Sex Ed

The Flavors Of Casual Sex

November 1, 2013 by Justin Lehmiller


People have a tendency to equate terms like “casual sex” and “sexual hookup” with “one-night stand.” However, this greatly oversimplifies that nature of casual sex in the modern world. The reality is that casual sex, like ice cream, comes in a variety of flavors, and each is important to consider in its own right. In this post, we will take a look at four distinct types of casual sex that have been identified by researchers.

In a 2011 article, Wentland and Reissing reported the results of a qualitative study in which college age men and women were asked to describe different types of casual sex relationships that people might have [1]. The results yielded four distinct varieties that differ based upon frequency of contact, type of contact, amount of personal disclosure, communication about the relationship, and whether a friendship exists between the partners: one-night stands, booty calls, F-buddies, and friends with benefits.

One-night stands (also known as “hit it and quit it” among some participants) are exactly what they sound like: they involve a one-time sexual encounter in which there is no personal disclosure, relationship communication, or friendship. There is no expectation of anything beyond one night; however, this doesn’t mean that one-night stands never turn into anything else. In fact, in cases where a one-night stand leads to a subsequent encounter, it can transform into another type of casual relationship: the booty call.

The only way that booty calls meaningfully differ from one-night stands is in the frequency with which hookups occur. There’s still no real friendship or deep emotional bond between the partners, and there’s not a lot of communication either, aside from (usually) drunk texts used to facilitate hookups.

However, booty calls who repeat their encounters with great frequency usually develop some degree of intimacy and may go on to become something more– indeed, they may become bedroom “buddies.” F-buddies are an evolved booty call in which both personal disclosure and friendship results from the repeated sexual interactions; however, even in cases where the partners do something social together, sex usually precedes or follows the activity. Among F-buddies, discussion of the relationship itself is typically absent.

The final type of casual relationship that emerged in this study was friends with benefits (FWBs). Unlike F-buddies, who have a friendship that develops out of sex, Wentland and Reissing’s results suggest that FWBs are the opposite: they consist of a pre-existing friendship that turns into a sexual relationship. Aside from this, FWBs and F-buddies are similar in most other regards, except that FWBs are somewhat more inclined to communicate about their relationship (e.g., to set rules and clarify what the relationship is and is not). However, it is important to note that not all researchers characterize FWBs the same way. In fact, another study of FWBs reported that there are as many as seven distinct types of friends with benefits!

As you can see, “casual sex” hardly means just one thing. There are many unique kinds of casual sex relationships, and each one likely has its own advantages/disadvantages and sexual health risks compared to the others. As a result, sexuality researchers and educators would be wise not to treat “casual sex” as a unitary concept and instead consider the different varieties of casual relationships that people are having.

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[1] Wentland, J. J., & Reissing, E. D. (2011). Taking casual sex not too casually: Exploring definitions of casual sexual relationships. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 20, 75-89.

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Written by
Dr. Justin Lehmiller
Founder & Owner of Sex and Psychology

Dr. Justin Lehmiller is a social psychologist and Research Fellow at The Kinsey Institute. He runs the Sex and Psychology blog and podcast and is author of the popular book Tell Me What You Want. Dr. Lehmiller is an award-winning educator, and a prolific researcher who has published more than 50 academic works.

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