Is makeup sex harming my relationship?

Makeup sex might be exciting and intense in the moment, but could it be doing more harm than good? We find out...

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Makeup sex, as the name suggests, is getting intimate with your partner after a fight or temporary break-up. And it's very normal. Routed in both our physical and emotional needs, the science of makeup sex is about more than just passion and release. 

Makeup sex can be a good thing. Research published in the Archives of Sexual Behaviour found couples reported higher levels of sexual and marital satisfaction on days when they had sex after a fight, compared to days when they fought but didn't have makeup sex.

But too much makeup sex may be detrimental, especially if you're using it regularly to bury deeper issues. To help get the balance right, we asked a sex and relationship expert for the lowdown on makeup sex, from the risks, benefits, and when to avoid it completely and just rely on one of the best vibrators to help give you post-row relief instead. 

What is makeup sex?

"Makeup sex is what we typically describe as a sexual experience after conflict, fighting or disagreement," says Kate Moyle, an expert at sexual wellness brand, Lelo. But the focus doesn't have to be on sex itself, it can mean intimacy on many levels, including kissing, foreplay and even arousing erogenous zones. They all count as makeup sex.

"Makeup sex is often categorized as the coming back together after a couple has created some distance by conflict, which can sometimes leave couples feeling apart from each other," adds Kate.

Why does makeup sex happen?

Makeup sex may serve as an attempt to save the relationship, even if on a subconscious level. "Conflict can often involve strong emotional reactions, which can contribute to us feeling desire," says Kate. This sudden surge in your sex drive is also described as "arousal transfer".

The reason people may have makeup sex can vary. "For some, it may be a physical manifestation of their energy or the adrenaline rush that comes with fighting," says Kate. Sex may help move them towards a sense of relief together and in this highly charged state, you may find yourself trying new things sexually as a couple, such as using one of the best rabbit vibrators or watching porn together, to bring you closer.

For others, makeup sex may be more of an emotional experience. "It may act as a vehicle for feeling safe and reassured," says Kate. "Sex can act as a 'we're OK' moment of closeness or reconciliation." 

The passion of a fight can also help see your partner in a new way. "Passion indicates that we have something to fight for and something we believe in," says Kate. "This may help us to see our partners in a new light, especially in long-term relationships, where we can feel so familiar with one another and in a daily routine."

Whatever reason you're having makeup sex, there's definitely more to it than just having sex. 

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(Image credit: Getty)

What are the benefits of makeup sex?

The benefits and risks of makeup sex are couple-dependent, and also related to the context and current relationship state. But, in general, Kate says makeup sex can help...

  • Bonding
    "For many, sex is a way of communicating desire, attraction and affection, and many couples report an increased sense of closeness after a sexual experience. This is paired with the neurochemical releases, which help us to feel bonded from skin-on-skin contact, sex, pleasure and orgasm."
  • Lower inhibitions and increase sex drive
    "In the heat of the moment of makeup sex, you may be able to let yourself go a bit more and feel less inhibited which can also contribute to you expanding your sexual comfort zone, or mixing up your usual sexual routines." It's a great time to act out your sexual fantasies.
  • Closure 
    Makeup sex may boost our mental wellbeing. "What it can also do is help to manage feelings of rumination, going over or re-focusing on the argument. It can bring a sense of closure that sometimes isn't met otherwise."

What are the risks of makeup sex?

Makeup sex can come with risks, too. It can become an avoidance technique, allowing couples to ignore the root cause of their argument. Kate says it can lead to: 

  • Poor communication
    "Makeup sex doesn't replace an argument or an apology. It may bring about a sense of resolution for both partners in some couples but, for others, it may only bring that sense of the matter being closed to one of them. It can lead to unmet needs or feelings can lead to resentment. So it's still important to make sure that you communicate and that you are on the same page when it comes to moving on from conflict."
  • Avoidance
    "Sex can also be a way of avoiding these conversations, which may feel like the more challenging way of seeking resolution. So, if you think that you're falling into a pattern like this, it may be worth thinking about finding another way of dealing with your feelings."
  • One-sided feelings
    "Makeup sex shouldn't be used as one partner manipulating the other or persuading the other into doing something they want to, it should be mutual. You can always be physical and connect without being sexual, for example holding each other or an extended hug if you want to be in contact, but don't feel like or want sex."

How can we have makeup sex in a healthy way?

"As with other sexual experiences, focusing on consent, communication and pleasure is a way to have healthy makeup sex," says Kate. Out of all those, communication is really important.

"The trouble couples often get in is when they make assumptions about what makeup sex might mean for the other," says Kate. For example, you might want to forget about the fight but your partner may still want to talk about it. The only way to find out is to ask them. "Clarifying rather than assuming (none of us are mind-readers) is an important tool for all couple communication," adds Kate.

And don't assume that makeup sex will make your relationship better. The research published in Archives of Sexual Behaviour also reported that makeup sex did not contribute to long-term happiness for couples. The positive feelings associated with makeup sex were only experienced on the day, not overall when compared to couples who don't engage in makeup sex. 

If you are concerned that you're only having sex after a fight, rather than because you want to, then sex therapy could be the answer. This might sound a little scary but, as with any other form of talking therapy, it explores all factors which could be contributing to your problem and can help you and your partner address any issues within your relationship that are causing you to have arguments.

Rose Goodman
Health Writer

Rose Goodman is a health writer across print titles and websites including woman&home.

Prior to pursuing her career as a writer, Rose obtained a degree in psychology and went on to work in adult mental health for five years, specifically working with people diagnosed with eating disorders, anxiety, depression and OCD. Mental health and wellbeing is something Rose feels incredibly passionate about and believes normalising the conversation around mental illness is something we should all actively strive to do.