Hello again, dear friend Anonymous. Welcome back to our sex talk column where readers submit questions, then we do our research and craft a story to answer as many questions as we can. We tapped Dr. Kate Balestrieri—licensed psychologist, certified sex and PACT couples therapist, and founder of Modern Intimacy in Los Angeles, California—to provide her (s)expert knowledge on steamy topics (like how to teach yourself to squirt, everything you need to know about edging and rocking, if nipple orgasms are real, ways to increase your libido, sex stage fright, enjoying outercourse, and more). Today she’s taking the mic in our Ask Us Anything: The Sex Edition, to answer the latest submission. The topic? How to navigate casual sex.
Can We Normalize Casual Sex? And Is There Ever Room for Intimacy As Well?
“Please and thank you! Normalize casual sex, eradicate any shame that enshrouds it, and set some clear boundaries for yourself so you can have fun safely. Casual includes sex that takes place outside of a committed relationship. It could include a one-night stand, a friend with benefits situation, or any other arrangement that is generally obligation- and emotion-free.
Normalizing casual sex accomplishes so many things. It can be liberating and empowering, and essentially is what you make it. Casual sex can lead to increased knowledge of your own sexuality, sexual needs, and pleasure. When you have casual sex, it can reinforce an attitude of sex positivity and can help you learn more about what you like, and express it, without a lot of fears or heavy emotions shaping your judgment.
Normalizing casual sex can also disentangle sex from your sense of personal worth. Many people experience tremendous shame around their sexuality, and they come to believe that their relationship to sex says something about their worthiness as a person. But that is a constructed and arbitrary conflation!
Cishet men are often praised for being sexual, and their sense of worth is inflated with every sexual experience. Cishet women, members of the LGBTQIA+ community, and other people who experience sexual marginalization are often shamed vociferously when it comes to sex, which can leave them with a negative experience of self-worth. Normalizing casual sex destigmatizes an activity (sex) that never should have been laden with stigma in the first place.
Not sure if casual sex is for you? That’s OK! It’s not necessarily for everyone, and if it doesn’t feel right for you, it’s OK to focus on sex within a relationship you determine is meaningful. How much sex you have or do not have, regardless of context, says nothing about who you are as a person. If you want to give casual sex a try, or revisit your current approach, here are a few things to consider:
What are your needs and boundaries?
Casual sex is designed to be free of obligation and drama, but for that to be the case, it is important to first consider what context will curate a guilt-free and worry-free sexual encounter for you. Be clear on what you need to feel safe with a casual interaction, and check in with what your casual partner needs too. Affirmative, enthusiastic consent is always necessary, whether in a casual or committed sexual relationship.
- Consider, are there activities you feel more (or less) comfortable engaging in with a casual partner?
- What safety needs do you have, and safer sex practices do you wish to discuss and practice with each partner?
- With whom will you discuss your choices if you want/need to talk about an experience?
- Are there any circumstances you want to avoid? Dealbreakers?
- Do you feel that a prospective partner will respect your safety needs and limits?
- Is it important to you to know that you are with a sex-positive partner, to minimize any shaming or double standards?
Communicate clearly with partners.
While you may not want to go into a casual sex situation with a list of demands or expectations, it is important to clearly outline what you’re interested in, and what you’re not. Casual sex works when both people are open to sex without commitment. If one person is expecting or hoping for something else, that’s when things can get messy. If your feelings change as you’re hanging out with someone, it’s important to talk about it ASAP so you can redefine your agreements. Remember, the beauty of casual sex is that you remain emotionally untethered, so don’t expect to know the details of your casual partner’s life if it doesn’t involve you. Keep things light and polite, so as not to make it weird or to force a connection where there isn’t and doesn’t need to be one.
Can casual sex be intimate?
It depends on how you define intimate. Intimacy means different things to different people. Some define it as being authentic, transparent, and present. In that case, casual sex can absolutely be intimate. Some say intimacy is about deep emotional connection. If that is how you conceptualize intimacy, it may be more difficult to experience it in casual sex experiences. But it is certainly possible to share a meaningful connection in a casual moment. Just be clear about your intentions before you embark down this path. If it’s your goal to catch or express feelings, casual sex may leave you disappointed.
If casual sex goes against your values, it may not be for you. But if you find yourself more and more curious about it, perhaps it isn’t against your values, but against a set of values imposed on you. Either way, try not to shame yourself for being curious or for exploring the world of casual sex. Even if you never choose to have a casual romp for yourself, don’t shame those who do. That is what normalizing casual sex really means—creating space for people to have a relationship with sex that is meaningful for them. Sometimes, meaningful means casual. There are many ways to have healthy sex, but shaming yourself or others is not one of them.”
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