Broadly speaking, casual sex is sex with little to no emotional attachment or romantic commitment to the partner. But not all casual hookups are created equal. Different types of no strings sex can serve different purposes, and have different pros and cons that will work for some but not for others.
I’ve had loads of casual sex in my life and have learned a thing or two. Here are my distinctions between, and my thoughts on, the many forms of this sometimes wonderful, sometimes frustrating, always fascinating sexual behavior.
Definition: You have sex once and only once; typically with someone you don’t know very well, but could also be a close friend. You can go into a one-night stand: 1) knowing it’ll be a one-night stand (e.g., you’re really horny or drunk and hooking up with someone who you wouldn’t really want to hook up with again), or 2) wanting, expecting, or allowing for the possibility they’d turn into something more but for some reason they don’t (e.g., sex was bad; you didn’t like each other without clothes or beer goggles; the other person only wanted a one-night stand; you live far away…)
Pros: 1) It’s new! If you thrive on variety and novelty, like I do, one-night stands are exciting and pleasurable simply because the dopamine-run reward system in your brain lights up like a Christmas tree when you’re with a brand new sexual partner, even if that partner is somewhat substandard. That novelty-driven arousal in and of itself can lead to amazing sex and an unusually high number of orgasms for both partners.
2) People often feel comfortable trying something sexually with a stranger they would never do with a long-term partner (e.g., anal, rough sex, threesome), adding to the excitement/novelty factor.
3) One-night stands often are unplanned and happen under unusual circumstances (e.g., a public space), further adding to the excitement factor. Bonus: This also makes for a great story afterwards.
Cons: 1) You don’t know what to expect, and things can turn out less than stellar once the clothes come off. They could’ve been the most charming, skilled flirter, but their anatomy is inadequate, they don’t handle your body well, he comes immediately or can’t come long after you’re ready to pass out, she spreads her legs and does nothing more… Not to mention things going really wrong, like violence or disrespect. So, as much as it’s exciting, it’s also a risk.
2) The disappointment when you were hoping for more, but there is no more.
Bottom line: One-night stand sex can range from mind-blowing to awful, with most of the time falling somewhere in between. Which is why they can do a great job when you’re really horny (and potentially willing to lower your criteria), but more often I use them as a test: if the person fails (for any of the reasons outlined above), than that’s that. But if they pass (and the feeling is mutual), I like to see the one-night stand turn into one of the other, longer types of casual relationship.
Tip: Don’t build any long-term expectations after only one night.
Definition: Short but very intense relationships where you spend a lot of time together in a short period of time and then split up, often to never see each other again. These are the lustful, dreamy stories that happen on vacations, or right before you move to a different country, or when you get infatuated really quickly but get disillusioned just as quickly.
Pros: These are some of the sweetest, most intense, most memorable sexual experiences. They have all of the novelty-based pros of one-night stands, and none of the cons – things clearly did turn out well after the clothes came off, and you’re just milking that initial excitement for all it’s worth. Plus, any initial wrinkles in your sexual styles are likely to get ironed out and the sex only gets better.
Cons: The sadness that they had to end.
Bottom line: Short flings are awesome. Period.
Tip: Just enjoy them for what they are, and don’t get too disappointed when they end.
Fuck buddies, hook-up buddies, booty calls…
Definition: The people who you call for sex on a somewhat regular basis, but who you do not call for non-sexual hangout time. You find them physically attractive and a good match sexually, but you don’t have much in common otherwise (e.g., you don’t like the same music, movies, bars, people…). Some people do it also because they want to keep the relationship purely sexual and are afraid that if they start hanging out together, emotional attachment will be difficult to avoid.
Pros: 1) You know the sex will be at least decent, if not fantastic (you wouldn’t be calling them again otherwise, right?). And, the sex gets better as you get to know each other’s bodies, needs, and preferences.
2) You get to have sex regularly even if you’re single.
3) You can often plan ahead.
4) They can last a long time, sometimes for years.
Cons: 1) Emotional attachments can sometimes form, even if you didn’t want them to – repeated sexual contact leads to that, especially for people who more easily fall victims to oxytocin, the bonding chemical.
2) Eventually you get bored of one another.
3) A sense of trust forms over time so people are less likely to use condoms even if they’re not exclusive.
Bottom line: They can be a great way to have decent, regular, no strings sex – if you can stay unattached and do it responsibly.
Tip: Set the boundaries you need to stay unattached (e.g., limit frequency of visits, have a rotation of partners, don’t ask too many personal questions…), and stay responsible about protection.
Definition: The people with whom you spend a considerable amount of non-sexual time, but every now and then hook up with. They are not quite perfect for a relationship partner (for whatever reason), but they’re not too far off either. The ‘casualness’ of FWBs is somewhat questionable, as there is clearly some attachment and commitment there: your friendship.
Pros: They have all the pros of fuck buddy relationships (good, regular, reliable sex), plus you really like this person out of the bedroom as well.
Cons: 1) Unwanted attachments are even harder to prevent. Often one partner ends up wanting a long-term relationship while the other one does not, and that can end badly, with people hurt and friendships ruined.
2) They take some effort to maintain.
Bottom line: Proceed with caution – friendships can be lost. But if you can make them work, they are great: You get the best of both worlds – sex AND friendship without the burdens of commitment and exclusivity.
Tip: Set clear ground rules about keeping your friendship in the foreground and dealing with other partners. Communicate openly, honestly, and a lot.
Do you like casual sex? What is your favorite type? Which is your least favorite? Why? Comments welcome!