Make-Up Sex: The Relationship between Conflict and Sexual Behavior


Although, conflict in relationships may often lead to a decrease in relationship satisfaction and relationship dissolution (breaking-up), it has been discovered that conflict may not be entirely negative. In fact, research reveals that the emotions produced during conflict may lead to feelings of sexual arousal.

Now, I know what you must be thinking: “Wait a minute, you’re telling me that fighting is a good thing? And that getting mad at my partner for sitting in my spot on the couch will lead to good sex?”

Well… in a study published in Personal Relationships, researchers examined the association between relationship conflict and sexual desire among 61 heterosexual couples (Birnbaum, Mikulincer, & Austerlitz, 2013). The study found that, participants (men in particular) currently experiencing relationship conflict reported greater feelings of sexual attraction to their partner than those without conflict.
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This can be explained by the phenomenon known in psychology as the “misattribution of arousal” where we mislabel our feelings of fear arousal as feelings of romantic arousal. In fact, evidence from a famous study indicated that heterosexual men who had just walked across a dangerous bridge were more likely to romantically pursue a female confederate than were men who walked across a safe bridge (Dutton & Aron, 1974).

With regard to relationship conflict and anger, there appears to be a connection between anger and desire. Moreover, anger during an argument may be misconstrued as sexual arousal or may act as a stimulant that can fuel desire. This may create the behavior we commonly call “make-up sex.” Of course, this has to be consensual and agreed upon by both parties involved. Furthermore, replacing conflict-resolution processes with sex is not always the answer.

That being said, next time your partner is screaming at you for splurging on name brand ketchup–try trying initiating sexual activity, you just might be surprised at the outcome!


Birnbaum, G. E., Mikulincer, M., & Austerlitz, M. (2013). A fiery conflict: Attachment orientations and the effects of relational conflict on sexual motivation. Personal Relationships, 20, 294-310.

Dutton, D. G., & Aron, A. P. (1974). Some evidence for heightened sexual attraction under conditions of high anxiety. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology30, 510-517.