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 based in San Francisco, 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 protect your feelings when you're having casual sex.
Q: I just got out of a long relationship. I'm not looking to jump back into another one, but I have recently started hooking up with a friend and dating other guys. In the past, if I've liked someone enough to have sex with them, I've tended to get attached, and ended up falling in love and in relationship with them — whether I actually thought they were right for me or not. I guess I'm wondering, if I don't think that's what I want to do anymore, are there any ways to protect myself and my feelings when I'm trying out casual sex and dating more than one person at once? I'm new at this, and I want to make sure I'm taking care of myself.
A: Casual sex is a slippery little beast, isn’t it? Casual sex is sort of like that great idea you have for an art project -—you can picture it perfectly in your head, but when you actually sit down to do it, it never looks exactly how you thought it would.
It sounds like casual sex hasn’t been working out for you in the way that you would like it to. It may be time to take a step back and consider some options for how to proceed from here. Here are nine ways to protect your feelings when you're trying out casual sex — without being a jerk to yourself, or your partner.
1. Keep Letting Yourself Get Swept Up
You said that you’ve had the tendency to get into relationships with people after having sex with them. One option you have is to keep having casual sex and letting it lead where it leads.
You mentioned that you have tended to fall for people “whether they were right for me or not,” but I wonder what you mean by that. A lot of people believe that if a relationship ends, it means that they weren’t with the right person. I don’t buy into that line of thought. They might have been a good person for you to be with at that point in your life, or it might have been the kind of relationship you needed or were capable of at that time.
Of course, if you think that casual sex is seriously clouding your judgment, this may not be the best option for you.
2. Consider Whether Casual Sex Is Right For You
If you keep falling into relationships with people who genuinely are not good fits, you may want to reconsider your stance on casual sex. The idea of casual sex is great, but the reality of it is often a lot harder than people realize.
You can say the words “casual” or “no strings attached” until you’re blue in the face, but at the end of the day, sex is still an incredibly intimate act! You can go into it with the best of intentions or the most progressive of beliefs, but you can’t always prevent feelings from cropping up. If you feel like you can’t trust yourself to handle those feelings without making bad decisions, it may be time to consider whether or not you’re capable of truly casual sex. It doesn’t work for everyone, and it’s perfectly OK to acknowledge that you’re one of those people.
3. Check Yourself
You’ve developed some good self-awareness — you now know that having sex with someone tends to make you feel attached. You can use this information the next time you find yourself in that situation.
If you feel yourself starting to get attached, remind yourself, “OK, I know that I tend to develop feelings for the people I sleep with. That may be what’s happening here.” Since you have some clarity right now, you can write a letter to yourself to read in the future, reminding yourself to go slow and take your time deciding if this person is actually a good fit for you. Or you can ask a trusted friend to remind you of your tendencies.
4. Set Some Ground Rules
You might find casual sex easier if you set some guidelines for yourself. If you don’t want to get into a relationship right now, don’t do anything relationship-y! Don’t go out on dates, don’t spend the night, don’t send cutesy text messages saying “thinking of you.” Of course you want to treat your sexual partner with kindness and respect, but don’t do the types of things you would do with a boyfriend. You may also want to consider guidelines like not sleeping with people in your friend group or not sleeping with people who are looking for relationships.
5. Be Clear With Your Partners
Right from the get-go, tell your sexual partners that you’re only interested in casual sex and have no desire to be in a relationship. If applicable, make it clear that you’re dating multiple people at the same time. The more up-front you are on what you’re looking for and available for, the easier it will be to protect your heart.
6. Try “Everything But”
If intercourse is proving to be too difficult for you, you can try taking it off the table for casual hook-ups. You can still have a ton of fun without having intercourse. You may find it easier to stay emotionally detached if you stick with less intimate activities.
7. Shy Away From Regularity
One of the realities of casual sex is that the more time you spend together, the easier it is to become attached. It’s natural to develop feelings for someone with whom you’re spending a lot of time. You may want to consider not to seeing your sexual partner more than a couple of times a month. It’s hard to do this — especially if the sex is good — but it might be a necessary step to take care of yourself.
8. Maintain A Commited Sexual Relationship With Yourself
If you’re fully dependent on a partner to provide all of your sexual stimulation, you’re absolutely going to start developing feelings for them. Try to balance things out by having a sexual relationship with yourself. Make time to take of your body and lavish attention on yourself. Masturbate regularly. Invest in high-quality sex toys or beautiful lingerie. Learn how to make yourself orgasm, or how to give yourself multiple orgasms.
9. Honor Whatever You Truly Feel
My best piece of advice is to honor and acknowledge what you’re capable of when it comes to casual sex. Everyone has different relationships with sex, and what works for one person doesn’t for another. That's OK! What's important is that you be true to yourself, stay safe, and have fun.
Images: Natalie Schmid/Flickr; Giphy