Remember when (seemingly not too long ago) the idea of casual sex was kind of taboo? For a while it seemed like everything from adult dating sites to friends with benefits relationships were not to be talked about. I remember a class I used to offer called “How To Be a Casual Sex Rock Star” that folks were always interested in having me teach BUT often wanted me to change the title to reference “dating” instead of “casual sex”. This caused a lot of confusion because people would come to the class thinking I’d be talking about how to meet people and have nice, romantic dates; maybe even make some new friends! Those people were disappointed when I instead taught about strategies for ensuring that everyone involved in casual sex interactions (aka hook-ups) could come away from the experience feeling awesome about the good time they had. To me, that pretty much summed up the attitude towards casual sex at the dawn of the new millennium.
Then something happened. Something changed. I noticed a lot more people not only engaging in casual sex but talking about it, owning it, feeling good about it. However, we weren’t in the clear yet. With that newfound freedom came a title wave of conversations. Suddenly it seemed that there were a bevy of stories about hook-up culture, online dating, friends with benefits and the general shift from the assumption that everyone should be engaging exclusively in courtship with an eye on the endgame.
Hot on the heels of this discussion has been another conversation. A very intense conversation. A kind of scary conversation. A conversation about how all of this is very, very bad for everyone. Stories discussing the decline in folks imagining rings, houses, Crate and Barrel registries, and babies and the upswing in folks engaging casual, more hook-up based dating started making the rounds. Studies came out telling us that people who engaged in these casual sex were in for trouble. Everywhere you looked there were headlines bemoaning the death of dating, courtship and romance and in general people agreed that this was all very, very bad.
So, should we all be worried? Is casual sex a terrible idea that will destroy us all?
Not so fast. When we start to really look at some of the “concern” we see some interesting patterns. Studies that set out to prove that casual sex is damaging and (voila!) did! Angry writers who don’t enjoy casual relationships themselves writing scathing indictments of the practice of hooking up because, clearly it is threatening their way of being. Suddenly these “facts” start to look a bit skewed. Are there voices coming from the other side? Perhaps even (gasp!) neutral voices?
Enter Dr. Zhana Vrangaova, a sex researcher, writer and educator who has done a great deal of work examining the belief that casual sex is detrimental to our well-being. In a 2014 study she determined something very important (that no one else seems to have thought about before): casual sex can be damaging or completely healthy – depending on why you do it! That’s right, motivation matters! This study is hugely important because it offered a more nuanced look at people’s relationships with casual sex than we had ever gotten before and with that look we saw that for people who enjoy casual sex and were doing it with proper motivation (what Vrangalova calls “autonomous motives”) it could be not only fun but completely rewarding and healthy.
So, what do good, healthy motivations for hooking up look like? Well, they come from our own desires (not someone else’s) and reflect our values so, for example if I want to hook up with someone because it sounds fun and I think it will be a cool experience, I’ve got a healthy motivation. If, on the other hand, I want to hook up with someone because I think it will makes them like me better, I think it will make me feel better about myself or I am hoping it will lead to a relationship, those motivations all involve seeking something outside of me and can backfire terribly, leading to bad feelings – thus they are not health motivations.
So, check your motivations and, if you feel good about them, tell everyone else to calm the heck down. Casual sex can be fun, sexy as hell and healthy too!
This post contains sponsored links. The opinions in it are, as always, my own.