Making up is hard to do, but the prospect of make-up sex sure can help.
Sexual reconciliation after a bitter, long-fought argument is a common way couples resolve conflict, experts agree. But whether it's good for you is something else. Some experts say make-up sex can be healthy that residual angry feelings can even spice things up a bit. Others argue it's just dysfunctional behavior.
"If anger gives sex an edge, both parties should enjoy it," said Dr. Harriet Lerner, author of the bestselling The Dance of Anger, and a psychologist at the Menninger Clinic in Topeka, Kan.
"Sex after an argument is extra good because you're going to get one of two things," said Sonya Simone, a 24-year-old grad student from Chicago. The two extremes are "Remember who's in control here" sex and sweet "Baby I am so sorry please don't leave me I love you and I'll do anything to make you happy" sex, Simone said.
Get Off Me, I'm Angry
But taking out frustrations on each other's bodies can actually wreck a relationship, argues Dr. Susan Heitler, author of The Power of Two: Secrets to a Strong & Loving Marriage. We all have surplus aggression sometimes, particularly during arguments, but lashing out when you and your partner are emotionally and physically vulnerable is not OK.
"Mixing up sex and aggression is a very dangerous business," according to Heitler. "Sex needs to be an expression of love. I'm not saying couples don't do it, or that some individuals don't find it exciting, but [having] sex in a hostile way signifies a relationship that has some serious problems."
Blue (not his real name) of Raleigh, N.C., says it's not only problematic it's unappetizing as well. "Sex doesn't solve anything but hormonal urges," he said. "It's like a temporary painkiller that barely treats the symptoms, but never the cause."
Like all quick fixes, the soothing sexual cure can keep relationships from growing and improving. "The problem will be back, even if there is make-up sex," agreed Dr. Carolle Jean Murat, author of the upcoming book Ask Dr. Carolle: Practical Answers About Sex and Sexual Taboos.
Men vs. Women
The testosterone released during a heated argument is the same hormone that plays a key role in sexual arousal, for both genders. But psychologists say women are far less likely to desire sex when they're angry.
That difference underlies what experts say is the biggest danger in make-up sex: that one partner will pressure or guilt-trip the other into having sex, producing resentment rather than reconciliation.
"If one partner let's say the woman feels increasingly awful during the act of sex," Lerner said, "that she's pushing herself to do something when her body says not to, that's a good signal not to be having sex. Or if she's been brutally treated and she pushes herself to have sex before her husband apologizes her body will let her know."
"If one partner doesn't understand that if there is still anger, it can be a bad thing," said Dr. Jean Murat. "The men say, 'I was angry, but now I'm not let's go have sex.' But the woman says she's still angry about it."
If and only if the desire is mutual, make-up sex can have a benefit outside the bedroom. By releasing tension and passion in a sweaty tete-a-tete, couples may be able to resume their argument feeling clear-headed, and attuned to each others' needs.
"After the sex, they find they are better able to talk to each other with clarity and calm," Lerner said. All the more incentive to solve your differences.