Greta Christina wrote a post listing 5 reasons why she not only likes casual sex, but why her casual sex was a positive activity in her life. That has prompted me to write my own.
In her article, she points out that people keep getting baffled by the idea of women who have sex for its own sake. People insist on believing that women "have sex for love, commitment, poor self-control, to manipulate men, to please men, to make babies, to sooth their low self-esteem, and just about any reason at all other than their own pleasure. (While men, of course, are rutting horndogs who just want to stick it in the nearest wet hole available.)"
And, while those reasons certainly do exist for many women, that is not the only reason why women have sex, and, I would dare to say, not the primary reason why women collectively have sex. If anything, I believe those are more often justifications that women give for why they have sex, because they are not supposed to admit to liking it (although there are, of course, women, and men, who do not like sex).
As she says, "They're not asking, "Why do some women have casual sex?" They're asking, "Why on earth would some women have casual sex, when it's so clearly a bad idea that will do them and other women harm and is obviously not in their best interest?" And they're doing this despite research showing that casual sex isn't, in fact psychologically harmful for young adults. They're basing their questions on the common assumption that women's natural state is to keep their legs closed unless they've got their hands on marriage or commitment... and that women who don't are some sort of baffling phenomenon that needs to be explained."
So she thought she'd explain it. And I also thought I'd explain my own reasons in my own words. My own reasons are actually very similar to hers, so on the one hand I'm throwing my weight in to say "yep, other women have sex for pleasure too". But my reasons are not identical to hers, so on the other hand, I'm also saying "there are lots of reasons why women have sex, and procreation or to manipulate men are not always among them."
- Fun. This is Also Greta Christina's number one reason. I have sex because it's fun. I have casual sex because it's fun. It feels good to have someone that I find attractive touch and rub bits of me that respond positively to touching and rubbing and it feels good to elicit similar responses in someone else. I have body parts with nerve endings that seem to exist for no other function than to provide physically pleasing sensations and an innate drive to find at least one other person to stimulate those nerve endings. The whole idea of people being baffled by the reason for sex being "because it feels good" or "because it's fun" or "because I want to" is just nonsensical. I know that there are other reasons for having sex, and I'm even going to give my own other reasons. But to be confused by this reason just baffles me.
- Experimentation. This is also Greta Christina's number two reason, but it happens to be mine too. As she says, while having casual sex with a lot of different people, I was also having lots of different kinds of sex. I ballroom dance (I promise this is related), but I don't exactly have ballroom training. I have what's called "social dance" training. That's where they teach a bunch of non-dancers some traditional ballroom steps, but then they mix and match the dance partners so that you never get to learn any particular person's style so well that you actually skip learning how to dance and just learn that partner. The object of "social dance" is to be able to dance socially, not to win competitions or put on performances. It's not enough to know where to put your feet. You have to also know how to read the signals your partner is giving you. This is so that you can go to any dance event, like the company holiday party or your cousin's wedding, and be able to cut a rug no matter who you're dancing with.
This is what casual sex did for me. I didn't just learn technique, and I didn't just learn a particular partner's preferences. I learned how to read my partners, how to experiment, how to try new things, and how to communicate about trying new things. I learned some things about sex that I would never had learned if I hadn't had some of the casual sex partners that I had, and consequently some of my current partners may never have discovered that thing they like that I introduced them to, that I learned from casual sex.
And I didn't just learn things about other people. I also learned things about myself. I learned that some things about myself that I thought were weird were totally normal, and some things I thought were normal were actually pretty weird. That was a good thing, because it taught me how to better communicate to my partners those things that are particular to me that they might not have experienced before with their previous partners. I learned what works for me and what doesn't, and I learned that some things that I thought "worked" and "didn't work" for me were not universal truths, but things particular to that partner. That taught me to not give up and to try things a couple of times before deciding that it's not for me. And consequently, I learned about some really awesome things that weren't that great the first couple of times.
Greta Christina makes a very good point when she brings up the fact that it was easier to explore and express her "freakier desires" with fuckbuddies than with romantic partners. When we are not emotionally attached to the outcome of the experience, or the longevity of the relationship, it can be a liberating feeling, which may contrarily allow us the freedom to express things that are harder to express with a trusted, emotionally-connected partner. It sounds counter-intuitive, I know. But if you really really really want your partner to stick around, you might be afraid of revealing something that could send him running for the hills. Whereas if you don't care too much if you freak this guy out, you might feel safer telling him your deep dark secret because it won't hurt as much if he leaves because of it. Ironically, the lack of or lesser amount of emotional intimacy can sometimes increase our feelings of emotional safety.
And one of the things that casual sex taught me is that I do not like that counter-intuitive feeling of lower intimacy = greater safety. So I learned, from my casual sex partners, how to be more free, more expressive, and more exploratory with my romantic, long-term partners. In fact, I intentionally sought out a long-term romantic partner who would help me to break down this particular wall. Which, by the way, is something else that casual sex taught me - how to approach and go after relationships that I want and to feel comfortable in engaging in relationships that serve a particular function or purpose, providing that the other person is aware of and agrees to that function or purpose.
I've learned A LOT about love and relationships from casual sex.
- Pleasure without unwanted commitment. Yep, again, this is also Greta Christina's third reason and mine too. But the reasons why we didn't want commitment and why we were single are different. Most of the time, being single wasn't exactly a "choice" for me. Most of the time, being single was because I couldn't find someone who was interested in me, or who was interested in me but wanted different things from a relationship than I wanted. I'm a very independent sort of person (no, it's true!) and a lot of young men and teens seem to be afraid of independence. I was engaged twice before I was old enough to legally drink, both at the urging of my male partners, not because I fell for any of that "a woman isn't worth anything without a husband" crap. My parents were adamant that I not get "tied down" until after I graduated college and started a career - a career that I was expected to maintain after marriage, and my catholic high school was all about female empowerment and female contributions to society that included, but was not limited to, producing the next generation. So both of my engagements were not because I was the one pushing for them.
But I never really wanted to be "single" either. I just wanted to have relationships with people where I didn't get lost in the relationship. I wanted to still be me and I wanted him to still be him, but I didn't seem to be finding that. I kept finding people who wanted to be "us", as if we were a single entity. Y'know, two halves of a whole and all that. I've seen what happens to people when they lose themselves in a relationship and I think that's horrifying.
On top of that, for a large portion of my dating life, I was in school or working a job with unusual demands, so I just didn't have the resources to be that responsible for another person's emotional fulfillment. I had papers to write and projects to finish, and later when I started working, I had to cancel appointments and dates because work called and I had to go. Romantic partners all seemed to want more of my time and attention than I had to give, and they were making their emotional satisfaction with the relationship dependent on how much time and attention I gave them. Casual partners did not do that. I even had some very intimate and emotionally close relationships with some of my fuckbuddies. But that lack of intention, that lack of pressure to serve someone else's needs that comes from a casual relationship allowed me to do those things that were important to me like school and work while still maintaining some kind of connection to another human being, as well as have fun sexy times that I am so biologically driven to desire.
I'm finding, now that I'm older and polyamorous, that there is much less of that kind of intense, fearful stranglehold on me as a romantic partner. Maybe other people have different experiences. If I were to judge by Sex And The City, I might think that men have the exact opposite problem as they get older, with women becoming more intense, more fearful, and more strangleholdy, as they start to think that their options are dwindling and they're running out of time. But I don't think that's universal, and I think a lot of people, including women, are finding more of a comfortable interdependence with their partners as both they get older and as our society matures. So with the apparent abundance now of men who aren't trying to "lock this thing down" and who don't expect me to be responsible for their every happiness, I find I am much more likely, nay, actively interested, in developing closer emotional bonds with people as well as more intentional commitments. And, as a consequence, my plate is full and I just don't have the time for casual partners anymore because I have a job, I have hobbies, I have sex, and I have emotionally intimate relationships that are now all taking my limited time.
- Confidence. Greta Christina actually lists her #4 as "independence and confidence", but I was already independent. Casual sex didn't teach me that. If anything, casual sex taught me how to be interdependent instead of so independent. But it did give me confidence. Growing up, I was the geek that everyone picked on, except I wasn't accepted by the geeks either. I was too skinny, too introverted, too smart, and too socially awkward to be accepted by the cool kids, and yet I was terrified of being lumped in with the geeks so I didn't fit in with them because I didn't seem to be smart enough and I wasn't interested in comics or band or gaming or astronomy or any of the other geeky things that bound them together. From an early age, I was told I was ugly and weird and I'd never have a boyfriend.
So when the first guy who expressed an interest in me came along, I was flattered and flabbergasted. And when he dumped me after making out with me but before his friends could find out that we were "dating", I was heartbroken. Eventually, though, I started to realize that people did like me. Some people thought I was attractive (which I still have trouble believing, to this day) and some people enjoyed being around me, and sometimes both of those types of people were found in the same individual. But the ability to turn someone's head and to make him feel good in bed, and his desire to make me feel good in bed made me feel strong, powerful, likable, and attractive.
The problem with this explanation is that it sounds as though I am using sex for self-esteem. And maybe I did when I was a teenager. But the implications with labeling it "using sex for self-esteem" is that this is an inherently flawed and possibly dangerous method for bolstering self-esteem, that it won't work, that it's a desperate grab for something by desperate (read: pathetic) people who will never reach what they are grasping for.
And that's not how it was for me at all. I learned confidence and self-love through casual sex in much the same way that I also learned confidence and self-love through public speech class and drama and, surprisingly enough, through the sci-fi community and conventions. For some reason, if a person wants to develop self-confidence, and they take a drama class, we don't think of them as being "desperate" or warn them that drama will only make them feel worse about themselves in the morning. Like Greta Christina, casual sex taught me the power of adventure. Through experimentation and exploration, I learned to be adventerous, both in bed and out of bed. And being adventerous is being self-confident. I am willing to take risks, to explore, to try new things, because my confidence has taught me that even bad experiences, as Greta and my old college film producer both say, can make for good stories. This extends to every area of my life. I got into rock climbing because of a casual sex affair, and now I walk an 18-inch steel girder 60 feet in the air because it's fun and it's thrilling and because I know I can. My self-confidence doesn't make me reckless. If anything, I have also learned what I can't do and what I shouldn't do. As Francis Bacon says,
"Your true self can be known only by systematic experimentation, and controlled only by being known."
Casual sex taught me that long before I ever heard the quote. Knowing what I can and can't do, and knowing that adventure and curiosity brings more experiences and more self-understanding, makes me self-confident.
- Polyamory. This is different from Greta's #5, but I think it's related. Casual sex led me to polyamory. I had all the same fucked up ideas about relationships that any other person can have, growing up in this society. I thought that, when I started to fall in love with someone new, it must mean that I was no longer "in love" with the person I was dating at the time. I thought that merely being attracted to someone new meant that there was something wrong with my relationships. I wanted sexual diversity and excitement, but thought I was wrong for wanting them. I wanted both lack of "commitment" and emotional intimacy, but believed I could only have one or the other.
Every time I got fed up with the suffocating side-effects that comes from dating emotionally-insecure and immature monogamous people, I would swing to the far extreme and go for totally emotion-less casual sex partners - and as many as I could find. Eventually, I would get irritated at the lack of emotional intimacy and find a single person I could bond with to provide it. Which would then spark another round of getting-antsy, suffocating possession, too much expectation, etc., which would push me into more casual sex relationships.
After a few rounds of that, I saw the pattern. Monogamy taught me what I didn't want out of a relationship - that suffocation, that sense of possession, that emotional insecurity in my partners, that desire to place all their expectations out of life on me, that loss of identity for the merging of two personalities. This doesn't mean that all monogamy is like that. It means that, through my monogamous experiences, this is what I learned that I don't want.
But casual sex taught me what I do want - diversity and intimacy simultaneously, freedom and responsibility simulteanously, adventure and stability, and the encouragement for each individual to explore and grow and become more of themselves without the fear that doing so would harm the relationship. This is what I got out of my casual sex relationships, and it is what taught me that these sorts of seemingly opposing wants were possible. This is what my polyamory looks like. Even though I rarely have casual sex partners while I have "serious" relationship partners, those things that I wanted from my relationships, and got from my casual sex partners, is what led me to discover the word, the practice, and the community, of polyamory, which led me to my current polyamorous family, which is everything I ever wanted in relationships, even before I knew what I wanted.
I have nothing but positive feelings for my casual sex experiences - even those that didn't work out the way I wanted them to at the time. They were good for me in many ways and I benefited from them greatly. If given the opportunity, I would have casual sex experiences in the future too. The only reason I don't now is because I'm polysaturated - I don't have time, emotional energy, or sexual capacity for any romantic or sexual relationships other than the ones I currently have, an that includes even low-maintenance casual sex. As long as both people have similar goals and expectations for the relationship, I recommend casual sex as an enjoyable experience with the proper safety precautions.
Greta ends with "It gets better". Like her, not all of my individual casual sex experiences were good and not all were done for healthy reasons. But, also like her, not all of my relationships were good and not all were done for healthy reasons. But, again like her, I got better as I went along. I learned and I grew and I had fewer of those bad experiences and more of those positive experiences. Just like my serious romantic relationships. Each one was an improvement on the one before it, with only a sprinkling of setbacks here and there.
And my serious romantic relationships got better because of my casual sex experiences. My serious romantic relationships are better because of the confidence I gained and the insight about myself that I gained. They're better because I learned about interdependence and stopped holding on so tightly to strict independence. They're better because my sexuality is diverse and I'm more knowledgable about my body. They're better because I learned how to communicate and negotiate better. They're better because I learned to just enjoy sex and pleasure for their own sakes, and because I learned, through having casual sex and non-traditional relationships, that things don't have to be permanent to be valuable, which, in turn, has made me receptive, and therefore available to enjoy so many more types of relationships, and so many more types of experiences, than those only-til-death-do-we-part-has-meaning-and-value types.
Not everyone will have good casual sex experiences, and not everyone will be able to enjoy them. And that's fine. But casual sex is not inherently bad, and, in fact, has quite a few benefits going for it, for those open to exploring them. Casual sex benefited me and my current long-term, serious, committed relationships are better because of the casual sex experiences I've had.