Most people have engaged in casual sex at some point. And though there’s a puritanical faction out there that paints this as a negative (especially if you are a woman), it can be a really easy, fun way to make your body feel good without taking on the responsibilities that come with a full-on relationship. What’s not to like?
Some people will no doubt respond to that question by pointing out that casual hookups are meaningless and lack intimacy that feeds both body and soul. But recent research suggests casual sex and its relationship to intimacy is largely misinterpreted in the present culture. A new study conducted by an interdisciplinary team of researchers including Binghamton University faculty and researchers at Indiana University’s Kinsey Institute reveals not only that casual sex among young adults can be a source of intimacy, it frequently is.
To gather data, researchers provided a voluntary online questionnaire to several hundred college students. The questions dealt with affectionate and intimate activities — cuddling, spending the night, foreplay, and eye gazing, etc. — during sexual encounters that were either in the context of a romantic relationship or a casual hookup. As the researchers expected, more people got affectionate during relationship sex. However, the rate at which intimacy was a part of casual sex was much greater than hypothesized.
“We have a stereotype that casual sex (hookups) are just about meaningless sex, but this research shows this is not necessarily true,” said Ann Merriwether, a developmental psychologist and lecturer at Binghamton. “It shows intimacy is important and desired by many people, especially those who prefer hookups to more traditional relationships.”
Emerging adults, who stated they preferred casual encounters over those that were part of a relationship, were more likely to seek out intimacy and affection during hookups, suggesting they use that sex to meet their intimacy needs. Looks like it’s time to start reframing what casual sex means and to lighten up on the stigmas. Obviously, going down on someone in a bar bathroom isn’t gonna net a lot of intimacy points. But heading to someone’s apartment or dorm might include the full boyfriend or girlfriend experience, even if just for a night.