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6 Reasons to Have Casual Sex

Casual sex is often presented as damaging. But it could be a good path to discovering important things about your sexuality.

Casual sex and one-night stands are almost always framed as damaging to women, particularly young women. In recent years, writers like Laura Sessions Stepp and Wendy Shalit have issued dire warnings about the alleged dangers of sex outside of committed relationships.

Let's call this rhetoric what it is: a tired repeat of the sexist double standards that have haunted women for centuries. (The subtitle of Shalit’s second book, “It’s Not Bad To Be Good,” clearly articulates the regressive notion that chastity and sexual restraint renders one “good.”)

The idea that women are so fragile that a bad one night stand leaves them scarred —or “in turmoil” as Laura Sessions Stepp puts it—is destructive. (So is the common belief that men are incapable of feeling empty or sad after a similar encounter; Sessions Stepp absurdly claims that when it comes to being in turmoil, “boys are not.”)

With consensual, no-strings-attached sex so regularly under fire, the positive aspects of “hooking up” rarely come to light. Here are six ways that having (safe) sex outside of a monogamous relationship might actually be good for you.

1. Asserting your desires can create a tremendous sense of power.

The word “empowerment” is so fraught as to be nearly useless. But for girls who are constantly bombarded with the message that they need commitment before enjoying sex, there’s real strength in freeing their sex drive from conservative norms.

Some women don’t need a deep spiritual connection in order to enjoy carnal pursuits and some men do; the old stereotypes aren’t useful in navigating your own needs, and breaking anachronistic expectations through experience could lead you to a better understanding of your own sexuality. Sex educator Heather Corinna's ongoing, massive survey of sexual experience and attitudes—8,553 respondents so far (4,990 women, 81% casual sex participants)—shows many women have sex outside of relationships for that very reason: 80% of her respondents chose "to find out more about my sexuality" as a motivation for having casual sex.

Similarly, almost 80% cited their desire "to feel free/uninhibited," which leads us to the next point.

2. It might help you transcend your inhibitions.

When most of us embark on a new relationship, we’re inundated with anxieties. We usually want to please the other person and we want them to think well of us, because we think highly of them and we want to make the connection last. Above all, we definitely don’t want to weird them out with our strange fantasies and turn-ons. We save that type of honesty for much later, when we feel safer. Many couples never share at all: lack of disclosure is the norm for married couples in a variety of ways, whether the issue is finances or hopes and dreams. In a 2001 poll, only 52% of male respondents and 62% of female respondents told their spouses about their sexual history.

There’s less at stake emotionally with a casual partner. This is the very target at which critics aim their arrows—how can women enjoy sex without an emotional connection?!—but this lack of investment can be freeing. It’s the same relative anonymity that causes some people to blurt out their deepest secrets to their hairdresser or a taxi driver. When we’re with someone who isn’t a fixture of our daily life, our egos relax enough to let a little authenticity come through. Rather than worrying about impressing the other person, you can be more assertive about what satisfies them in bed. And in doing so…

3. You’ll learn more about your sexuality

Through encountering new techniques and tastes, through subduing the urge to self-censor, you’ll start to recognize what brings you the greatest amount of pleasure as well as what completely turns you off. In a perfect world, this type of exploration can take place with someone you’re in love with. But many men and women have had the sad experience of falling in love with someone who refuses to indulge in playful sex or whose preferences are entirely at odds with their partner’s.

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