The only thing that gets some couples more heated than a tense, emotionally loaded argument? The makeup sex that comes after.
While your personal post-fight sexual history might be all the proof you need, research does show that romantic conflict often increases feelings of sexual desire in people. (It’s easy enough to shake off your annoyance about having to go to your in-laws for the weekend when you’re experiencing that heady, sweaty post-orgasm moment of bliss.)
The argument itself leaves you feeling emotionally distant from a partner, while the sex that follows works as a kind of Band-Aid, emotionally and intimately repairing the closeness that was fissured during the fight. Research shows that the effect is strongest when the argument is successfully resolved ― not just tabled to prioritize sex.
Generally speaking, heightened feelings do wonders for sex. A 2008 study out of Israel’s Bar-Ilan University suggested that people tend to be more interested in sex with their partner after being primed with feelings of emotional threat, such as being asked to imagine their S.O. falling in love with someone else.
In couples therapy, many men and women report falling into a pattern of “fight, and then get freaky,” said Marissa Nelson, a marriage and family therapist in Washington, D.C. (It sure beats the other route couples take: withholding sex for a period of time after an argument.)
“For many, conflict is something to be avoided so this is a way to reconnect without words or apologies,” she said. “What’s more, the release of the ‘love hormone’ oxytocin during sex makes couples feel closer. They get that ‘feel good’ rush that soothes some of the emotions that may have come to the surface during the argument.”
Sometimes, makeup sex can add spice and novelty to the relationship and sexual routine.
“I always say to my clients that sex is a place you enter and a role you step into, so if that time after an argument is a safe place to explore more kinky or assertive sex, that can be very sexually satisfying,” Nelson said.
Our need for makeup sex might also have something to do with our survival instincts kicking in, said Megan Fleming, a New York City-based psychologist and sex therapist.
“Our attachment system gets activated during a fight,” she said. “When we disagree, the attachment bond feels threatened. It activates our fight and flight instincts. Arguing is arousing physiologically, as is fear and excitement, so the body is turned on ― there’s an increased heart rate, respiration and blood flow.”
If your body’s already at a heightened state of arousal, it makes sense that the sex is going to be more pleasurable.
Though there’s no research on the subject, emotionally keyed-up sex might even make for better orgasms, said New York-based therapist Douglas Brooks.
“As I have often observed, most orgasms are not due to the mechanical pounding of intercourse but because of the intense heightened emotional state and arousal prior to blast-off. Often during an argument, particularly a passionate argument, our bodies get worked up, too.”
Not all makeup sex is worth getting hot and bothered over, though. (No, we’re not just talking about the sex Conan O’Brien is referencing in the tweet above.) The pattern is problematic if you never resolve your arguments ― or if there’s anything vaguely physically or emotionally abusive about the dynamic, Brooks said.
“It’s fine for people to engage in sex during or after an argument provided that each person feels good about themselves afterwards,” he said.
And if you really want to get down to the bottom of an argument, you may want to have the discussion when cooler heads prevail.
You know the expression “strike when the iron is hot”? Fleming tells couples to strike when the iron is cold. Wait to have important conversations until you’re in the right headspace.
“When emotions are high, we aren’t thinking clearly. Our emotions take our executive functioning, or rational thinking, offline because of heightened amygdala activation,” she said. “I think timing is important, but what matters most is that the issue gets resolved, or at the very least, you both can agree to disagree.”
Sex Ed for Grown-Ups is a series tackling everything you didn’t learn about sex in school — beyond the birds and the bees. Keep checking back for more expert-based articles and personal stories.
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