There is truth to the saying, “too much of a good thing is never a good thing.” Fire can be a good tool for cooking but too much an cause something to get burnt. Casual sex is no exception. In the 21st century, as a society, we are moving away from the ages where sex was only for reproduction and learning to enjoy sex for the pleasurable outlet that it can be. However, let us not be fooled; casual sex is nothing new in the realm of how people relate to one another on a sexual or romantic level. What is new is that in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, there has been rise in the acceptance and openness of casual sexual relationships. For the purposes of this article, casual sex is defined as without the commitment of a romantic relationship with sexual partner. Often called NSA or “no strings attached,” it is the practice of engaging in sexual relations without the “strings” of a romantic relationship with the person.
With the rise of the NSA era, many people believe that the current generation of young adults are hindering themselves from being able to form meaningful relationships because of their casual and cavalier attitude towards sex and sexual relations. However, Epstein et al (2009) found that young adult males have neither entirely embraced nor entirely rejected friend with benefits or hooking ups as a part of their general dating lifestyle. There are many who engage in a variety of activities that include dating, hooking up, and friends with benefits (Epstein et al, 2009). Some have implicitly associated it with riskier sexual behaviors that include lower condom usage, increased alcohol usage, etc. This may have contributed to or been a result of the rise in casual sex practices but it is not the cause of it.
Clinically speaking, the increase in casual relationships could be linked to an increase in testosterone. Increases in the numbers of partners are linked to an increase in the level of testosterone (van Anders et al, 2007). The frequency of sexual activity mediates testosterone levels in women and the interest in new/more partners mediates the testosterone levels in men (van Anders et al, 2007). Typically, polyamory lifestyles and single living are associated with higher levels of testosterone (van Anders and Godley, 2010). Singles have a higher level of testosterone that long term partnered men. Poly men tend to have higher testosterone than single men (van Anders and Godley, 2010). Poly women tend to have the highest levels of testosterone compared to single women or long term partnered women (van Anders and Godley, 2010). These levels of testosterone may be due to the fact that testosterone is associated with competitive type context within relationships comparative to long term monogamous relationships (van Anders and Godley, 2010). It is unclear the linear causation if poly lifestyle choices lead to higher testosterone or the converse.
Vannier and O’Sullivan learned in their 2010 study that roughly 17 percent of young adults (age 18-24 engaged in committed, heterosexual relationships were engaged in sexually compliant relationships. By that, they mean that they are compliant with sex due to various reasons including feeling like there is a sort of contract with their partner, low or lack of desire, and self esteem, etc (Vannier and O’Sullivan, 2010). Is it possible that after engaging in this type of relationships that young adults could have found more sexually fulfilling encounters in hooking up or having casual sex partners with out obligation to their partners? Further research is needed to fully answer this question.
Many young adults who are in their late teens and early to mid twenties now are the children of the parents who were some of the first generations to see record numbers of divorce rates, female headed households, and single parents. Is it possible that their social script for how to remain in single, committed relationships is broken? Or is it more that we are looking a generation accepting an ageless tradition of non-monogamy, and non traditional partnering patterns that can change the face of what we consider a family. It would seem that young adults are embracing the alternatives to traditions of monogamy and committed relationships when traditional relationships have not worked for them. What is wrong with seeking out alternatives simply because it does not conform to traditional expectations as long as it is not detrimental in the long term to the overall makeup of the person? As much as popular books would have you believe, research has not determined if hooking up and casual sex is detrimental to the long term and overall health of relationships because those who are engaging in such practices are still young an so far this has not been directly associated with risky behaviors or sexual practices but implicitly associated as a potential risk. Overall casual sex is neither the next best thing nor is it the end of relationships as we know them. It is merely a alternative to the traditional, monogamous, committed relationship. For some it is short term, for others it may be long term, more research needs to be seen.
Döring, Nicola M. (2009). The Internet’s impact on sexuality: A critical review of 15 years of research. Human Behavior, 25, 1089-1101
Epstein, Marina, Calzo, Jerel P, Smiler, Andrew P, and Ward, L. Monique. (2009). ‘‘Anything From Making Out to Having Sex’’: Men’s Negotiations of Hooking Up and Friends With Benefits Scripts. Journal of Sex Research. 46(5), 414–424
van Anders, Sari M. and Goldey, Katherine L.. (2010). Testosterone and partnering are linked via relationship status for women and ‘relationship orientation’ for men. Hormones and Behavior, 58, 820–826
van Anders, Sari M, Hamilton, Lisa Dawn, and Watson, Neil V. (2007). Multiple partners are associated with higher testosterone in North American men and women. Hormones and Behavior, 51, 454-459
Vannier, Sarah and O’Sullivan, Lucia. (2010). Sex without Desire: Characteristics of Occasions of Sexual Compliance in Young Adults’ Committed Relationships. Journal of Sex Research, 47(5), 429–439