By: Megan Gannon, News Editor
Published: 01/22/2013 02:24 PM EST on LiveScience
Having sex with an ex seems to be a fairly typical part of the breakup process for young adults, a new study shows.
But the behavior could be risky, pushing former partners into emotionally complicated territory where safe-sex measures are likely to be cast aside, researchers say.
The study's authors collected data on 792 "emerging adults" ages 17 to 24, who had been part of a longitudinal survey (meaning scientists followed them through time) in Lucas County, Ohio, which includes the city of Toledo. All had been in a relationship within the past two years.
The researchers found that nearly half (44 percent) had broken up and gotten back together with a girlfriend or boyfriend. Among those who had rekindled a flame, 53 percent said sex was part of the reconciliation. Racial minorities in particular were more likely to reconcile and have sex with an ex, the study found.
This so-called "relationship churning" is far more common among young people than married adult couples, the researchers say. This could reflect the general instability and romantic exploration that are characteristic of emerging adulthood, though the team warns that such behavior could have negative emotional consequences.
"Having sex with an ex could put people in a position of technically being broken up, but still emotionally connected," the authors wrote in an article published in the Journal of Adolescent Research in November 2012.
"Those who stay in contact following a breakup continue to feel the pain of the breakup more intensely and may have more difficulty moving on. Previous research found that college students who had sex with their exes mostly described this as a 'difficult or negative event.'"
The behavior is also risky from a health perspective. Previous research has shown that condom use is high at the beginning of relationships but tends to drop over time. Though sex with an ex might be treated as a casual encounter, exes might be less likely to use a condom or take the safe-sex precautions they would with a less familiar partner.
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1. Don't Talk Yourself Out Of What You Need
It's too easy for us women to convince ourselves to settle for less. We're so helpful and accommodating, so eager to please and afraid of rejection that we're quick to give up the things we need, including when it comes to sex. What we need to see is that doing this will leave us chronically frustrated. While it's true that every relationship requires a certain amount of compromise, going without the things that we really need just doesn't work. We'll end up unhappy in the relationship or resentful toward our partner. The bottom line is, we need to know what we can't live without, sexually, and what we just can't live with. We ignore these non-negotiables at the expense of a fulfilling sex life.
2. Share Your Needs And Feelings With Your Partner
If you can't ask them for what you want in bed, you shouldn't be sleeping with them. Good sex happens when we feel safe and at ease. If we're afraid to ask for something or to tell our partner that we don't like something, sex will never be more than mediocre. This second tip follows from the first one, in that once we identify what we want and don't want, we have to express these things clearly. It's unfair to expect our partner to be a mind-reader and "prove" that they care by somehow knowing what we want without our having to tell them. Healthy sex comes out of healthy communication.
3. Accept Your Body As It Is Now
We need to be in touch with our bodies; with what feels good, what feels not so good and what feels wrong. We also really need to stop judging ourselves in terms of our weight and our shape. Only a superficial dope would give us a hard time over our imperfections. If someone makes us feel bad about our physical selves, this is more a reflection of his inadequacies than of our own. Our negative self-talk has to stop. The running commentary on how fat we are, how much cellulite or how many wrinkles we have is guaranteed to kill the mood, often before it even starts. Feeling good about our bodies is crucial if we're going to let go and enjoy ourselves. Being physically self-conscious will keep us from experiencing the joyful abandon of great sex.
4. Never Refuse Sex As A Punishment Or Use It As A Reward
In the bad old days, some women were led to believe that the way to get a man to toe the line is to offer sex for good behavior or withhold it when the man has displeased them. Most of us today recognize this as hateful behaviour and a recipe for disaster. Men don't want to be controlled or punished, especially around sex. They don't want to be made to feel like little boys. When we're hurt or angry at our partner, we need to share our feelings with him in an adult way. We can even say that we're too upset for sex, right now. What we mustn't ever do is make him feel like we're deciding when he gets to have sex, based on whether he's been "good" or "bad." On the other hand, using sex as a reward turns us into sex objects and makes sex into a commodity for our partner to "earn." It's no longer two people being intimate or enjoying each other. Commodifying sex makes it into a business transaction and our bodies then become objects for trade.
5. No Pets In The Room
We might love Fluffy or Rover, but they don't belong in the bedroom when we're being intimate. Our pets are very territorial and could get jealous or want to play, too. Dogs might bark or even growl. Cats might jump onto the bed and start walking around. We can avoid these disasters by remembering to shut the door and leave our four-legged friends outside.
6. Have A Sense Of Humor
Sex is about connection and intimacy, but also it's about having fun. It can be mind-blowingly great or occasionally, things can go wrong. Having a good sense of humor about sex will keep things in perspective. Being able to laugh at ourselves and at the comical aspects of sex will take the pressure off the whole experience. We might love and adore our partner, but we don't have to be so serious about making love to them. Humour relieves pressure and is a great way to connect.
7. Enjoy The Give And Take
The best sex is the kind in which each person is trying to please the other one. The sharing in sex is one of the things that make it great. It can be technically amazing, but when one person gets the impression that the other person really isn't there with them, it can ruin the whole experience. What makes someone a fantastic lover is not their technical ability or their repertoire of moves but their attentiveness and their efforts to make their partner happy. When both people show that they really care about meeting their partner's needs, sex becomes something wonderful.