a woman laying in bed pondering her desire for breakup sex

Tulane University Researcher Explains Why Women Have More Breakup Sex Than Men

Researcher James B. Moran explores the role of gender and fear of being single on the desire to engage in breakup sex.

Mark Travers, Ph.D.

By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | January 31, 2024

A recent study published in the Journal of Personality and Individual Differences explored the role of sociosexuality (openness to casual relationships) and fear of being single in post-breakup intimate encounters.

I recently spoke to James B. Moran from the Department of Psychology at Tulane University, lead author of the study, to discuss the influence of gender, personality, and fear of being single in individuals' encounters with breakup sex. Here is a summary of our conversation.

Why are men and women motivated to have breakup sex? Are their motivations similar or different?

In previous work, we studied motivations and observed that men tend to have breakup sex for pleasure or hedonistic reasons (they miss sex and that sex is fun) but also for ambivalent reasons (they are unsure, they feel like it).

Men and women tend not to differ in the desire to rekindle their ex-relationship, which was one of the essential aspects of our study here. We wanted to understand if there were personality traits that might be related to breakup sex engagement.

We found that men and women who were more interested in casual sex, a personality trait known as sociosexuality, were more interested in breakup sex. This might be because breakup sex is just another opportunity to have sex.

We also found that women, not men, who are more worried that they will not be in a relationship in the future are more likely to report endorsing breakup sex. This might be because they think that breakup sex could rekindle and be an easy way to get back with their ex! That still needs to be tested.

Can you explain how being open to casual relationships is connected to a higher likelihood of past engagement in breakup sex?

As I mentioned above, those who are more open to casual sex, a trait known as sociosexuality, are more likely to report wanting to engage in breakup sex. This relationship was observed in both men and women.

What this suggests is that those people who enjoy casual sex and seek it out might view breakup sex as just another form of casual sex. This was shocking to us because our team thought that breakup sex would be more about an emotional connection.

However, we observed that it could be driven by seeking out pleasure. We were also excited to see that this relationship was prominent in women. Previous work suggested that men sought out breakup sex for hedonistic reasons. Here, we highlight women's sexuality and desires for casual sex, which can often be neglected in research.

How is the 'fear of being single' related to the 'desire to engage in breakup sex'?

The fear of being single is a trait that centers around someone's worry that they will not find a romantic partner or end up being alone. Engagement of breakup sex is the sexual encounter with an ex shortly after the breakup. In our work, we found that when people, specifically women, were more fearful of being single, they had greater desires to have break-up sex.

Why do women who fear being single express a stronger inclination for breakup sex?

We did not explicitly research this question, but we speculate why. For starters, women tend to be judged or stigmatized more for being single. Think of the term "crazy cat lady" or "spinster." Spinster tends to have a negative connotation, whereas the single term for man–bachelor–tends to be more positive.

Therefore, these women may think that having sex with their ex-partner could be a way to minimize the likelihood that they will be single in the future. It could be a way to get back with their partner.

Additionally, women tend to be judged more harshly than men when they have casual sex. Therefore, these women who are more afraid of being single might also be engaged in breakup sex because they may face less judgment for having sex with an ex rather than a casual sex partner. Both of these thoughts need further testing.

Also, depending on how long the individuals have been together, age may play a role because as women age, their mate value can decline, making it harder to find a mate or making women feel it would be harder to find a suitable mate. Rekindling a relationship that just broke up may be very appealing.

What are the consequences of engaging in breakup sex for individuals, and how does it impact their ability to move on from their exes?

We have not tested the consequences of breakup sex yet. It is something we are thinking about. We wonder if breakup sex leads to an actual rekindling of the relationship, and does that make the relationship better?

However, I would say there are positives and negatives. Breakup sex could be a way for an individual to have sex with someone whom they have already had sex with. So, there could be less anxiety in that sense.

Additionally, you might already know what your partner enjoys and likes. Therefore, it could be fun. We posit this in our paper, where for men and women who are interested in casual sex, breakup sex seems like a promising avenue for them to fulfill their needs.

This might benefit heterosexual women a great deal since heterosexual women are least likely to orgasm in casual sex encounters, a phenomenon known as the orgasm gap. If they are having breakup sex with an ex, their ex might understand what they enjoy, and the chances of having an orgasm could be increased.

I also encourage people to be careful. Breakups are a complicated and stressful time. Especially if you were the person who was broken up with, I would make sure if you were to decide to have breakup sex, to understand your reasoning. If you are doing it to rekindle the relationship or because you are worried you might not find a partner, then it might not be best for you. You should understand how your partner feels and ensure you are both on the same page.

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