Women tell Tracey Cox what they love about no-strings-sex
Not all relationships are meant to be serious and there are times in our lives when we either don’t want or don’t have time for one.
A long, long time ago, this meant you were destined to have sex only with yourself until your next partner appeared. Not in 2023.
It’s never been easier to have casual sex…and most of us do. Seventy-two per cent of people in one study have had at least one no-strings encounter. Men average 10 in total, women seven.
There’s plenty of criticism of our hook-up culture. Sex without intimacy and commitment is obviously going to lead to problems, right?
What we don’t talk about– especially for women – are the pluses.
Not all relationships are meant to be serious and there are times in our lives when we either don’t want or don’t have time for one (file image)
WHAT THE RESEARCH SAYS
Truth is, if you’re the sort of person who has sexual agency, able to separate love from sex and sport a strong self-esteem, casual sex can be very enjoyable.
Tracey Cox reveals that not all relationships are meant to be serious and there are times in our lives when we either don’t want or don’t have time for one
Three years ago, researchers reviewed 71 studies on casual sex and, contrary to public view, concluded the outcomes were mainly positive emotionally for most people.
Whether it’s one night with a stranger, booty calls with an ex, a ‘friends with benefits’ arrangement or sex now and then with someone you know, casual sex suits plenty of people at certain times of their life.
Our Mums were warned, ‘They won’t buy the cow if you give the milk for free.’ Young women today are more likely to be taught that it’s healthy to explore sex, so long as it’s (without any doubt) consensual on both sides and you do it safely.
Here’s a non-judgemental take on the pros and cons of ‘sleeping around’ – and some personal stories, straight from the horse’s mouth.
THE PLUSES OF NO-STRINGS SEX
Not all women slink home with head hung during the walk of shame. Lots feel empowered because…
THIS IS WHY I LOVE CASUAL SEX…
This is what people told me when I asked what they enjoyed about casual sex…
She says: ‘I like casual sex – I don’t want to have the responsibility for someone else’s feelings. Consensual hook-ups are fun because they’re straight forward. No expectations mean you can relax and let loose without worrying. They’re not all purely physical gratification either. I’ve had some of the most intensely emotional experiences of my life with people I spent one night with and never saw again. I’m not just there for the sex, I’m there to be close with another human being.’
He says: ‘I am a carer for elderly parents. To say they’re a handful is an understatement: my life is them. I dream of a relationship but that isn’t possible right now, so I escape to casual sex to keep sane and happy. It offers me a brief opportunity not to feel alone. Sure, there’s the physical intimacy of sex that feels awesome but most of the time, it’s about being in the company of someone.’
She says: ‘I’m 22 and love that I’m born into a generation where women can have sex with who they want without being judged for it. I’ve had sex with about 15 men which isn’t unusual in my friendship group. My friends and I love sex. We love being female and having sexual power and agency. If any guy dares to slut shame any of us, he faces the wrath of all of us. We’re educated women with high self-esteem and enjoy our sexuality. What do we have to be ashamed of?’
He says: ‘It’s a release. When I don’t have sex, I feel wound up and frustrated. It’s so easy to get sex these days. I go on Tinder and generally find someone who is willing to meet up that day or night. I’m 32 and haven’t had a bad experience yet. I’m upfront about just wanting sex and the women I meet with are more than fine about that.’
1. Sex is good for you. We need regular intimate contact and connection with other human beings. Sex has many physical and emotional benefits including everything from stress release and reduced risk of heart attack to making us feel happy and our skin glow. Why should you miss out on all this just because you aren’t in a serious relationship?
2. It’s sex with someone new. It’s the beginning bit that you don’t ever want to end: exciting, lust-driven sex without a whiff of ‘must-I?’ about it. Novelty activates pleasure centres in the brain, making us feel euphoric. Keep it casual and you get to experience this over and over (and over) again.
3. It’s still a little taboo. No matter how sexually sophisticated we are, there’s usually a small, conservative part of us that secretly thinks you’re not really supposed to have sex with people you don’t love. Our erotic brain loves what’s forbidden, boosting desire further.
4. You can let loose without fear of being judged. The sense of detachment casual sex offers is intensely freeing. You’ve always wanted to try that slightly out there sex act? Who better to do it with than someone you’ll never see again? You can explore sex judgement-free, without fear of consequences – particularly appealing to women.
5. You don’t get stuck in a bad sex cycle. If the sex is casual and it becomes boring, you walk away and try your luck elsewhere. Unlike your couple friends, you aren’t a victim of the sex-on-tap syndrome, either. If all you have to do to get sex is turn over, it isn’t half as appealing.
6. Feeling desired feels great. It’s a compliment to be wanted. Being desired by someone new and attractive, is a great ego-boost.
7. Casual sex often leads to a relationship. Just because someone is up for casual sex, it doesn’t mean they don’t want a relationship. Some people get sexually active with someone they’re attracted to before they decide whether they’re interested in long-term love. They want to check the sexual chemistry is there before they involve their heart.
And a funny thing happens when you date casually. Having no expectations takes the pressure off: you drop preconceived notions of your ‘type; forget to check those lengthy ‘partner must-have’ lists. Instead, you’re in the moment and simply getting to know each other. It’s the perfect environment for love to thrive.
Renowned anthropologist Helen Fisher says casual sex is a legitimate path to a committed relationship.
So they’re the pluses – now let’s flip over to the darker side…
AND THE MINUSES
I’ll start with the obvious and alarming.
There’s a danger of sexual assault. If you go home with a stranger, you are putting yourself at risk of being raped or assaulted. You need to tell people where you’re going and have your wits about you.
CASUAL SEX ISN’T FOR ME
Sex outside of a committed relationship works for some but not all. The verdict is thumbs down from these people.
She says: ‘One-night-stands are OK but the minute it’s a repeat act, it gets lopsided. There’s always one person who wants more, whether that’s more sex or a relationship, and another person keeping the other at arm’s length. I always seemed to be the one wanting more: I was having sex to get the cuddle at the end. I’ve also felt pressured to do things I didn’t really want to. Because you both know you’re just there for the sex, there’s an assumption that it’s going to be wild and adventurous.’
He says: ‘I was so focused on keeping the relationship strictly physical because that’s what I thought she wanted, I missed all the cues that would have told me she was up for having a real relationship. I had no idea at the time and we’re both married now. I really liked her but was trying to be cool. I’m kind of gutted I didn’t know.’
She says: ‘I was mourning an ex and my girlfriends, sick of me moaning, told me the best way to get over him was to get under someone else. I deliberately went out to pull a guy and didn’t really care who it was. He was nice enough and it was fun at first and it felt good to be kissed again. But I was drunk and when he tried to penetrate me, I suddenly didn’t want it to happen. I pushed him off and started sobbing. He backed off immediately and looked confused and alarmed. I rang my ex while I was still with the guy and left a message saying I was trying to have sex with another man to get over him, but I couldn’t. The guy called me a cab and I went home: he was kind about it all. But the next morning I was so embarrassed, I felt traumatised. I’m not the right personality to enjoy sex for the sake of it. I should never have done it.’
He says:‘I had a friends-with-benefits relationship with a person I really liked. He made it clear sex was all that was on offer, but I was convinced he’d change his mind the more we had it. He said he didn’t want a serious relationship but now is in one and the sex with me has stopped. It’s left me feeling bad about myself. Am I a dud lay? Why was I good enough to have sex with but not to settle down with? I wouldn’t advise it.’
The more sex partners you have, the higher the risk of getting an STI. Even if you use a condom, it doesn’t protect you against all STIs. Herpes ulcers don’t just appear on the bits covered by a condom. If the ulcers are elsewhere, you are at risk of contracting the virus. The more people you sleep with, the higher the risk of this happening. Even if you’re using highly effective contraception like the Pill, there is still a chance of getting pregnant. If the baby is a stranger’s, you’re left dealing with this on your own.
Managing emotions can be complicated. To enjoy casual sex, you need to be good at compartmentalising sex from love. Men are better at this than women because we’ve been taught to attach emotions to sex. Studies show women are more likely to report negative outcomes than men: we’re more prone to feeling used, depressed, regretful or embarrassed after a one-night stand.
Oxytocin works differently on women. Both male and female bodies release oxytocin during sex which lowers our defences, makes us trust people more and is the key to bonding. Guess what though? Women produce more – which is why we’re often keener to bond. Men, on the other hand, release dopamine on orgasm. Dopamine delivers an addictive rush of pure pleasure. No bonding required!
There’s no after play. If you’re only ever having casual sex, it can feel empty and pointless lying there with someone you don’t know and don’t particularly want to know. Especially if you’re feeling like a cuddle but not sure it’s welcome.
Booty calls with your ex often end in disaster. Invariably, one is thinking a reunion while the other is thinking sex on demand with someone they like but don’t love.
The sex is often unsatisfying. It’s selfish sex. What’s the point of trying to find out what this person likes or doesn’t like if you’re not going to see them again or certainly not for a long period of time. It’s hit and miss: if you happen to enjoy each other’s technique, it’s down to luck.
The sex can be less adventurous. While some people are more likely to walk on the wild side sexually with a stranger, others find they are more open to new adventures with a partner they know and trust.
Singles have less sex than couples. Various studies show people in serious relationships have sex roughly once a week. A recent Australian study found 39 per cent of single women are having no sex at all and only nine percent have it once a week or more.
So, there you have it: the upsides and the down with the conclusion being, like most things, it’s a case of horses for courses. We are all individuals with our own belief systems and values around sex.
Casual sex works for some and not others.
The crucial factor is you shouldn’t be ashamed of your decision either way.
Tracey’s weekly podcast, SexTok, comes out on Wednesdays. You’ll find her products and more information on sex and love at traceycox.com