The first rule of ex sex? You don’t go there. Or do you?

Portrait of Tammy Strobel

The first rule of ex sex? You don’t go there. Or do you?

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The sheets feel comfortingly familiar and you squeeze in closer, inhaling his familiar smell (wait, is that a new shampoo?) then yes, yes, there it is – your guaranteed orgasm. An ex can be a pleasant, umm… filler until something – or someone – better comes along. “I’ll have the usual, please, with a side of foreplay. And let’s upsize the pleasure as well.” Afterwards, you pick up your emotional baggage from where you left it outside the bedroom door last night (along with your bag and shoes) and carry on with life. Ah, the perfect ex-sex fantasy. But it rarely goes down that beautifully. Charlotte, 29, went back to her ex again and again… and again. “I went back to the same ex for FIVE years. Looking back, I’m not proud of myself, but I was besotted with him. It would have been kinder if he had let me go so I could get over him. Doing it this way just prolonged the heartbreak.”

When an ex texts

The enticing ping of a booty-call text from an ex can elicit a fraught battle of head versus heart. You know you shouldn’t, but he does this really great thing with his tongue… So do you A) ignore the text and block him; B) reply with a cheeky sext? Psychologist Yvonne Fulbright says “Go with A, of course.” And yet, so many of us have opted for some variation of option B. Sure, you tell yourself it’s nothing more than harmless fun, but there are plenty of us who secretly hope that getting it on with our ex will show him what he’s missing and reignite a past relationship. And we can all guess how often that works.

A chemical risk

So how can some people (often men) compartmentalise their emotions when it comes to sex, yet many can’t? Why do so many of us think we are fine with no-strings sex... then feel hurt by how it actually turns out? This may be partly because dopamine – a chemical in the brain that’s involved in experiencing pleasure – drops off in men after orgasm, but lingers longer in women. But it’s not always the guy who sees ex sex as sex-and-nothing-more. “I invited my ex to my 27th birthday because we had stayed friends,” confesses Sara. “At the end of the night, I felt so warm and fuzzy towards everyone that we got together. I regretted it, especially as he assumed it meant we were back together. I had to dump him all over again a few weeks later.”

All in the timing

As a general rule, “sex with an ex” should be filed under “things not to do”. However, there is an exception to every rule, and ex sex doesn’t have to lead to emotional carnage. “If the reasons you split in the first place have been dealt with, revisiting an ex can work,” says Yvonne. “It might have been ‘right person, wrong time’.” So if you are agonising over whether to go back for a replay, be real with yourself. If you only split three weeks ago, you might not be over him – and a repeat is madness. And if you’re just bored on a Friday night, ask yourself if you really want to deal with the inevitable emotional fallout?

A lot of women think they can have no-strings sex but end up invested.