People Who Prefer Casual Sex Are More Likely To Want Intimacy From A Sexual Encounter, A New Study Finds

Andrew Zaeh for Bustle

Casual sex isn't for everyone. Some people love the idea and the freedom of hooking up with someone with no strings attached, while others don't like the idea of sex without commitment or consistency. In either case, our culture tends to think of casual sex as being straightforwardly carnal — about the sex and nothing but the sex.

But a new study from Binghamton University faculty and researchers at Indiana University's Kinsey Institute found that casual sex can also be a source of intimacy, rather than just a physical endeavor.

Researchers gave hundreds of college students an online questionnaire about their sexual habits, namely the intimacy and affectionate behaviors they showed during sex. Although the researchers found, unsurprisingly, that there was far more intimacy and affection in relationship sex than casual sex, the frequency of affection and intimacy during casual sex was surprising — and much higher than the study authors predicted. The intimate acts included cuddling, spending the night, eye gazing, and engaging in foreplay — which many people might assume is a requirement, rather than a sign of affection. But, hey, to each their own. The researchers found that women tended to be more intimate or affectionate overall, although there was no gender difference when it came to levels of foreplay or eye contact.

"Our gender roles and sexual scripts might suggest that women would be more likely to desire intimacy during sex but we didn't really find that," Ann Merriwether, a developmental psychologist and lecturer at Binghamton and one of the co-authors of the study, tells Bustle. She also warned that we are often fed an impression of casual sex that is inaccurate.

"I think our ideas about casual sex are driven by the media we consume and that's not really an accurate portrayal of reality," Merriwether says.

Another interesting twist of the study was that they asked the students if they preferred casual sex or sex in the context of a relationship. Those who said they preferred casual sex were more likely to want intimacy and affection during a casual sexual encounter, suggesting that most people want to find that intimacy somewhere, some people just use casual sex to find it.

"I was also really surprised that people who don't date are driven to get intimacy during casual sex," Merriwether says. "Those who prefer sex during a relationship might be more likely to seek out casual sex as just a physical connection, rather than an intimate one.

If some people seek intimacy from a casual relationship, it might muddy the water between casual and romantic sex — which is all the more reason to be upfront and clear with your partner about what you're looking for.

"When it comes to matters of romance, The Golden Rule is always the best policy," dating coach, Francesca Hogi, tells Bustle. "Rather than let someone have the wrong impression about your relationship, be clear up front that you are seeking something casual." There's no right or wrong way to have casual sex, it's just important to be clear.

Even if casual sex can be intimate, that doesn't mean it's for you, and that's OK. But it's interesting to discover that casual sex can be about a lot more than a physical connection — if that's what you want, of course.