Georgia, a 26-year-old from England, knew she was going to fuck her ex the moment she chose to wear her matching black lacy bra and panty set to his house. Why else would she have spent an hour performing her “smooth dolphin” shaving ritual in the shower and fake tanning the night before?
Matt, 29, hadn’t spoken to her in months after ghosting her before their Valentine’s Day dinner plans. She thought she’d be able to get some closure when he messaged her on Tinder, asking “Do you hate me?” But instead of getting to the bottom of why he’d gotten cold feet, she got on top of him instead.
The sex was amazing — far better than usual. Matt (like Georgia, a pseudonym) wasn’t normally a giver, but that night he remembered all the things she liked — gentle neck kisses, having her nipples bitten and her clit stimulated as he slid in from behind. “It was really good because I knew it was ‘wrong,’ I guess?” she says of the encounter. “Also, because we’d been in a very intense lockdown with very little human touch, everything was heightened.”
But as soon as they both came and the fogginess of her overwhelming emotions wore off, confusion started setting in. “I remember seeing myself in the reflection [of his bathroom mirror] and all my makeup was smudged up,” she says. “Half of me was proud of getting what I wanted, but the other half thought, ‘Oh no, this will hurt in the morning.’”
More often than not, sleeping with an ex is a messy experience. Sometimes you do it as a response to rejection, seducing them as a means of preserving your ego. Other times, it’s just a comfortable outlet for horniness and the only option available. If they’ve slept with you before, the stakes of rejection are also lower, making getting laid twice as easy.
Whatever the reason, closure sex is a common, completely accepted and totally confusing post-breakup phenomenon. Online, you’ll find hundreds of articles written by desperate exes wondering whether it’s kosher to sleep with their former partner, many of which attempt to break the process down into deceptively simple steps. Others promise to explain the psychology behind why closure sex feels “super hot,” and Reddit, as always, is full of lengthy posts from heartbroken strangers wondering whether they can fuck their way back into a relationship. Still, the question remains: Does closure sex actually work, and what do people gain from doing it?
Dating expert Sarah Louise Ryan thinks sleeping with someone you used to date can go one of two ways. The first is that it can “confirm that the spark or emotional connection is gone.” That’s exactly what happened to Georgia — despite the chemistry she felt with Matt that night, he never spoke to her again. She doesn’t regret a thing, though, and is relieved it happened — for her, it solidified the breakup. “It made me realize that I had nothing to do with him rejecting me the first time and that I did nothing wrong,” she tells me. “He was just a nasty piece of work with his own issues.”
Meanwhile, the second outcome is that “one party realizes that they don’t, in fact, want to draw a line in the sand.” In this case, Ryan fears the intimacy of closure sex may give at least one person in the relationship mixed messages, signaling that it’s an emotional restart to a situation.
When 19-year-old Ahmad (another pseudonym) slept with a recent ex two weeks after their abrupt breakup, they felt this kind of disorientation. “It didn’t solidify the breakup because she asked if we could keep it casual the next day,” they write over WhatsApp. As for the sex itself, Ahmad went over to her dorm one night after receiving a text that read: “Come over, I need to see you.” When they arrived, she was lying on the sofa, only wearing a loose dressing gown. “We chatted for a bit and then I asked, ‘Do you want to get back together?’ She said no, and then I said, ‘Do you want to have sex?’ Next, she led me to her bedroom.”
Ahmad thinks they both gave it more effort because they knew it’d be the last time, and they also remember “a lot more aggression from her side.” Their overall experience of closure sex was great in the moment, but it’s left them more hung-up on their ex than before.
If most of us are like Ahmad and we know we’re at a risk of re-breaking our hearts after having emotional post-breakup sex, why do we still go there? “Sex itself releases all of those feel-good hormones to the brain to lessen pain of the emotional kind,” explains Ryan. She also thinks it’s natural to want to feel good after a painful separation, especially with the person who, at some point, made you feel valued, seen, heard and loved. In short, sex generally makes us feel good, and having it with an ex can momentarily stabilize the chaos of stirred emotions.
And sometimes, when the insides of our brain resemble the blurry Mr. Krabs meme, we’re pulled toward our exes even when we know the sex will be mediocre. That’s what happened to Hannah, a 24-year-old from London who slept with her ex of two years and hated it. After he moved out of her mom’s house, they made arrangements for him to come pick up the rest of his stuff. Hannah, however, wanted to grab dinner beforehand. At this point she thought they could still get back together, but after having a silent meal in Britain’s loudest restaurant, Nando’s, she knew it was over. Eventually they made it back to her house only to find a huge storm outside. “It sounds like I’m making it up, but it was like hail and snow and rain, and it got too late for him to get a taxi from my house,” she tells me. So they did what they both knew and went to sleep together in the same bed.
It was just like old times, but worse. “I didn’t really fancy him at that point. We just did it in missionary or something. He got off and then I cried because it was a perfect microcosm of our relationship,” Hannah says. To her, it seemed that despite her ex being inside her, he was miles away emotionally. All of this was only made worse when he told his friends that Hannah and he were in a good place because they slept together. “That’s such a misunderstanding of the situation and our entire relationship,” she concludes.
Which brings us to some closure here. That is, closure sex appears to be a valid tool in sorting through the cluster of shit relationships tend to leave behind, but whether it can lead to anything good seems to depend entirely on the context of the relationship. So keep that in mind the next time your ex slithers out of the woodwork with a 3 a.m. “U up?” text, and only get in that Uber if you know it’s not going anywhere.