‘Bonus Sex’ with an Ex: Frisky Business or Risky Business?

Couple HuggingPicture this: You’re attending a rather wild party by yourself, without your current partner, and you’ve had quite a bit to drink. And then he or she walks in; your former lover who you spent years with, the one who is responsible for some of your most glorious erotic experiences as well as your bleeding ulcer. Uh oh. He/she is moving toward you inexorably, smiling that sexy way you remember so well.

Though fondness for an ex may fade, sexual attraction often remains. You may know that leaving the party with this person is a lousy idea, and you may have described, in meticulous detail, all of his or her flaws to your closest friends, vowing “never, ever again.” But none of those people is present tonight, and the thought of playing a golden oldie is becoming extremely appealing.

Welcome to the perplexing and enticing phenomenon of “bonus sex,” aka “the farewell fling” or “mercy sex” (although I personally don’t discern much that’s merciful about it!).

Sex with your ex has potential pitfalls and can be an emotional explosive device, blowing us limb from limb. This is probably why Robert Redford doesn’t go back for that last drink with Barbra Streisand in The Way We Were.

I’ve known couples over the years who continue to jump back into the sack after they break up. Like Liz Taylor and Richard Burton, they can’t live together, but the sex has been so sensational that they may continue to re-marry and re-divorce, whatever relationship they had morphing into one long bonus fling.

Perhaps this is easier to pull off with impunity when you’re rich and famous like Liz and Richard. But most of the couples I’ve worked with in these situations have not been at peace with the drama that ensues. What’s often going on is that one is being exploited by the other. One partner may want to reunite long-term and hopes that sex is the way to lure the other back.

“Why is it that we enjoy sex more when it means less?” Albert Finney asks Audrey Hepburn in the film classic Two for the Road.

“Because it isn’t personal anymore,” she replies.

She may have a point here. By the time you get into bed with your former sweetheart, you’ve probably let go of your expectations and attachment to outcome. You’ve stopped trying to figure out how to “make it work,” so what felt like work can now be illicit fun.

In his fascinating book The Erotic Mind, psychotherapist Jack Morin describes his study of more than 1,000 “peak sexual experiences.” A number of these were people reporting highly erotic experiences with their former lovers, with “intense bursts of passion … a return of the old fire.” Perhaps for these folks this final fling is a ritual of sorts, allowing the relationship to end on a positive note, with egos intact.

If your former partner reappears soon after you’ve split up, I strongly suggest that you call a cab and flee the party. Inebriated as you might be, your wounds are probably still gaping and raw. Give yourself significant time for psychic and emotional healing before you even consider indulging in bonus sex: six months, a year, or even longer.

And need I remind you that your current partner has not accompanied you to this dangerous party? As we discussed monogamy and fidelity one night many years ago—before either of us was married—a colleague said to me: “Like the sound of that damned tree falling in the woods, the question of bonus infidelity really has me baffled, confused, and perplexed. If I sleep with my ex-lover (hers was flirtatiously present at the conference she and I were attending that weekend) and my current lover doesn’t know about it, does it actually count as cheating?”

What do you think?

© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jill Denton, LMFT, CSAT, CCS, therapist in Los Osos, California

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  • audrina

    audrina

    October 30th, 2014 at 12:00 PM

    um I am going to chime in and say this is wrong, it’s risky and you are probably not going to get anything more from it than right then and there in the moment. I have made the mistake before thinking that this was something way more than what it actually was and you know where that got me? Hurt all over again when I was actually starting to heal from the pain of the breakup. IT might feel good in the moment but it immediately is going to go south. I would not recommend.

  • RamonaS

    RamonaS

    October 30th, 2014 at 2:57 PM

    There is something to be said for feeling confident and like you can win a person back with just a little look. That’s how I have always felt when hooking up with an ex. So I am having a bad day, this is someone who may know you better than anyone else at this time- what harm is there in it if both of you know exactly what the other expects from the experience?
    Now I know it’s not cool when someone gets led on or they think that this is going to turn into a relationship all over again. But you have to admit that it can be fun and can feel good just like old times even of just for a little while.

  • harry

    harry

    October 31st, 2014 at 3:52 AM

    I try to tell myself that there is a reason that this person is an ex, and that perhaps I should think about that before getting involved with them again.

  • Wade

    Wade

    October 31st, 2014 at 11:34 AM

    Too much drama there for me to even consider that this would be the right thing to do!

  • Untold

    Untold

    November 1st, 2014 at 6:13 AM

    Wife did it. Cheated with ex boyfriend after 25 years of marriage and two kids. Screwed up our lives. It sucks. Don’t do it. Don’t even friend on facebook. that’s how it started.

  • bryan j

    bryan j

    November 2nd, 2014 at 6:04 AM

    Come on you know we have all done this at least once or twice in our lives and it can be fun ti relive some of those memories that you have with this person.

    The upside of it is that it could be a reunion of sorts for the two of you, especially if you think that the two of you really should be together and this could be the way that it all begins.

    It could also be that little life lesson for you that this is not what you really want and it could help you see that a little more clearly.

  • James

    James

    November 3rd, 2014 at 4:48 AM

    Ha! This is one of those things that is going to seem like a GREAT idea at the time and not so great afterwards.

  • AbiGail

    AbiGail

    November 3rd, 2014 at 2:29 PM

    It can be done the right way you know. There is a level of comfort that will be there that you might not have with someone new, you already know them so nothing feels awkward. This is better than just hooking up with someone that you have never met before and having a one night stand, I would think

  • Ed

    Ed

    November 4th, 2014 at 2:43 PM

    If the one lover does not know about the other does this count as cheating? Would someone really have to ask that? Of course it is cheating! Just because someone does not know does not make it right and does not make it not cheating.
    How lame

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