Casual sex versus sex in relationships – is one better than the other?

By Rob Edwards

Sex. Sex is a million different things to a million different people and it is right for each one of them regardless of everyone else. That is one thing to bear in mind throughout this article, there is no one way you should perceive sex other than what feels comfortable for you and you alone. Over the past seven or so years of being sexually active, I’ve been on both sides of the divide: having sexual relations both in relationships and while being single and hooking up for short-term encounters. Both ways have their merits for sure, so let’s discuss them.

Casual sex

When you’re single sex can be in some ways a goal. You’re biologically programmed to want sex as regularly as you can, but wanting something and getting something are two different things. So you put yourself out there, you download Tinder, you go on dates and if all goes well you’re hopping into bed with someone who wants you. The thrill of the first time with someone can be intoxicating. Every gasp, every moan, everything you do to each other comes with this wonder of discovery. That’s not even to mention all the other bits of excitement you can throw in by being a bit risky, such as doing it in unusual locations (there are places in my home city I can’t walk by without getting a big grin thinking about what I got up to in there).

Done in supportive, safe and consensual manner, a one-time hook-up can be the perfect thing to blow away the cobwebs and feel just the best. I’m not exaggerating when I say that with a one night stand comes a massive ego-boost which can really help in other areas of your life. After every one night stand or hook-up I’ve felt like a new man, walking tall with a spring in my step because a world in which someone would want to sleep with me is just the best possible world. Admittedly the reverse is true – if something goes terribly wrong and I strike out on a date, I’m left feeling like the biggest piece of shit alive for a few days.

Being single and sexually active can be great for broadening your horizons in terms of finding out who you’re into. Both physically and emotionally. After going out with someone who is quite tall you may decide that’s what you’re looking for from now on. By doing field “research” you work out what works for you and what doesn’t. At my regular job I’ve developed something of a reputation for only being into and dating girls of a certain type, cute (typically) shorter girls with big-rimmed glasses who love chatting about nerdy shit. Thankfully, that type of girl seems really into me (one once said I reminded her of her father – we aren’t on speaking terms anymore). But I only found what worked for me after going on a bunch of horrific dates with people I wouldn’t want to see again without a police escort.

Sex in relationships

When you’re in a relationship, the sex you have with your partner means more than simply getting off. It’s about trusting each other to be vulnerable and open to one another’s more personal needs. There is an American Dad episode that has a whole song called “You’ve got a kink”. It’s played for laughs of course but there is a valuable message there about exploring who you are sexually, and in an open and trusting relationship you can explore that with someone. You’d have to be a far more liberal person then me to pull out the whips and gags on a one night stand and expect your partner to be totally down with that.

There is also much to be said about being committed to one another. When you’re with someone for a decent amount of time, you build up both an emotional and physical rapport that you don’t get when you’re meeting someone for the first time. You know what your partner likes, you know how they like it, and they know the same for you. In a relationship you pass all those awkward fumbles and the “Do you mind not sticking that there?” that you can get when you’re sleeping with someone for the first few times. Knowing that someone doesn’t enjoy oral sex or a certain position is as important as knowing what they do enjoy.

The ability to choose not to have sex is also a freedom you can have in relationship. What I mean is that if you aren’t really feeling up for a quickie that night, your partner should understand and be happy with a cuddle on a couch. With casual encounters there is a bit of a pressure on both parties to do something because that’s what’s expected of them, and if one says no it can become an issue (psychologically speaking – from “Why didn’t they want to sleep with me?” to the far more dangerous “I’m horny so we’re doing it”).


I feel like I’ve failed by only reaching one of the key differences between being single and being in a relationship: that sex in a relationship is far more readily available. Most couples our sort of age are probably having sex at least 3 or 4 times a week, and that’s being conservative. In terms of just having (hopefully great) sex in large amounts you can’t really beat being in a relationship (unless you’re Bruce Wayne, but I highly suspect you’re not Bruce Wayne).

At the end of this little thought exercise, I would simply say that it’s up to you to work out what works for you above all else. Some people thrive being single and sustaining their urges through one night stands and casual hook-ups. Others of course find security in being in a relationship, allowing them to share something long-lasting with another whilst being open and honest about their sexual needs. Just do it however you want to do it.

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