It can happen at practically any time, day or night – that phone call or a knock at the door. The emergency: sympathy sex.
Between the tears, your own sexual desires, and the urgent call for pity-motivated passion, it can be hard to resist — especially if you’re the sort who genuinely likes to make people feel better, sex or not.
But given the drawbacks, should you do it?
Sympathy sex, also known as pity sex, is any kind of sexual exchange based solely on at least one of the participants feeling sorry for the other. It can take place between former lovers or old or new friends/acquaintances, and even strangers who’ve just met.
Sympathy sex can be some of the easiest sex that has come your way, making it among the most tempting – and risqué. This is in part because with these opportunities few and far between and often offered at a moment’s notice, there’s a lot to think about in a matter of seconds.
Your prayers have been answered, but the person up for action isn’t exactly your dream angel. Instead, you’ve got a poor soul on your hands — one reeling from a breakup or some other crisis and in dire need of some physical comfort. This booty call is about lifting them up by their bootstraps and nothing more.
In other cases, you may have somebody who’s nursing the wounds of a relationship that ended days, weeks or months ago. The reality of the situation – and the loneliness – has completely set in. You’re being asked, or rather begged, to fill the void.
In either case, many wouldn’t blame you for responding to the 911 call, especially given what some see as benefits: There are no strings attached. You could end up having a really good time. This could be the start of a regular booty call relationship. And if it’s understood that you’re both using each other, then there’s no harm done.
But before getting carried away in your compassion, there are some things to be considered when it comes to sympathy sex. In weighing the pros and cons, also ask yourself:
— Can I truly keep my emotions at bay? Some people are better at this than others, so you need to be honest with yourself when it comes to the feelings that come along with being sexually intimate.
— Will having sex ruin our friendship? You’re rolling the dice when it comes to maintaining your friendship since sex changes everything. If you’re hoping for something more than friends, it may be worth the risk. But if you’re not ...
— Am I even into this person? If not, there’s really no point, especially when you consider the risks involved, like pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection.
— Do you really want to have sex? Seriously consider if you’re enjoying the prospect of having sex or if you’re getting off on the power trip. You may just be into the fact that this person is at your feet and your mercy.
— Can you handle the responsibilities involved? Like it or not, this person is vulnerable, and his or her self-esteem is shot. With sex, emotional responsibilities come into play that make sympathy sex a matter of be careful what you wish for. You have no clue what the ramifications could be, including the expectations that come post-sex.
— Are you setting yourself up for more drama? In a number of situations, the emergency breakup booty call is due to the individual being overwhelmed by problems that come along with the split. These could involve child custody disputes, financial problems, or the upheaval of living circumstances. By having sex, you may be positioning yourself as a regular go-to for all types of relief.
— Is this person drunk? Alcohol unveils a person’s raw emotions. But the intoxicated one isn’t always processing them in the wisest or clearest way. The next morning is likely to be full of regrets if the sex occurred under the influence. Plus there’s that legal concern: did the one who was inebriated give consent?
— Have you done this before? Every now and again, you and this person turn to each other for sympathy sex – and it’s worked out perfectly. Consider yourselves lucky.
— Are you well-suited for sympathy sex? You may not be if you have the tendency to fall for sex partners after being intimate; if you want commitment; if you’re longing for a relationship; if you largely regard sex as lovemaking.
If you opt not to have sex, explain why, especially if the distraught one doesn’t take the rejection well (which is most often the case). Not wanting to take advantage is usually a pretty good reason to say “no.”
Instead, try giving non-sexual physical support, like a hug. Holding your friend during a long, hard cry may be all the support that’s really needed. Instead of sleeping with this individual, try doing what a friend would do – listen, and for hours if necessary.
If you decide that you’re up for sex, be clear in your intentions, especially if you don’t want a relationship. If you’re hoping for something more, you should hint at that, as not to set yourself up for heartache. Both of you need to be on the same page so that nobody gets hurt.
In some cases, sympathy sex is just what the doctor ordered. The two people involved come away renewed and unscathed, appreciating the shared moment for what it was worth. In other cases, however, not having sex will likely be regarded, in the long run, as the more gallant deed. So which road will you choose?
Dr. Yvonne K. Fulbright is a sex educator, relationship expert, columnist and founder of Sexuality Source Inc. She is the author of several books including, "Touch Me There! A Hands-On Guide to Your Orgasmic Hot Spots."