Hookup Culture and the Myth of Casual Sex (College Post #5)

As a rising college sophomore, I have witnessed my fair share of sexual relationships that for once were not fictional. Contrary to popular belief, I do not think anyone can isolate sex as a physical activity free of emotional implication. I am not saying that sex is bad, that empowerment through sex is phony, or that people who have a lot of sex should be condemned. Rather, I argue that sex is a complex subject that people should think about, because it has so many intricacies and ramifications for those involved.

Even Katy Perry's seemingly innocent "Birthday" is filled with sexual innuendos. Speaking of birthdays, mine is this Sunday... so you should read and comment on this post as a gift. :)

Even Katy Perry’s seemingly innocent “Birthday” is filled with sexual innuendos. Speaking of birthdays, mine is this Sunday… so you should read and comment on this post as a gift. Just kidding. Sort of.

Sex is almost never just sex. People who praise the idea of casual sex say that it boosts self-esteem, liberates women, and that it just “feels good.” But studies show that none of those things are always true. Of course women might feel freer after participating in no-strings-attached sex, but research reveals that they still get the short end of the stick compared to men, both physically and in regard to language. It’s tempting to view sex solely as a sign of empowerment or purely as an act of wanton lust, when in reality it has both positives and negatives.

Furthermore, people possess different motivations for engaging in sexual activity. It could be used to fill a desire to feel wanted, to add depth to an already existing relationship, or just to enjoy the experience itself. The underlying reasons matter, because certain motivations have a higher chance of leading to feelings of depression and anxiety, no matter how great the physical pleasure. Even though thinking or talking about sex might seem shallow due to certain connotations within society, discussing its deeper significance can bring a more holistic fulfillment and understanding not just of sex, but of oneself.

In my Social Psychology class last semester, we learned about misattribution of arousal, or the idea that people are often inaccurate when trying to label why they feel the way they do. In a well-known experiment conducted by Dutton and Aron (1974), participants walked across either a scary bridge or a safe one, and then an attractive woman gave them her phone number. Results indicated that men who walked across the scary bridge were more likely to call her, because they misattributed their fear from the bridge as an increased liking toward the woman. When people engage in sex, a multiplicity of feelings might arise, either from proximity or sexual arousal or any number of emotions – it’s almost impossible to call this experience “just” sex.

People have different definitions of “casual sex.” I agree that it’s possible to have a sex outside of a romantic relationship. No matter what, though, sex is not simple – it is complicated and physical and natural and emotional all at once. Which, really, is what makes it beautiful.

Speaking of beautiful, here is a wonderful picture of Brian and Justin from Queer as Folk. AKA, the show that will reveal just how deep and meaningful sex can be. Image via https://stuffandwhatever.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/justinbrian.jpg.

Speaking of beautiful, here is a wonderful picture of Brian and Justin from Queer as Folk. AKA, the show that will reveal just how deep and meaningful sex can be. Image via https://stuffandwhatever.files.wordpress.com/2010/10/justinbrian.jpg.

What do you guys think? I’m assuming that all of you are at least in high school, so you can be as detailed or as vague as you like, but what observations or thoughts do you have about the idea of casual sex? On a random note, I shared this post on Facebook, so now I’m wondering whether people think I’m some sort of sexual cretin – but, whatever, the cold people’s opinions never bothered me anyway. You can also check out my thoughts on How to Save a Life by Sara Zarr here if you’d like, and I hope you all have a wonderful day!

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34 Comments

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34 responses to “Hookup Culture and the Myth of Casual Sex (College Post #5)

  1. happy early birthday, thomas! :)

  2. Gary Pete

    when I was young & foolish (and drinking a lot) I found that promiscuous, anonymous sex was unsatisfying, unfulfilling
    and sometimes just plain disgusting – I think that sex should be “the frosting on the cake,” so to speak – the right time,
    the right place and the right person, in a loving, committed relationship – so that it actually means something

    • Interesting perspective! While I’m sorry that you felt unfulfilled and unsatisfied with some of your earlier sexual escapades, I’m glad that you’ve reflected upon those experiences and now know what’s right for you. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  3. Haha. I like how you slipped in that little piece of info about it being your birthday. Happy birthday. Here is my gift of a comment. I think casual sex is okay as long as both people know what it is. I think there is always one person who likes the other more which is where there are problems. I’ve written a lot about my single dating days. I never thought of any of them as casual sex. I assumed every time that they could be ‘the one.’ Naive? I like to think romantic. Interesting post as it’s not a subject we hear you writing about much.

    • Thank you for the birthday wish! And I agree, one of my friends told me that in an ideal world people would be able to have completely casual sex where they both feel the exact same way with one another – but that rarely happens because emotions are so convoluted. Perhaps I’ll write more posts in this vein later on, ha. Thank you also for reading and commenting, as always.

  4. Laras

    I think I can agree with you there. Surely, when you engage in sex, you take away something. People don’t necessarily connect that with the bond made during sex but you find things like empowerment, feel-good, confidence – it is a personal satisfaction to be found within another.

    • I agree, sometimes unexpected connections might form during casual sex unrelated to the other person involved. Great positive insight. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  5. Happy Birthday for Sunday, I hope you have a great day!
    Personally, I have never engaged in casual sex with strangers, so I can’t comment that but I have dabbled in friends with benefits before – something I definitely regret now! I really struggled to separate my emotions from sex which resulted in two years of heartbreak.
    I do however salute anyone who is able to do so!

    • I’m sorry you went through that period of heartbreak, though I hope it’s resulted in growth and a heightened self-awareness. It’s great that you still wish the best for others even if you didn’t have the best experience yourself in that field. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  6. When humans attempt philosophy, they should use the right words to describe what they mean. Sex without any attachments doesn’t mean sex without any feelings. You can’t have sex with someone that you don’t like and call it fun. It simply means that you don’t like that person enough to desire a relationship, beside sex.As to why women feel like they ‘get the short end of the stick’, I thought a lot about it and it occurred to me that maybe is because they’re the ones that accept someone inside their body (well, a part of them :P) and that makes them feel vulnerable and results in higher emotional intensity. Therefore, that’s why the general idea that women have sex with feelings and men don’t.

    On another note, Happy early Birthday!

    • You’re right, it’s important to define terms well and to communicate the best you can in order to avoid confusion or hurt feelings. And that’s an interesting thought about why women might feel more emotionally invested – one of my female friends said something super similar so maybe you’re onto something. If only research could be done on this topic, though that would be difficult considering all the technicalities involved. Thank you for reading and for your thoughtful comment!

  7. Happy Birthday to be Thomas!

    Casual sex….it is not anything I could ever consider. So I never gave it much thought. And I really don’t have much to add to this post but wanted you to have another present. ;)

  8. Happy (early) Birthday, Thomas!!

    “No matter what, though, sex is not simple – it is complicated and physical and natural and emotional all at once. ” *nods* Such a great, thought-provoking post! (especially loved reading about that “experiment” ;) And what’s my stance on casual hookups? I’m not against them (they sometimes… happen), but I have to agree, sex is never just sex, never just an… act. And I don’t think it would be better/easier if it were (we are humans not animals after all)

    And thanks for the Brian and Justin pic! You make me want to re-watch it! :D

    • Aw, I always love reading and responding to your kind and enthusiastic comments! I agree that simplifying sex wouldn’t make it any better – we should appreciate it in all of its complexities and conundrums. So glad that you’re a Queer as Folk fan who regularly comments on my blog, it means so much to me… thank you!

  9. Happy almost birthday! :)
    I’m not bothered by casual sex, but I worry that people who ONLY engage in casual sex are always trying to push away the emotions that come with it, and so when they get into a committed relationship it might be hard to let themselves actually experience those feelings.

    • Sabina, I agree, too much of one thing is almost never a good thing. People should strive for a healthy balance, and repeated casual sex used as a repression tool might damage that. Thank you for reading an commenting!

  10. At the end of the day, even if a person likes to admit it or not, causal sex or promiscuity is an attempt to fill a hole or achieve something (they think) unattainable – like love! Loose Girl: A memoir of Promiscuity by Kerry Cohen would show you this perspective.

    • Intriguing perspective, and I think I agree with you, though I wonder if there are people who exist who are perfectly content with their lives but still engage in casual sex. Thank you for the book recommendation, I’ll be sure to read it when I can! I’m reading Female Chauvinist Pigs right now, by the way.

      • Yes, I saw that on goodreads. (I follow you on goodreads, if you didn’t know.) I hope you like it.

        To respond to your curiosity, I believe there are people who are content with their lives yet engage in causal sex. And I don’t think they have any concrete reasoning other than mere addiction to sex and power. The power to control women, the power to manipulate their power in any way they see fit, the power to know that they are able to do anything they want, etc.

  11. I understand that for some there is a lot of emotional involvement in sex, and I think that’s okay as long as both people involved in the casual sex realize one thing: feelings are okay as long as you don’t act like a crazy person. If one person ends up getting a little more emotional they need to just end the relationship if the other person doesn’t want more. It’s tough not to act a little crazy when you fall in love with someone, but self restraint is the important part of keeping sex casual.

    • That’s a new thought I haven’t seen in the comments; self-restraint can definitely help when it comes to relationships. Perhaps self-restraint is important because it allows for mature and effective communication – hopefully it doesn’t get to the point where self-restraint is impossible and that leads to more damaging repercussions. Thank you for reading and commenting!

  12. Ron

    So many clichés….empowerment, self esteem, liberation… all hogwash.

    I have not been promiscuous throughout my life and have no regrets about that. Sex seems to have become another throw away amusement device, another commodity, something to be exploited to garner television ratings or some sort of movie industry statue.

    From the time I lost my virginity, now 5 months shy of 35 years ago to this very moment, I have never felt any of the wonderful, life changing benefits seemingly promised by those clichés. I have only been with a few people, most of those experiences I am more than happy to now commit permanently to the trash heap of history. The people I hung around with at the time of my first experience turned out to be self centered, narcissistic a-holes more interested in feeding their own egos than admitting the truth about their own lives. In retrospect, this experience probably kept me from being promiscuous. There were a few others before I was married, including a married woman, but today, I honestly ask myself what was I thinking back then?

    Call me old fashioned, backwards, and yes, I am conservative, but do we not need to keep something reserved, something special for that special someone who is not going to be a cheap, throw-away amusement device?
    Somebody that we do NOT brag about?

    And, by the way, if you go the route of chastity, it will not kill you, I promise. It will not make you more or less of a human being. Just helps prevent ringing bells that can not be un-rung.(sic???)

    • Glad to have your perspective, Ron! I agree that here’s nothing wrong with not engaging in casual sex – everyone should feel free to do (and not do) whatever they wish. While sex may enhance some things within a relationship, you make it clear that it can cause disadvantages if we do not consider its more lasting repercussions. Thank you so much for your thoughts; I feel like others who have commented bring a younger point of view, as in they are literally younger, but it’s wonderful to have someone share his opinion who’s had years of experience under his belt.

  13. That’s a fascinating psychology study about missattribution, I’ve never come across that one before! Great stuff and happy birthday, Thomas!

  14. I love your blog! I always find your posts really interesting and get me thinking afterwards. I somehow feel related when you write stuff about your life.

  15. Andreas

    Hey Thomas! Yet another awesome post. :D I personally think that casual sex is different from what people are going to experience when they are actually in a relationship or even better, in a marriage. Of course, I have done it and I don’t support nor condemn it. Although, I feel like I’m more to the opposition side now, for many reasons. I did it because I was curious and I actually wanted to experience it. Lol. And I absolutely agree that sex is beautiful and it’ll be even more beautiful when we do it with the person that we love.

    • Andreas, it’s great that you possess a nuanced view toward casual sex, and it’s wonderful that you acknowledge that it’s not just a good thing or a bad thing. I feel like, from reading all of these comments, sex can be something that augments an already existing relationship to make it even more powerful. Thank you for your thoughtful comment and for reading this post!

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