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How Young Adults Can Navigate Casual Sex


young adults engaging in a Casual Sex relationship

Casual sex and hookup culture have become common practice amongst young adults. When someone thinks of hookup culture, things like friends with benefits relationships, being strung along, situationships, booty calls, and one night stands might come to mind. With all that comes in the package of casual sex encounters, how can people navigate casual sex in a mentally, emotionally, and physically safe manner?


What Defines Casual Sexual Encounters?


A common understanding of casual sexual activity is when two or more adults consent to a sexual relationship with no romantic strings attached. Primarily amongst college age students and young adults, casual sex, or having a friend with benefits, is a method of having sexual pleasure and satisfaction without the commitments a long term committed relationship elicits.


Casual sexual experiences can be utilized in making space for sexual exploration, new experiences, and sexual gratification outside a romantic relationship that some may not be currently interested in, or for those who would like to enjoy a satisfying sexual encounter while single.


Psychoanalyst, Paul Joannides, highlighted three most common forms of casual sex. No strings attached, recognized as sexual intimacy with a person who is more of an acquaintance, someone connected via dating app, one night stand, etc. The second form, Friends with benefits, often engage in casual sex with a known friend to be intimate with. Lastly, casual sexual acts with an ex partner is a more complicated form of casual sex when a familiar partner is the craving.


No strings attached and friends with benefits are possibly the more popular option among men and women college students for casual sex, as they allow for the trust and intimacy of a familiar face and repeat sexual partner compared to a sudden one night stand. Though people of all genders can and do participate in casual sex experiences.


How Young Adults Can Navigate Casual Sex


Navigating casual sex can be confusing or even difficult depending on the situation. Many people have heard, or experienced, the horror stories of hookup culture. People have claimed to be exclusive sexually but were in fact not, some feeling like they are being strung along with promises of a romantic relationship (i.e., breadcrumbing), or being victim to various forms of sexual, mental or emotional manipulation or abuse at the hands of a casual partner.


Additionally, people who partake in casual sex can face degrading stereotypes, slut-shaming, and face the hypocritical societal notion that men having engaging in higher rates of of casual sex is standard procedure but a woman doing the same is unladylike.


On the flip side, casual sex has also been known for being an avenue for those in a stage of sexual exploration, to have a no strings attached partner who reliably and safely provides mutual sexual satisfaction.


First and foremost, honesty, communication comprehension, and transparency are integral components of having causal sex in an enjoyable and ethical manner. Casual sex can be a mutually beneficial one night or reoccurring relationship if boundaries are set and respected. All parties involved should always be on the same page around the dynamic and expectations of the relationship, even when the goal is to stay casual.


Health communication with a casual sex partner can look like being honest and transparent about intentions at the beginning of a casual relationship, whether there is a possibility for a romantic relationship developing, telling the other if unanticipated romantic feelings begin to develop, and being honest if said feelings aren’t reciprocated. Similarly, setting sexual boundaries or making certain sexual needs known to one another can help ensure a sexually satisfying experience.


Casual Sex & Sexual Safety


Sexual safety while in a casual sex dynamic is critical, especially if the casual hookups are non monogamous. Having a conversation surrounding sexual safety from sexually transmitted infections and pregnancy prevention can be uncomfortable depending on the level of familiarity one may or may not have with a new sexual partner but is still a critical component of safe casual sex.


Get intentional with discussing and normalizing discussing a sexual safety protocol. It can be helpful to have frequent check ins with a partner around when they were last tested and what contraceptives need to be used. Contraceptives can look like condoms, dental dams, birth control pills, etc.


Beyond getting intentional and having ongoing discussions with casual sex partners, outlining and respecting boundaries around sex is of equal importance. Some people may not want to use a protection barrier, others may see them as mandatory and nonnegotiable; same for those who are in exclusive relationships. Some may insist on only having one casual sex partner while others prefer sexual non-monogamy. These are all conversations that can be beneficial to have at the start of a casual relationship to keep everyone physically and emotionally safe.


Sexual safety goes further than pregnancy prevention and infection transmission. Creating space to talk about sex as a pleasure source is equally as important. Integrating briefing and aftercare are ways to further ensure a casual hookup is also a sexually satisfying experiencing for all those involved. Similar to how people have their own boundaries surrounding contraception and protection barriers, people also have their own boundaries, preferences, hard no’s and hard yes’s with sex, and sex with a casual partner.


In the end, the decision to engage in a casual sexual relationship is for some and not for all. However, ensuring personal execution is that of respectful, upholding self boundaries and the boundaries of others, and prioritizing physical and emotional safety are strong starting positions if casual sex is something you’re curious to explore.

Modern Intimacy is a group therapy practice, founded by renowned Psychologist and Sex Therapist, Dr. Kate Balestrieri. This inclusive blog is designed to provide a wealth of information and resources for mental health, relationships, and sexuality. Subscribe today to get the latest information from our expert contributors from all around the world.


Author Bio

Hunter English is an associate clinical extern at Modern Intimacy under the supervision of Dr. Kate Balestrieri. Hunter aims to help individuals and couples find their unique path to happy relationships, long-lasting and fulfilling sex lives, and liberation within one’s identity and desires. Hunter is completing her Master’s degree at the University of Miami and is working towards becoming a Certified Sex Therapist.



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