Is Casual Sex Worth it?

woman in woods with hands on face and eyes closed looking serious

What does “casual sex” mean, anyway?

The phrase “casual sex” gets thrown around a lot, often meaning different things to different women. It could mean a one-night-stand with someone you’ve just met at a club or on Tinder. Or it could mean periodically hooking up with someone. Or sex that “just happens” without any intention of pursuing a relationship. By almost all definitions, “casual” means “no strings attached.” While it could be romantic, it can also be entirely physical. And it’s definitely not about any definite commitment between partners. So with this in mind, what do women have to benefit from these encounters? And are they really what’s best for our overall well-being?

No doubt our culture has romanticized the casual fling. Whether it’s inspired by a brief burst of romantic interest or a “friends with benefits” situation, it is not only acceptable to partake in sex at a whim, it is understood by much of society as an expression of personal freedom. No longer are we bound by the constraints of familial, societal or religious expectations of when or with whom sex “should” occur. In 2017, you and I get to define the parameters and act them out as we see fit.

Are you interested or not?

With this in mind, it’s important to recognize that many women have no interest in these types of casual sexual encounters for a number of reasons. They include convictions about the importance of commitment, personal or spiritual beliefs about sexual unity, a desire to focus energy on study, friendships or other areas of personal life, or concern about the physical, social and/or emotional risks associated with casual sex.

On the other hand, women who pursue sex with little or limited commitment could be choosing that route for a number of reasons—a desire to live in the moment, an itching to let loose, a robust sense of independence, a perception that “this is what you do”—even a longing to find love or a reluctance to commit to a relationship at this time. Whether a woman feels swept up in the passion of the moment or intentionally seeks a temporary partner, it is important to take time to think about the way casual sex can affect your lifestyle, and to think seriously about whether this is what you want for yourself. Here are some important things to keep in mind as you try to determine if casual sex is worth it for you.

1. Is casual actually more complicated than it seems?

When you throw sex into the mix of a relationship or a social encounter, things get more complicated. This fact is made unavoidable by our biology, social interactions and the tendency for sex to affect our emotions. How an individual woman responds to the emotional element of sexual encounters will vary based on her internal value system, cultural or religious beliefs regarding sexuality, family expectations, peer-group, and partner-specific factors.

Similarly, if you tend to attach emotionally to anyone with whom you are sexually intimate, or often find you are seeking more out of an encounter than your partner(s) are willing to offer, you are more vulnerable to negative emotional effects like depression, lowered self-esteem, emptiness and dissatisfaction. If casual sex has left you feeling unfulfilled in the past, it may be because it’s just not for you. And that’s OK.

2. What would happen if you got pregnant?

With sex comes the risk of unintended pregnancies, possibly with a partner with whom you do not desire to share children. You can reduce your risk, but cannot eliminate it totally. What would you do if sex with this partner resulted in pregnancy? How would this partner react? Would you feel comfortable sharing that information with him? And if not—why not?

3. What about STIs?

Having various sexual partners also carries the risk of contracting a sexually transmitted infection (STI) which, if left untreated, can cause long term health problems including certain types of cancer, recurrent outbreaks of sores, increased risk of other STIs, and infertility.

Risk increases with each partner; risk also increases with the number of partners your partner has had. Risk reduction methods are available, however no method is 100% effective. Getting tested between partners and talking with each potential partner about STIs is important to keep yourself healthy. How a potential partner responds can influence whether you become intimate with them—and that is entirely appropriate. Being tested for an STI is not only accepting responsibility for your own health. It is also respecting and safeguarding the health of a future partner.

4. All pressure aside: what do you want?

Acting out of step with what you believe deep inside is a primary concern in this arena. It’s OK if you are on the fence about whether to more liberally pursue sexual encounters. Take a step back to consider what you are looking for and what you want for your future. Women are more free than ever to pursue sex without strings attached. But that doesn’t mean it’s the right quest for every woman—even if she is young, even if she is independent, even if she enjoys sexual intimacy. The liberated and empowered woman understands that freedom in any arena is found when she can own “no” as well as “yes”.

When deciding whether to pursue or continue to pursue casual sexual encounters, it is important to evaluate the potential risks for women in general, but also for you as an individual. Consider your current goals, the future you are seeking and the emotional, social, and cultural or religious factors unique to you. If future reflection motivates you to bow out from certain encounters, rather than a missed opportunity, it can be a truer expression of who are, on the way to who you

Iris is the director of ArborWoman.