The reality of casual sex
We’ve been there. Not exactly sure where your bra is? Can’t remember if she said her name was Lisa or Lizzie? Ah, the idiosyncrasies of casual sex. Except, what happens when the covers fly off and the rushed goodbyes and declined cups of coffees are left upstairs? That walk across campus can make anyone stop and think: does casual sex work, and more importantly, who is it that we want it to work for?
Thinking about it critically, it can become quite clear that casual sex doesn’t work. It’s not the “sex” part that doesn’t function properly in real life scenarios, it is the casualness that doesn’t hold up outside of theory. This is because fundamentally, in my opinion, women approach casual sex differently than men do. And more so, heterosexual couples approach casual sex differently than homosexual couples do. Because I am a cisgender, heterosexual woman, I’m going to speak about how casual sex falls apart in practice during heterosexual interactions, specifically. I acknowledge this is only one point of view.
Now, I am not saying that casual sex?sex outside of the ramifications of a relationship?is something that women cannot experience. I am arguing that women fundamentally experience it differently than men within heterosexual relationships. And that is not necessarily a conscious choice on their part.
Men have generally been the ones to define the parameters of casual sex. Sex is more or less the product of a “man’s world.”. It is tradition that men make a majority of the rules, and that includes classifying some sex as meaningful and other sex as casual. Women, on the other hand, have been taught for generations that there are repercussions, such as pregnancy, that come with casual sex, and that it is not a “feminine” thing to do. In an article for news.comau, relationship therapist Lynda Cyle is quoted as saying that the discrepancy can be found in sex education classes.
“In sex education, girls learn about their periods and pregnancy and boys hear about masturbation, arousal and their sexual urges being OK,” Lynda said.
Sex Ed classes devote entire curriculums to waiting-until-marriage style birth control. Women hear about abstinence more than men do because the consequences are also proposed as more dire for them. Two of the biggest warnings against casual sex are pregnancy and STIs. Although STIs affect both men and women, pregnancy is pushed as a greater conundrum for the women to deal with. This contributes to the gendering of casual sex, implying that if all goes awry, women are stuck with their hand in the cookie jar —or another weird food metaphor— with a bun in their oven. As an article by Sara Rense in Esquire says, “In a perfect world, casual sex would be low-risk for everyone.” It’s not. At least, not when there is a lack of communication between genders about casual sex and the context we view it in.
Men and women can view casual sex on a spectrum ranging from one-night-stands to friends-with-benefits. After the sexual revolution of the 1960s, women have been using it much more freely and unconventionally. However, this spectrum is not designed to satisfy women because it has been created and dictated by men for so long. A study about casual sex conducted by psychologist Anne Campbell found that 80 percent of men had overall positive feelings after a one-night stand, while only 54 percent of women expressed positive feelings. It makes it much more difficult for women to operate freely in a system that was created in spite of us rather than by us, for us, or for our satisfaction. Although it may be tempting to negate the historically sexist conceptions of sex and instead focus on a progressive push that allows women to have sex casually, it would be irresponsible to ignore how gendered casual sex really still is, even in today’s “post-sexist” society.
If casual sex as we know it perpetuates gender inequalities, where do we as a culture get our information about it and persuasion toward it? Most of it comes from media in the form of TV shows, movies, books or magazines. Shows like “Sex in the City” help destigmatize the woman’s role in casual sex, but also help illustrate the messy situations casual sex can create for women. Like Jennifer Joyner explains in her article for Verily, casual sex is not always as empowering for women as it seems on TV.
The problem is that women aren’t allowed to actually enjoy casual sex. Despite problematic assumptions and debunked evidence on the contrary.
One problematic stereotype is that women use casual sex is in the name of “feminism.” Natalie Portman’s character in No Strings Attached —an ultra-modern, anti-settling down woman— uses casual sex to avoid a relationship. But maybe this is an entirely different beast to address: Why do women think casual sex is the answer to avoiding intimacy? Maybe because men have done it for decades now. Or maybe because they think they have to. This stereotype harms the women who just want to use sex in the same way men have been using it since the dawn of time, just as sex. It’s unfair to link a singular woman’s sexual liberty to her willingness for domestication. The two are not intertwined.
Another problem: Not only are women not allowed to enjoy casual sex, their counterparts overwhelmingly are ill-equipped to provide any pleasure anyway. Joyner says this orgasm gap is most prevalent during hookups. Casual sex is really only pleasing men. In a study of involving 24,000 college students, only 40 percent of women said they had an orgasm during a hook-up. Of those surveyed, 75 percent of women reported having an orgasm the last time they had sex in a committed relationship.
Don’t get me wrong, casual sex can work, but it often doesn’t. And that’s not for a lack of trying. Instead, it is because the nature of sex is so stigmatized and gendered that casual sex is just another piece of an inherently sexist society. We can’t use sex to dismantle sexism.
Casual sex can and should exist in theory as a way for men and women to experience sexual gratification and experimentation without premature commitments. However, inside of our very gendered, very patriarchal society, we must use caution when justifying something dissatisfying and possibly sexist with, “It’s just sex.”
Casual sex is as much a woman’s right as it is a man’s, but until we redefine what makes sex casual and what we want it to be for both men and women, casual sex is not helping to sexually free or satisfy the modern woman. It’s just expecting her to play a man’s game.
Jordan Szymanski is a first year Writing for Film, Television, and Emerging Media major who isn’t casual about critiquing the patriarchy. You can reach them at firstname.lastname@example.org.