Valentine’s Day is this week, and as the saying goes, “The best way to get over someone is to get under someone else.” Ah, rebounding: the thing that anyone who’s been in that terrible timespace post-breakup knows all too well.
I was surprised, then, to see a study that was recently published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, which finally investigated and found that, yes, rebound sex is indeed a real thing.
To which I say, no doy.
The results of the study, which surveyed 170 college students, may have concluded that rebound sex is a way that many people cope with a breakup, but it did not conclude whether or not rebound sex actually helps you move on from a breakup. In fact, it suggests that people who reported the highest levels of rebound sex right after a breakup were most likely to have sex with strangers and to keep having sex with a lot of people over time. And perhaps not so surprisingly, people who were the “dumpees” were more likely than the “dumpers” to seek out rebound sex.
This study is telling us something anyone who has been through a breakup already knows: When you’re feeling emotionally vulnerable and like your heart has been excavated from the inside, you tend to engage in especially risky behavior, sexual or otherwise. It seems to be a natural part of the process. Whether that’s because it’s socially accepted or because it is genuinely natural, science says that we do it. But it’s this idea that rebound sex isn’t helpful that I must take issue with.
A little over a year ago, I ended a nearly two-year-long relationship with someone who I thought I could have been with forever. In the last few months of our relationship, I had begun to realize how emotionally unhealthy and dispassionate it had become. As first long-term relationships tend to go, we had gotten caught up in feeling such intense love that we didn’t believe it would ever dissipate. It was mainly for that reason that I didn’t end it sooner.
By the time it was over, I was a shell of a person. I had willingly drained the well of myself to ensure someone else’s happiness. The next couple months of my life consisted of taking frequent long walks, calling my mom every day, binge-watching shows that I don’t remember watching and writing obsessively. I was also staying at friends’ houses multiple nights a week due to a bad bout of insomnia and frequent anxiety attacks. I was basically John Cusack in “Say Anything…” and “High Fidelity” and “Being John Malkovich” times 10.
My doctor had given me some weird anti-anxiety/sleeping pills, so I wasn’t drinking alcohol or going out with friends. In fact, even without the sleeping pills, I was being advised to not drink or do anything else that may alter my state of mind. I was just supposed to remain depressed until I felt better, I guess.
But then my brother came to town for his birthday one weekend, and I thought, “Why not? I deserve to have fun.” It was at his party that I reconnected with someone I used to be quite infatuated with (although one I had never slept with). The last time I had seen him, which was a few years earlier, he was walking away from me down my driveway after cutting an intense make-out session short for some unknown reason. Since then, I had accepted that would be the extent of our relationship.
When he walked into that house, though, my whole body knew. He was still as attractive and aloof as ever. Part of me felt like I was betraying myself for this, but the other part of me was too distracted by the palpable sexual chemistry that was still obviously between us.
A couple of weeks later, he casually asked me to hang out one night. Regardless of how aloof he tended to be, his intentions were obvious. As such, I was panicking about the prospect of even just fooling around. I almost didn’t even remember what good sex was like, let alone what it felt like to be aroused. What if I was really bad? What if I didn’t know how to give head anymore? Could I remember how to move my hips while I was on top?
Within 45 minutes or so of his arrival, he had maneuvered his way partially on top of me, one of his hands on the back of my neck and the other moving from my back to my chest. At one point, he pulled away and looked me in the eye to gently say, “Just relax.”
As soon as I did, so many other feelings came over me: desire, being desired, feeling sexy, aroused, excited, even satisfaction. All that guilt and sadness I had felt for the previous two months vanished. It helped that I felt a certain amount of victory by laying a guy I had a huge crush on years before. I’m pretty sure my former self was cheering me on that night and gave me a high-five when it was over.
He didn’t stay the night. We cuddled for a little bit, and I walked him to the door like a gentleman. Then, I got the best sleep I’d had in months.
In my case, rebound sex was a great decision. Sure, it wasn’t romantic by any means, but that wasn’t really the point. I needed to experience what it was like to feel sexy, desired and excited again.
I don’t agree, though, with the researchers who apparently thought that having fun when I was sad would be a bad decision. Sure, it was risky considering I could have easily gotten re-attached to someone in my vulnerable state, but that risk was ultimately worth it.
So this Valentine’s Day, if you’re mending a broken heart (or just feeling lonely), remember that sometimes the risky decisions aren’t necessarily the bad ones. At the risk of sounding cliche: follow your heart and use protection.
Stephanie Self studies English. She can be reached at email@example.com.