
up with a romantic partner also poses problems (Perilloux &
Buss, 2008). Engaging in breakup sex with a partner who was
in the recently terminated relationship can be a beneficial adap-
tive tool. Specifically, some of the problems that arise with
ending a relationship may have been solved by engaging in
sexual contact with an ex.
A mate retention tool. First, engaging in breakup sex may have
been used as a mate retention tactic to re-form the terminated
relationship. Prior research suggests that both men and women
engage in mate retention tactics (Buss, 1988a). Interest in mate
re-retention after a breakup may result from loss of resource
provisioning, loss of social status or access, or both. However,
research suggests gender differences in these tactics, such that
men high in mate value tend to utilize more benefit-
provisioning (e.g., public signals of possession) mate retention
tools (Miner et al., 2009; Starratt, & Shackelford, 2012).
Furthermore, both women and men may perform a variety of
sexual activities associated with love and benefit-provisioning
mate retention tactics (Kaestle, & Halpern, 2007; Pham, &
Shackelford, 2013; Sela et al., 2015). Such actions could sti-
mulate an ex-partner to reenter a relationship.
A mate-copying strategy. Breakup sex may also be beneficial to
the extent that it enhances one’s status and, in turn, increases
one’s attractiveness to other potential partners via mate-choice
copying (Hill & Buss, 2008). Mate-choice copying, or mate
copying, is a form of nondependent mating, where individuals
selectively learn who would be a beneficial mate based on
emulating the mate choices of people who are similar to them-
selves and held in high esteem (Place et al., 2010; Pruett-Jones,
1992). For example, research suggests that women who are
partnered with a man who is attractive tend to be seen as a
more desirable mate by other men (Moran & Wade, 2019). The
evidence that women are mate-copied is much stronger. When
a man is paired with a woman who is labeled as their romantic
partner, other women tend to rate that man as more attractive,
an effect also known as the desirability enhancement effect
(Rodeheffer et al., 2016). Thus, people who engage in breakup
sex with their ex may signal to others their quality as a potential
Ultimate Versus Proximate Explanations of Breakup Sex
Sexual strategy theory (SST).One framework that may help
explain why men and women engage in sexual contact with
their ex-partner is SST (Buss & Schmitt, 1993), which posits
that men and women differ in certain aspects of their mating
psychology due to the different recurrent adaptive problems
faced by each sex (Trivers, 1972).
Long-term mating tends to be highly incorporated with par-
ental investment. Long-term, committed relationships may be
beneficial for both a man and woman because individuals can
secure resources and increase survival of offspring (Buss &
Schmitt, 1993). This similarity is furthermore exemplified in
mate preferences, where men and women tend to be similar in
preferences for long-term partners (Kenrick et al., 1990).
However, short-term mating orientations function differ-
ently. For example, because men do not have to carry a child
for 9 months in utero, it may behoove them to follow a short-
term mating orientation. Besides, men having a smaller amount
of time investment, differences exist in preferences for short-
term mating behaviors such that men express more favorable
attitudes toward uncommitted sexual encounters—a difference,
according to sexual strategies theory, that emerged due to sex
differences in minimum obligatory parental investment (see.,
Trivers, 1972). Consistent with this, men also indicate prefer-
ences for more sexual partners than women and report needing
to spend less time with a potential partner before being com-
fortable engaging in casual sex (Buss & Schmitt, 1993; Schmitt
et al., 2001).
Men’s greater preference for short-term mating does not
imply that women do not benefit from, or prefer, short-term
mating as well. Unlike men, however, women tend to espe-
cially favor quality over quantity when evaluating men as
potential short-term mates (Greiling & Buss, 2000; Thornhill
& Gangestad, 2008). Women throughout human evolutionary
history have benefited from engaging in short-term mating in
the forms of not just “good genes” from high-quality extra-pair
mates but resource provisioning and social access (e.g., Scelza,
2011, 2013, 2014). Thus, women can similarly maintain short-
term mating and long-term mating simultaneously.
Consequently, SST indicates that human mating strategies
are pluralistic and can fluctuate through different contexts
(Schmitt, 2015). In the context of breakup sex, distal explana-
tions for this behavior suggest that its adaptive value may arise
from sexual variety benefits, from uncommitted “good genes”
benefits, for resource or status benefits, or any combination of
Proximate explanations. More proximate reasons also exist for
engaging in breakup sex (which need not be mutually exclusive
from the ultimate perspective above). One possible explanation
for why men and women engage in sexual contact after a
breakup is that it fulfills a desire for hedonistic excitement and
sexual contact, a framework known as the “fiery limbo.” An
individual’s fiery limbo is a stage where ex-partners may still
experience sexual desire for one another (Birnbaum & Finkel,
2015). This sexual desire is caused by the individual experien-
cing uncertainty in their sexual access and uncertainty with
their ex-romantic partner, which could be causing their sexual
desire (Birnbaum, 2018). The relationship stage model of sex-
ual desire posits five different stages of desire. The first stage is
the unilateral awareness stage, where both people in the
Moran et al. 3
relationship are aware of one another but not connected. The
second stage is known as the surface contact that suggests that
this is where participants begin to interact with one another.
The third stage is known as the emerging relationship, where
they begin to start their relationship. The fourth stage is known
as the establish relationship, where partners in the relationship
begin to maintain and start building intimacy. The fifth stage is
known as the fiery limbo. This is the stage where sexual desire
is unpredictable. Both partners are attracted to one another;
however, they are no longer together. It is in the fiery limbo
stage where sexual contact may appear.
This fiery limbo stage is exemplified when people try to
pursue sex with an ex-romantic partner and tend to have success
and report that the pursuit did not affect how well they recovered
from the breakup (Spielmann et al., 2018). These findings par-
allel relational goalpursuit theoryand suggests thatan individual
may link one’s relationship with their partner with themselves.
Thus, when a breakup occurs, they believe they can rekindle the
relationship via sex or use sex to get over their partner (Cupach
et al., 2011). The aforementioned research explicates that people
tend to want to reach out to their ex for sex. These reasons
expressed above suggest that the uncertainty and desire for a
connection are proximate reasons for why men and women may
contact their ex. Therefore, the reasons people are engaging in
breakup sex and sex with an ex could be because they are uncer-
tain of the future or that they miss being in a romantic relation-
ship. Having sex with an ex and wanting to be with the person
has been explored (see, Birnbaum & Finkel, 2015); however,
these proximate and ultimate reasons mentioned above have yet
to be explored in breakup sex research.
The Current Studies
The literature described above indicates that men and women
come into contact with their exes for various reasons. However,
there has yet to be an investigation on the specific postbreakup
behavior known as breakup sex. Thus, this current set of studies
investigated the motivating factors underlying breakup sex.
Study 1 was an exploratory study that investigated participants
who reported that they had previously engaged in breakup sex.
In particular, Study 1 focused on how participants felt about
their relationships before and after they had participated in
breakup sex and how they felt about themselves. They were
also asked to predict how they would feel and if they would
have breakup sex in the future based on various scenarios (i.e.,
breakup initiator, the attractiveness of partner, and love). Study
2 was conducted to further understand the motivations under-
lying breakup sex and whether these motivations differed
between men and women.
Study 1
Sexual strategies theory (Buss & Schmitt, 1993) informed the
hypotheses pertaining to how men and women might differ in
their retrospective and prospective breakup sex attitudes. For
men, it was hypothesized that men would (1) be more likely to
report feeling better about themselves after engaging in
breakup sex. This hypothesis is based on men’s desire for more
mates and which in turn boosts their self-esteem (Hill & Pre-
ston, 1996; Leary & Downs, 1995; Meston & Buss, 2007).
Additionally, it was hypothesized that men would engage in
breakup sex in the future regardless of whether (2) their partner
was not attractive, (3) their partner terminated the relationship,
(4) the termination of the relationship was mutual, (5) they
broke up with their partner.
For women, it was hypothesized that breakup sex would be a
tool for relationship maintenance based on the desire for emo-
tional support (Buss & Schmitt, 1993), and thus (6) they would
engage in breakup sex if they still loved their partner. This
hypothesis is based on literature suggesting that women expe-
rience more sexual regret from sexual acts with the wrong
person, whereas men have sexual regret for not engaging in
sex (Galperin et al., 2013). Thus, women may believe that their
ex-partner represents a suboptimal sexual choice, which may
be a reason why they experience negative emotions. Conse-
quently, it was also hypothesized that (7) women may engage
in behaviors that they normally would not do during sex as a
mate retention strategy and (8) use breakup sex to show their
partner what he could be missing (Sela et al., 2015).
Study 1: Method
Participants were 212 college students from a private north-
eastern university, who—based on our definition of breakup
sex—had engaged in breakup sex (male ¼77, female ¼135)
ages 18–58, M¼21.12, SD ¼5.07. Participants identified as
87.4%White, 3.3%as Black, 2.3%as Asian, 3.7%as Latinx,
and 1.4%identified as Other. All of the participants reported
having engaged in sexual intercourse. When asked if the parti-
cipant was in a long-term committed relationship, over half of
the sample reported being single (59.5%), and 40.5%were
currently in a committed long-term relationship. Ninety-five
percent of our sample identified as heterosexual while 4.5%
identified as homosexual and 0.5%as other. All of the partici-
pants reported having participated in breakup sex.
Materials and Procedure
This study was carried out in accordance with the university’s
institutional review board. All subjects were given an informed
consent and could end the experiment at any time. An email
was randomly sent to 250 students of a private northeastern
university. The email asked the undergraduate student if they
would like to participate in a voluntary short psychology survey
about sexual relationships. The email contained a link to a
Qualtrics survey. After clicking on the link and reading the
consent form, the participants were given our definition of
4Evolutionary Psychology
breakup sex. Participants were asked to respond yes, no, or I am
not sure to the following question:
Have you ever engaged in breakup sex, with an ex-romantic
partner? We define breakup sex as sexual intercourse with an
ex-romantic partner who the individual was in a long-term
committed relationship with. However, the relationship was
terminated and sexual intercourse happened after the termina-
tion, but no longer than 2 weeks after the termination.
If they responded that they hadn’t participated in breakup
sex, they were directed to the end of the survey and thanked for
their time. If they responded yes, they were then instructed to
fill out the survey.
This survey was created by the research team in order to
begin to understand the psychology of breakup sex. This study
was strictly exploratory in nature, and the 11 items were devel-
oped by the research team to investigate whether men and
women differ in their experiences of breakup sex. The 11 items
were separated into a retrospective portion, which consisted of
3 items, and a prospective portion which consisted of 8 items.
The validity of the items was established, via face validity, by
focusing on prior research examining how men and women
might differ in their past experiences in their last relationships
in which they had breakup sex. Thus, the research team created
11 items with the hope that they could paint a more global
picture of how people are affected by breakup sex. Once parti-
cipants completed the 11 items, they were presented with the
Marlowe–Crowne Social Desirability Scale Short Form
(MCSD-SF) and a demographic questionnaire. They were then
Retrospective items. Once participants agreed to the consent
form, they were instructed to “Please think of the last relation-
ship in which you had breakup sex. We are interested in how
the relationship was and how you felt after participating in
breakup sex.” After reading the directions, the participants
were presented with 3 items, which used a 1 (not at all good)
to 7 (very good) Likert-type scale to evaluate how participants
felt in previous relationships when they had breakup sex. An
example of an item is, “How was your relationship after you
had breakup sex.” Table 1 displays a list of the questions. These
items were generated by the authors to gain an understanding of
whether there are sex differences present in the perception of
the relationship before engaging in breakup sex and whether
men and women differ in their feelings after engaging in
breakup sex.
Prospective items. After answering questions about their previ-
ous feelings regarding engaging in breakup sex, participants
were directed to items—that were generated by the researcher
team—to understand other situations that would lead partici-
pants to have breakup sex. These items represented certain
scenarios that may occur (i.e., having breakup sex if my partner
broke up with me). Specifically, the participants were
instructed to “Please answer the following items in regard to
your future involvement in breakup sex.” After reading the
directions, the participants were presented with 8 items which
used a 1 (strongly disagree)to7(strongly agree) Likert-type
scale. An example of an item is, “I would have breakup sex if I
still loved my partner.” Table 1 displays a list of the questions.
MCSD-SF. The MCSD-SF is designed to control for socially
desirable response biases. The scale is a 10-item survey that
ask participants to respond to items using a true or false item
response. Items include “It is sometimes hard for me to go on
with my work if I am not encouraged” and “I sometimes feel
resentful when I don’t get my own way” (Strahan & Gerbasi,
Study 1: Results
A 2 (Long-term Relationship History) 11 (Breakups Sex
Questions) mixed-model repeated measures multivariate anal-
ysis of covariance (MANCOVA) was performed with the
social desirability score included as a covariate. The MAN-
COVA was not significant, F(11, 119) ¼.847, p¼.584, Z
¼.041, and revealed that social desirability did not have an
effect, F(11, 119) ¼.979, p¼.463, Z
Table 1. Gender Differences for 11 Breakup Sex Questions.
Questions Men M(SD) Women M(SD)
1. How was your relationship before you had breakup sex 3.52 (1.29) 3.41 (1.37)
2. How was your relationship after you had breakup sex 3.04 (1.27) 3.58 (1.38)**
3. How did you feel after 4.88 (1.75)*** 3.51 (1.68)
4. I would have breakup sex with someone less attractive than me 4.51 (1.98)* 3.95 (1.67)
5. I would have breakup sex if my partner broke up with me 4.69(1.76)*** 3.78 (1.83)
6. I would have breakup sex if it was mutual 5.55 (1.38)** 4.88 (1.63)
7. I would have breakup sex if I broke up with my partner 4.71 (1.77)** 3.97 (1.77)
8. I would have breakup sex if I still loved my partner 5.81 (1.55) 5.60 (1.51)
9. I would partake in sexual behaviors I normally wouldn’t 4.08 (1.80)*** 3.07 (1.74)
10. I would use breakup sex a tool to show them what they were missing 3.91 (2.24) 4.04 (2.03)
11. I would feel bad after having breakup sex 3.34 (1.83) 4.41 (1.73)***
*p< .05. **p< .005. ***p< .001.
Moran et al. 5
A 2 (Current Relationship Status) 11 (Breakup Sex Ques-
tions) mixed-model repeated measures MANCOVA revealed
no significant effects, F(11, 119) ¼.678, p¼.759, Z
and social desirability, F(11, 119) ¼.766, p¼.671, Z
played no role.
Last, a 2 (Gender) 11 (Breakup Sex Questions) mixed-
model repeated measures MANCOVA with the social desir-
ability score included as the covariate revealed a significant
multivariate effect for gender, F(11, 199) ¼5.91, p¼.001,
¼.25. Once again, the social desirability covariate was not
significant, F(11, 199) ¼.713, p¼.725, Z
¼.04. Univariate
effects associated with the overall multivariate effect for gen-
der revealed significant gender effects for 8 of the 11 questions.
The three questions that did not show gender differences were
as follows: “How was your relationship before breakup sex,”
F(1, 212) ¼.411, p¼.522, Z
¼.002, “I would have breakup
sex if still loved them,” F(1, 212) ¼.918, p¼.339, Z
and “I would have breakup sex to show the person what they
are missing,” F(1, 212) ¼.263, p¼.608, Z
The eight questions that showed significant gender differ-
ences were as follows: “How was your relationship
after breakup sex occurred,” F(1, 212) ¼8.394, p¼.004,
¼.04, “How did you feel after breakup sex,”
F(1, 212) ¼31.344, p¼.001, Z
¼.13, “I would have breakup
sex with someone who was less attractive than me,” F(1, 212)
¼4.781, p¼.030, Z
¼.022, “I would have breakup sex with
someone who broke up with me,” F(1, 212) ¼12.385, p¼.001,
¼.056, “I would have breakup sex with someone if the
breakup was mutual,” F(1, 212) ¼8.712, p¼.004, Z
“I would have breakup sex if I broke up with my partner,”
F(1, 212) ¼8.397, p¼.004, Z
¼.039, “I would participate
in sexual behaviors I normally wouldn’t,” F(1, 212)¼15.268,
p¼.001, Z
¼.068, and “I would feel bad about myself after
having breakup sex,” F(1, 212)¼17.503, p¼.001, Z
(see Table 1). Table 1 displays the means and standard devia-
tions for the aforementioned questions for men and women. As
can be seen from the table, men tend to be receptive to breakup
sex regardless of the relevant factors involved (i.e., partner
attractiveness or who initiated the breakup), whereas women
tend to report that they feel worse after engaging in breakup sex.
Study 1: Discussion
Study 1 was conducted to understand how individuals feel
when they have engaged in breakup sex and to understand how
they might feel about it in the future. The 11 items were further
used to assess whether there were gender differences between
men and women. Results revealed that men, more than women,
reported greater receptivity to breakup sex regardless of the
extraneous factors in the relationship (e.g., differences in mate
value, who initiated the breakup).
There was no gender difference regarding whether individ-
uals would have breakup sex if they loved their partner. How-
ever, unexpectedly, men more than women reported that they
would participate in sexual behaviors they normally would not
engage in. This engagement in atypical/less frequent sexual
behavior may reflect a mate retention tactic since research
indicates that men perform oral sex as a benefit-provisioning
mate retention tactic (Pham & Shackelford, 2013). Thus, per-
forming sexual behaviors they normally would not do could be
an indicator of mate retentive behaviors.
The hypotheses that women would rate feeling bad about
themselves was supported. This finding could be due to
women’s sexual regret when participating in a one-time sexual
encounter (Eshbaugh & Gute, 2008; Galperin et al., 2013).
These findings are contrary to the popular media idea that
breakup sex is good for both men and women. These results
suggest that between men and women, men feel best after
breakup sex and would have breakup sex for some different
reasons than women would.
Study 2
The second study was conducted to understand why men and
women engage in breakup sex and to further understand this
postbreakup behavior. An act nomination procedure was
employed, asking participants why would they participate in
breakup sex. This methodology has been used in prior research
to ascertain the many reasons why men and women have sex
(Meston & Buss, 2007). This type of methodology has also
been used to understand sexual behaviors in previous studies
focusing on love acts, mate poaching, flirting, and reconcilia-
tion (Buss, 1988; Moran & Wade, 2017; Wade et al., 2009,
2017). We hypothesized that the most popular reasons for hav-
ing breakup sex would have to do with missing the ex-partner,
missing sexual activity more generally, and obtaining closure.
Method: Phase 1
Participants (N¼92, 58 women) ages 18–34, M¼19.94, SD ¼
2.07, were recruited from a northeastern university. The sample
was 91.0%White, 3.0%Black, 4.0%, Latinx, and 1.0%Asian.
A majority of the sample had been in long-term relationships
(88.0%), and 92.4%had sexual intercourse before. All of the
participants identified as heterosexual.
Materials and Procedure
This study was carried out in accordance with the university’s
institutional review board. All subjects were given an informed
consent and could end the experiment at any time. An email
was sent to students at a private northeastern university. The
email contained a link to a Qualtrics survey. After clicking on
the link and reading the consent form, the participants were
given our definition of breakup sex. Via an online question-
naire, participants were instructed to
Please list all the reasons you can think of why you, or someone
you have known, engaged in breakup sex in the past. We define
breakup sex as sexual intercourse with an ex-romantic partner
who the individual was in a long-term committed relationship
6Evolutionary Psychology
with. However, the relationship was terminated and sexual
intercourse happened after the termination, but no longer than
2 weeks after the termination. Please list as many reasons as
Participants then answered a demographic questionnaire
about their age, gender, race, and sexual orientation. Once that
was completed, they were debriefed.
Phase 1: Results
A total of 292 reasons were nominated. Two undergraduate
research assistants, who were blind to the goal of the study,
were instructed to condense the list separately. The reasons
given that were similar were combined, and the initial list was
narrowed down to 52 reasons, which is standard practice in act
nomination methodology (see Buss, 2016). The research assis-
tants were instructed to include all reasons that were nominated
based on Meston and Buss’s (2007) methodology. Table 2 pre-
sents the reasons nominated by participants. The top three
nominated reasons were “sex is fun” (29 nominations), while
“I miss sex” was second with 26 nominations and “want to get
back together” was third with 23 nominations. These nomina-
tions were largely consistent with initial hypotheses. Surpris-
ingly, closure was not ranked among the top reasons for
engaging in breakup sex. “I wanted closure” instead ranked
10th with only 11 nominations.
Informed by this act nomination, a survey was created to
assess the perceived likelihood that the nominated acts would
be used (i.e., are reasons for having breakup sex). For this
second phase of this study, it was hypothesized that men and
women would differ on the reasons for having breakup sex.
It was hypothesized that men would rate items that are due to
physical attraction and the ease of sex as higher due to their
desire for sexual access, following SST (Buss & Schmitt,
1993), while women would rate items regarding love and emo-
tional connections higher, also consistent with SST (Buss &
Schmitt, 1993), and prior research (Buss, 1989; Haselton &
Buss, 2000).
Method: Phase 2
Participants were recruited through Amazon’s Mechanical
Turk during the fall of 2017 and were paid US$0.25. A total
of 700 participants were recruited; however, the final analytical
sample consisted of 585 (women ¼311) participants because
some failed to complete the survey, failed the attention check,
or did not identify as heterosexual. The ages ranged from 18 to
76, M¼32, SD ¼9.55. Participants identified as 75.0%White,
9.6%as Black, 8.4%as Asian, 4.6%as Latinx, 0.5%as Native
American, and 1%identified as Other. The sample consisted of
98%of people who had sexual intercourse before and 97.6%
who stated that they had been in a long-term relationship.
About third of the sample identified as single (30.4%). All of
the participants were heterosexual, and 81.5%of the sample
had participated in breakup sex in the past.
Table 2. Nominated Reasons for Participating in Breakup Sex in Study
2, Phase 1.
No. Reasons to Have Breakup Sex Frequency
1. Sex is fun 29
2. Miss Sex 26
3. Want to get back together 23
4. You miss them/miss each other 14
5. Lonely 12
6. Still have feelings 12
7. Knows what the other likes 11
8. Drunk 11
9. Still in love 11
10. Closure 11
11. You’re comfortable with the ex 11
12. Sexual tension 10
13. Show them what they are going to be missing 10
14. Can’t move on 8
15. Final goodbye 8
16. Passion 6
17. Bored 6
18. To feel better/sadness/fill emotional void 6
19. Try to get over the person 5
20. Don’t want to add to body count 5
21. Hatred/anger 5
22. It is easy 4
23. Have sex for the last time 4
24. Broke up for reasons other than feelings 3
25. See if there are still feelings 3
26. Because you can 3
27. Stress 3
28. Regret the breakup 3
29. View them sexually/physical relationship now 2
30. Longing 2
31. Needy/satisfy needs 2
32. Get back on the market 2
33. Exciting/thrilling 2
34. To take back power in situation 1
35. Curiosity 1
36. To tell people that you did 1
37. Didn’t mutually end relationship 1
38. Needs attention 1
39. Other people do it 1
40. No STD risk 1
41. Confidence 1
42. Think they are your best option 1
43. Opportunity came up 1
44. Feel connection again 1
45. Feel love 1
46. Desperate 1
47. Forget about breaking up 1
48. Afraid to seek out new relationship 1
49. Confusion about breakup 1
50. Better than before 1
51. They act like they miss you 1
52. No idea 1
Note. Higher numbers mean that the action was nominated more often.
Moran et al. 7
Materials and Procedure
After participants filled out a demographic survey, they were
instructed to do as follows:
People have breakup sex (i.e., sexual intercourse with an
ex-romantic partner) for many reasons. We define breakup sex
as sexual intercourse with an ex-romantic partner that occurred
no more than 2 weeks after the termination of the relationship.
Please indicate how frequently each of the following reasons
led you to have breakup sex in the past. For example, if about
half of the times you engaged in breakup sex you did so because
“you were bored,” then you would choose “3.” If you have not
had breakup sex in the past, use the following scale to indicate
what the likelihood that each of the following reasons would
lead you to have breakup sex.
The items were rated on scale of 1–5. These instructions are
similar to the second phase of Meston and Buss’ (2007)
research investigating men and women’s reasons for having
sex. After participants rated the reasons, they were compen-
sated and debriefed.
Phase 2: Results
An exploratory factor analysis (EFA) was conducted to inves-
tigate the latent factor structure of the survey items. This initial
EFA (using maximum likelihood extraction and a nonrotated
solution) of the 52 “why breakup sex” items yielded nine fac-
tors with eigenvalues greater than 1; however, visual examina-
tion of the scree plot implied a clear three-factor solution,
accounting for 44.2%of the variance in reasons for having
breakup sex. After the decision to limit the factors to three, a
three-factor solution with a final maximum likelihood EFA and
direct oblimin rotation to ensure the items were not orthogonal
was forced. The Kaiser–Meyer–Olkin test revealed final EFA
was 0.94 and the Bartlett’s test of sphericity was significant,
(1,326) ¼12,569.46, p< .001. The restriction to three factors
revealed a significantly better model fit than a one-factor solu-
tion: w
(1,173) ¼2,543.26, p< .001. However, not all items
loaded onto one of these three factors. We thus dropped 6 items
(see Table 3, also see the Supplemental Material for a table
showing scores for men and women on each individual item).
Table 3 displays the factor loadings of the 52 items. The criter-
ion to omit items was based on previous research that suggests
that in order for items to be considered similar, their loadings
must be larger than .32 (Tabachnick & Fidell, 2007).
Inspecting the items differentially loading onto each of the
three extracted factors revealed that they each captured unique
underlying motivations for engaging in breakup sex (see
Table 3). The first factor—labeled relationship mainte-
nance—was comprised of 18 items that assess the emotional
aspect of having breakup sex and the need for their ex-partner.
The second factor—labeled hedonistic—was comprised of
12 items pertaining to the physical characteristics of having
breakup sex. The third factor—labeled ambivalent feelings—
was comprised of 16 items that represented mixed feelings and
contradictory views of participating in breakup sex. The reli-
abilities for each of these composites were as follows: relation-
ship maintenance a¼.97, hedonistic a¼.88, and for
ambivalence a¼.88. Creating mean composites for each of
the factors revealed that they were only modestly correlated:
The correlation between relationship maintenance and hedon-
ism was r¼.26, the correlation between relationship mainte-
nance and ambivalence was r¼.32, and the correlation
between hedonism and ambivalence was r¼.36.
These three mean composites were next entered as outcome
variables in a MANCOVA. Participant gender and participa-
tion in breakup sex (yes/no) and their interaction were entered
as predictors, and long-term relationship history and current
relationship status were entered as covariates. Results of this
analysis revealed that the covariates were not significant: long-
term relationship status of the participant, F(3, 574) ¼.483,
p¼.694, Z
¼.003, and current relationship status, F(3, 574) ¼
1.33, p¼.263, Z
¼.007. The 2 (Gender) 2(Participatedin
Breakup Sex) interaction was also nonsignificant, F(3, 572) ¼
1.61, p¼.187, Z
¼.008. However, a multivariate main effect
of gender emerged, F(3, 572) ¼8.40, p< .001, Z
Investigating the univariate main effects of gender revealed two
significant effects: hedonistic, F(1, 574) ¼21.30, p<.001,Z
.036, and ambivalent, F(1, 574) ¼.8.42p¼.004, Z
There was no significant main effect of gender on the Relation-
ship Maintenance subscale, F(1, 574) ¼.576, p¼.41, Z
Full details of these analyses are shown in Table 4. Table 4 also
shows that these significant main effects were due to men giving
higher ratings than women.
A multivariate main effect for whether or not the participant
engaged in breakup sex also emerged, F(3, 572) ¼30.66,
p< .001, Z
¼.139. This effect was driven by significant
univariate main effects on each of the scales: Relationship
Maintenance, F(1, 574) ¼6.32, p¼.012, Z
¼.011, Hedonis-
tic, F(1, 574) ¼84.76, p< .001, Z
¼.129, and Ambivalent,
F(1, 574) ¼7.27 p¼.077, Z
¼.013. As shown in Table 4,
people who had engaged in breakup sex gave higher ratings for
each of the subscales.
Study 2: Discussion
Study 2 was designed to begin to better understand why indi-
viduals engage in breakup sex. Unsurprisingly, individuals who
had participated in breakup sex more favorably rated the rea-
sons to have breakup sex relative to those who had not parti-
cipated in breakup sex. This hypothesis was supported. These
findings may be highlighting a confirmation bias (Nickerson,
1998), where the participants who had engaged in breakup sex
are endorsing their past behavior to otherwise make themselves
feel better.
Our main hypotheses pertained to differences between men
and women in reasons for engaging in breakup sex. It was
hypothesized that men would be more likely to indicate reasons
pertaining to hedonism and ambivalence relative to women.
This hypothesis was supported and is consistent with prior
research indicating that men tend to desire quantity of sex over
8Evolutionary Psychology
Table 3. Factor Loadings for the Items in the Why Breakup Sex Scale.
No. Reasons to Have Breakup Sex
Factor 1:
Relationship Maintenance
Factor 2:
Factor 3:
1. Still in love .86 .04 .10
2. Still have feelings .84 .04 .15
3. Miss them .82 10 .14
4. Wanted to get back together .80 .10 .00
5. Regret the breakup .77 .10 .06
6. Feel a connection again .74 .14 .01
7. Feel love .71 .02 .09
8. Can’t move on .70 .06 .10
9. See if there are still feelings .63 .04 .09
10. There was a longing .56 .38 .09
11. There was passion .51 .45 .22
12. Confusion about breakup .49 .09 .26
13. I am lonely .47 .10 .21
14. Didn’t mutually end relationship .46 .06 .29
15. They act like they miss me .46 .28 .04
16. To feel better .40 .35 .14
17. I need attention .40 .16 .27
18. Afraid to seek out new relationship .40 .00 .26
19. Miss sex .11 .76 .00
20. Opportunity came up .00 .75 .00
21. Satisfy my needs .04 .74 .01
22. It is easy .15 .70 .04
23. Because I could .21 .68 .18
24. It is exciting .15 .64 .02
25. Comfortable with my ex .28 .55 .20
26. Knows what the other likes .20 .52 .05
27. No STD risks .08 .48 .12
28. Sexual tension .27 .45 .03
29. Sex is fun .15 .45 .16
30. Better than before .13 .36 .27
31. Other people do it .07 .00 .69
32. To tell people I did it .01 .13 .68
33. Get back on the dating market .03 .04 .65
34. To have hate sex .07 .12 .64
35. Trying to get over the ex .02 .07 .57
36. I was bored .20 .27 .53
37. I was desperate .20 .01 .51
38. I was curious about breakup sex .02 .29 .49
39. To forget about the breakup .31 .03 .48
40. Only view my ex sexually .32 .25 .47
41. I wanted to take power back from the breakup .20 .07 .46
42. I wanted confidence .28 .10 .42
43. Show the ex what they were missing .18 .19 .40
44. I have no idea .03 .10 .39
45. I was stressed .27 .17 .38
46. Didn’t want to add to my body count (sex count) .20 .02 .35
Reason with no loading
47. I was drunk .05 .12. .32
48. I wanted closure .34 .03 .30
49. It was a final goodbye .03 .22 .29
50. Have sex one last time .09 .29 .24
51. Broke up for other reasons than feelings .27 .08 .28
52. Think they are the best option .31 .26 .19
Note. Item loadings along with their corresponding factor. An item was considered to be loaded on one factor if its loading was .32 or higher. Values in bold
represent factor with which the item was included.
Moran et al. 9
quality in a potential mate (Buss & Schmitt, 1993). Specifi-
cally, reporting higher instances of having breakup sex based
on hedonistic or ambivalent reasons might highlight a short-
term sexual attitude.
Men rated items pertaining to hedonism higher than women
did. This is consistent with previous research suggesting that
cross-culturally, men tend to place higher priority on
hedonistic-type values relative to women (Schwartz & Rubel,
2005). Although men and women rate enjoying sex equally
(Baumeister et al., 2001), sexual strategies theory and parental
investment perspectives suggest that engaging in breakup sex
for purely hedonistic reasons may be more costly for women
than men (Buss, 1995).
Men also rated ambivalence as a reason to have breakup sex
higher than women did. The items that loaded on this subscale
do not represent “not wanting to have sex,” rather they reflect
reasons that have no effect on the individual and represent a
laissez-faire attitude toward sex. Thus, men more often than
women rate having sex to increase their reproductive success.
Men’s laissez-faire attitude would facilitate their ability to have
sex with multiple partners. This ambivalence is also reflected in
men’s condom use. When men are ambivalent toward sex,
there is a negative relationship between using condoms and
planning to have sex (MacDonald & Hynie, 2008). Research
also suggests that men are less attracted to their partner after
sexual intercourse (Haselton & Buss, 2001), which could also
contribute to this ambivalent feeling. This ambivalence also
reflects the asymmetries in men and women’s reproduction.
Women need to be the choosier sex because if they were to
not care whom they were having sex with, they may end up
pregnant with and by an unsuitable mate (Trivers, 1972). Ulti-
mately, this “do not care” attitude toward having breakup sex
reflects men’s short-term mating psychology.
Furthermore, it was also hypothesized that women would
rate relationship maintenance reasons as motivating factors
more frequently than men. This prediction was not supported.
It was also hypothesized that women would have breakup sex
due to emotional aspects because women tend to value emo-
tional aspects of a relationship (Buss, 1989; Haselton & Buss,
2000). Since emotional support and intimacy tend to predict
sexual satisfaction for women, we hypothesized that the rela-
tionship maintenance aspects would also lead to women’s
desire to have breakup sex (Yoo et al., 2014). However, the
results did not support that hypothesis. This could be due to the
fact that both men and women experience psychological
distress during a breakup. Both individuals may perceive that
having breakup sex due to a drive to be connected to one
another and for emotional intimacy may make them feel better.
This null gender difference is consistent with theoretical moti-
vations for engaging in rebound sex, where having sex makes
individuals’ well-being increase (Barber & Cooper, 2014).
Rebound or revenge sex occurs when an individual who
recently broke up with a partner has sex with another individual
after that breakup as a coping strategy. Individuals who have
been broken up with tend to report feeling better about them-
selves after having rebound or revenge sex and report that
having sex with someone else allowed them to cope (Barber
& Cooper, 2014). Thus, men and women may have similar
emotional mechanisms motivating the choice to engage in
breakup sex.
This nonsignificant finding for the relationship maintenance
factor could also be explained by SST (Buss & Schmitt, 1993).
Because men and women can have pluralistic mating strate-
gies—utilizing both a long- and a short-term mating strategy—
men and women might both feel that engaging in breakup sex
could be a way to rekindle their relationship. That action could
assist the continuation of their long-term mating opportunity.
The gender difference between men and women regarding why
they engage in breakup sex sheds information on their evolved
mating strategies; however, there may be other evolutionary
reasons for why men and women engage in breakup sex.
Other Evolutionary Explanations of Breakup Sex
In this study, the framework of SST was utilized to help explain
why men and women engage in breakup sex. However, some
other evolutionary-inspired hypotheses or frameworks might
also be useful to understand this postbreakup behavior further.
Mate switching. An additional evolutionary framework that may
predict why men and women engage in having sexual contact
with an ex could involve the potential for mate switching (Buss
et al., 2017). The mate switching hypothesis deals with indi-
viduals leaving one mate and beginning to enter into another
relationship. This decision to end the relationship could be due
to the fact a member of the relationship has lost interest in the
other and thus has no sexual desire for that individual which
could function as a way to detach from the partner (Birnbaum,
2018; Buss et al., 2017). Thus, engaging in sexual contact with
an ex and engaging in breakup sex could be the first step of a
Table 4. Gender Differences and Previous Breakup Sex Experiences Means.
Have Had Breakup Sex
Have not Had Breakup Sex
Relationship Maintenance 2.81 (.90) 2.83 (.99) 2.87 (.91)* 2.58 (1.1)
Hedonism 3.43 (.76)*** 3.10 (.94) 3.41 (.75)*** 2.56 (1.1)
Ambivalence 2.30 (.82)** 2.10 (.72) 2.23 (.74)** 1.99 (.84)
Note. Higher numbers mean more higher ratings for that subscale, standard deviations in parentheses.
*p< .05. **p< .010. ***p< .001.
10 Evolutionary Psychology
mate switching strategy, where a man or woman has lost inter-
est and ended a relationship but before switching with to a new
partner engages in sex one last time.
Under this mate switching strategy, breakup sex could
before they begin a new relationship (Buss et al., 2017). This
line of thinking needs empirical verification, but a study
investigating motivesforengaginginbreakupsextokeep
someone occupied while one finds a new mate could be a
fruitful line of research.
By-product perspectives. A more mundane explanation could
simply be that engaging in breakup sex is psychologically rep-
resented in the same way as any other type of sexual activity
and is thus a by-product of typical sexual intercourse. For
example, Meston and Buss (2007) provide researchers with a
catalog of reasons why men and women engage in sexual inter-
course. Many of their top reasons coincide with the reasons
listed in why men and women engage in breakup sex (e.g., It’s
fun, I wanted to feel connected to my partner [again]). Thus,
breakup sex could simply be couples enjoying sex with one
another. Although using the operationalized definition of
breakup sex in the current research, one could argue that there
may be more negative emotions when engaging in sexual inter-
course with someone who ended the relationship. Future work
should begin to investigate how sexual intercourse within a
relationship, breakup sex, and ex-sex are similar and different
from one another and how the experiences of these different
types of relationships are similar and different.
Another nonadaptively based explanation for the current
pattern of results is that they are at least partly due to environ-
mental mismatch. Goetz and colleagues (2019) explain that
when studying human mating, understanding the environmen-
tal mismatch of today’s society and our ancestral past is impor-
tant to understanding mating motives. For example, a feature of
current human mating is the possibility of transient relation-
ships, wherein men and women can engage in sexual inter-
course and can never come into contact with their partner
ever again (Goetz et al., 2019). Thus, the current environment
may promote this postbreakup behavior because the couple
may never come into contact with each other again, thus enga-
ging in breakup sex may be less costly. This hypothesis may be
supported by the gender difference obtained for the hedonistic
factor of engagement in breakup sex. Men’s evolved various
short-term mating strategies and the environmental mismatch
with temporary relationships might be the two forces driving
this motive to engage in breakup sex (Buss & Schmitt, 1993).
A proximate explanation. Engaging in breakup sex could be the
result of ending a relationship. For example, the relationship
stage model of sexual desire (Birnbaum & Finkel, 2015) sug-
gests that sometimes couples enter into a fiery limbo where
uncertainty might mediate the desire to engage in sex. When
a couple terminates their relationship and experiences uncer-
tainty, this uncertainty could lead to them to engage in breakup
sex. One of the factors that men scored higher on was the
ambivalent factor. This motivation to engage in breakup sex
which aligns with this fiery limbo stage could result in breakup
sex being a by-product of ending a relationship. There is lim-
ited research on whether men and women differ during this
fiery limbo stage of a relationship. Thus, future work should
begin to focus on how this proximate explanation may also
produce motives for breakup sex.
Future Directions and Limitations
The present studies were conducted to investigate an unex-
plored avenue of research within ex-sex research, specifically
to understand how individuals feel about and why they engage
in, breakup sex. Although these findings are novel, there are
several issues that should be addressed in future research. First,
participants were mainly White individuals from the United
States. Future research should begin to examine whether this
postbreakup behavior is an American phenomenon, and the
extent to which other cultures throughout the world engage
in this postbreakup behavior. Understanding this postbreakup
in non-WEIRD (Western, Educated, Industrialized, Rich, and
Democratic) societies is of particular importance. Although
traditional societies like the !Kung San and the Ache broke
up with romantic partners (Hill & Hurtado, 1996; Howell,
1976), in other societies, where individuals having multiple
committed partners is culturally sanctioned, people may be
more likely to simply turn attention to a different mate instead
of breaking up (Henrich et al., 2012). Future research should
attempt to further understand these differences to gain a more
nuanced understanding of the influence of culture on human
mating psychology.
The current samples were also disproportionally comprised
of women. Although this is common in psychological research
using college students (Dickinson et al., 2012), the results may
look differently if there were more men in the sample which
might have led to greater variation in the men’s responses. It
should be noted that much of human mating research focuses
on how men and women differ in the ways they attract and
compete for mates (Puts, 2016); therefore, future work on
breakup should try to obtain a balanced sample of men and
Next, future studies should further empirically differentiate
the difference between breakup sex and ex-sex. In this current
set of studies, the research team decided the temporal differ-
ence between breakup sex and ex-sex; however, this time
period may not be the most adequate for capturing the differ-
ence between breakup sex and ex-sex. However, there must be
a difference because of the time ex-partners spend apart and the
feelings they may be experiencing when engaging in breakup
sex or ex-sex. Relationship scientists should begin to try to
understand if the motivations between break up sex and ex-
sex function similarly.
A more diverse suite of individual differences should also be
assessed in regard to understanding when and for whom
breakup sex occurs. For example, researchers should
Moran et al. 11
investigate the personality correlates of participation in
breakup sex (John & Srivastava, 1999). Future work can also
focus on how the perceived (or implicit) costs and benefits of
engaging in breakup sex lead men and women to participate in
breakup sex. It is well-documented that men and women assess
costs and benefits when engaging in short-term and long-term
relationships. Thus, men and women may be assessing these
costs and benefits of breakup sex as well (Buss & Schmitt,
1993). An additional study should also look at the individuals’
well-being after breakup sex and the stress that it may cause
since research suggests that hookups may affect well-being
(Vrangalova, 2015). Although Study 1 investigated how the
individuals felt before and after breakup sex occurred, we did
not measure the well-being of the participants nor did we mea-
sure the stress that the participants experienced.
Breakup sex has recently been publicized by the popular media
as a beneficial behavior. However, understanding this post-
breakup behavior scientifically is important and opens up sev-
eral avenues for further research. Researchers interested in
romantic relationships and postbreakup behavior should begin
to further examine breakup sex. Due to its popularity in the
media, individuals may believe that breakup sex is something
they should participate in. However, the present results suggest
otherwise. Deciding to engage in breakup sex involves a com-
plicated stage in one’s relationship and may disproportionately
benefit men. Future research should further to investigate the
nuances of how and why this postbreakup behavior occurs.
Declaration of Conflicting Interests
The author(s) declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.
The author(s) received no financial support for the research, author-
ship, and/or publication of this article.
James B. Moran
Supplemental Material
Supplemental material for this article is available online.
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... There were 399 actions or behaviors nominated by participants. These acts or behaviors were grouped according to similarity of content, and then acts nominated 5 times or more were considered consensus nominated acts consistent with prior research (see Buss, 2016;Wade et al., 2009;Wade & Slemp, 2015;Moran et al., 2020). Ultimately, the act nominations revealed 11 consensus behaviors or acts men would use to solicit hookups, and 18 consensus behaviors or acts that women would use. ...
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While a great deal of psychological research has been conducted on sex-specific mate choice preferences, relatively little attention has been directed toward how heterosexual men and women solicit short-term sexual partners, and which acts are perceived to be the most effective. The present research relied on an act nomination methodology with the goal of determining which actions are used by men and women to solicit a short-term “hook-up” partner (study 1) and then determine which of these actions are perceived as most effective by men and women (study 2). Using sexual strategy theory, we hypothesized that actions that suggest sexual access would be nominated most often by women whereas actions that suggest a willingness to commit were expected to be nominated most often by men. Additionally, men and women were predicted to rate actions by men that suggest a willingness to commit as most effective and actions by women that suggest sexual access as most effective. The results were consistent with these hypotheses. These findings are discussed in the context of both short- and long-term mating strategies and mate solicitation. The relationship between motivation, sexual strategies, and sexual behavior are examined, along with the need for research on the hookup tactics and motivations of self-identifying gay, lesbian, and bisexual individuals.
Here we explored nonverbal actions women use to flirt competitively against each other for the purposes of accessing a mate. We also investigated the perceived effectiveness of these competitive flirting actions. Using act nomination, Study 1 (n = 91) yielded 11 actions (eye contact with the man, dancing in his line of sight, smiling at him, touching him, giggling at his jokes, butting in between the other woman and the man, showing distaste for her, brushing against him, hugging him, flirting with other men, waving to him) for competitive flirtation against other women. Actions that signal possession (e.g., tie-signs) were predicted to be perceived as the most effective. While other actions were included in Study 2 (n = 139), results showed the most effective actions were tie-signs: touching him, initiating eye contact, hugging him, giggling at his jokes, and butting in between him and the rival. These findings are discussed in terms of prior research.
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Evolutionary mismatch concepts are being fruitfully employed in a number of research domains, including medicine, health, and human cognition and behavior to generate novel hypotheses and better understand existing findings. We contend that research on human mating will benefit from explicitly addressing both the evolutionary mismatch of the people we study and the evolutionary mismatch of people conducting the research. We identified nine mismatch characteristics important to the study of human mating and reviewed the literature related to each of these characteristics. Many of the people we study are: exposed to social media, in temporary relationships, relocatable, autonomous in their mating decisions, nulliparous, in groups that are socially segmented, in an educational setting, confronted with lots of options, and young. We applied mismatch concepts to each characteristic to illustrate the importance of incorporating mismatch into this research area. Our aim in this paper is not to identify all potential mismatch effects in mating research, nor to challenge or disqualify existing data. Rather, we demonstrate principled ways of thinking about evolutionary mismatch in order to propel progress in mating research. We show how attending to the potential effects of mismatch can help us refine our theoretical and methodological approaches and deepen our understanding of existing patterns in the empirical record. We conclude with specific recommendations about how to include consideration of evolutionary mismatch into research on human mating.
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The present research used longitudinal methods to test whether pursuing sex with an ex-partner hinders breakup recovery. Participants completed a month-long daily diary immediately following a breakup, as well as a two-month follow-up (Study 1). Daily analyses revealed positive associations between trying to have sex with an ex-partner and emotional attachment to the ex-partner, but not other aspects of breakup recovery, such as distress, intrusive thoughts, or negative affect. Longitudinal changes from day to day, and over 2 months, revealed that pursuing sex with an ex was not a predictor of breakup recovery over time. To address the limitation that Study 1 only assessed attempted sexual pursuits, Study 2 explored associations between pursuit of, and actual engagement in, sexual activities with ex-partners. Results revealed that most sexual pursuits were successful, and success rates were not associated with breakup recovery. Findings challenge common beliefs about potential harm of pursuing sex with an ex.
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Prior research examining mate expulsion indicates that women are more likely to expel a mate due to deficits in emotional access while men are more likely to expel a mate due to deficits in sexual access. Prior research highlights the importance of accounting for measurement limitations (e.g., the use of incremental vs. forced-choice measures) when assessing attitudes toward sexual and emotional infidelity, Sagarin et al., 2012, Wade and Brown, 2012). The present research uses conjoint analysis, a novel methodology for controlling several limitations of using continuous self-report measures in mate expulsion research. Participants (N = 181, 128 women) recruited from Bucknell University and several psychology recruitment listservs in the United States rated nine profiles that varied in three potential levels of emotional and sexual accessibility. Men were more likely to want to break up with a partner due to sexual accessibility deficits, whereas women were more likely to want to break up due to emotional accessibility deficits. However, regardless of sex, emotional inaccessibility was more likely to produce mate expulsion. These findings are consistent with prior theory and highlight the need to disentangle emotional accessibility into its constituent in-pair benefits. This research also illustrates the utility of conjoint analysis as a statistical tool for studying how humans resolve trade-offs among competing outcomes during romantic decision-making.
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Prior research shows that patterns of mate selection, attraction, and expulsion are the product of evolved sex differences in computational adaptations. Within long-term romantic relationships, men typically prioritize information relevant to a mate’s reproductive (i.e., sexual) value whereas women more often prioritize a mate’s willingness to invest romantic (i.e., emotional) resources into a stable pair-bond. Although these differences in preference are well established within mate selection and relationship maintenance literature, relatively fewer studies have examined differences in how men and women reconcile after romantic conflict. Using an act nomination procedure, the present research tests the prediction that men and women differ by which partner reconciliation behaviors they evaluate as most effective in resolving a romantic conflict. In study 1, participants nominated common reconciliation behaviors which were subsequently sorted into 21 distinct actions. In study 2, participants rated each behavior by how effectively it would resolve conflict if performed by their romantic partner. Overall, acts suggesting emotional commitment were expected to be rated as most effective. Men were expected to rate actions which signal sexual accessibility as more effective compared to women. Women were expected to rate acts which signal emotional accessibility as more effective compared to men (study 2). Results were largely consistent with our predictions, though notable deviations are documented and discussed within the context of contemporary romantic relationship research.
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The sexual behavioral system evolved to motivate reproductive acts by arousing sexual desire. Building on the idea that this system has also been “exploited” by evolutionary processes to promote enduring bonds between romantic partners, the present article introduces an integrative model that delineates the functional significance of sexual desire in relationship formation and maintenance. This model explains why individuals’ sexual reaction to their partner is context-dependent, clarifying how changes in the nature of interdependence over the course of relationships alter the ways in which specific predictors of sexual desire tend to promote (or inhibit) desire and thereby affect relationship depth and stability. The model postulates that although desire influences the development of attachment bonds, the contribution that it makes varies over the course of relationships. The model also provides new insight regarding fundamental but unresolved issues in human sexuality, such as the vulnerability of sexual desire and the desire-intimacy paradox.
In this chapter, evidence is reviewed regarding the reproductive strategies—and specialized mating psychologies—fundamental to humans. Cross-species comparisons and ethnological patterns observed across foraging cultures help to clarify our most basic human mating adaptations. Overall, extant evidence suggests there is no single mating strategy in humans. Humans evolved a pluralistic mating repertoire that is facultatively responsive to sex, temporal contexts, personal characteristics such as mate value and ovulatory status, and evocative features of culture and local ecology.
This chapter reviews cross-species and cross-cultural evidence regarding the mating strategies and specialized mating psychologies that may be fundamental to humans. Comparative features of social living, sexual dimorphism, and reproductive physiology across primate species reveal insights into the natural mating psychology. The extant evidence suggests humans evolved a pluralistic mating repertoire that differs in adaptive ways across sex and temporal context, personal characteristics such as mate value and ovulatory status, and facultative features of culture and local ecology. The chapter addresses the evolutionary psychology of how men and women pursue short-term and long-term mating strategies. Another important question is why an individual man or woman would opt to pursue a long-term strategy versus a short-term strategy. In the future, evolutionary perspectives on human mating strategies should become more fully integrated with other perspectives, including religious, historical, and feminist scholarship.