Casual sex has become normative experience among most young people who will admit to having at least one hookup under their belt. The no-strings-attached approach, also referred to as “hit it and quit it,” has long been known to leave bed buddies with low self-esteem, depression, and anxiety. Most blame their one night stands on drunkenness. However, the promiscuous act with a complete stranger may actually reap psychological benefits for those who love to engage in casual sex, according to a recent study published in the journal Social Psychological and Personality Science.
Men, women, and even scientists have suggested all casual sex can take a negative toll on our psychological well-being. Coverage of the “hookup culture” most often includes distorted portrayals of who does it, when they do it, and how casual sex is harmful, specifically narrowing in on college students. Although casual sex may replace dating for several students on college campuses, this doesn’t translate to an invalidation of their experiences. A team of researchers from New York University in New York, suggest the reality of the hookup culture may not be as black or white, or instinctively good or bad, but rather context- and personality-dependent.
Zhana Vrangalova, leader of the study, and researcher Anthony Ong, theorized if you’re sociosexually unrestricted, or you desire casual sex, this may act as a buffer against any potentially harmful consequences of this act. To test their theory, the researchers surveyed a total of 371 college students about baseline sociosexuality, and then asked them about their sexual behavior and psychological well-being over a period of nine months. The participants were considered to have had penetrative casual sex if any of their oral, vaginal, or anal intercourse partners were reported as one-night stands, friends with benefits, [bed] buddies, casually hanging out, just friends, ex-partners, or unclear/complicated.
The findings revealed 42 percent of those surveyed admitted to having casual sex outside of a relationship. Those who were sociosexually unrestricted reported higher well-being after casual sex, the Daily Mail reported. This is supported by the belief that if someone acts authentically, or in accordance with their personality, they are more likely to experience positive psychological benefits.
Participants who authentically relished engaging in casual sex, and could not wait for their next sexual rendezvous, “amplified” the beneficial psychological effects of casual sex, although it did not spur them. They were less likely to have depression or anxiety, and had a higher self-esteem, and life satisfaction. Surprisingly, the researchers did not find any negative effects on the well-being of those who were sociosexually restricted, but still engaged in casual sex. Vrangalova and Ong believe this may be due to a limited sample size.
“Typically, sociosexually unrestricted individuals (i.e., those highly oriented toward casual sex) reported lower distress and higher thriving following casual sex, suggesting that high sociosexuality may both buffer against any potentially harmful consequences of casual sex and allow access to its potential benefits,” wrote the researchers. This held true even after the researchers controlled for demographics, personality traits, prior casual and romantic sex, and well-being at the beginning of the academic year. This suggests that the guilt associated with casual sex may actually be attributed to failure to use condoms, or getting too drunk.
The types of people who constantly desire casual sex are extroverted, sensation-seeking, “avoidantly attached” males. “Among men, they are also more likely to be physically strong, and especially among college men, also more sexist, manipulative, coercive and narcissistic. They also tend to be “unconventional, attractive, [and] politically liberal,” Vrangalova told Pacific Standard.
However, the findings do not imply that casual sex is better than relationship sex, even for those who love casual sex. “The vast majority of unrestricted people desire, enjoy, and form relationships; they just also enjoy and desire casual sex,” she said.
Vrangalova’s study pinpoints the psychological effects of casual sex depend on the person’s motivation for it. In a study done earlier this year by the same researcher, casual sex was found to cause depression if it was done for the wrong reasons like revenge, to feel better about yourself, or to avoid unpleasant feelings. In other words, hooking up for the wrong reasons is directly related to well-being.
Overall, having casual sex for the mere thrill of it, or exploring your sexuality, may actually be good for you.
Ong AD and Vrangalova Z. Who Benefits From Casual Sex? The Moderating Role of Sociosexuality. Social Psychological and Personality Science. 2014.
Vrangalova Z. Does Casual Sex Harm College Students' Well-Being? A Longitudinal Investigation of the Role of Motivation. Archives of Sexual Behavior. 2014.