People have long been hooking up with each other, but the likes of dating apps like Tinder have made meeting new people, including potential sexual partners, so much easier. It’s almost like shopping at a grocery store, with a variety of individuals looking for “FWBs” (Friends With Benefits) or “NSA” (No Strings Attached) in the “sexual gratification” aisle, within reach with just one swipe.
In this era, hookup culture is undeniably rampant, and almost inescapable. Casual sex has been destigmatised over the years, and sometimes even celebrated – what was once condemned now champions female pleasure. But has it really? Let’s talk about the pros and cons of casual sex, the impact of hookup culture, what to consider before engaging in it and how to stay safe while doing so.
For some, casual sex serves as a explorative sexual experience. Its allure lies in the ability to fulfill one’s sexual needs without the emotional legwork and commitment of a relationship. On top of the health benefits of sexual activity, like relieving stress or anxiety (through Oxytocin release), casual sex can also feel exciting and novel, which aids dopamine production to produce a euphoric high.
Beyond scientific reasons, it also rebels against patriarchal ideas. Women have long been demonised for engaging in sex outside of the contexts of marriage or committed relationships. But with greater acceptance of female sexuality, casual sex for women has become less of a taboo and sometimes even serves as a sort of empowerment.
With the conversation around sex shifiting to one built around the autonomy of women, more people have begun to understand the backwardness of misogynistic terms (like virgin, whore, slut) that vilify promiscuity. The destigmatisation of sexual activity also challenges the concept of someone’s “body count” as a measurement of their worth, which is an idea that has been disproportionately applied to women. For some women, this has given them a space to explore pleasure on their own terms and take charge of their sexuality — just as men have been able to do so openly and freely.
But this isn’t always the case. There is nothing inherently wrong with sex, but things can get muddled when hookup culture enters the equation. Advocating for casual hookups can have implications on individual health and the greater landscape of society and culture.
Hookup culture may unintentionally promote the expectation that women should engage in casual sex when it may not necessarily be what they want. Media has popularised sexual liberation as a form of agency, which pressures people to participate in it. Otherwise, they may be seen as not taking charge of their own sexuality and risk being labelled a “prude”. Even in cases where there isn’t judgement, this may also alienate them socially in conversation.
Social media has also normalised casual sex so much that it borders on breeding hypersexuality (see: The rise of Tiktok trends that promote sex on a largely minor-dominated platform). This is a dangerous narrative for those growing into or in early adulthood, who are just starting to explore sex for themselves and may buy into it without fully understanding its impacts on their well-being.
Engaging in casual sex has a number of great physical risks, including sexually-transmitted infections and unplanned pregnancies, particularly if safe sex practices aren’t followed. But the toll it takes on one’s mental and emotional health are just as detrimental.
Those who were not ready for the encounter may be left feeling a weird mix of emptiness, guilt and shame. A study shows that some college students experienced negative emotions like anxiety, sadness, regret, depression, and poor self-esteem after engaging in casual sex.
There is also the danger of using casual sex as a coping mechanism. If sex is used to compensate for feelings of loneliness, to satiate a need for validation or control, or as a result of past sexual abuse, the outcome would be mostly unfulfilling and, worse, emotionally damaging as it might trigger traumatic memories or perpetuate unhealthy patterns of thinking.
What to consider before engaging in casual sex
Ultimately, everyone has their own beliefs and values about sex. Some feel that it’s a fun activity they can do and be emotionally detached from, while others feel that it is sacred and emotionally intimate. Casual sex can be fun and exciting with the right precautions, but it is not for everyone.
So how do you decide if casual sex is right for you? Here is a non-exhaustive guideline to help you figure things out:
First, think about how do you feel about sex and sexuality.
Is a relationship a requirement for sex? Are you able to separate the act from the potential emotions? What significance does the person you are having sex with have to you? Is sex more than the physical sensation? What do you want out of it?
The answers to these questions are largely dependent on your cultural and/or religious beliefs, but ultimately deeply personal. Think about your own personality, comfort levels, limitations and values to see if they align with what casual sex can bring to you.
For example, if you want a sexual experience that is emotionally intimate as well, chances are that you’re not going to get that, and casual sex is not for you. This is an important consideration for those of us who get attached too fast too easily, and being honest with ourselves can save us from potential regret.
Next – examine your purpose for engaging in casual sex.
Are you fresh out of a breakup and looking for a rebound? Are you into the person you are considering sleeping with? Or are you just plain horny?
Being in the right headspace and having the right attitude when hooking up are essential to having a good experience. It sets up important expectations for yourself and for your potential partner, and ensures that no party is left disappointed or unfulfilled. For example, hoping that a one night stand evolves into something more can lead to unnecessary heartbreaks, unless you’re ready for that too.
Reflecting upon the reasons why you want to engage in it can be insightful, especially if you suspect there’s something deeper at play.
Lastly – your safety is your greatest priority (sexual gratification – second). Who is the person you are considering? Do they make you feel comfortable? Are you able to communicate with them?
On a surface level, it would be wise to do a quick google on the person you are considering sleeping with. It’s hard to tell what a person is like in bed, but knowing that they don’t have a criminal record or a history of sexual assault will definitely give you a greater peace of mind. Also, let a trusted friend know your whereabouts and set a time they can expect you to text back for an update on your status.
If you’ve decided that you’re going to go ahead, this is how to be safe while doing so:
Prior to hooking up, communicate your expectations and hear out your partner. Some examples include what each other is looking for, sexual health history and the arrangement after (whether there is to be aftercare or a one-and-done kind of deal). Establishing emotional and physical boundaries, like kinks, safe words and what is off-limits can help make the experience a more smooth-sailing one.
Finally, when your panties are off and you’re about to do the deed, remember to use contraceptives! There are a number of them available – including condoms, birth control pills and IUDs. For more information check out this article on where to get them.