But first, let’s qualify this sex talk. It’s time to have a frank conversation about this thing we call “casual sex,” what it looks like, and how it could possibly relate to mental health.
Time was, casual sex, that is sex without commitment or emotional attachment, was something engaged in by “sluts” and “man whores.” But as the saying goes, “that is so last century.” Today, in a new era of sexual freedom and awareness, having sex has become a natural way for people to engage in an activity that satisfies physical urges and makes them feel good without the need to be in a relationship first. It’s quite liberating, really, and takes sex without love out of the closet and into the light of day where it belongs.
We all know about the “feel good” hormones and chemicals associated with sex, so let’s just skip over that part of the discussion. What is important to talk about, especially on this day of mental health is just what the emotional and psychological benefits of casual sex are.
Pretty common says a recent study conducted by Adam and Eve, sex gear retailer. Among college coeds, for example, 72% have had casual hookups by their senior year, an average of 10 for males and 7 for females. But it doesn’t end there. Given the availability of online dating apps and singles bars, coupled with generally looser attitudes about hookups, 23% of people of all ages have had 6-10 partners so far and 21% have had 11-25 partners.
Clearly casual sex has become quite common. But while the negative “stigma” of casual hookup sex still survives, many who engage in it have nothing but positive things to say about the mental health benefits.
Ashley Laderer, writer for Talkspace, an online therapy provider, recently interviewed a number of people who engage in casual sex to gauge their feelings about those experiences. Those she reported on had some common threads to their responses:
Exploring sex with no strings lets you relieve stress and walk away feeling “empowered”
Casual sex is a good mood booster and can be a learning experience
Casual sex is just plain fun
For someone who just wants physical contact and orgasms, casual sex should be considered a part of mental self-care.
This talk about casual sex being fun is important. There is no lack of studies that point to the mental health benefits of fun. Among these benefits are the following:
Having fun helps to recover from burnout and allows you to recharge
It helps to maintain a positive attitude
It helps you to live in the present without worry or anxiety about the past or future.
It is a good type of selfishness that allows you to be of benefit to yourself and others in serious situations.
Angelika Koch, mental health and relationship coach confirms these points: “Physical touch and sexual intimacy are both beautiful and natural things to desire. A casual sexual arrangement can be good for your mental health. It can allow you to get the connection you desire, without having to push your boundaries or jump into something before you’re ready.”
Not so fast. It’s one thing to want casual sex with the side mental health benefits, but there are several things to think about before you jump head-on into this lifestyle.
Several years ago, there was an episode of the TV Seinfeld series on the very subject of casual sex. Jerry and Elaine, who had once had a romantic relationship, but were now just friends, decided to try out casual sex. Both were suffering from being horny with no outlet and decided that they could have casual sex with no strings. Most of the episode, which was hilarious, was spent on the two of them discussing exactly what their casual sex would mean and what the ground rules would be – no staying overnight or, if that did happen, no breakfast in the morning, for example. While this was all for audience laughs, there were still some serious messages for those ready to jump into casual sex.
“When doing this,” Koch states, “it’s important to ask yourself, ‘What does casual look like for me?’ And when seeking a casual partner, clearly state this, as well as any boundaries you have, before beginning the physical aspect. Understanding each other’s boundaries and what casual looks like for each of you can help prevent things from getting complicated and misunderstood.”
Jerry and Elaine discovered that they did have some different definitions of “casual” as well as things they hadn’t really thought about. This is why it’s so important to have a conversation with your soon-to-be sex partner. You must both be on the same page. And if your casual sex is more than a one-night hookup, other details may come up that must be discussed and resolved.
Actually, there are two exit plans.
The first exit plan will be how the two of you will part once the sex is finished. If you bask in the afterglow of sex, engage in cuddling, and perhaps fall asleep together, things might get a bit messy. Likewise, are activities such as cooking or going out for breakfast together. All of these activities scream “couple,” and that’s what you are not about. Does some casual sex result in a romantic relationship? Yes, it does sometimes. But if you are not ready for that and have no romantic feelings, then don’t let yourself get “pulled” in because you are just trying to be “nice.”
The second exit plan is more permanent and requires mutual pre-planning. According to Koch, “It’s also important for each of you to create an exit plan and communicate that in case one or the other develops feelings. Communication is important to have during a casual sexual arrangement because it’s a form of respect. If one person finds themselves wanting a relationship while the other person still wants casual, then taking a step back from this encounter out of respect for both parties is important.”
Sophia Benoit, writer of things sexual for GQ Magazine, gives an important piece of advice for casual sex. When you meet the person with whom you decide you want to take to bed, you will obviously have some initial conversation. Keep it “light and fluffy,” she warns. It’s not the time to give the history of your childhood, your parent’s divorce, or all of your great achievements. This is just TMI. Ask questions such as “Where did you grow up?” or “What’s your favorite drink?” She goes on to say, “Now this isn’t an invitation to be boring or taciturn, it’s just a plea for you to keep it easy-peasy…Invite them over…show them a video of your dog trying to climb a tree to get a squirrel. Avoid digging deeper.”
Another important piece of advice from Benoit? Don’t hang out in places that could look like real dates – going out for dinner or to the movies, for example. The whole idea of casual sex is to find fun and enjoyment, relieve stressors, put yourself into a positive mood, and then move on with your life.
And here are the few key pieces of advice from Koch:
There is nothing gross or wrong with wanting casual sex. In this age of sexual freedom, it’s perfectly fine between two consenting adults. Embrace your need for sex when and if you don’t want a serious relationship. That’s your right.
Casual relationships that are fun and satisfying have mental health benefits and can even be a healing experience if a serious relationship has just ended.
Decide what casual sex means and be sure any partner agrees to that and the boundaries you both set.
Be certain you both have an exit plan
It’s World Mental Health Day, and positive casual sex is a big contributor to that health for many. As Koch summarizes, “Casual sex can be a healthy and fulfilling experience, so long as you are true to your boundaries and desires. Not everyone is ready to be in a relationship, but most people still have sexual urges that need to be filled. Finding a sexual partner who is in line with what you’re looking for, can be a healthy way to get the physical interaction you desire while still moving through life in the best direction for yourself.”