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Sex With an Ex: A Valentine's Day Fantasy or a Possible Start to Reuniting?

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We have seen some celebrities (such as Kobe Bryant and Pink) reunite with their spouses after actually or almost divorcing. Fans would likely project their own fantasies about these celebrities onto their own personal longings for a recently parted spouse or lover. What could feel more forbidden yet familiar, naughty and naïve, than getting back together with an ex for a potentially delicious night of sexual escapades? In my sex therapy practice, I often counsel folks who are fantasizing about -- or actualizing -- their sexual desire with their former partner. So, what do I think?

In many cases, these are folks who are on the newer side of separation (within the first months to a year from their break-up). I find the process of separating can be a gradual one in which people continue to express their ambivalence about the separation through a variety of contradictory actions. Change is hard for most people and if you have had a long and/or strong attachment to someone, it is natural to feel unsure about the break-up. A client might wonder why their ex would want to have sex with them when they were the one who initiated the break-up. Breaking up requires mourning of a loss, I tell them, and just because one person is the initiator doesn't mean they aren't hurting and missing their ex. Reconnecting sexually may be part of the mourning that one or both partners need to move on -- and according to a recent study in The Journal of Social & Clinical Psychology, it may help them with this process.

Another consideration to be mindful of is that one's emotions and erotic desires generally trump one's logical reasoning. And in the case of sex with an ex, the erotic pull may be stronger as one views the break-up as a barrier or boundary. Many people get turned on at the thought of crossing a boundary. Taboos are a longstanding aphrodisiac for folks, as our tabloids tell us every day. With that said, I think hooking up with an ex, while erotically exciting, may cause further pain if it causes one of the partners to feel like there's hope to reuniting when the other person is leaning more to the decision that they are moving on. It is these situations I advise against because it can cause the mourning to take longer and feel more painful.

However, in the case of partners who have mourned their loss, gone on to other rewarding relationships and find themselves single many years later, the recommencement of sex can provide a delicious respite from dating or an opportunity to reunite with many lessons learned. For couples I see who have reunited after a period apart, they stand to utilize their experience apart to better this new "old" relationship by infusing it with new patterns of communication, including expressing appreciation, perhaps new sexual repertoire and conversations, and sharing memories of good experiences and possibly shared children and/or grandchildren.