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Why We Have Sex with an Ex

Motives behind sex with an ex may be psychological, but the result is purely physical.

By Ailish DelaneyPublished 7 years ago 7 min read

Why do we keep going back to our exes? You’d think we’d know better. We’ve been there, done that, and kept his t-shirt (and possibly sleep in it too). We know it ended for a reason, but as time passes we seem to forget the bad stuff and only see the relationship through rosé tinted wine glasses. Why is that?

It would appear that sex with an ex is a growing trend, with more and more people becoming nostalgic for "the way we were." The odds are stacked against it working, so what makes us keep going back for more?

Photo via The Red List

Better the Devil You Know, than the Devil You Don't

With more and more dating sites popping up every day, could it be that we are becoming jaded by the never ending treadmill of unsuitable dates? After all, dating is hard work, so maybe we are adopting the doctrine of "better the devil you know"? Getting to grips (no pun intended) with someone new, only to find they are completely unsuitable, is frustrating. An ex is familiar territory, we know their ways, their likes and dislikes inside the bedroom and out. Why spend time online, getting to know someone, finally arranging a date, dealing with the pre-date nerves, agonizing over what to wear and being careful not to spill your spaghetti bolognese down your front during dinner, only to find at the end of the date that he is a terrible kisser? That’s a deal breaker, right? And as he’s washing your face with his tongue, and leaving pasta sauce slug trails all over your cheeks, you can’t help but remember just how good at kissing your ex actually was.

What if They're the One that Got Away?

Ah, this old chestnut. Us girls are suckers for good ol’ romcoms, and a diet of "boy-meets-girl, boy-loses-girl, girl-wins-him-back" movies have given us a warped sense of real life—have you ever seen The Best of Me? There is always that nagging doubt in the back of our minds that maybe, just maybe, we let the wrong one go. We harbor these secret fantasies that it will be just like it was the first time, without all the bad bits. We picture sitting with our grandkids on our knees, telling them the beautiful story of how fate brought you and grandpa back together, and how love always finds a way, as you gaze lovingly into each other’s eyes across the rocking chair filled room. What if they really were "The One"? Can we take that chance?

Photo by Bert Stern

The Sex is Good

So, maybe you didn’t get along as a couple, but let’s face it, the sex was hot! Going to bed with a new partner is usually a minefield—will they like this? Do they enjoy that? Am I going too fast or too slow, being too noisy or not noisy enough? With an ex we know exactly what they like, and we know how to give it to them, and vice versa; They might have annoyed the hell out of you, but they knew how to press the buttons in bed. Instead of having to maneuver your hips into some kind of contortion in a bid to get it just right, and barking directions like a traffic controller, with your ex you really could just lie back and enjoy it. Like really enjoy it.


If the ex in question is one from years ago, it is tempting to reminisce about how great it was. In the interim, we might have become bogged down with life, failed marriages, kids, dead end jobs; It might be tempting to look for someone who knew us before life took hold and battered us around the head a bit, someone who knew the real us. What we fail to accept is that our current self is the real us. We’ve changed, in the same way they have changed. We’ve been hurt, we have scars both physically and mentally, we’ve experienced different things which have shaped us into the very different people we are today. The person who loved us when we were 17 loved the carefree, wild child that we used to be, not the middle aged divorcee with a family and responsibilities, (and a few extra pounds).

Photo by Leonard Mccombe

Your Friends Liked Them

It’s often tempting to let other people’s opinions sway us. When friends and family tell us they always liked them, and we were mad to break up with them, it can trick our minds into thinking they might be right. But they weren’t the ones who had to go through the rows, and the silences, and the bad times. Usually, except in the case of a sociopath, we are on our best behavior when presented to friends and family. We want them to like us and therefore turn on the charm. So they don’t see the "real person" and are therefore functioning under the illusion that they are Mr. or Mrs. Right (when behind closed doors they were Mr. or Mrs. ALWAYS Right, right?)


This is a tricky one. Chemistry is an incredibly powerful entity. That feeling of butterflies when we so much as think of someone is enough to make us believe that it’s still true love. The old cliché of sparks flying whenever we’re in the same room as each other can fool us into thinking that we’re meant to be. But, when push comes to shove, chemistry is just hormones, and hormones alone are not the stuff that great relationships are made of. Hormones are responsible for many (horrible) things—periods, menopause, acne, and mood swings. Should we really believe that they are the cause of that elusive Great Love, too? It’s just a trick, don’t fall for it! Chemistry alone does not ensure a good relationship.

Photo by Henry Clarke


Another evening spent at home alone. Another Saturday night watching rubbish TV and eating junk food. Wouldn’t it just be easier to give them a ring, see what they're up to? After all, we did have a laugh, didn’t we? And cozying up with them would be better than stuffing our faces with "just another chocolate," surely? What our minds are conveniently hiding from us though, is the fact that actually, they were pretty boring, which is why we got out of the habit of going out on a weekend in the first place!


Again, we’re back to the "better the devil you know" scenario, but in a broader sense. We don’t have to get used to the way someone new dresses, their taste in music, or the fact that they can’t bear Indian food and is gluten intolerant. We don’t have to go through the favorite band/best holiday/past relationships phase because we’ve already done that. We may even have some of the ex’s old CDs in our car, or their favorite jumper in our wardrobe. It’s just so much easier to not have to start again. And we don’t even have to go through the trauma of introducing him to friends and family, because they already know him, and if they liked him they will welcome him back with open arms.

Photo by Eve Arnold

Self Esteem

It could be that we are looking for a way to claw back some control over the situation. If they were the one who did the dumping, then getting back with them might be a good way to validate ourselves—we can’t be that bad if they want to come back for more. And this time, if they were the one who did the running, we can call the shots and play it differently. Or, it may be that we can approach the relationship second time around with a more realistic view and can harden our hearts somewhat to the possibility of hurt and just go with the flow, or at least we can try, usually unsuccessfully.


I’m not suggesting for a moment that, if revenge is our motivation for revisiting the past, we start serving up bunny stew; all that will buy us is a one way ticket to crazy-ville. But in a much more subtle way perhaps it gives us the opportunity to turn the tables and hurt them the way they hurt us. Harboring a fantasy that this time they will fall madly in love with us only for us to dump them and give them a taste of their own medicine can be a powerful motivator. Wrong. But powerful all the same.

In the end we all have to make our own dating choices, and sometimes dating an ex can work. But the old adage "don’t look backwards unless you intend going that way" is, for the most part, one we should probably listen to. Relationships end for a reason, and 99 percent of the time it is for a good reason. No matter how blurred our memories are of our past loves, we should take off the pink fluffy goggles and leave him where he belongs—firmly in the past.

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About the Creator

Ailish Delaney

Ailish is a single mother, freelance writer, and past life regression therapist, which means she gets to time travel on a daily basis.

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