Casual-Sex Myths

Harmless hookups offer hot no-strings action, but still get a bad rap

Casual sex gets a bad rap, even in these supposedly liberated times. While books like The Hookup Handbook: A Single Girl's Guide to Living It Up (Simon Spotlight Entertainment, 2005), Brief Encounters: The Women's Guide to Casual Sex (Vision, 2005), and My Horizontal Life: A Collection of One-Night Stands(Bloomsbury, 2005) abound, several myths about casual sex still need to be put to rest.

Myth: People who have casual sex are selfish sluts.

People who have casual sex are usually the same people who have relationships, just not at the same time. Maybe they're between lovers, or on vacation, or just want a few hours of pleasure. Maybe, like me, they haven't found the right person yet. If all you're doing is fucking, it's OK if your paramour's slept with half of the city, is too busy to make plans, is in another relationship, or just wouldn't make good boyfriend or girlfriend material. Those who've never had casual sex were probably either lucky enough to have a constant stream of steady mates, or valiantly overcame their urges to go home with the latest hottie they met in a bar.

Myth: Casual sex is meaningless, animalistic, and only about sexual gratification.

When I've had sex recently (which, contrary to what some may think, usually happens about once a month—if I'm lucky), it's been with people I'm attracted to, but for various reasons couldn't see myself in a relationship with. Yet that doesn't mean that our sex has only been about getting off. In fact, I've been surprised at how profound these brief connections have proven. During one- or several-night stands, I've gotten a glimpse into my lovers' minds and libidos, and have often continued friendships that go beyond sex. I usually sleep with people I truly care about, and while we may be in it for physical pleasure, that doesn't mean I leave my heart at the bedroom door.

Myth: Casual sex is automatically negative.

Even otherwise progressive folks have a chip on their shoulders when it comes to casual sex. In an essay proudly defending Janet Jackson's bare breast, Marianne Williamson decries the rise of hookups: "How many millions of us have learned the hard way that casual sex can deeply wound—the heart, the soul and even the body? How . . . can we all be so complacent about popular comedies . . . that make having sex seem about as important a decision as where to go for dinner or to shop for a new pair of shoes?"

This either-or mentality argues that those who fuck outside the boundaries of relationships have no regard for anyone other than themselves. This disdain for casual sex, as if it marks the collapse of America's moral fiber, crops up again and again (including in a note from a reader who called me "shallow" and "reckless"). But what's wrong with lonely, horny people stealing some sexual pleasure and companionship where they can find it?

There are times when casual sex trumps relationships. I do things during hookups that I might hesitate to do with someone I'm dating. During casual flings, I don't worry as much about what they'll think of me afterward; it's all about living in the moment. So when a recent lover slapped my face during sex, I didn't launch into a mental litany of what this said about me as a feminist or potential girlfriend, or why he wanted to do it, but only took a second, after the shock wore off, to realize that I got off on it. I might not have allowed myself to enjoy his action if I thought we had a future together.

That being said, I'm not looking for another decade, or even another year, of just casual sex. I desire a relationship with someone I love, care about, respect, am compatible with, and want to fuck. But finding that perfect symbiosis isn't easy. There are flaws and complications, and it's much easier to forgive those quirks when you're not planning to spend every weekend together.

I'm picky about who I fuck, but I'm even pickier about who I date, because that person has to put up with a lot. I'm grouchy and mercurial, perpetually stressed, prone to mood swings and self-doubt. I can (and want to) be a fabulous girlfriend but am not going to waste my time. In a busy town, the work of dating and meeting people is often too much trouble. Besides the potential for pain and heartbreak, scheduling dates with near-strangers in which you struggle to make conversation and assess each other isn't as appealing as a hot no-strings night in the sack.

I have higher standards when it comes to relationships. I will offer my body much sooner than my heart, because I can walk away from casual sex, no matter how strong the connection, and not find myself crying, waiting for the phone to ring, or contemplating the other person's mind-set. If we both agree to keep things light and friendly, low on drama and high on nakedness, there's more short-term payoff.

With a casual hookup, it's easier to put aside life's daily dramas and let go in bed. I have trouble with that because in the back of my mind, I'm often thinking about a bill or a deadline, and while most of me is present, that small, anxious part can leave me too tense to fully relax. When I also have to consider my future with the person I'm fucking, not to mention how I look in any given position and what the other person is really thinking and feeling, the prospect can be daunting. I've spent the last year searching for someone who is worth the bother, with whom I can have mind-blowing sex and build something greater than the two of us, but every potential candidate has simply not been into me or otherwise fizzled out.

The main myth I want to dispel is that I'm cavalier about casual sex. It's a rare treat when I find someone attractive, smart, funny, and aggressive enough to lure me into bed, so when I do, I jump on them (literally). In my last relationship, I had a connection so powerful and intense, it made almost everything after it pale in comparison. But just because I'm on the prowl for a long-term partner doesn't mean I'm home alone humping my beloved Hitachi Magic Wand every night until I find one. My ideal is someone with whom I can blend the extreme lewdness of the best casual sex with the less racy, but perhaps more profound, promise of love, growth, and commitment. Until then, occasional, easygoing flings are an excellent second best.

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