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A new study suggests that dating-app users are are more likely to casually date and have casual sex. Surprise! While we probably didn’t need a study to state the obvious, casual sex still gets a bad rap, especially if that’s what you’re exclusively seeking. Our sexual wants and needs ebb and flow with life, and sometimes sex is a pleasurable activity you want to do with no strings attached. But how do you have casual sex while remaining respectful and safe for all parties involved? First, it might be a good idea to actually define what casual sex means to you.

“Casual sex can be used as an umbrella term to define sexual activity between people who may not have as much familiarity, attachment, or commitment with their sexual partner(s),” says Dr. Kristen Mark, sexual health educator and Everlywell advisor. “This can include anything from one-night stands to friends with benefits but typically is outside of the context of a romantic relationship or attachment.”

Since the parameters of casual sex can be a little delicate, here’s what to keep in mind before you swipe right on the next hookup.

Casual sex is not inherently shameful

Once you understand what casual sex means to you, it’s equally important to accept that’s what you’re seeking right now in your life and not shame yourself (or others) for pursuing it.

“Pursuing casual sex is always OK to do if it is genuinely what you want,” Mark says. “There are a lot of important needs that can be met through sex—things like sexual pleasure, stress release, satisfaction, connection—and that doesn’t have to happen in the context of a romantic relationship or attachment.”

But Mark cautions it’s equally important to check in with yourself to ensure you’re getting your needs met and aren’t doing it for the sake of someone else at the expense of yourself. “If you find yourself in casual sexual relationships but you’re looking for something more serious, be true to yourself on that, or casual sex can become something that might not be meeting your needs.”

Open communication and safety are the biggest priorities

Relationships of any kind, including and maybe especially unattached relationships like this, thrive on communication. If you’re vibing with a match and you know you’re only interested in something casual, make it known as soon as possible. “Communicate this directly and simply,” Mark says. “You can just say, ‘I’m just looking for casual sex here, and wanted to be upfront about that so that we are on the same page.’ That’s about it—keep it simple and direct and honest.” On the flip side, if you’re not seeking casual sex, communicate that simply and directly, too.

While reported cases of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) in the U.S. decreased during the early months of COVID, most of them, including gonorrhea and syphilis, resurged by the end of 2020. That’s why, if you’re regularly engaging in non-barrier-protected sex with partners whose STI status you’re unsure of, Mark recommends getting tested with each new partner (especially when partners are having sex with multiple other people) or whenever fluid bonding (where you don’t have a barrier method in place such as a condom) is taking place.

“Make sure that if you’re engaged in fluid bonding that you talk about STIs, and if there are body parts involved that could result in sperm meeting an egg, that you talk about unintended pregnancy prevention,” Mark says. “Be transparent about your intentions, your needs, and your safety. This is crucial and by communicating this with a partner, you show them that you care about their health, too.”

The same goes if you discover you have an STD/STI after sex with your new partner.

“STIs are quite common,” Mark says. “Around 1 in 4 people will be diagnosed with an STI in their lifetime. So, in knowing that, try to just approach it directly and perhaps even frame it that way. Having sex without barrier protection has inherent risk, and everyone can weigh that risk with the benefit for themselves. Part of that risk is the potential for STIs, so just be direct about the fact that this is something you’ll have to deal with.”

She advises to get in touch with your most recent sexual partners and let them know they need to get tested. “Avoid blaming or shaming. Simply state the facts and let them know that you want to look out for their health and the health of their partners, so they need to get tested and treated.”

Whether it’s a one-night stand or a friends-with-benefits situation, Mark says her biggest piece of advice is to always remain honest and clear with your sexual partner and check in frequently.

“No matter what type of sex you’re having, doing a pulse check to ensure you’re on the same page with a partner is always a good idea,” she says. “Simply check in by saying something like, ‘That was great, how are you doing? Are we doing OK here?’ Be transparent and direct about what you’re looking for. Don’t give people the wrong impression about what you want just for the sake of hooking up. Be an empathetic and open communicator.”



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