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The Truth About Rebound Sex


We’ve all heard that the best way to get over someone is to get under someone else, and a recent study out of the University of Missouri shows that a lot of college students are heeding that very advice. Out of 170 undergrads surveyed, 35 percent had sex with someone other than their ex-partner—that is, engaged in rebound sex—within a month of their breakup.

But what does that mean for collegiettes? There’s no doubt that rebound sex is a thing that happens, but when it comes to whether it will help or hurt you, things get a little murky. So, should you or shouldn’t you? Let’s break it down!

Why do we do it?

There are tons of ways you can try to get over a breakup. You can pull an Elle Woods and watch a bad romance movie, only to scream, “Liar!” at the sexy male lead and chuck a box of chocolates at your TV. You can stay in your sweats for a week and develop an intimate relationship with GrubHub, or you can gather your girls and drain your local bar of its tequila reserves. You could get over your ex the healthy way, or you could try something else entirely!

But despite the many options, a sizeable chunk of post-breakup collegiettes will likely choose a more physical course of action: rebound sex.

“I think for some people, it’s the kick in the pants they need—literally!—to help them believe that life will go on after a breakup,” says MJ Acharya, the founder of BrokenHeartedGirl.com, a place for the brokenhearted to seek support. “Imagining yourself with another person can be hard to do, so just putting yourself in a position to physically connect with a new lover can help kick-start your brain into imagining a future full of possibilities with another person.”

The dangers of rebound sex

Getting to a place where you can see yourself with another guy sounds great, but before we get there, let’s get the bad news out of the way: rebound sex isn’t all good.

The potential risks of engaging in rebound sex when you’re hot off a breakup and, consequently, emotionally vulnerable may seem obvious: you might get attached or find out that your emotions can’t be so easily plugged by a one-night stand. But according to Lisa Steadman, relationship expert and author of It's A Breakup Not A Breakdown, if you’re hoping to get over your ex this way, you might find that rebound sex has the exact opposite result — you might wind up thinking about your ex even more than before.

“[After rebound sex], we can go, ‘Now I have all these feelings coming up that are making me think about my ex and what we used to have and how I miss him,’” Steadman says. “[You could think], ‘This guy didn’t touch me the same way,’ or, ‘this guy didn’t treat me the same way, and I really miss my ex. I think I’m going to text him or call him.’ And that’s where the rebound turns into more of the breakdown.”

Another risk associated with rebound might have less to do with the what and who, and more to do with the when. The participants in the study who engaged in rebound sex did so within the first four weeks following their breakup, something that Steadman says might stunt the healing process, or at least set you back a few steps.

“There’s no substitute for being in the breakdown of your breakup,” she says. “You can’t avoid the pain. There are five stages of it—the denial, the anger, the bargaining, the depression and even the eventual acceptance—and you can’t shortchange yourself by trying to skip over those steps.”

Meaning? Rebound sex might seem like a good distraction the day after you get dumped, but in the long run, it might be better if you wait until you’ve healed on your own first. 

Alternatives to rebound sex

Want some serious post-breakup catharsis without the sex? We have good news: you have options when it comes to getting that boost and letting off some newly single steam.

“Maybe it’s rebound kissing or a rebound make-out session,” Acharya suggests as alternatives that run a smaller risk of attachment or regret. “And if that’s not something the person would normally do, she could just put herself on an online dating site to just garner attention from prospective mates in order to help her visualize herself in a future that doesn’t include her ex.”

And if those options still sound a little daunting, there’s always the option of just going to a bar and getting your flirt on with your best girl friends, no physical contact necessary!

Or for those collegiettes who don’t even want to think about guys right now? Steadman suggests getting a Breakover. That’s right, a breakup makeover.  “Nothing makes a woman feel sassier than a new ‘do,” she says.  

If you already have a ‘do you love, find something else that involves pampering and treating yourself. Self-love is a crucial step in the breakup recovery process!

Still want to rebound? Things to consider

Even with the potential pitfalls, there’s no denying that rebound sex is popular for a reason. Steadman describes it as a great ego boost: a way to reenter the market and remind yourself that your ex isn’t the only one out there. Not to mention, it’s probably been forever since you slept with someone besides your ex, and admit it: things were getting tired with him anyway.

It might also be a great distraction.

“I'm so pleased that I did, because although I'm no longer in contact with the guy I had sex with, for a few weeks I was excited again,” says Jasmine Walker, HC campus correspondent for the University of Manchester. “I… had something to talk to my friends about other than my ex-boyfriend. I was completely distracted by what I'd done, what I'd learnt and how sex could be with someone else but still feel good.”

So if you decide you are willing to take the risk, there are things to keep in mind to make sure you have the most positive experience possible.

“I think it's important to self-analyze,” says Acharya, who also wrote The Breakup Workbook: A Common Sense Guide to Getting Over Your Ex. “If you're typically not a one-night-stand kind of girl, then chances are, having a one-night stand could potentially diminish your self-esteem. In this situation, you want to feel good about yourself afterward.”

Another invaluable resource for safe rebounding? What Steadman calls the Boohoo Crew, a group of friends, who will make sure you don’t make any bad decisions while you’re still in the bad stages of your breakup. You know, the ones who are going to make sure you don’t drunk-text him or beg him to take you back—or, in this case, make sure you don’t have sex with someone new until you’re ready.

“Be sure that when you’re going through a breakup, you surround yourself with people who have your best interests at heart and who really want to help you through it,” Steadman says.

And of course, no matter the type of sex you’re engaging in, Steadman reminds you to stay safe and always be prepared. You don’t know where your rebound has been!

At the end of the day, how you go about your breakup should be about one thing: finding acceptance and the ability to move on. If you take your time to do that, you’ll learn why your breakup might have been one of the best things that ever happened to you.

“You’re free to be yourself, you’re free to move on, you’re free to meet someone who’s more suited for you, and those are all the upsides of a breakup that we often forget when we’re thinking about revenge or rebound sex,” Steadman says.

Still not convinced? Just trust the process.

“I've been in the breakup business for 10 years, and the old saying is actually true: ‘Time heals all wounds,’” Acharya says. “It's what you do in that time that will either make you come out of your breakup a bitter person—or a better person. Strive for the latter.”

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