5 Ways Casual Sex Can Impact Your Wellbeing, According To Science
There's something about casual sex that has captured the cultural imagination since the first non-committed couple decided to bed down for a quickie. And regardless of where you land on the sexual spectrum, you're likely to have an opinion about no-strings-attached sex.
Although some folks think it's NBD and a natural part of life to hit it and quit it, others deem casual sex too emotionally taxing or physically risky to engage in — and even destructive or immoral. But now that consensual non-monogamy has permeated popular culture to a greater degree, there is more discussion about what kinds of personality types are best suited to casual sex, how you can have casual sex more safely, and how you can get the most out of it.
From analyzing friends-with-benefits situations and one-night-stands to short and sweet flings, contemporary studies on casual sex are digging into the pluses and minuses of limited engagements more than ever before. And although researchers can be biased too, there is a broader body of work out there for public consumption to tease out what the possible risks and rewards are for engaging in casual sex.
With that said, the following are five study-based ways that casual sex can impact your wellbeing:
1. Initiating Casual Sex Can Lead To Less Regret
Archaic (and supremely sexist) beliefs suggest that men are always down for casual sex and women are merely peer pressured into it. While this is limited (and even dangerous) thinking, it apparently does matter who makes the first move. In fact, women who initiate casual sex are less likely to experience feelings of regret about an encounter.
According to a study conducted by Norwegian University of Science and Technology and the University of Texas, a combination of "higher levels of sexual gratification," viewing your partner as "sexually competent," and initiating contact are all predictors for reduced casual sex regret, which is often driven by feelings of "disgust." The logic goes, if you're the one making the initial overture, you're more likely certain about your choice, and therefore not as predisposed to find the interaction as cringeworthy afterwards. Although, let's get real: the sex itself does have quite an impact on how you feel about the dalliance in the end.
2. Casual Sex Can Give You A Self-Esteem Boost, Depending On Your Sociosexual Orientation
Casual sex isn't objectively "good" or "bad" for your mental health. Instead, the way you respond to casual sex largely depends upon your "sociosexual orientation." Those with a restricted sociosexual orientation tend to prefer love, commitment or emotional intimacy before engaging in sex, and those with an unrestricted sociosexual orientation tend to be more comfortable engaging in sex without love, commitment or emotional intimacy.
In a study published in the journal Social Psychological & Personality Science, researchers surveyed 371 college students over the course of nine months and found that sociosexually unrestricted folks gained self-esteem and satisfaction and had lower levels of anxiety following casual sexual interactions. Conversely, sociosexually restricted individuals did not experience these results. Lead researcher of the study (and sex-positive science pioneer) Zhana Vrangalova affirmed that it's important to know your limits, boundaries, and sociosexual orientation before you decide to have — or not have — a NSA hookup.
3. Orgasms Aren't As Plentiful During A Hookup
Even if your sociosexual orientation makes you more likely to enjoy casual sex, that doesn't always mean you'll orgasm — particularly if you're a woman. According to research presented at the 2013 International Academy of Sex Research's annual meeting, women are half as likely to climax as a result of oral or penetrative sex during casual sex than they are in a relationship. The reasons cited ranged from a lack of communication to straight up sexism (aka, when a man is less interested in pleasing a female partner than he is about getting off himself). These statistics would likely be different for queer women, as queer women have higher overall rates of orgasm than heterosexual women. However, there aren't enough studies on the subject yet to compare how sexual orientation impacts orgasm rate in a hookup.
4. Casual Sex Regret Can Differ According To Gender
If your sociosexual orientation is restricted — or if you have a not-so-great hookup — you might experience feelings of regret. Interestingly, one study found that not all regrettable casual sex is created equal. In fact, hookup regret can differ based on gender — for straight folks, at least. In a Canadian study of 138 female and 62 male students, researchers found that men's regrets tended to focus on physical problems or issues with attractiveness, while women's regrets tended to focus on feelings of shame or self-blame.
5. Why You Choose To Have Casual Sex Impacts How Much You'll Enjoy It
In addition to your sociosexual orientation, how you approach a fling can impact how you feel about it afterwards. A study published in 2015 in the Archives of Sexual Behavior delineated two types of behavior when it comes to flings and casual hookups: “autonomous” and “non-autonomous.” Autonomous behavior includes being super attracted to someone or wanting to experiment sexually, while non-autonomous behavior ranges includes being drunk or using casual sex to try to get revenge on an ex. Unsurprisingly, those whose motivations were non-autonomous tended to experience a decrease in psychological wellbeing after a hookup.
The aforementioned studies all point to the same conclusion: it's crucial to spend time figuring out your emotional and physical needs before you engage in casual sex — or any kind of sex, really. And with any luck, the research on casual sex will actually begin to reflect the diversity of identities and lived experience that exists in the world, because there's no one type of person that's always down for a hookup.