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 what may be right for one person might not always be right for another. So when reading this, be reminded of that.

Over the past seven or so years of being sexually active, I’ve experience both: sex in relationships and hooking up for short-term encounters. Below are my thoughts on both sides of the coin.

Casual sex

When you’re single sex can be in some ways a goal. You’re biologically programmed (particularly as a guy) to want sex as regularly as you can, but wanting something and getting something are two different things. So you might 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.

After a one night stand it has to be said I have felt that boost of confidence and knowing that I’m in a world where someone wants to sleep with me has in the past really made my day.

Casual sex can be linked with increased self-confidence but also, as Luisa Dillner from the Guardian writes, “social science research has often linked casual encounters to feelings of sexual regret, low self-esteem and psychological distress, especially among women.”*

It’s also important to remember that self-worth should come from somewhere more than being able to turn on a stranger.

The thrill of the first time with someone can be intoxicating. Every gasp, every moan, everything you do to each other comes with this excitement of discovery.

That’s not even to mention other edginess you can throw in by being a bit risky, such as doing it in unusual locations.

However, what is not always considered is what comes afterward. That awkward morning after, feelings of regret or even shame. Being vulnerable like that with someone comes with it’s risks, both emotionally and physically. It is very important to be safe and think about who you are hooking up with and how you would be able to escape quickly from a situation if you needed to.

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 and being intimate with each other.

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. Casual sex is not the only way you can go for something more risky or doing it in an unusual location!

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 time.

Sex can actually be a way of communicating. We communicate our love and commitment to the other person not in the usual way of using words, but by using our bodies.

Sex is a powerful thing and can and should be used not only for our own pleasure but for the pleasure of our partner.

It’s also worth noting that sex is more readily available in a relationship. 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).

The ability to choose not to have sex is also a freedom you can also 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”).

Which one is better?

At the end of this little thought exercise, I would say that it’s up to you to work out what works for you above all else.

Some people do prefer to be single and sustaining their urges through one night stands and casual hook-ups which is their choice. However, there is a caution there to be safe both physically and emotionally.

There is no pressure to engage in casual sex even if you feel like all your friends are doing it five days a week (which to be fair they probably aren’t!).

There is no shame in simply finding security in being in a relationship, being able to share something long-lasting with someone you love and care about whilst being open and honest about your sexual needs, “kinky” or not! Sex in a long term relationship doesn’t have to be boring!


*The Guardian: Is casual sex bad for your well being?

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