Is Make-Up Sex Really That Healthy?
Make-up sex is renowned for being many things: mind-blowing, intense and super-hot. Having sex after a fight with your partner is often portrayed as a fun way to shed feelings of anger and frustration, as well as start on the path to repairing your relationship.
While it may seem a bit puzzling how you can go from being angry with your partner to having passionate sex with them, it's not uncommon, noted Tiffany Jones, L.P.C., regional clinical director and sex and relationship therapist at Thriveworks in Virginia.
"Fights make you naturally aroused and trigger your 'fight or flight' response," Jones said. "When you're in the middle of shouting your point of view, your thoughts are anxiously flying and your body is flushed with chemical and physiological responses—adrenaline and heart rate—all of this heat, passion and energy can easily be turned into arousal toward your partner."
Why is make-up sex intense?
Many people have lauded make-up sex as the best sex they have ever had. During such periods of intense conflict, stress and adrenaline might run high. These hyperaroused somatic states can lead to a higher level of arousal for sex.
"The endorphins from sex and oxytocin generated from skin-to-skin contact and orgasm can obliterate cortisol, generated in the body during a fight," said Kate Balestrieri, Psy.D., a certified sex therapist in California and the founder of Modern Intimacy, a therapy practice. "This can be calming to a distressed nervous system."
Insecurities and feelings of anxiety may start creeping in during a fight, which may leave you feeling emotionally distant from your partner.
Make-up sex can serve as a form of physical reassurance that you still desire each other and mental reassurance that the relationship remains intact, which in turn makes you feel closer than before the fight.
"This can lead to a more intense and stimulating sexual experience," Jones explained.
Is make-up sex good or bad for your relationship?
Few studies have examined the interplay between conflict and sex, and the limited existing literature is conflicting.
A 2008 study published in Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin suggested people tend to be more interested in sex after being primed with feelings of emotional threat. However, a more recent 2020 study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior found couples reported feeling less sexual satisfaction from sex that occurred on days when there was conflict in the relationship.
As indicated in the 2020 study, while make-up sex might—in the short term—provide a cushion against marital dissatisfaction after a conflict, the sex itself was reported as less satisfying.
Whether make-up sex is healthy or not depends on the partners in the relationship, according to Balestrieri.
"For some people, it can provide a well-received reprieve from the tension left in their minds and bodies," she said. "For others, it may actually not feel safe or comfortable to have make-up sex until further repair occurs. What is definitely not healthy is for sex to be weaponized and for one partner to pressure the other into make-up sex for any reason."
There can also be disadvantages in the long run if you and your partner use sex to bypass the act of resolving a conflict. This is especially true if the conflict is a recurrent theme or represents a deal-breaker issue in the relationship.
Jones said if make-up sex starts to become a cycle after an argument or brief conflict, certain negative associations may begin to form.
"The body no longer tenses with excitement but with anxiety and longs for a positive sexual experience in the sense of sex with purposeful compassion and mindfulness," Jones said. "The mind might become tired of the anticipated inability to verbally communicate a resolution without feeling heard, validated, understood."
In addition, a sense of emotional safety can easily become distorted over time due to the constant association of make-up sex with conflict in the relationship.
While make-up sex can feel great, it cannot replace doing the actual emotional work to ensure a relationship thrives.
Other healthy make-up options
After a fight with your partner, it's important to resist the urge to ignore your emotions and thoughts. Taking the time to process your own individual feelings immediately afterward is often a great place to start.
For instance, you can create a safe space away from your partner and process your thoughts through writing in a journal, artistic expression, quiet moments in a coffee shop or simply going for a walk, Jones suggested.
"When you feel ready, come back to your partner and discuss your perspective utilizing communication skills devoid of high, intense levels of fear and anger," she said.
If you'd like to process your thoughts together, there are various nonsexual activities you can engage in to help reduce the high levels of stress and anxiety prior to talking about your thoughts and feelings. Try making a meal together, taking a gentle walk, watching a movie, listening to music or even cuddling.
"Since repair requires relief, whichever make-up activity you and your partner choose to engage in ought to focus on helping the nerves of both partners return to baseline," Balestrieri explained.
According to Jones, if you work on all other aspects of a healthy relationship such as mutual respect, compassion, empathy, honesty and mutual enjoyment, then make-up sex can be just as awesome as all other types of sex.