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Why Make-Up and Breakup Sex Are So Good

In the wake of having had a bitter fight, why is everything forgotten for amazingly enjoyable sex?

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"The only thing that I know about make-up  sex is that it works pretty well." A married woman

"I am an expert in make-up sex and have done it so many times." A married woman

"I feel more love during make-up sex because I know that no matter what happened, our love has survived it." A married woman

"I've never had make-up sex in my whole life, despite a lot of fighting." A divorcee

"Breakup sex is AMAZING! It's really hard to explain till you experience it! WAY better than make-up sex!” An anonymous man

Make-up sex is wild and extremely gratifying sex that people report having experienced after having had an intense fight. Why, in the wake of having had a bitter fight, is everything forgotten while the couple engage in what many say is amazingly wild and enjoyable sex? And why is breakup sex similarly so exciting?

Arousal transfer

The basic explanation for the excitement in make-up sex is the transfer of the arousal state from one situation to another. When we are excited by one stimulus, we are likely to be easily excited by another one. Make-up sex is considered by many to be the best sex there is, which in many cases is worth the fight.

The arousal (excitation) transfer is expressed in the classic  bridge experiment conducted in 1974 by Donald Dutton and Arthur Aron. In this experiment, male passersby were contacted either on a fear-arousing suspension bridge or a non-fear-arousing bridge by an attractive woman who asked them to fill out questionnaires. Sexual arousal toward the woman was greater in subjects on the fear-arousing bridge. Their  fear arousal was transferred to sexual arousal generated by the presence of an attractive woman. Another example of such transfer can occur when we watch certain movies: Our  anger toward the villain can easily turn into the arousal underlying  happiness when seeing the villain punished.

The great excitement generated by make-up sex can be explained along similar lines. The high arousal state associated with the fight is transferred to a high arousal state during the make-up sex. The fantastic sex that ensues is to some extent due to the change in mood and the (at least temporary) relief at reconciliation with the partner, but it is also the result of arousal transfer from the fight to the sex. Make-up sex takes place after an unpleasant, heated fight with the partner that has created a gulf between the two and threatened the very existence of the relationship; make-up sex then re-establishes their bond in a very tangible manner. As one woman said, "Our relationship is that much more secure after make-up sex, in addition to the added relief of being reconnected to my closest companion. It’s a reminder that even though we can hurt each other, we’re still there for each other."

A similar manner of increasing sexual arousal by transferring arousal from a different state is when one partner acts wildly and even sadistically toward the other. Here the arousal underlying anger and even  revenge is transferred into sexual arousal. A more subtle manner of increasing sexual arousal is teasing, which involves a gentle and humorous argument (simulating a "fight") that increases sexual arousal.

The arousal transfer can arise not merely from negative emotions, such as the anger that prevails during fights, but also from positive emotions, such as enjoying a good dinner together or engaging in other pleasurable experiences. It can also be activated by sexual arousal that is triggered by another person, such as a good-looking neighbor or the hero in the movie, and that is then transferred to your own partner. As Rodney Dangerfield said, "Last time I tried to make love to my wife nothing was happening, so I said to her, 'What’s the matter, you can’t think of anybody either?'”