What do you want from casual sex? (Part 1)

In the last few weeks I have had several conversations with single straight female friends about how they “reeeeeeeeally need to have sex.” Most of them are dating (or open to offers) and would probably admit that they are looking for a relationship. But right now, at this time, the need to get laid is more crucial. The conversations tend to go a little like this…

Friend: Ugh, I am beyond horny, I need to have sex sooooo badly.
Me: Well, what about whatisname… or that guy from the thing the other week. Didn’t he suggest drinks?
Friend: Yeah, yeah… maybe, I dunno. I’m not sure I can be arsed. Mainly I just need to have sex.
Me: Well, maybe you should go on a date with one of them.
Friend: Yeah. Or maybe I just need to go out and get really drunk.

I’m not sure what we can deduce from this other than the fact that my friends and I are lazy daters and big drinkers but I’m sure there’s something. The fact that dating and casual sex appear to be viewed as separate endeavours, for example. Either way it does seem to be that when it comes to casual sex, we seem to be unclear on what we are looking for and where we are looking for it.

[NB For the purposes of this article, when I talk about ‘casual sex’ I mean sex with a stranger; a one-night stand or a no-strings hook-up. I realise there are other kinds and I will probably address those at some point but not here.]

Take the following email exchange between me and another friend. She wrote that she really wanted to have sex but she wasn’t prepared to lower her standards (knowing her as I do, I interpret this as meaning having sex with someone she isn’t really attracted to). She also said:

“I need to have sex soon. Like, really really soon. But then again, I can’t be that desperate. If I was that desperate I could almost certainly have sex, like, tonight if I wanted. So maybe I don’t need it as badly as I think. Or maybe it’s less about the physical stuff and more about wanting the intimacy?”*

To which I responded:

“I don’t think it is about the sex per se because there are plenty of fun means to that end that don’t involve a partner. For me it is about the experience of being with another person ie the physicality of it. Even when the sex is only average, the experience of trying it with someone new and different is always interesting.”

What I was getting at here is that idea that casual sex performs a function all of its own. It isn’t just about wanting to get off because that’s nothing we can’t achieve on our own. And it isn’t about emotional intimacy either – which is perhaps why we are so keen to separate it from dating in our heads, dating being traditionally a means of meeting prospective relationship partners as opposed to purely sexual partners.

So if it isn’t a physical or emotional need that drives us to seek sex with casual partners, what is it? I think it’s a social need. Physically we have the ability to orgasm alone but we choose to interact with others. We’re just being sociable… aren’t we?

I don’t know. I mean, I can’t think of too many other examples of activities I successfully do by myself but choose to do with a complete stranger simply for the sake of being with another person. Let’s think: eating, watching television, walking the dog, reading the newspaper, grocery shopping, brushing my teeth…  all of these things are fine to do alone or with friends (though admittedly some are more inherently sociable than others – can’t remember the last time I invited a pal to Tesco with me) but to invite a stranger along would be weird and needless.

I’m sure the social need plays a part but perhaps there’s more power in the ego-boost than we care to admit. For fun, or perhaps to torment ourselves, a friend and I chose a period in the past when we were both single and broke down all the casual partners we’d had in that time.

Here’s mine:

Liked me a bit less than I liked them: 1
Liked me a bit more than I liked them: 1
Felt the same towards me as I did towards them: 2
Taught me something new sexually: 2
Taught me something new emotionally/psychologically: 3
Total partners: 4

And here’s hers:

Liked me a bit less than I liked them: 1
Liked me a bit more than I liked them: 4
Felt the same towards me as I did towards them: 1
Taught me something new sexually: 1
Taught me something new emotionally/psychologically: 2
Total partners: 6

Again, I’m not sure what we can learn from this except that we are waaaay too keen on analysing this stuff. Also, the categories are clearly not exhaustive and we did originally have more but these seemed most relevant in terms of what we felt about the people we were sleeping with and also what we felt we got out of it. Is there anything you’d add? Or do you think the entire exercise is completely pointless (I suspect this is likely but do tell me why)?

I think it’s worth mentioning that in our follow-up conversation we agreed that despite what we’ve said now with hindsight, we definitely fancied (albeit possibly after a few drinks) these people at the time and definitely wanted to sleep with them. Well, apart from that one when I was just bored. And the time when my friend invited a bloke home with her but by the time they got back she was starting to sober up and, frankly, just felt like going to sleep but since she’d gone to all the effort of bringing him back with her, she felt she ought to go through with it. So although I’m not sure we can always say there was enthusiastic consent, there was certainly consent and – perhaps more crucially in this context – intent.

But the question remains: why, in the apparent absence of either an earth-shattering physical experience or an emotional connection, are we so keen to go on casually hooking up with people?  And given that there’s only about a 30% chance of learning a new trick, you have to wonder whether it’s purely vanity. I can’t deny it, I definitely thought I was a total stud after all these encounters, even when the actual sex wasn’t particularly good. Do we just like the fact that another person wants to have sex with us? Is that it?

I really hope it’s not. If you have any thoughts, please do share them. Meanwhile I am going to keep thinking about this and hopefully see you back here for Part 2.

P.S. Have you ever heard of the movie ‘Casual Sex’? The tagline reads: “Stacey and Melissa are about to discover a new four letter word for sex in the 80s… Help!” – Whaaaaaat?

* I have paraphrased all conversations to preserve anonymity.

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One thought on “What do you want from casual sex? (Part 1)

  1. ‘And the time when my friend invited a bloke home with her but by the time they got back she was starting to sober up and, frankly, just felt like going to sleep but since she’d gone to all the effort of bringing him back with her, she felt she ought to go through with it.’

    I should think so too. No-one likes a cocktease

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