Emily Jamea, Ph.D., is a sex therapist, author and podcast host. You can find her here each month to share her latest thoughts about sex.
Spring is here, and with it comes a sense of renewal and freedom, a departure from the norm. This season can be an opportunity to discover parts of yourself that are typically untapped. For singles, this might mean ditching the pressure to seek a relationship and focusing instead on dating, or hooking up, more casually.
This might mean a good laugh over a bottle of wine with someone your mother would deem wildly age inappropriate. Or it might mean surrendering to carnal desires with people you’d never dream of bringing to your office holiday party.
It’s that surrendering part that so many people, especially women, have a hard time with. For centuries, casual sex has been labeled as something bad. The narrative is that, at worst, it will send you straight to hell and, at best, it’s something you’ll regret later. But if casual, no-strings-attached sex is something you’re interested in, you’re not alone. Studies show that casual sex is on the rise.
Recently, a group of researchers took a comprehensive look at all the studies published about casual sex and analyzed the results. All together, they examined 71 studies of more than 120,000 participants. The participants were followed anywhere from 2 months to 7 years after casually hooking up with someone. What did they find? For the majority of people, casual sex left them with more positive feelings than negative ones and the positive increased over time.
The researchers identified a few key variables that seemed to influence whether someone had more positive or negative feelings about casual sex. People who were religious or raised in more conservative families experienced more regrets. This is not surprising. It’s tough to behave in a way that goes against the messages we received about sex growing up.
Also, not surprising: Women experienced more regret than men. Women have historically experienced more pressure to remain sexually pure. Furthermore, from the standpoint of physical pleasure, studies show that women have orgasms at far lower rates in casual sex versus sex within a committed relationship.
The research found that more people regret casual sex when using alcohol and forgetting condoms. So, if you’re going to have casual sex, you’ll enjoy it more if you’re responsible.
One variable that deserves a closer look is familiarity. The researchers found that people who had casual sex with strangers experienced more regret than those who had casual sex with people they knew (e.g., a friend with benefits or an ex). People experienced more regret from a true one-night stand versus sex with someone they could see a future possibility with. This begs the question, is “good” casual sex really all that casual?
When researchers take a closer look at the motivations behind casual sex, they find that it’s rarely about pure no-strings-attached physical pleasure. In fact, one study of “friends with benefits” found that many times, both men and women are hoping for more emotional intimacy from something that starts out as “just sex.”
So how can you ensure your fling feels not only physically good, but emotionally good?
Think about your motivations for having casual sex. Are your intentions purely casual, as in the case of hooking up with someone you’d never want a relationship with? Or are you denying the fact that you want a relationship from something you’re writing off as “just sex”?Make sure your physical needs are met even in casual encounters. Casual sex is usually depicted as full of passion with little-to-no sexual communication, but this shouldn’t be the case. Don’t sacrifice sexual assertiveness. If you want to have an orgasm, make sure you talk to your partner about how to help you get there.Consider what you want emotionally. Casual sex doesn’t have to be totally devoid of emotional intimacy. It’s okay to spend time cuddling and sharing pillow talk even if you don’t plan to see the person the next day. The fact is, it’s hard to fully separate emotion from sex. There is usually some degree of emotion that plays into how satisfying the encounter is.If you’re going to have casual sex, make sure you’re responsible. Minimize alcohol use, make sure you use protection, and be careful about going home with someone who may be unsafe. Make sure you check in with a friend about where you are in case something happens.
The takeaway? There should be no shame in your casual sex game. What happens during a spring fling can be fun and exciting — just be confident that casual is what you want.