Sex: it can make us feel infinite amounts of pleasure and assurance, but it can also make us feel like shit. But whyyy? We’re told that casual sex can be detrimental to our psychological well-being, and when you pair that with slut-shaming, fear of STIs, and (particularly in my case) religious parents who insist that sleeping around will result in eternal hellfire, it can be difficult to navigate a life of casual sex that’s free of anxiety and insecurity.
So the nagging question remains: how do we get the benefits of casual sex without all the negative repercussions?
Back in my early twenties, I did a lot of slutting around. I was drinking a lot at the time, and while I certainly had many exciting and unique sexual experiences during that period, I also ended up having a lot of sex simply because I was drunk and craved attention.
I also made the (lazy) mistake of sleeping with a lot of people within my friend group. I remember being at a concert one night with about 10 of my friends, and realising that I’d slept with every single one of them, male and female. It was sort of funny, but mainly I just felt tragic because it occurred to me that none of those sexual encounters had been particularly memorable, or even all that physically pleasurable (my vagina shuts off after about three drinks).
In the end, I associated more shame and regret with those experiences than I did pleasure and adventure.
Now, don’t get me wrong, I’m totally in favour of being an experimental sexual butterfly – sleeping with someone on a first date, fucking a stranger in a restaurant bathroom, blindfolded orgies, whatever – I say go for it. But what my negative sexual experiences taught me was that, like anything, there’s a right way and a not-so-right-way to go about it. And you don’t have to take my word for it – even science says it’s true.
A new study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior suggests that it’s not so much whether you have casual sex that impacts your mental health, but rather why you do it. According to self-determination theory, a well-established theory of human motivation and personality, when we do things for the ‘right’ reasons, our well-being flourishes. When we do those exact same things for the ‘wrong’ reasons, our well-being suffers. Clearly, motivation is a powerful thing.
Now let’s apply that logic to sex. So we have to ask ourselves: ‘Am I having casual sex for the “right reasons” or the “wrong reasons”?’ You know a decision is ‘right’ when it’s very clear and autonomous. For example: you (soberly) find someone attractive and interesting and want them inside you; you’re horny and curious to explore your sexuality; or, you think NSA sex is an important experience to have.
Now, here are some ‘wrongs reasons’ – peer pressure, because you’re drunk, to get revenge, or, because you’re secretly hoping that the casual sex will lead to something more serious while pretending to yourself that it’s purely physical and fun. See the difference?
Basically, it’s not about what or who or how many people you do, but rather how you go about it. It’s possible to have a small amount of sex in an unhealthy way, just like it’s possible to have lot of sex in a healthy, fun way. It’s conduct, not quantity, that makes the difference, and don’t let any of those puritanical and/or jealous slut-shamers make you feel otherwise. Having a lot of sex, in and of itself, is not a bad thing, no matter what your gender.
All rright, so now we know it’s OK to sleep around – yay! But before we go wild, there’s a few key rules that all happy hoes should follow to avoid getting burned: don’t sleep with a friend’s boyfriend/girlfriend; don’t sleep with a close friend’s serious ex; don’t sleep with someone you plan on having an ongoing professional relationship with (often a hard one!); and lastly, don’t sleep with a bunch of people within the same friend group. Because then you just become the been-there-done-that person, and that’s not very classy.
The moral of the story? Fuck wisely.
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This article originally appeared on The Debrief.