Thursday, October 15, 2015

Can Women Really Have Carefree, Casual Sex?

*Names have been changed

Like many women reading this, I’ve had my fair share of casual sex. This doesn’t mean that they were all one night stands; I prefer to know someone on a deeper emotional level before I can feel comfortable being intimate with them. However, this doesn’t mean that I was in serious relationships either. In a time where more women are putting their careers before commitment, it’s no surprise that we’re having more detached sex with friends or classmates or co-workers. As focused as we are on getting ahead and pushing relationships aside, the body wants what it wants.

Casual sex could mean going home with an attractive person from the bar who you just want to shag for the night, or someone you’ve been flirting with for months and want to be physical with but aren’t ready to commit to. Regardless, we live in a time where we know we shouldn’t feel shameful for giving into our sexual desires – but the stigma’s still there, lingering from decades of sexist beliefs. It hangs on your mother’s words to your best friend’s actions. And it’s there in your own thoughts as well.

If you’re like me, you may have wondered if you really could give into your animal urges, or if you’re just in denial about wanting a relationship. You begin to ask yourself, can women truly have carefree, casual sex – or is it just a recipe for emotional disaster?

According to a recent study at the University of Ottawa, researchers have determined that women have casual sex for – get this – the sex. As we don’t live in the 1950s anymore, this should surprise no one. We aren’t secretly plotting how to get a wedding ring by rolling around in somebody’s bed. In fact, we might not want a wedding ring from anyone, ever. Regardless of our long-term relationship motives or lack-there-of, when it comes to romance, one thing women have in common is that we’re driven by something other than a desire for monogamy.

In the survey mentioned, 510 mostly Canadian women rated “the person’s physical appearance turned me on” as the number one heterosexual response for casual sex. The number two and number three reasons were “it feels good” and “I was horny.”

Heather Armstrong, the co-author of the study in Ottawa, wrote to the National Post, “to my knowledge, this is the first study to specifically compare physical and emotional reasons for casual sex.” However, it seems to me that the reasons for having casual sex should be insignificant in 2015. We know why we do it. The study should have instead asked how we felt about it afterwards, what our overall feelings about it were and if it’s something we favour over committed intimacy or rather something we simply do because we can.

*Nicole, a 20-something recent graduate who’s entering the professional world, has had more casual sex than relationship sex. She says that she’s only ever loved one of the people she’s slept with – and while she doesn’t regret anything, she says that she’s starting to feel a lack of emotion towards sex because of it, and that it’s weighing negatively on her.

As the study and Nicole’s lifestyle choices suggest, circumstance has a lot to do with whether a woman prefers casual sex to a relationship. Although women in committed relationships reported having sex as an expression of love or affection, casual sex was noted as purely physical, with emotional closeness barely making the list.

“As the archaic stereotype is that women engage in sex for emotional reasons, most mature people understand the concept behind a one night stand,” says *Jessica, a 27 year old community servant. “If you’re going into a one night stand expecting to be emotionally fulfilled, I think you should question your priorities.”

This is the main reason I don’t like to have one night stands. As I mentioned before, emotional fulfillment is high on my priority list, and I don’t receive my desired fulfillment from people I barely know – however, I have had casual sex simply because I found the person attractive and because it felt good. But did I feel empowered afterwards? No – because regardless of how good it felt physically, I felt like I was disrespecting myself by being intimate with someone who wasn’t committed to me. Does that mean I think women can’t have casual sex? Not at all. We’re all wired differently.

Take, for example, *Laura, a 28 year old heavy equipment operator. Even though she’s in a relationship now, she says that she had no problem having casual sex in the past and that she’d do it again. “With casual sex, the sex is the point,” she says. “Emotions never interfered.”

Laura thinks that regardless of gender, people experience emotions differently. So does Nicole, saying that casual sex isn’t something innate to either gender. “I do feel as though what we as women have been conditioned to believe that we need to be in love, while men just do it because they like sex. News flash: Women like sex too.”

So, if the factor determining whether or not a person feels good about casual sex is how they experience emotions rather than their gender, why then does it seem like women are more likely to feel more shame about their casual sexual encounters than men? Could it be that stigma is the only thing holding them back?

“I definitely feel like there’s still a stigma around women who have too much casual sex,” says Nicole. “Although I don’t think there’s anything wrong with having a moderate amount of casual sex, many of my peers would and therefore there are few who I disclose how many partners I’ve had with.”

Like Nicole, I find myself putting on a façade about how much casual sex I’ve had when it comes to talking to partners. I’m not sure why I do this. Perhaps I’m worried about them thinking less of me. But the truth is probably closer to that I think less of me. Even though I believe in women being free to explore their sexuality, caring about how you’re perceived in society often overpowers everything else.

“I believe stigma comes down to the basic idea that we fear what we don't understand,” says Jessica. “It may seem scary to think about someone who has multiple partners, but you probably wouldn't hear about the steps they take to be safe and respectful of anyone involved. I feel like the more women that I meet, the more open they seem to a person’s right to choose the lifestyle they want.”

So whatever you choose, whether that’s a one night stand or casual sex or a relationship, the only thing keeping you from feeling good about your choices is you. Only you know what you truly want out of sex – a raw, physical connection, emotional love-making or something in between – and that will come with time and experience. Like Jessica says, casual sex might sometimes require you to take a chance on a person, and sometimes there’s a slight misjudge of character. But it’s important not to dwell on regrets, as it’s just another step closer to knowing what you want.

“I think casual sex is normal and it’s okay to find yourself attracted to someone and fulfill your carnal needs with them,” says Nicole. “I do, however, find that too much of a good thing could lead to negatives – such as losing that sense of emotion because it becomes something you take for granted. Maybe when you do it with the one you love it becomes less intense and passionate.”

“I think I’m ready for relationship sex,” she says. “I mean, unless that takes a while and I meet a hotty in the mean-time.”

Published in Edmonton Woman Magazine.

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