scorecardHysterical bonding is when an individual sleeps with their cheating partner — and there is a reason it happens.
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Hysterical bonding is when an individual sleeps with their cheating partner — and there is a reason it happens.

Sophia Benoit   

Hysterical bonding is when an individual sleeps with their cheating partner — and there is a reason it happens.
LifeScience4 min read
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  • If your partner has an affair, you may be tempted to have sex with them, aka "hysterical bonding."
  • For some, it's a way to reclaim their agency, or it could be a sign of sexual deficiency.
Editor's note: Insider has agreed not to identify the people discussing their relationships to protect their privacy. Their identities are known to us.

The discovery of infidelity brings on all kinds of rage and grief, complex feelings that are difficult to process.

There aren't many wrong ways to respond to your partner cheating on you, though Carrie Underwood walked us through some of the more illegal ones — namely destroying their car. But one surprising way people react to learning of their partner's affair is by having sex with them.

Why people have sex with their partners after finding out they cheated

There are many reasons a person may feel tempted to have sex with their partner post-affair, Talal Alsaleem, an infidelity expert and licensed marriage and family therapist specializing in infidelity recovery, said.

Occasionally, it's an issue of comparing themselves with the person their partner had an affair with, Alsaleem said — even if they've already decided they're not staying in the relationship.

"Sometimes the betrayed has already made their decision," he said. "They want to leave, but they want the unfaithful to know: Here's what you're going to be missing out on."

That's what drove a 34-year-old from Kansas City, Missouri, to have sex with his boyfriend after discovering through incriminating texts that he had slept with a woman and might have gotten her pregnant.

"I had this lingerie that he just loved," he said. "So I just decided to have sex with him one more time to kind of reclaim my own agency and prove that I'm good enough, and you lost this and you're never going to get it again."

He said the sex was hot, adding that immediately afterward, he told his partner he knew about the affair.

Monique Thompson, a licensed professional counselor specializing in infidelity who created a workbook for couples who have experienced infidelity, said that you might think "this person really must want to be in the relationship because they're trying to use sex as a reclaiming factor, when really they just want to be the person to leave."

What is 'hysterical bonding'?

That said, some people simply want to reconnect with their partner or demonstrate their closeness. Many genuinely feel a desire to be comforted by intimacy with their partner. There's even a term for it — "hysterical bonding." For some, having sex is a way to reclaim their partner, or even themselves.

That was the case for a 41-year-old from Spokane, Washington.

"We had such a poor relationship that sex was the only positive, the only thing where we never had any issues, and we both enjoyed it greatly," he said.

For him, sex came immediately after his partner disclosed her infidelity.

"I wanted details about what she did," he said. "She told me it was brief. He lasted less than a minute; she didn't enjoy it at all. She had no chance to get any pleasure out of it."

That led him to want to have sex with his partner again to prove something.

"She was expecting me to blow up the relationship," he said. "But because it was such an unsatisfactory sexual experience for her, I guess I just wanted her to have a good experience with me and show her that wasn't enough for me to give up on her."

While their marriage didn't last, the couple still have sex occasionally.

An affair could be a result of one partner not getting their sexual needs met

On the other hand, sometimes infidelity is caused "by a deficit in sexual intimacy," Alsaleem said, which can lead the betrayed party to try to prove a point by having sex post-affair, to suggest they can still meet those needs. Perhaps because of that, some people find both better sex and a better relationship post-cheating.

A 44-year-old in Raleigh, North Carolina, described his wife's emotional affair and said that where they ended up — after a lot of excruciating work — was better in some ways.

"We decided to reconcile, and our sex life became crazy good and super frequent," he said.

He added that after he found out, he "went into a period of what I now know is hysterical bonding and definitively having a strong desire to reclaim her from the other guy."

While their sex life came back stronger, he emphasized the amount of work and pain that went into healing after the affair.

"I don't want to come across as reductive in talking about the sex component only," he said. "It has been a terrible struggle from the moment of discovery of my wife's affair, but we have both worked very hard to understand one another.

"In doing so, we have been more intimate with each other than we have been in years with our conversations with one another."

Fixing the relationship requires vulnerability

It's a sentiment Alsaleem echoed, and one that sometimes leads to better sex between couples. The discussions that arise from infidelity "can cause people to be vulnerable," Alsaleem said, adding, "There's a lot of apology. There are a lot of regrets. There's a lot of sharing because infidelity forces people to actually have talks that they should have had a long time ago. Sometimes that vulnerability piece related to the sharing causes people to want to connect sexually."

Simply having good sex or reclaiming sex probably won't solve the issues that led to infidelity. While it may be incredibly satisfying in the short term, you need to move on — whether that means finding a way to forgive your partner and mend the relationship or ending the relationship.

There are no correct ways to get over betrayal, but if you happen to have hot sex in the process, that's OK.