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What Is Revenge Sex?

Medically Reviewed by Dan Brennan, MD on June 28, 2021

Relationships can be messy, especially if they are romantic or sexual. The emotions involved can be extreme, both positively and negatively. When you have dedicated your time, attention, and emotional energy towards someone, it’s natural to feel upset if they end the relationship or break your trust. Some people choose to handle these emotions in an unsafe or unproductive way. One such reaction to cheating or a breakup is revenge sex.

Revenge sex is having sex or doing sexual acts with someone in order to “get revenge” on someone else. Generally, revenge sex happens because the person having it believes that the act will cause a current or former partner emotional pain. But revenge sex causes more problems than it solves. There are safer and better ways of processing negative emotions than having revenge sex.

What Is the Difference Between Revenge Sex and Rebound Sex?

Rebound sex is having sex with someone to help reduce or relieve your feelings for someone else. The point isn’t to hurt a former or current partner, and there’s no intention for anyone else to find out about it. Instead, the person having rebound sex is attempting to handle their own emotions. 

On the other hand, revenge sex is entirely focused on a third party’s emotions and reactions. The actual act of having sex isn’t the point. The person looking for revenge generally chooses a partner whose identity will cause their former or current partner pain. For example, a person may choose a friend of their former partner in order to damage the relationship between the partner and the friend. 

The big difference between the two is motivation. Rebound sex is only intended to affect the person having it. Revenge sex is heavily focused on someone else who isn’t even a part of the act. Of course, it’s possible to have sex that’s intended as both rebound and revenge sex. 

Myths and Misconceptions about Revenge Sex

You might think revenge sex will make you feel good, but it’s unlikely to be helpful for anyone. Doing anything simply to harm someone else is by definition a harmful act. Furthermore, having sex with one person in order to hurt another may result in harm to the person you had revenge sex with. 

This is backed up by studies on revenge in general. Multiple studies suggest that while revenge may sound like a good idea, actually attempting it is likely to leave you feeling worse. In fact, while both people who get revenge and those who abstain think that getting revenge would make them happier, people who do not attempt revenge feel better in the short and long run.

Safety Advice and Special Considerations

Revenge is generally an impulsive decision. This same impulsiveness may lead you to make unsafe decisions, such as failing to use contraceptives or STD protection. It’s better to take the time to consider your decision and whether it will hurt you or your partner. 

When It’s a Problem

Just because revenge seems like it will feel good doesn’t mean that it actually will. In fact, thinking about or attempting to get revenge can actually make you spend more time thinking about a negative event, causing your emotional pain to last longer and feel worse. Revenge sex is unlikely to be a healthy emotional response. Instead, spend some time focusing on other forms of emotional care to relieve your anger.

If you find that you can’t handle the negative thoughts you’re having about a partner, consider seeking help from a mental health professional. A therapist or counselor can help you find healthy ways to process your emotions.

Show Sources

SOURCES:

ABC News: “The American Sex Survey: A Peek Beneath the Sheets.”

Aggressive Behavior: “Personality correlates of revenge-seeking: Multidimensional links to physical aggression, impulsivity, and aggressive pleasure.”

American Psychological Association: “Revenge and the people who seek it.”

Archives of Sexual Behavior: “Rebound sex: Sexual motives and behaviors following a relationship breakup.”

Association for Psychological Science: “The Complicated Psychology of Revenge.”

Journal of Social and Personal Relationships: “Payback: The parameters of revenge in romantic relationships.”

Journal of Social and Personal Relationships: “Too fast, too soon? An empirical investigation into rebound relationships.”

The Telegraph: “Revenge sex is the worst way to get back at your ex they- probably won’t even notice...”

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