The only sex you’re going to have better than makeup sex is if you’re sent to prison and you have a conjugal visit.
—Jerry Seinfeld, Seinfeld
Even though your emotions are on the opposite ends of the spectrum while fighting and having sex, they are at a zenith and intense. And fights and sex are both integral to a marriage. In the course of our relationships, many of us have chosen makeup sex after a quarrel—if not to enjoy the intimacy, certainly to buffer the conflict and its impact on the functioning of the relationship.
The question is, is it wise to have sex after a fight? Does it resolve the issue or does it make it worse? Pallavi Barnwal, Sexuality Coach, gives us the answers. “Couples who do not engage in sex immediately after or on the next day of the conflict will have heightened stress because of the conflict, and the couples who engage in sex can mitigate the negative impact of the conflict on their relationship.”
Conflict acting as a sexual catalyst
In some situations, conflict does act as a sexual catalyst that motivates the partners to indulge in intimacy. This is because the excitation transfer is a carryover arousal. In excitation transfer, physiological arousal experienced in one situation can transfer over and intensify subsequent situations. Arousal-inducing situations such as riding a roller coaster, exercising, walking across an anxiety-provoking bridge or watching a negative-effect-inducing film can enhance feelings of sexual attraction. What better than the surge of emotions being transformed into a sexually charged, positive act? Thus the high energy accumulated during conflict is discharged while having makeup sex.
Do hormones play a role in this?
Yes, hormones are at play in these situations. In fact, six hormones are responsible for intensifying the pleasure of makeup sex. One of the primary needs for humans is attachment. Adrenaline, noradrenaline, and testosterone are released when the relationship or the attachment is in jeopardy. Thus, during and after a conflict, till the time a meaningful resolution is not reached, your primal attachment system is on red alert. It amplifies its focus on not losing this important connection.
Furthermore, the release of adrenaline, noradrenaline, and testosterone heighten sexual arousal, which can activate the partner’s desire to connect intimately. Norepinephrine or the stress hormone, which is associated with feelings of longing and obsessive thinking and is often present in the early stages of the relationship, resurfaces at the time of conflict. A person may thus, become fixated on the now ‘emotionally and physically distant partner’.
Then there are our body’s natural ‘reward hormones’ that play a big role in making makeup sex a satisfying experience. Dopamine is released during sex and increases pleasure and happiness, something a couple craves after the negativity of a conflict. Then there is oxytocin, nature’s cuddle hormone that is released during sex and enhances bonding and closeness.
Turning a negative experience into a positive experience—good or bad?
If you are on the edge about makeup sex and are thinking: “How can I enjoy sex when there is a conflict looming over my head that is not yet resolved?” Well, be guilt-free. Pain and pleasure share common neural pathways, meaning there’s an overlap in these sensations. Plus, pain activates the brain’s opioid system, which can produce euphoria. The release of these endorphins sometimes makes the pain feel pleasurable and it ‘feels good to be hurt’. This is the reason why sometimes, people seek out pain on purpose—the whole umbrella of BDSM activities, which is about safe, consensual sexual experiences with pain, domination, and force at its core, works on the principle of connection between pain and pleasure. Pain can enhance pleasure (both sexual and non-sexual) for various reasons. One important reason is, that when you are in pain, you are more present in the situation, and that allows us to experience everything intensely, especially when we’re having sex.
Why does makeup sex feel more intense?
To begin with, how do we define intensity? Well, it’s a shift from the balance or regular. During a conflict, people’s fight, flight or freeze system gets activated. The brain is out of the socially-regulated zone and heated words, arguments, and accusations can be thrown around. There might also be some physicality to it like pushing the partner away or grabbing the partner etc. Thus, the energy build-up is high.
After a conflict, a person can be full of intense energy and that may translate into an erotic desire. Even before the fight, there is some stagnant energy in the form of buried resentments and unexpressed hurt. All of that can be activated in the moment of a fight, further intensifying the emotional and physiological state of the person. Erotic energy is a part of our overall energy system and thus, that energy starts moving again. Sex is not just a physical phenomenon, it is a psychological, emotional, mental, spiritual, and biochemical act.
Secondly, when a person fights with their partner, their mind’s threat system gets activated and they start to believe that there is an impending disaster and their relationship is in danger. In this situation, makeup sex can be assuring for the couple, as they can get close, feel connected, and affirm that things are ‘still good’ without having to get into the ‘difficult talk’. Our brain’s neuron network is very sensitive to unexpected rewards and makeup sex is an unplanned event that releases happy hormones like dopamine and endorphins.
Does it give closure?
No. Makeup sex is good in a relationship where the couple has an otherwise healthy relationship with regard to respect, communication, and attachment. However, in toxic relationships or with people who have abusive partners, it becomes a distraction where the physical closeness becomes a stop-gap arrangement or an illusion for emotional bonding. It can also blind the person to abuse because of the mistaken intensity and excitation transfer—the high energy of abuse translated into the high erotic energy of sex. Thus, the only differentiator between the two is an emotional connection with your partner outside the sexual terrain.
Inputs by Pallavi Barnwal, Sexuality Coach and founder of www.getintimacy.com