Gender, Sex Ed

Nine Things You Should Know About Casual Sex

October 14, 2019 by Justin Lehmiller

Casual sex is common, and studies suggest that most people will have it at one point or another. However, despite its prevalence, casual sex is widely misunderstood. Here are nine things science has taught us about casual sex that are worth knowing.

1. A lot of people equate casual sex with having a one-night stand. However, casual sex doesn’t necessarily have to be a one-time thing. In fact, there are several “flavors” of casual sex that vary in terms of the frequency and amount of interaction that occur between partners. Learn more about some of the different types of casual sex that exist in this article.

2. Another common misconception is that casual sex is inherently casual. It’s not. In fact, there is often an important emotional connection that exists between partners in casual relationships, and intimate acts (like cuddling) frequently occur in addition to having sex.

3. Casual sex is on the rise. People are more likely to report having had a casual sex partner today compared to generations past.

4. Research has found that men typically express more interest in casual sex than do women. For example, when a woman approaches (presumably heterosexual) male strangers and offers them sex, most men say yes to such a request; however, when a man approaches (presumably heterosexual) female strangers and offers them sex, almost no women agree.

5. Several different theories have been proposed to account for this gender difference in attitudes toward casual sex; however, a big part of the reason behind it appears to be that women tend to see casual sex as prioritizing male pleasure over female pleasure. In other words, women are less likely to think that their pleasure will be taken seriously and that they’ll have a good time.

6. Speaking of pleasure, research has found that women are less likely to orgasm during a casual encounter than are men. However, women’s odds of orgasming with a casual partner increase with each successive hookup, suggesting that the more often casual partners get together, the more likely it is that female pleasure becomes a priority.

7. This prioritization of male pleasure is one reason women tend to regret their casual sex experiences more than men do. However, women are also more likely to express health concerns (such as contracting STIs or dealing with unwanted pregnancies), as well as concerns about their social reputation (such as being called a “slut”) compared to men when it comes to having casual sex. Thus, gender differences in attitudes toward casual sex are also a function of different perceived risk profiles.

8. While there is a commonly held belief that casual sex is damaging and unhealthy, research suggests that casual sex is one of those things that affects different people in different ways. Specifically, for people who have an unrestricted sociosexual orientation (that is, for people who see sex and emotion as separable) casual sex actually improves their psychological well-being. By contrast, for those with a restricted sociosexual orientation (those who see sex and love as going together), casual sex may lead to lower well-being. For more on how casual sex affects us, check out this video by sex researcher Dr. Zhana Vrangalova.

9. Contrary to popular belief, it’s possible for friends to have casual sex and go back to being just friends. In fact, some people report that having a sexual relationship actually brought them closer together as friends. In other words, sex doesn’t necessarily have to complicate friendships.

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Image Credit: Photo by Vidar Nordli-Mathisen on Unsplash

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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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