The psychology of casual sex

At some point in almost every college student’s life, they’ve had to make personal decisions regarding the time they’ve spent between the sheets. Young adults are often caught trying to figure out what kind of sexual relationship they seek from another person—whether it’s emotional, purely sexual or somewhere in between.

These decisions and choices are somewhat made through societal constructs, as well as through one’s own personal expectations. This stirs up the debate about how we have evolved as a society; a society that has somewhat shifted from perceiving casual sex as wholly immoral to one where casual sex is seen as an activity just as common as eating pizza.

In a world where casual sex is so easy to partake in—thanks to such social media outlets as Tinder and Grindr—technology has allowed for non-intimate relationships to blossom and to grow increasingly prevalent worldwide. Something this omnipresent should be examined from a psychological standpoint—examining whether or not there are psychological or emotional repercussions to having casual sex.

A lens that can be used in order to examine the repercussions of this behavior can be through gender binaries. For instance, the 2014 Journal of Sex Research study “Risky business: Is there an association between casual sex and mental health among emerging adults?” looked at heterosexual college students between the ages of 18–25. In the study, they compared the number of men who had engaged in casual sexual relationships to the number of women that had engaged in the same activities. The study showed that 18.6 percent of men—compared to the 7.4 percent of women—had casual sex in the past month.

These types of studies lead people to believe that men engage in more casual sex than women. But in a society where sexual activity is often more oppressive to females than it is to males, more males typically welcome sex as a normal healthy addition to their daily lives.

The mental repercussions from casual sex may only affect females based on the societal restrictions put on a female’s sexuality. She might feel it is wrong to engage in a sexual act when there isn’t an emotional connection with the other person. The same kind of pressure could be put on a male because the predominant heteronormative male culture promotes constructs that encourage men to engage in copious amounts of sex with numerous sexual partners.  

An additional study published in Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2015 examined the idea that there might be multiple factors in which casual sexual activity affects people. The study found that casual sex that was done for non-autonomous reasons had psychological repercussions. For example, if someone was casually having sex with someone else for revenge purposes or solely to make the other person happy in an abusive relationship, that reasoning could lead to psychological issues. But if a person was having casual sex for autonomous reasons—purely for self-satisfaction, for example—they were, for the most part, unaffected by this activity.

The conclusion of the question of whether or not casual sex is good or bad is that it’s purely subjective and changes from person to person. Overall, when engaging in casual or emotional sex, it should always be done with consent and will give you the most satisfaction when done for self-fulfillment.