“You know what they say…” I can hear the wink in her voice through the phone and above the city sounds around me (sirens, pigeons, couples falling in and out of lust). “You can’t really get over one person until you get under another.”
My mom and I are close—I value her opinion equally in matters sartorial (which shoes should I wear to my sister’s wedding?) and romantic. But I did not want to entertain the truth of this old adage with her—that could only lead to a string of blind-dates with her book club members’ sons or way, way TMI about my (or worse, her) between-the-sheets exploits.
But when I hung up the phone, I couldn’t help but think about “sex sorbet.” Gray’s Anatomy fans will remember when Callie’s ex-girlfriend moves to Africa, causing Callie to hop into bed with Mark in order to “cleanse” Callie’s palate. For non-Gray’s fans, the previous sentence is basically word salad. So, a translation: A little rumble-and-tumble with someone who is not your ex can help you shake the Etch A Sketch of your relationship clean.
Could this work IRL, or just in prime-time medical dramas? I took my “asking for a friend” Q to Shadeen Francis, a sex, marriage, and family therapist.
In order to get over a breakup, Francis says, you first need to figure out your feelings—that’s the only way you can work through them in a meaningful way. So, do you have visions of stringing your ex up by their toenails? Or are you in that “no one will ever love me again” pit of despair? “If you’re feeling unattractive or bored or sad or restless, those could be times when a positive sexual encounter—one that makes you feel desired and sexy and gives you pleasure—could help you start to move through the feeling.”
“If it’s safe and consensual, sex brings pleasure. And pleasure is SO important after a breakup.” —Shadeen Francis, MFT
But before you download Tinder or send a not-so-ambiguous “You up?” text, ask yourself if sex (specifically casual sex) has had the power to make you feel attractive, desirable, happy, and other positive feelings in the past. “We all feel different things during and after sex. If sex doesn’t typically address those feelings for you, rebound sex won’t either… instead, it will make you feel worse,” says Francis.
In a 2013 study of 170 undergraduates, researchers at the University of Missouri found that 35 percent engaged in rebound sex within four weeks of a breakup, and that people who had been dumped were especially likely to feel angry and distressed, and to seek out rebound sex. But while the study confirmed that people do tend to have sex in order to get over an ex (surprise!), it never fully answered whether getting under someone new is actually helpful (or damaging) to the post-breakup healing process.
“If it’s safe and consensual, sex brings pleasure. And pleasure is so important after a break-up,” says Francis. (Science has already shown that sex is both a stress reducer and happiness inducer.) “But that pleasure could be going for a run, going dancing with friends, eating well and nourishing your body, anything. There are so many different types of pleasure that exist, and heartbreak is a time to discover and rediscover what is pleasurable is for you—whether that’s sexual or not.”
For now, I’ll stick to reading romance novels and slinging barbells, two activities that I know bring me pleasure. But, with Francis’ blessing, I won’t take rebound sex off the table completely… Mom knows best, after all.
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