We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we hear the nitty-gritty of how we can actually better understand our deepest desires and most embarrassing questions? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a sex therapist, to help us out with the details. No gender, sexual orientation, or question is off limits, and all questions remain anonymous. Now, onto this week’s topic: how to know if you should try casual sex if what you really want is a longterm relationship.
Q: “I am a woman in my early 30s. I have had very bad longterm relationships for my entire life. The same sorts of problems come up over and over again in my relationships. It makes me lose hope of ever finding a good relationship. I get tired and don't want to try again. The problem is that I still want to have sex. I’ve tried to have casual sex in the past, but I quickly noticed that it's hard for me to exclude emotion. I always end up getting hurt. I tried to have casual sex last week, and it was terrible. Should I try casual sex if I know from my heart that I want is LTR?”
A: Thanks for the question! Casual sex is a great idea in theory, especially during dry spells in between relationships. Who wouldn't want all of the fun and pleasure of sex without all of the complications of a relationship? Unfortunately, it’s really hard not to feel any sort of emotion or attachment when you’re doing some of the most intimate things two people can possibly do. Casual sex simply doesn’t work for everyone. Here are six tips for deciding whether or not casual sex is right for you.
1. Learn From Your Experiences
Right after reading your email, my immediate response to your question was, “nope!” I know that there’s only so much detail you can include in a short question, but you clearly said that you tend to get hurt by casual sex, that your last experience was “terrible,” and that you know in your heart that you want a longterm relationship. It seems likely to me that casual sex isn’t the greatest fit for you. That’s not to say that you’ll never be able to have pain-free casual sex, just that the odds aren’t looking good. Everyone knows that old saying: “insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results.” It might be time for you to learn from your experiences and stop trying to make casual sex work.
2. Examine The Tradeoff
To play devil’s advocate with myself for a minute, let’s play around with the idea that perhaps a bit of emotional pain is the price of admission for getting to have the sex that you crave. You have a choice in front of you: you can have casual sex with the potential of experiencing some emotional angst, or you can stay celibate until your next longterm relationship. How badly have you been hurt by your casual sex relationships in the past? Do you value an active sex life enough to be willing to endure that level of angst?
To take it one step further, it’s not like waiting until you’re in a relationship is going to save you from experiencing pain. Relationships — serious or casual — are always messy in one way or another. It’s rare to have a relationship that works out perfectly, with no pain whatsoever. The sex itself may or may not be the cause of your pain in a longterm relationship, but there’s still the potential for getting hurt. So going back to my question: might you be willing to make the tradeoff of risking getting your feelings hurt in order to have casual sex?
3. Get Curious About Your Reactions
It’s worth taking a look at your past experiences with casual sex, and examining what didn’t work for you. What kinds of emotions came up for you? How and why did you get hurt? How did your partners treat you or respond to you?
If you have never been able to have casual sex without falling for the person or getting hurt, then it might be that casual sex is just not for you. But you may be able to identify some ways that you could improve the experience the next time around. For example, maybe you recognize that you and/or your partners were never clear that you were only having casual sex, and that lack of clarity caused hurt feelings. If you wanted to have casual sex going forward, you could make sure to be more straightforward about the boundaries of the relationship. You’re not going to be able to prevent yourself from ever feeling pain, but you can make the casual sex experience much more comfortable.
4. Reevaluate Your Casual Sex Boundaries
I also want to encourage you to not make the casual sex vs. longterm relationship dynamic so black and white. There are plenty of shades of grey mixed up in there! Just like with any other relationship, boundaries are important in casual sex. One specific set of boundaries to consider is the kinds of activities you partake in. In the past, have you always rounded the bases with your casual partners? Different sex acts come with different levels of vulnerability. For example, it might be really hard for you to not get attached to someone if you’ve had intercourse, or anal sex, or if you’ve received oral sex. Instead of doing the activities that make you feel most vulnerable, you can stick to stuff that you’re more comfortable with. For example, you might feel totally fine making out with someone, dry humping, or letting them finger you.
Another way to make casual sex feel a little safer is to be really thoughtful about your partners. Maybe in the past you’ve tried to have friends-with-benefits relationships with your buddies, but found that it got too complicated too quickly. Or maybe you’ve jumped into being intimate with total strangers, and found yourself feeling uncomfortable. Try examining all of the casual sex interactions you’ve had in the past, and see if you can find any patterns in the people you’ve been intimate with. Different things work for different people, but you might be able to realize some ways to make casual sex feel better for you.
5. Explore Masturbation
As such an ardent fan of female masturbation, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that you can have a happy and healthy sex life on your own! You don’t need to turn to casual sex during your dry spells. There are so many masturbation dynamics to explore — new masturbation techniques, exploring different parts of your body, fantasizing, playing around with outfits, using different toys, aiming for multiple orgasms, and so on. Plus, there’s no risk of getting your feelings hurt by masturbation!
6. Go To Therapy
The main reason you’re even asking about casual sex in this question in the first place is because your longterm relationships haven’t worked out. It seems like the same things keep coming up in your longterm relationships over and over again. Seeing those familiar patterns is a good sign that there’s something there for you to work on. Maybe your parents got divorced and you have a cynical view about love. Maybe you experienced abuse, and have a hard time trusting people. Therapy can be so beneficial in helping you examine your relationship patterns and tendencies, and work towards building new behaviors. Don’t give up hope of finding the relationship you want.
Wishing you the best of luck!
Images: Handsomecharlie Films; Giphy