A 6 Step Guide to Casual Sex

By Sara Kloepfer

Let’s admit it: sometimes you just want to have sex.

Not a relationship, not a date. Just no strings attached, scratch-that-itch, satisfying sex. Because, you know...

With the ubiquity of dating apps and our so-called “hookup culture,” it would seem that casual sex is easier to pursue than ever. But sex, by definition, is the opposite of casual — it is super intimate both physically and emotionally.

So how do we define casual sex? At the most basic level, casual sex consists of consensual partnered sex without any mutually agreed, intended, or implied commitment beyond that sexual encounter.

However, everyone has different criteria for what makes sex “casual,” whether it’s a one-night-stand or a regular booty call. And like most sexual choices, there is a frustrating double standard that congratulates men for having casual sex while slut-shaming women who do the same. Casual sex is often judged because it is surrounded by stereotypes and misconceptions: it doesn't involve emotions or respect, it's riskier, it’s “sluttier,” etc.

While any sex positive person can recognize that casual sex can be a healthy and satisfying sexual choice, they also know that casual sex is not for everybody, or for everybody all the time, in every situation. 

There simply is no perfect, one-size-fits-all choice when it comes to sex, so you have to ask yourself whether casual sex is right for you, right now. Casual sex seems like it should be simple, but it can feel a lot more complicated trying to figure out the unspoken “rules.” While there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to casual sex (because relationships and sex mean different things to different people!), here are some things you should keep in mind when you want to keep it casual:

1. Set your intentions 

First things first, figure out if casual sex is what you want. Some people have an easier time with casual sex than others. Your comfort level depends to some extent on your approach to sex- are you comfortable separating sex from romantic love? Sex definitely involves feelings, but the kind of feelings we have in different sexual contexts vary. Sex is inherently intimate, not only physically, but emotionally, because it involves communicating openly and honestly about desires, boundaries, and sexual histories.

Ask yourself if you want to have sex with someone with whom you may have no further relationship, and if you feel good about it. If you have an ulterior motive in mind- if you’re having casual sex as revenge or you’re hoping it will turn into something more — chances are you could end up disappointed.

2. Communicate 

Communication is even more important in casual sexual encounters because the boundaries are less clear. Be upfront with your partners about what you want from the beginning- make it clear that you are only interested in casual sex, and if applicable, that you are also dating other people.

This doesn't necessarily mean that there are any hard and fast rules about when you can see each other and what you can do together. If you feel like having a strictly booty call situation, that’s cool. And if you want to sleepover and grab brunch the next morning, that’s chill too. Just be open and honest about your needs and expectations. This also applies to practicing consensual and safe sex. When you’re having sex with someone you don't know well, you can’t rely solely on subtle gestures- actively and vocally checking in is essential. You should also talk to your partner about whether you both have been tested and what kind of protection is appropriate.

3. Be respectful 

Just because a relationship is casual doesn’t mean you can treat your partner like crap- or vice versa. Even if you are not emotionally involved, you still owe each other a basic level of decency and honesty. Don’t flake on plans, show up when you say you will, and don’t just ghost them when you’re no longer feeling it.

The golden rule applies- treat your partner how you want to be treated (like more than just a sex toy).

4. Practice safer sex 

STI risks are always higher with new partners, whether casual or not. Know how STIs are contracted and how to protect yourself. Always bring your own protection and contraception, set up a testing schedule (every 3-6 months), and talk to your partners about their history and yours. Personal safety can also be a bigger question mark when you don't know someone well. Before going to a partner’s place, tell someone where you’re going and figure out how you’re going to get yourself home.

5. Maintain a committed sexual relationship with yourself 

Don’t rely solely on other people for your pleasure! The orgasm gap is especially large when it comes to casual sex — a 2012 study found that just 11% of heterosexual women reported orgasming during a hookup with a new male partner. Make sure you know how to make yourself orgasm, invest in some high-quality sex toys, and devote some time to pleasuring yourself.

6. No expectations 

Beyond having awesome sex with someone who respects you, don’t make any assumptions.

Don’t expect anything to come of a hookup, but don't count out a real relationship developing either. As long as you and your partner are communicating honestly about your intentions, you can keep it casual without any drama. 

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