On Casual Sex and Intimacy

There was a point in my college career when I thought I had mastered the art of casual sex. 

A couple nights a week, my ‘friend with benefits’ would come over. We would get stoned, eat copious amounts of ice cream, and watch Netflix before having sex that always left me breathless and satisfied. After spooning for half an hour or so, he would go back to his room. Aside from the occasional stop-and-chat in the dining hall or side conversation in between classes, that was the extent of our relationship. 

Then, one night, something weird happened. I was out of weed, and the sex was suddenly not casual. We stayed in missionary while making eye contact; he kissed me on the forehead; we talked about our families afterwards and even fell asleep holding hands. I recognize that drugs and alcohol are not part of everyone’s college experience, but to us marijuana was a crucial step to getting it on. This unexpected emotional progression absolutely terrified me. Even though I hadn’t been sleeping with anyone else all semester, the increased level of intimacy suddenly made nothing seem casual whatsoever—and that’s what the college hook-up scene is about, right?

A group of my close friends was talking the other day about how none of them could remember the last time they had sober sex outside of a relationship. As I reflected upon my previous partners—and this instance in particular—it occurred to me how pervasive the fear of intimacy is among college students. It also caused me to contemplate the problematic nature of our dependence on drugs and alcohol to maintain this emotional buffer.*

While weekend brunch conversations are often buzzing with gossip about the hook-ups of the night before, almost everyone I am friends with—including me—cringes at the phrase ‘making love’ to refer to the previous night. But why? It is true that when engaging in casual sex, love is generally out of the question, but what is it about the mere concept of sex being an intimate loving act that scares us so much? 

Many people I have encountered in college thus far are completely open to the idea of consistently and even exclusively hooking up with someone—which implies sex and friendly interactions—but are completely adverse to the thought of a relationship—which implies intimacy, vulnerability, and commitment. I understand not having the time to put into a relationship, but at what point does a hook-up start to become something more? 

Aren’t two people who enjoy spending time together and also have regular sex in a relationship?

It is safe to say that, in my situation, I had not mastered the art of casual sex. Casual sex can be great. Being able to leave in the morning feeling satisfied and emotionally uninvolved feels awesome, but once eye contact is made and the sex music changes from the Avicii Pandora station to Bon Iver, things get emotional and people do weird things—like start to ignore each other with no explanation. Instead of getting weird, why not explore those feelings of intimacy? If having sober sex will elicit too many emotions, maybe those are the feelings worth focusing on. Sex, above all else, should be fun, safe, and enjoyable for all parties. While this certainly doesn’t have to be in the context of a relationship, and definitely does not have to qualify as ‘making love’ (ew), it is okay for it to involve feelings!

* I realize that I have not addressed the important issue of consent in this article, particularly in relation to drug and alcohol consumption. Stay tuned next week for a more thorough discussion of consent. 

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