Who Enjoys Casual Sex, Anyway?

Clarisse Thorn sees nothing wrong with casual sex—she’s just not that into it. But she asks: What is it about the people who enjoy it so much?

I can be a pretty brazen lady. Sometimes it surprises me how much this will give people the incorrect impression about my sexual habits. I actually dated one guy for two years who, toward the end of our relationship, asked me about “all those one-night stands.” I was like, what are you even talking about? and it turned out that he’d gone through our entire relationship thinking that I’d had a ton of one-night stands before we dated. Two years!

I am not so into casual sex. This is not because I think there’s anything wrong with it—and in fact, if you are a lady who’s thinking of going for lots of casual sex, then I highly recommend Adaya Adler’s article on awesome casual sex for single girls. But personally, I’m not so into it.

How to define casual sex, though? I’m taking a polyamorous approach to my relationships these days, and I’m OK with having multiple ongoing sexual relationships at different levels of intensity. So when I say I’m not so into casual sex, am I avoiding one-night stands, or does the phrase cover more than that? I’ve concluded that (for me, at least) casual sex is casual as long as there seems to be little potential for a deeper emotional relationship. I don’t have to feel True Love for every guy I have sex with, but I want us to care about each other, to have some kind of ongoing understanding. At the very least, we’ve gotta be able to go out to dinner and have a nice heartfelt conversation.

I mean, for one thing, the sex is just plain better if you care about each other. Anecdotally, this seems to be true for people of all genders, although there are probably exceptions. (When it comes to sexuality, there are always exceptions.) I will point out, however, that research appears to show in multiple ways that women are less interested in casual sex than men. For example, women tend to estimate that sex with a stranger would probably be no good, while men tend to estimate that sex with a stranger would be average. Which is quite reasonable, given the fact that research finds that many men acknowledge not caring about their partner’s pleasure during casual hookups. For another example, as the FAQ for the Kinsey institute tells us, “Many women express that their most satisfying sexual experiences entail being connected to someone.” There could be a lot of different reasons for this—I’m rarely interested in the nature vs. nurture debate—but I think that whatever the source, the general patterns are worth noting.

Back in 2008, when I first started blogging about sex and S&M, one of my first blog posts analyzed my feelings about both casual sex and casual S&M. I had already concluded that neither really works for me. And yet it seems like sometimes I have to re-learn this lesson. I end up “trying it on for size” again, like a sweater unearthed from the back of my closet, whose dullness I forget until I see it in the mirror. I find myself brushing my hair the next morning next to someone who feels like a stranger.

It’s not that casual sex is valueless, exactly—I learn something from almost all my sexual encounters. And I’ve had one or two casual encounters that worked quite well for my goals at the time, and were quite pleasant. But although I haven’t had a whole lot of casual sex, it’s usually been so boring. Plus, after casual sex I get hit with the additional payload of automatic, socially-induced questioning of my own self-worth, being as I’m a lady who just had casual sex. I’d like to say that I’m a Perfectly Independent Modern Girl whose self-esteem is never challenged by this kind of thing, but I’d be lying, and I think that stereotype of the Modern Girl is a problematic stereotype anyway.

I’ve wondered a lot what it is about casual sex that makes some people react the way I do, and others react with glee and abandon—and others react with virulent distaste and aggressive rejection. Aside from the apparent gender split, what are the characteristics of people who experience casual sex as usually fun, those who experience it as usually boring, and those who experience it as usually destructive?

From my experiences and observations, it seems to me that people who absolutely love casual sex often:

* Have a lot of physical turn-ons (as opposed to psychological ones).

* Are not carrying difficult feelings from abusive sexual experiences.

* Don’t tend to get attached to partners quickly, or know how to manage their experiences so that they don’t get attached. A friend once told me about a woman who never allowed herself to have orgasms during casual sex, because she had observed of herself that she started getting emotionally attached quite quickly.

But I’m very curious about the experiences of others, and whether anyone disagrees with my brief points above. Comments are quite welcome.

Clarisse Thorn is Role/Reboot’s Sex + Relationships Editor.

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