Breaking up, making up, and getting it on with an ex

On-again, off-again, and maybe getting it on even when you're off? You're not alone.

Apparently Rihanna and Drake aren’t the only young lovers to break up and make up…and break up and make up again. Researchers from the University of Wisconsin and Bowling Green State University wanted to know just how common it is for young folks to be in on-again/off-again relationships or to hook up with their exes.

To find out, they recruited over 1,300 students in 7th, 9th, and 11th grades in Toledo, Ohio, who participated in a study beginning in 2001. Most of the participants stayed in the study until 2007, when they were between the ages of 17 and 24. At that point, 60% reported having been in a romantic relationship within the last two years. Just over half (54%) of those who’d been in a relationship reported that they’d ever had sex.

Baby, can we give it one more try?

The researchers found that 44% of couples who broke up had gotten back together again. They also found that among couples who had ever had sex, 27% reported having sex with an ex. More than half of those who had sex with an ex also reported having sex with someone else around the time of the breakup.

Not surprisingly, the longer a relationship lasted, the more likely the participants were to have a break up, reconciliation, or sex with an ex. Having lots of disagreements and yelling at each other was also related to breaking up, reconciling, and having sex with an ex.

Among older folks, rates of getting back together and having sex with an ex are much lower than in this study. These experiences may be part of learning about relationships and what we want from our partners.

The takeaway

Considering that other research has found that knowing your partner well makes sex better, maybe it’s not surprising that folks are tempted to make up—or just hook up—after a breakup. But hooking up with an ex comes with its own risks, as the researchers pointed out. When you’re comfortable with someone, it can be tempting to slack on protecting against STIs—which can be especially risky if one or both partners are seeing other people, too.

So if you find yourself reconnecting with an old flame for another go—or just for another night—by all means, bring back the old tricks that made things hot. But when it comes to protecting yourself from STIs and pregnancy, we suggest acting like it’s the first time.

Want to learn more?

Select one of the related topics to find more.