Navigating Casual Sex
It ain't what you do, it's the way that you do it.
Not everyone is able to be (or wants to be) in a long-term relationship; monogamous or otherwise. More people are relying on casual sex, friends with benefits (FWB) type arrangements or irregular connections for sexual pleasure. Folk in a variety of age ranges are opting for a ‘casual’ approach to sex and pleasure. But a lack of clarity around not only etiquette in these situations but also reverence for sex in general, coupled with cultural lack of respect for pleasure, means that such dalliances can go awry pretty easily. There is no rule book for how to negotiate the tricky terrain of casual encounters, hook ups or flings based mostly on sex and less on longevity. Previous generations offered marriage guidance which comprised mostly of rigid gender roles and obligations rather than discussions around consent, intention or pleasure. The hangover from this is we struggle to establish guidelines for how to talk about sex with prospective partners with whom we have a very particular set of intentions or (potentially) limited time.
So in order to celebrate casual encounters while also maintaining our integrity, here are a few considerations to make the journey of casual sex as pleasurable and mutually consenting as can be.
1. Own It
Unlike conventional hook-ups where 'it just happens', make a point of discussing your expectations; what you enjoy, what you're offering and your turn-ons. This can help not only build erotic tension but also help you decide if your dynamic with this person will be fulfilling whether for a one-off or a more frequent arrangement. At a basic level, this kind of communication will minimize confusion, hurt feelings and the potential for violated-boundaries. Whether you like rough sex, oral sex, 'alternative' sex or have certain no-go zones, these things need to be discussed, ideally in advance.
Sexual dynamics are inherent to both casual and long term relationships. Power, friction and balance are a very real and robust part of our sexuality, so learn to honor and respect them within yourself. Denying their presence will not make them go away but create miscommunication and problems. Nothing says "I'm a good lover" more than taking responsibility for your own pleasure and minimizing the guesswork.
2. Consider what you're offering — not just what you're getting
Being a desirable lover means being clear about what you're offering. Great sex is about much more than just going through the right motions. It's about mindful intentions. When you know what you're doing, what you're offering and most importantly, why you're there, your sexual potency increases. This is because you are:
- less inclined to be strategizing to "get your way"
- less anxious about being wanted; your cards are on the table
- able to focus and stay present with that you're feeling, experiencing and doing, leading to more fulfilling sex.
When we begin an interaction thinking only of what we can get, unspoken desires can sometimes interfere by leaking out as needy conversations or creepy gestures. Don't. Just don't. Instead, know what you're offering for honest and playful encounters.
3. Recognize the importance of sex
What differentiates mediocre sex from fulfilling sex is connection and reverence. Sometimes in the pursuit of pleasure, we forget that sex is a core human need, like food and shelter, yet doesn't command the same levels of respect. Historically, sex has been blamed for manipulative or despicable behaviour in dating. But it needn't be this way. Respecting sex as something of value is a choice. By honoring its value, you are also creating permission for your lover to do the same. In fact, honoring sex, no matter how fleeting, means honoring yourself, your lover and the moment between you.
4. Don't be mean
This is one of my favourite lessons from Kate Bornstein. The principle, in context, is in recognizing that sex, emotions and boundaries are sometimes difficult to discuss. The antidote is to cultivate regard for your lover, for yourself and for what you’re doing. Recognize the person you're negotiating with has feelings and vulnerabilities just like you. No need for intense conversations about them, but if your new lover sets a boundary, don't undermine them by insulting their request, mocking or pushing your agenda. It may mean that you are actually not a good pairing, but that's better to know in advance, rather than resorting to nasty tactics later.
5. Learn safer sex practices
This includes making condoms and lubricant part of your permanent sexual repertoire. Be risk aware regarding the body fluids including saliva, vulva juices, semen and (menstrual) blood and have regular sexually transmitted infection (STI also called STD * disease) checks every 6- 12 months depending on your lifestyle. Visit your doctor or find a sexual health clinic in your city.
The good news is many (but not all) STIs are treatable. But many have few symptoms; so you could be a carrier of conditions like herpes, chlamydia or warts (HPV, the condition which has been associated with cervical cancer) and not even know it. Unfortunately, no amount well-wishing will prevent you contracting an STI. From a holistic health perspective, prevention really IS the best cure.
Honesty, kindness and reverence will not only make you a better lover, but will help you cultivate positive communication with your FWB, a greater chance of getting your needs met or having rewarding interactions and a healthy attitude toward erotic pleasure.