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As anyone who has become addicted to ABC's hit melodrama "Revenge" now knows, vengeance walks the fine line between desire and violence (physical or other). The definition of "revenge" is the opportunity to gain satisfaction through retaliation. And in some cases, we seek our revenge in bed.
While revenge sex might not feel like a way of taking the moral high road, this act, both emotionally charged and carnally fueled, the impulse to have it is thoroughly human. Sometimes you may be having it without even realizing you are. (Was Emily Thorne in a sexual relationship with Daniel Grayson because she loved him? Or was it all part of her plan for retribution, the sex included?)
So how do you know you're having revenge sex? I've conducted a very non-scientific study, interviewing a few New York City professionals about what constitutes revenge sex, why we indulge in it, and how to identify when your latest tryst is in all or in part about seeking payback.
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You're trying to remind a former flame what he or she is missing. You've parted ways with your significant other, but, as is often the case, unresolved issues about the relationship are eating you up. Your friends don't want to hear about it any more ("Come on, you're broken up!"), and seeing a shrink is not in your budget. So, you get this fabulous idea to seduce your ex and give him or her a taste of the past. Your intent is to punish your ex and emerge from the experience in a position of power. And we all know what an aphrodisiac power can be. But as the Black Keys say, a broken heart is blind. Revenge sex will not resolve your issues with your ex, it will only enmesh you with the person all over again. "When going through a break-up, sometimes you just have to let go of the questions: why did this happen? You just have to accept it's over and move on," said Amelia, an advertising exec. "Physical distance from the person is pretty crucial -- you really want to keep [that]. Sex will only entangle you with [the person] again, and make it that much harder to move on."
You're having it to avoid your sadness. My friend Brian, a physical trainer, told me that his ex sent him a text message about how great her new boyfriend was: what a cool job he had, how much money he made, how much they clicked. "She even had the gaul to say they were having great sex." I told Brian his ex was pretty messed up, and not only that, the text was rather cruel and immature. "Yeah," he said. "I cried for a week and then I put all my energy into giving the girl I'm seeing multiple orgasms." Although I'm happy for Brian's new girl (she may be a rebound, but at least she's having a good time), I'm more concerned about Brian. By not addressing his sadness, he's making it harder for himself to move on and see his ex for who she really might be. And although he's giving his new girl lots (and lots) of physical pleasure, he's using her to validate the inadequacies his ex's text tapped into. His revenge sex is a waste of his time; he should be making himself feel good and reminding himself what an awesome guy he is.
You're having it to express your anger. In certain situations, instead of telling someone you're angry with them, it's tempting to hurt them emotionally by exploiting their sexual attraction to you. Let's say there's a person you know has a crush on you but has also wronged you in some way. The truth is, sometimes people do mean or insensitive things to the people they're attracted to. (Remember the playground? Sadly, dating can be painfully similar.) Rather than informing the person straight up that he or she has hurt your feelings, you might feel the urge to exact revenge by sleeping with him or her, giving the brief impression that you feel the attraction, too, then walking away. "What a mistake," reflects Tara, a publicist who took this tack. "I felt so bad during it, and now I feel like I messed up something that could have been a relationship down the line. The whole time we were doing it, I just kept thinking how mad I was at him for being such a jerk to me. It was a total turn-off. And now he thinks I'm bad in bed."
Someone cheated on you, so you pay that experience forward. Eddie, who came home to find his longterm girlfriend in bed with another man, was so devastated that after he ended his relationship, all he wanted to do was have sex with someone else's girlfriend. "I knew it was wrong, but by seeking out an affair, I was no longer the victim." In reality, the two situations are completely disconnected, and Eddie's affair couldn't change the fact that he was cheated on. "Of course the affair I had ended terribly. On top of that, I was guilt-ridden about inflicting pain on some guy because I knew exactly how that felt." Feeling wronged can be traumatic, there's no denying that. But living through the emotions rather than trying to turn the tables is a faster way to heal.
You feel used, so you use someone else. "I went through a brutal breakup where I was convinced I'd literally been dumped like trash," says Genevieve, a fashion trendcaster. "I felt run over. There was a point when I couldn't cry any more. I was numb. Then there was this boy, and I mean boy, because he was ten years younger than me. He was actually begging to come home with me. So I did it hoping that sleeping with him would snap me out of my coma." Genevieve's revenge sex was her reaction to the emotional beating she took during her break-up. "I used this boy," Genevieve continues, "to get back at the men who hurt me. I was actually was thinking in the back of my head about how I was literally using him -- I'll go as far to say that I belittled him. I wasn't entirely sure what I was doing, but for two days after, I was euphoric." That's the thing about revenge sex. Even when it's the wrong thing to do, it doesn't always feel like it; it can also make you feel like you're floating above all the toxicity that you've been experiencing in your life. Just know that eventually, you come down.