Health

Why Is Makeup Sex So Hot—And Is It a Good Idea?

| 09/16/2019

Illustration by Ngadi Smart

What is it about makeup sex that’s so hot? Yes, eroticism often thrives on power play and command, but sex after a fight (or even a heated argument) is particularly exciting.

To be clear, when we say “makeup sex” we’re not talking about sex that may follow the quick and satisfactory resolution of a romantic conflict. That can simply be a healthy way to renew feelings of intimacy and reinforce sexual desire.

We’re not discussing bedtime play that happens well after the end of a minor disagreement over household responsibilities; in that case, the making up and the sex are basically unrelated.

And we’re not referring to breakup sex, which is the last romp a couple may enjoy (for “old times’ sake”) before walking out the door.

Makeup sex is very different. In essence, it’s a band-aid used to temporarily patch up a relationship seriously troubled by bad behavior, the evaporation of real sexual intimacy, or just plain anger issues.  

The adrenaline high achieved during makeup sex almost matches the one you get from extreme sports, so it not only boosts your heart rate but also adds heat to your sex life. But if you’re relying on anger to get you off every time, your relationship might need some TLC rather than more heat. 

Why Is Makeup Sex So Hot?

“Makeup sex is primal,” says psychosexual therapist and couples counselor Cate Mackenzie. “When you argue with your partner, your body is aroused like an animal on the hunt for prey. Your mind mirrors this physical response and becomes aroused too, bypassing all emotional reasoning—so you head straight for the sex, fueled by hormones, meaning your argument won’t get resolved any time soon.”

A resolution is also unlikely to be on your mind since the body ramps up the production of testosterone when it’s flushed with adrenaline. And because testosterone is the key sex hormone driving your libido, you’ll only be thinking about one thing. The ensuing orgasm then triggers the release of oxytocin (the so-called cuddle hormone), flushing you anew with feelings of love and convincing you that it was all worth it. As the endorphins generated during sex compensate for the cortisol buzz you get from arguing, it’s easy to see how this cycle could become addictive.

Many sex therapists and sexologists refer to this phenomenon as arousal transfer, most famously demonstrated in the so-called “bridge experiment.” Penis-havers were approached by an attractive vulva-haver, on either a scary suspension bridge or a solid, stable one. In the first case, the penis owners were more sexually aroused by the woman; their “fear arousal” was simply transferred to “sexual arousal.”

Psychologist Samantha Joel explains one other aspect of the equation in Psychology Today. She says that a serious argument between partners can trigger feelings that the relationship is in danger. That activates the biological attachment system, which motivates people to maintain their important relationships – and in a relationship, that’s done primarily through intimacy and sex.

Makeup sex might hit the spot now and then, but if this is the only way you can have sex with your partner your relationship may well be in crisis. Therapist Sally Baker works with clients whose relationships are in need of repair. “I look for signs of a healthy relationship: a shared bedtime; they can both can remember the last time they had sex together; and sex is regular, consensual, and mutually enjoyable.” If those signs don’t exist, there’s trouble ahead.

It is possible to have hot, exciting sex without conflict. It just takes a bit of emotional intelligence. 

Ideally, a couple might enjoy “a potpourri of sex, from performance to the perfunctory, the quickie and the kinky,” Baker adds. “Yet if you’re only having one type of sex, and that’s makeup sex, your relationship really is far from healthy.” 

Why Is Healthy Sex Central to a Healthy Relationship?

“It’s the first thing that brings you together and it’s the first thing to disappear,” says Baker. “A partner can make a passive aggressive decision not to have sex anymore, as this can be easier than arguing.” 

The state of your sex life can be a good indicator of the state of your relationship; the lack of non-sexual physical intimacy, or a meaningful romantic relationship, are clear indicators. Check in with yourself to make sure you’re not using intercourse to mask other relationship issues such as boredom, commitment issues, or long-held resentments. “These are things that are not easy to voice,” says Baker. “So the high drama and passion of the make-up sex is a perfect cover-up.” 

It could also be a form of abuse, warns Mackenzie. “If you’re having a lot of makeup sex, you need to make sure you and your partner are at least on the same page,” she says. “If you’re submitting when you don’t really want to, this is abuse. People say horrible things to each other in the heat of an argument and can be really unkind. Check that you feel safe and you’re not swallowing your emotions and having sex just to keep the peace.” 

How Do You Turn Makeup Sex Into Hot, Healthy Sex?

It is possible to have hot, exciting sex without conflict. It just takes a bit of emotional intelligence. 

Mackenzie encourages couples to learn emotional literacy so they can vocalize how they feel. “Use statements such as ‘When you did that, I felt like this,’ which is less confrontational than saying ‘You made me feel a certain way.’” Communicating your emotions in a constructive way “allows you to resolve what would otherwise be left unsaid—which then grows into resentment. When couples argue in a non-constructive way, and don’t express how they’re feeling or why, they end up repressing their anger. This is why makeup sex is so hot, because you get to physically release what you’re holding back emotionally.” 

Mackenzie also asks if you’re using sex to avoid talking about how you feel, which means you’re avoiding getting close to your partner. “Why not use sex to get closer and to connect more? Emotional literacy, or expressing clearly how you feel, can be hot, too,” she adds. “When your partner owns their power in a non-aggressive way, and tells you what they want, it can be a real turn-on.”

This is just one of many ways you can cultivate passion and intensity in your sex life without conflict. Send dirty messages to each other throughout the day. Try different types of foreplay, new positions and locations, or different vibrators and sex toys. Choose those that feel risky, in order to generate a healthy dose of adrenaline. Most of all, practice intimacy with gentleness, kindness and honesty, because that’s hot, too.

Have Your Needs Met

Learn helpful tips to establish healthier communication in the on-demand workshop Couples Communication, led by Jor-El Caraballo, LMHC.

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