For example, Sara, a year-old mother, had two casual partners, and linked at least one of these experiences to the effects of alcohol: Certainly, not every casual sex experience was related to substance use, but for some, it was an integral part of their narrative accounts and understandings about how these events unfolded.
Randy, a year-old male with six casual sex partners, a high school degree, and who works as a roofer, explains that the party scene can have an influential role in casual sex opportunities:. It was more or less, drunken friend with benefits. We went out for like a week, and only knew each other for like a month. Got a hotel together with a couple of friends, had sex that night, and about a week later, had sex again and then about two days later, never talked to her again.
Of course, it is not possible to disentangle completely motivational factors and after-the-fact rationalizations, as Paul and other researchers have previously suggested. As expected, a motivation for casual sex relationships was avoiding emotional entanglements. A number of respondents who participated in the qualitative interviews emphasized that casual sex partners were almost by definition not meant to involve the development of strong emotional feelings, which, for some, was an attractive feature of this type of relationship.
For example, Phil, an year-old high school senior who reported four casual sex partners during the past two years focused on the issue of lack of commitment. When asked if he wanted to become closer to his casual sex partner he said:. And there is like no weirdness between us. Like we could have sex one night and she would come over the next day and we would just kick it. Phil also stated that he did not think less of his casual sex partner because she was involved with him in this more casual way.
It is relatively rare to report that casual sex occurred in hopes of developing a future committed relationship. In line with these results, respondents noted that another appealing characteristic of casual sexual relationships was that there were fewer problems compared to committed romantic relationships. For example, James, an year-old high school dropout, reported five recent casual sexual partners. In connection with his longer qualitative interview, James suggested that in some respects he preferred these casual liaisons, as they involved fewer worries and demands compared with more serious relationships:.
Like we can have sex or whatever and then you know afterwards just go hang out or go, I can leave or she can leave, you know. Relying on a sample of university women, Hamilton and Armstrong reported a similar motivation.
Yet, the current study focused on a more diverse sample of young adults, highlighting that this motivation is not limited to those pursuing higher education. The qualitative data in particular provide a more nuanced appreciation of the timing and sequencing of involvement in casual sex and more serious relationships.
Reflecting their accumulation of experiences over time, some respondents indicated that they preferred casual sexual relationships over committed relationships because past boyfriends or girlfriends hurt them. Adam, a year-old who worked in an auto body shop, started having casual sex after he broke up with the only girl with whom he had been intimate. He reported a total of 26 casual partners said: Yeah, well she was the first girl I was ever with.
And for a long time she was the only girl I was ever with. Later on in the interview, Adam explained that his ex-girlfriend had an abortion, and he was very upset that he did not have a say in the outcome of the pregnancy. This influenced his perspective on relationships, and his current desire to avoid a serious level of commitment. Thus, the emotional pain from prior relationships influenced decisions about involvement in casual sex partnerships.
Certainly, this motivation is not unique to the young adult period, but it may be a more frequent pattern during this time simply because young adults as contrasted with early adolescents had often forged longer and more intimate relationships. Accordingly, the process of breaking up and forming another strong attachment may be viewed as a more difficult endeavor.
Casual sexual relationships were considered transitional in that respondents sometimes got involved when they were between two committed relationships. She was less invested in these relationships and noncommittal about them. When I dated those transitional guys I was still excited about talking to Justin. I mean we were emailing each other back and forth so. I guess I never really got him out of my mind and these guys were just like oh well. For Tori, casual sex was a way to fill a potential intimacy gap between two committed relationships, but she nevertheless described them as much less meaningful relative to her longer-term relationship with Justin.
Similarly, Tim, a year-old with four recent casual sex partners, explained that he used casual sex relationships as a way to get over a break up with a girlfriend:. Talk to people, get to know people before you jump into anything. Casual sexual relationships can fill the void during these transition periods.
Some respondents indicated that they were too busy to forge a committed relationship, noting that at this point in their lives they were heavily focused on other life course events and circumstances. However, this did not preclude involvement in more casual sexual encounters. Hamilton and Armstrong reported similar themes using a sample of female college students, but our results suggest that this rationale is also frequently invoked within this more diverse sample of young adults.
Jason, a junior enrolled in an online high school, reported two lifetime casual sex partners. When asked what he was looking for in a relationship currently he said: As of right now, a fling flang.
At the time of interview, Jason indicated that he was busy with his online courses, and focusing on getting into a postsecondary technical training program. Lindsay, a year-old university sophomore who reported two casual sex partners, explained that timing was the main difference between casual sexual relationships and committed relationships:.
Like when I dated Paul- right before I dated Terrell- I had just moved like- I had just - because I lived in the dorms my second year, not my first year of college. So I was doing everything like a year-like behind almost.
So, I was just moving away from home for the first time. I was on my own. I was not ready for a serious relationship at that time. At the same time, they were not willing to forgo all sexual relationships and experiences, and thus they chose to engage in casual sex. The young adult life stage is characterized by geographic mobility due to enrollment in school and moves for jobs and careers.
This mobility also appears to have implications for the character of romantic and sexual relationships. Kaleb, a year-old man working on small jobs, reported two casual sex partners, and explained that his sexual relationship remained casual because he knew that his partner was moving away to college.
When asked if she expected to have a committed relationship with her partner after having sex she said: And the long-distance thing would have never worked. The geographic distance makes Sara aware that her casual sex partner was unlikely to evolve into a serious romantic one, but she was nevertheless willing to follow through on feelings of attraction when they were together in the same location.
In other instances, individuals who participated in the in-depth interview indicated that they did not want to start romantic relationships in anticipation of moving in the near future. Even a temporary move prevented people from forming a committed relationship.
Violet, a year-old college student with six casual sex partners, explained why she did not want to have a romantic relationship: Violet felt that having a committed relationship would hold her back from fully experiencing the time she had carved out to study abroad. Table 2 suggests that this motivation is endorsed fairly frequently among those who report casual sex experience, and male and female respondents in this subgroup do not differ in their levels of agreement with this motivation for their involvement.
These findings paralleled the responses from the qualitative interviews. You know, too many things to do. These narratives revealed that many respondents accepted the general notion that there was an appropriate age when they should stop having casual sex, but they indicated that they simply had not reached it yet. Quinton, an year-old with four recent casual sex partners who just graduated high school explained how he was in the process of changing, but stopped short of a complete endorsement of involvement in a more settled relationship: The narratives revealed considerable diversity in these calculations, however, as some individuals within the sample believed that they had indeed reached an age when they were too old to have casual sex.
For example, Melvin who was mentioned earlier, explained why he no longer wanted to engage in casual sexual encounters:. I wanted to be serious with a female… Because I feel for one, just try. I mean I was what-twenty! I was getting older. However, many of the comments did reflect that this was a developmental phase and indicated that later on they may want to stop having casual sex and start to look for more serious relationships.
Such discussions about the place of casual sex similarly revealed that most individuals accepted the idea of eventually settling down, but varied significantly in the timetable they found desirable for this to occur. Even though casual sex most often was associated with low attachment, and was viewed as involving lower emotional risk compared to committed relationships, respondents recognized various consequences of their casual sexual behavior, and included references to both positive and negative consequences in their narrative accounts.
One of the most commonly reported negative consequences of casual sex was that someone was hurt emotionally. Another negative consequence was that casual sex can sometimes lead to confrontation if the sex partner was in a committed relationship with someone else. The positive consequences included eventually moving into a committed relationship or friendship, enjoying casual sex and wanting to continue the behavior, and getting approval from peers.
It is interesting and potentially important to note that these themes stress social rewards and costs, rather than detriments to health, as is often emphasized in prevention messages.
Even though casual sexual relationships were often forged with the idea of avoiding emotional entanglements, a number of male and female respondents reported getting emotionally hurt. For instance, Justin, a year-old with three casual sex partners, explained that he felt used by his reoccurring casual sex partner. When asked what he did not like about his casual sex relationship Justin said: I mean, a relationship, you should care about each other or something.
You should talk to each other. But I started finding myself having feelings for him, because of some of the things he would do for me.. He showed me he cared, in so many words. So um maybe about a month and a half ago, he stopped calling me just out of nowhere. You can tell me anything you want.
I know about your girlfriend. I know about your son. He had become involved with a new partner and moved in with her. Why would he want to go that route instead of stay with me? Where did I go wrong? Thus, for relationships that extended over a period of time, it is intuitive to expect that feelings of affection or interdependence might develop.
Ben, a year-old with nine casual sex partners and quoted below, described difficulties that he experienced when his partner was the one who became emotionally invested in what had started out as a causal relationship. Early in the relationship he told her that as he was headed off to college, he wanted to be free to socialize during this phase of his life. It ended up being way more of a psychological issue than what she thought it was going to be…She just got really attached.
It felt like she expected us to get married some day or something like that.. Sometimes casual sex occurred when one of the partners was in a committed relationship with someone else. Janis goes on to say that the casual sex partner and her boyfriend Jonathan, got into a physical fight. Thus, casual sex does not always preclude complications such as jealousy and conflict particularly when the casual sex activity is a result of cheating in a committed relationship.
As expected, respondents who had casual sex were not likely to report that love was a condition for sex. For example, Randy mentioned earlier described his definition of a casual sex relationship:. Want to come over? Carla was a freshman at a community college who reported four recent casual sex partners.
When asked how she came to the decision to have casual sex she said: Even when looking back at a casual sexual relationship, and a possible role of alcohol, Carla did not express that she felt remorse about her experience. In fact, she explicitly stated that she wanted to have that casual sexual relationship. As stated above, most casual sexual experiences were not formed with the idea of developing a romantic relationship.
Thus, casual sex was sometimes a step in the direction of a romantic relationship. For example, Tim, explained how he slept with his girlfriend the first day they met: The first time we had met and had sex the first day we met, the next time we got together we became boyfriend and girlfriend and that was monogamy right there. It is not typical, but committed relationships sometimes started as casual sex relationships.
Another possibility is that casual sex can lead to friendships. Kelly, a year-old with one casual sex partner, stated that her only casual sex partner became one of her close friends. For Kelly, casual sex was not an experience that she later regretted. She felt that the relationship brought her closer, although not in the traditional romantic sense.
This is consistent with other research that highlights vestiges of the double standard regarding sexual norms Kreager and Staff Although a small percentage of respondents reported that peer pressure was a motive for casual sex, some reported acceptance by their friends after casual sex. For instance, Kaleb, a year-old with two recent casual sex partners explained that he was accorded higher status with peers due to his greater experience with casual sex partners.
When asked about how his peer group influenced his participation in casual sexual relationships he said: It was a competition. The qualitative data revealed that peers have an influence beyond the initial decision to have sex as friends also emerged as a potential influence on the type of casual sex partner individuals chose. Carla, a community college student with four recent casual sex partners, explained that her friends supported her having casual sex, but only with certain types of men:.
This acceptance, along with other motivations described above could free up the individual to engage in further casual sex behavior. Thus, several respondents stated that they talked to their peers about their casual sexual experiences when they were younger, but not anymore. For instance, James, who dropped out of high school and had five recent casual sex partners stated: Thus, peer support appears as one source of motivation for engaging in casual sex, but the consequences for approval and need to share specific details with friends may be age-specific.
It is also important to underscore that the analyses of in-depth interviews focused heavily on young adults who reported casual sex experience. Thus, individuals without casual sexual experience who socialized with friends who hold more conservative beliefs would likely espouse motivations for refraining from such involvements and perceive more social censure and a broader range of consequences stemming from this pattern of behavior. The current analyses are consistent with prior studies in documenting that casual sexual experiences are relatively common occurrences during early young adulthood Lyons et al.
One of the major limitations of prior research, however, is the focus on negative precursors and consequences. This problem-focused lens has emphasized the role of alcohol as a precipitant Bogle , and exposure to sexual risk Poppen and feelings of regret Eshbaugh and Gute as important consequences.
Although these are critical to an understanding of casual sexual encounters, the qualitative and quantitative data we analyzed also reflect a high level of acceptance of these behaviors. In addition, motivations and consequences were not always cast in a negative light. This study corroborated results of prior research in that substance use Grello et al , sexual desire Regan and Dreyer , and a desire to avoid emotional attachment Hamilton and Armstrong were frequently endorsed as precipitants or sources of motivation for involvement in casual sexual relationships.
However, the results also highlighted multiple ways in which the nature of the early young adulthood phase, itself, influenced receptivity to these less serious relationships.
Respondents who participated in the qualitative interviews often framed these experiences as transitional, referencing geographic mobility, relationship transitions as well as their current focus on academic or career concerns.
Respondents highlighted more subjective considerations that appeared similarly life-course-specific. The narrative accounts nevertheless reflect diversity in the place of casual sex during this stage of life, as some of the older respondents claimed that they believed that they were getting too old for casual sex.
Further, these descriptions included frequent mention of previous serious relationships, or a desire to forge a more committed relationship in the future, suggesting that more intimate, long-term relationships were still considered desired goals over the long haul.
Indeed, the data revealed that a majority of the individuals who reported casual involvement had been involved in one or more traditional dating relationships as well, underscoring that these were not necessarily mutually exclusive sets of relationship experiences.
While these data complicate the traditional portrait of casual sex by including attention to positive features identified by these respondents, clearly these short-term relationships may also be associated with negative consequences for some of the individuals involved. For example, about half of the respondents noted some level of regret regarding their most recent casual sexual encounter.
However, an important consideration is that many of the specific negative consequences mentioned did not relate to health concerns e. Specific consequences mentioned within the context of the relationship history narratives included becoming emotionally attached and experiencing confrontations with committed partners. Although a number of prior studies have suggested distinctly gendered motivations and consequences for casual sex, the current analyses revealed only a few significant gender differences.
For example, both men and women reported relatively high agreement with items focused on physical pleasure and the role of substance use. However, men were more likely to endorse the view that they participated in casual sex because it was fun and were also more likely to agree with the idea that they were too young to be tied down.
Further, while peer considerations were not frequently mentioned as motivations by either gender, men more often than women stated that they had casual sex because their friends were doing it see also Garcia and Reiber However, the qualitative data provide a more complex window on these social dynamics, as women in the sample who had engaged in casual sexual encounters indicated that they often discussed these experiences with friends, and did not find that friends disapproved of their behaviors see Paul Male and female respondents infrequently endorsed these motivations suggesting that both men and women understood the sexual script that casual sex was meant to have less emotional attachment.
In analyses focused on perceived consequences, few gender differences were identified; however, men less often than women reported regret. These findings are similar to the Paul and Hayes qualitative findings on the broader behavior of hooking up in that women compared to men were more likely to have regret and shame after a hook up experience.
However, it is notable that a substantial share of women who reported casual sex did not indicate that they regret casual sexual experiences. It is also possible that men under-reported and women over-reported such feelings.
Future research may benefit from considering more subtle measures of the positive and negative consequences associated with casual sex, including feelings of regret. It is significant to note that in our sample men compared with women report more casual sex partners.
It is possible that the larger group of men was having casual sex with a smaller group of women with frequent involvement. Another reason that there may be a difference by gender is that men may overestimate and women underestimate their number of casual sex partners. Nevertheless, the gender difference in the number of casual sex partners was consistent with prior studies on casual sex behavior e.
Future research should include couple level analysis to determine if there is a true gender difference in casual sex partners or if the gender difference is a result of reporting bias. It is important to highlight that most casual sex relationships do not occur with strangers and most young adults indicate that they had sex more than one time with their casual partner.
Although young adults in casual sex relationships are not likely to be sexually exclusive, nor is sexual exclusivity expected as it would be in more conventional intimate relationships, these are relationships nonetheless, which may have longer term implications including evolving into a romantic relationship.
Thus, it is important that future research that studies motivations for and implications of young adult sexual relationships conceptualizes one-night stands from casual sex. This study had a few limitations, but represents an important first step.
The TARS contains specific questions on casual sex, including items on motivations and consequences, and the qualitative data provide further context for interpreting results of quantitative analyses. Nevertheless, the sample is regional and includes over-samples of non-white youth. Thus, these data cannot be used to calculate national estimates, or to generalize beyond the region encompassed by this sample. Further, the qualitative data are based on a non-representative subsample.
We hope the themes presented here might be developed into items used in larger scale social surveys. An important next step is to consider how adolescent experiences influence and shape casual sexual experiences in early adulthood.
Further, the current study focuses on heterosexual casual sex and thus additional research is needed using samples of young adults with same-sex casual sexual experiences. Certainly, couple data would provide important additional insights. Additionally, we asked respondents about their motivations for engaging in a casual sex relationship after the behavior occurred. It is possible that respondents changed their understanding of their motivations based on whether they regretted the experience.
Future research should include longitudinal data to determine if motivations change before and after casual sexual behavior. Finally, the data were collected in , suggesting the need to continue data collection efforts, and in particular to move beyond college samples to incorporate a range of distinctive life trajectories as influences on the nature and meanings of casual sex.
Future research on casual sex should also explore in more detail the role that identities play in decision-making about these behaviors. Casual sex was relatively common or normative for this age group, and young adults reflected this by stating that they were too young to be tied down. Additional research is needed on how other subjective appraisals e. The qualitative results suggested that individuals often used negative experiences with past romantic partners as a motive for participating in casual sex behavior, suggesting the importance of considering cognitive and emotional processes that trace back to earlier relationship dynamics.
Also, more research is needed to determine if young adults have less casual sex as they age because they gain the identity of adulthood or is it a result of transitioning into adult roles such as marriage.
Finally, future research should investigate the motivations of young adults who choose not to participate in casual sexual behavior. The relationship landscape of young adulthood is increasingly complex and requires attention to the full spectrum of relationship experiences. An earlier version of this manuscript was presented at the Population Association of America annual meetings. We appreciate the comments provided by Jennifer Manlove on an early version of the manuscript.
In their sample of college students, Armstrong et al. Lyons, Oakland University, ude. National Center for Biotechnology Information , U. Author manuscript; available in PMC Mar 1. Lyons , Wendy D. Manning , Monica A. Longmore , and Peggy C. Lyons Oakland University, ude. The publisher's final edited version of this article is available at Sociol Perspect. See other articles in PMC that cite the published article.
Conventional Motivations for Casual Sexual Activity Prior research has focused on general motives for participating in casual sex. Life Stage Motivations for Casual Sexual Activity Some motives for casual sex are more reflective of the young adult stage in the life course. Nearly all of these apps instantly give you a grid of profile pictures, helpfully arranged by gender and location closest to furthest away , along with the option to initiate contact, usually with a "wink," a "smile," a "nod," or some other relatively noncommittal digital display of interest.
If the other person responds to your initial foray, you have the option to chat via text or IM, send photos sext , and more. If it turns out the sexual interest is mutual, you simply make a plan to meet and do whatever it is that works for you. No muss, no fuss, just the sex, thank you very much. Most of the time you don't even need to exchange real names.
It's a bit like ordering takeout Chinese for dinner. Without doubt, plenty of folks think hookup apps are the best thing since sliced bread, while plenty of others view them as the devil's playground. And most of the time these opinions are about as grounded in impartial scientific research as my preference for mustard over mayo. I just think a sandwich is better with mustard, and that's the way it is. Simply put, some people think casual sex is a great way to learn about and experience sexuality, perhaps transitioning into a longer-term, more emotionally connected relationship later on.
Others see casual sex as a way to enjoy being both single and sexually active. Still others believe that sex without emotional commitment or marriage is a quick ticket to eternal damnation, or at least to low self-esteem, depression and emotional isolation. Interestingly, there are three relatively recent studies looking at casual sex and its impact on emotional health, all focused on young primarily college-aged adults.
The first study concluded that young adults both men and women who engage in casual sexual encounters do not appear to be at greater risk for harmful psychological outcomes than sexually active young adults in more committed relationships. The second study reached a different conclusion, finding that casual sex in young people both men and women was negatively associated with well-being and positively associated with psychological distress.
The third study found that socio-sexually uninhibited young adults both men and women typically report a higher sense of well-being after having casual sex when compared to not having casual sex -- meaning that casual sex can be a good thing for those who are into it. All three studies were limited in scope.
The first compared only sexually active young adults having casual sex to sexually active young adults in a committed relationship. The second compared only young adults who'd had casual sex in the last month to those who hadn't, regardless of whether they were in a relationship of some sort or otherwise sexually active. The third focused primarily on casual sex as a normative experience among young adults. Furthermore, as is typical with research on human sexuality, none of the studies looked at a broad demographic swath, particularly in regard to age.
As such, this conglomeration of research should be looked at as a jumping-off point for discussion rather than any sort of decisive, research-driven conclusion.
The lack of conclusive scientific research forces us to rely on social convention and personal opinion when discussing casual sex, which is hardly an ideal basis for making and defending a definitive proclamation. That said, here is mine: If casual sex doesn't violate your personal sense of integrity in terms of how you treat others, how you honor your commitments, and your individual moral code, then what you're doing is probably not going to cause you either short-term or long-term internal emotional distress.
No, casual sex is not for everyone.