"If I hadn't gotten divorced, I never would have had the top five sexual experiences of my life," gushed Tom, a friend of a friend at a recent holiday party.
What a turnaround! In 2010, at the same party, Tom* had been in the midst of splitting up with his wife of 12 years and I was offering him the names of marriage counselors. Now he was bankrupt and only saw his kids every other week, but he was exuberant about the change to his sex life.
"I'd given up on sex and fooled myself into thinking that I wasn't even a particularly sexual person," he explained. "I didn't want to be the sort of guy who cheated, so I resigned myself to lackluster sex every other week... if I was lucky. We were so young and inexperienced when we got married. Now, for the first time in my life, I feel like I'm approaching sex as a confident adult."
Does sex get better after divorce? Unfortunately, there haven't been
any formal studies that explore levels of post-divorce sexual
satisfaction, but intrigued by Tom's exuberance, I spoke with a handful
of recently divorced friends, colleagues, and former patients. To my
surprise, I found that many echo Tom's enthusiasm.
While divorce and its adjustments aren't easy, many newly single people say they are seeing its silver lining ... in sex.
Dr. Andy Trees, author of "A Scientific Guide to Successful Dating," says Internet dating has really changed the game.
"Divorced people find it much easier to get back in the saddle so to speak," Trees said. "I also think this is a classic case of the power of chemistry in the early months. Sex with someone new is always exciting in a way that sex with a familiar partner isn't (which isn't to say that long-term sexual intimacy doesn't have pluses as well)."
"At first I was cautious," said Sandra*, 38. "Our culture treats divorced people like babies or wounded birds. Everyone says things like 'Take it slow, be careful, you're still getting over a painful situation.' And all this advice made me feel unsure of myself. But after my first post-divorce hookup - and first orgasm in years - I realized that this bird has wings and it's time to soar!"
Says Dr. Kristen Mark, a sex researcher at Indiana University, "When sexual desires aren't being met for a long period of time, you can feel really trapped, like the real you isn't able to shine."
Adds psychicatrist Gail Saltz, "Embedded in divorce sex is the knowledge that your partner has in essence rejected you, or at least let you go, and part of hot sex is the unconscious desire to show them what a mistake they made by not keeping you."
Sometimes life after divorce can reinforce a person's libido type or help them discover what they like and don't like, as is the case with David*, 39, twice married and divorced: "It took me two marriages to realize that I like a lot of sexual excitement and experimentation, but I'm also a romantic. I believe in marriage and monogamy, but if and when I get married again ... it's going to be with a woman who enjoys the kinkier side of life."
The enjoyment of sex after divorce may also have something to do with a sense of deserving a bit of hard-earned sexual selfishness.
Take Karen*, 38, who says, "I'd always heard that women experience their sexual prime later in life, but I never understood that. The more I was in my marriage and the older I got, the less sexual I felt. Then I got divorced and started having casual sex again. For the first time in a long time I was with men who were making an effort to pleasure me and discover what I liked, and I wasn't shy or bashful about letting them know. I am having a sexual peak, but it's not physical, it's mental."
With all the fun to be had, is there a downside? And are there any best practices for sex after divorce?
"Watch out for too much too soon," says, Lance*, 42. "After my divorce, I was like a kid in a candy store. There were women everywhere. And a lot of them were willing to have sex. Suddenly, I was a womanizer."
He continues, a bit remorseful: "Be honest with the person you're with. What are you looking for from the sex? I don't want to get married again, or be in a serious relationship right now, and I need to be clearer about that up front before having sex with someone."
Remember, too, that just because you're divorced doesn't mean you're necessarily wiser. "Practice safe sex," says Mara*, 58. "My best friend and I both got divorced at the same time and were there for each other. We're both well past the age of having kids. But I always use protection, and she doesn't. I try to tell her that STDs are still a real possibility."
Sex educator Amy Levine confirms that advice. "When 'you don't know what you don't know' a lack of sexual knowledge can put someone at risk for a range of STDs. For those that were married for quite a while, sex ed after divorce is imperative!"
And be cautious if you have children. "Don't bring your fun home if there are kids in the house," says Trish*. "I want to get married again, and I want my daughter to have a loving stepfather someday. But I'm going to make sure he's really the one before I bring anyone home."
There's one thing everyone agrees on, in theory, if not always in practice: Avoid sex with your ex. Says Tom, who got this whole ball rolling, "I couldn't believe it. Jackie* and I would be with our lawyers, fighting viciously about money or kids - and then we'd leave and go have hot crazy sex. It was really confusing. Why couldn't it have been like that when we were married?"
*Names have been changed