The Psychology Behind Rebound Sex

The Psychology Behind Rebound Sex


After going through a breakup, you must have received conflicting advice on whether or not to begin a new romantic relationship. On account of modern relationships and fleeting connections, your friends will often tell you not to enter a new relationship till you are completely over your ex-partner. The new romantic partner will just be a rebound which is a temporary solution to your heartache. 

Getting into a rebound can, for sure, spare you from emotional distress and turmoil. Rebound relationships do serve as a distraction and can negate all the negative beliefs you have about yourself owing to the breakup. However, is this newfound emotional attachment genuinely fulfilling or just a bandage over your emotional pain? Before immediately entering a new relationship post-breakup, it is always good to ask yourself why you are doing this. 

Being on the rebound 

A rebound relationship is a relationship that starts immediately after the end of a significant romantic relationship. This relationship often begins before the feelings towards the ex-partner are resolved. A marriage counsellor states that rebounded relationships are just “misguided attempts to move on with our lives.” (Meyer, 2012) Thus, people who have been recently separated are at risk of being involved with an unsuitable partner for the wrong reasons. 

Poor decision-making and emotional vulnerability are two main reasons why people end up being on the ground. Post-breakup, it is common for people to experience sadness, remorse, regret, anger, and guilt. These emotions are accompanied by distressing thoughts, such as “I will never find anyone better”, “I am not good enough”, or “I cannot be alone”. Such emotions and thoughts can often lead people to pursue rebound relationships.

Read : Sexual Desires and Its Impact on Mental Health

Rebound sex is seen to be an unhealthy way to cope after a break-up. You may not be ready to enter a new romantic relationship, but due to the negative emotions and increased needs of approval and validation, you may just end up having sex on the reround. Rebound sex rarely leads to a healthy relationship considering you might enter the relationship out of ill-intent of getting over your ex. 

Not everyone will pursue rebound sex post-breakup, however it is assumed that the one who was dumped is more affected. Since the “dumpee” did not choose the breakup, the feelings of rejection and insecurity can lead to rebound sex or rebound relationships. Also, people tend to stay in a rebound for varied periods i.e., from a few days to a few years. 

Psychological motives 

People often bury themselves in their work or engage their attention elsewhere to suppress the pain post-breakup. Using such coping strategies can easily lead people to engage in a rebound. Because what better way to distract oneself than the comfort of another relationship? Primarily, the motive is to just ease the pain and forget about the ex-partner. 

The rebound effect is a way of detaching emotionally from ex-partners by focusing on new partners. (Spielmann, MacDonald, & Wilson, 2009) 

  • Partner approval motives: The feeling of rejection post-breakup can hit hard, no matter whether you were dumped or it was mutually agreed upon. The feeling of void that comes after rejection can be a motivation for people to get into rebound relationships. To avoid ‘feeling the rejection’ people may seek out partners similar to the ex-partner. This will unconsciously transfer the emotional attachment from the old to the new partner, thus gaining their approval. 
  • Coping motives: To avoid feeling their feelings, people may distract themselves by getting into a rebound relationship. This helps people get out of the emotional brain and engage in a new set of ideas and emotions to focus on. The tingling feeling you get when you are in a new relationship might help push the memories and emotions of your previous relationship. 
  • Self-affirmation motives: It is normal to experience a loss of identity after a breakup. The feelings you get of being undesirable and unworthy of love and attention are common occurrences post-breakup. Thus, people may use rebound sex to gain their confidence back and to prove to themselves that they are loveable. You may end up benefiting if the rebound relationship is a self-affirming one. 
  • Revenge motives: Since anger can be an emotion that is associated with a breakup, some people might engage in rebound relationships just to express this emotion. They may try to make their ex-partner feel jealous and put the message across that they do not need them. The motive might just be to tell their ex-partner that they are not irreplaceable and that life will go on without them. 

Role of “rebound sex” in emotional recovery 

Research suggests that sex with a new partner can be seen as a healthy and necessary part of emotional recovery. However, where do we draw the line? 

For people who are dumped, turning to sex as a coping mechanism is a way to deal with feelings of anger, distress and vulnerability. Data suggests that these feelings decrease and diminish post six months following the breakup. Although the motivation to have rebound sex is high, it decreases between 13 to 16 weeks post-breakup. Sex is therefore used as a short-term coping mechanism after a breakup. 

When we include the “level of commitment” perspective here, individuals who have high levels of commitment to their relationship do not immediately have sex after a breakup. Whereas, less committed people have sex right away often not as a coping mechanism.

Read : I Love You But I Can’t Commit!

When the motive to have sex is for coping, self-affirmation or revenge purposes, it is seen that people engage in sex with strangers just four weeks after breakup. Especially people with strong partner approval motives and self-affirmation motives engage in high rates of sexual behaviour with new partners. They do not show a decline in those rates thus indicating that they struggle with moving on from their ex-partner. Thus, not choosing or wanting the relationship to end predicts rebound sexual behaviour. 

Overall, it is debatable whether sex with a new or unknown partner should be seen as reckless, risky behaviour or a step in the moving-on process. From the above discussion, it is clear that for some individuals it may be a necessary part of moving on. However, even after a prolonged period, if individuals continue engaging in sex as a way to cope, it might be seen as a lack of recovery and an inability to move on from their ex-partners. 

Do men and women react similarly to breakups? 

Research suggests that men are more likely to be in a rebound relationship than women. While both genders do have similar feelings of emotional distress after a breakup, men do not seek rebound due to emotional distress alone. 

Women usually have a support system of friends and family to rely on post-breakup. This kind of social support reduces the need for a rebound relationship. For men, they usually do not believe in sharing their feelings or relying on others for support. Thus, rebound sex can prove to be useful for men to deal with the emotional turmoil post-breakup. 

According to research, men approach relationships in a more playful, less serious approach with less emotional intensity. Therefore, when they do fall in love, their strong emotional attachment and less frequent experience with intense relationships lead them to turn to rebound relationships. More than emotional distress, it is their need for emotional attachment and distraction that inclines them toward rebound sex. 

Read : Understanding Gender and Sexuality in Psychology

Is it a bad idea to start a new relationship soon after a breakup? 

According to research, getting into a relationship soon after a breakup is not as unwise as it is thought to be. On the contrary, people who start a new relationship rapidly seem to function better. In several studies, individuals who rebounded have reported that they experienced a high sense of well-being and self-esteem. This was in comparison to those who chose to stay single post-breakup. 

Research suggests that people who start a new relationship post-breakup feel more confident and romantically desirable compared to those who stay single. They are also less likely to have left-over or lingering feelings for their ex and do not keep in contact with them. With their new partners, they seem to be well-adjusted and have better communication.

Thus, starting a new relationship might just be beneficial for the emotional recovery of the individual. Though they do help in moving on, it does not come without baggage. People tend to compare their new partner to their ex-partner, thus bringing the influence of the past into their present relationship. 

Read : 7 Myths about Healthy Relationships

Since these individuals did not experience the psychological effects post-breakup and instead got into a new relationship, their uninterrupted relationship status led their lives to continue smoothly. The similarities between the ex-partner and the new partner also provided a sense of stability which maintained their well-being. 

Data suggests that individuals who remain single post-breakup struggle with self-confidence and unresolved feelings towards their ex-partner. However, individuals on the rebound, despite being in contact with their ex-partners, are not hung up on their exes. Instead, the rebound relationship actually helped them get over their ex. 

Read : 10 Telltale Signs Your Relationship Is Making You Unhappy


To summarize, rebound sex and relationships can help people cope post-breakup by alleviating emotional distress and increasing self-esteem. However, evidence does exist that suggests that prolonged engagement in rebound behaviour can mean that someone is struggling to move on. The motives involved in getting into a rebound relationship affect the emotional recovery of the person. In the end, it all depends on the individual whether the rebound relationship is harmful or helpful. Therefore, it is important to understand your own emotions and motives before entering a new romantic or sexual relationship. 

  • Brumbaugh, C. C., & Fraley, R. C. (2015). Too fast, too soon? An empirical investigation into rebound relationships. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 32(1), 99-118. 
  • Barber, Lindsay & Cooper, Mary. (2013). Rebound Sex: Sexual Motives and Behaviors Following a Relationship Breakup. Archives of sexual behavior. 43.10.1007/s10508-013-0200-3. 
  • Spielmann, Stephanie & Macdonald, Geoff & Wilson, Anne. (2009). On the Rebound: Focusing on Someone New Helps Anxiously Attached Individuals Let Go of Ex-Partners. Personality & social psychology bulletin. 35. 1382-94. 10.1177/0146167209341580. 
  • Shimek, Cassie & Bello, Richard. (2014). Coping with Break-Ups: Rebound Relationships and Gender Socialization. Social Sciences. 2014. 24-43. 10.3390/socsci3010024.

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