Casual relationships

When it comes to casual sex, different cultures have their own ways of defining things. Dictionary entries may not seem like the most stimulating way to learn about casual relationships but, in changing times with changing rules, you may find it useful to bone up on the terminology:

  • Hook ups. This is an ambiguous term, but it usually refers to any sexual encounter between people who aren’t committed to a relationship.
  • One-night stands. Another name for short-term sexual encounters, these usually involve strangers getting together, rather than friends or previous partners.
  • Friends with benefits. This involves regular sex between two partners, but it usually lacks other features of committed relationships, like emotional support.
  • Booty calls. These are different to hook ups and one-night stands, in that they are usually arranged in advance. Booty calls might happen more than once, but a relationship characterised in this way is unlikely to involve any social activities other than sex [1].

These definitions only touch on the true complexities – the nature of any relationship will depend on the individual people involved, so it’s important to clarify what you want to get out of any relationship you enter into [1].

Communication in casual relationships


Communication in casual relationships is a bit of an art form. When you first meet a potential partner, either online or in real life, it can be hard to know how to handle the conversation, and you might find yourself walking a communication tightrope [2].

When you are trying to establish what a new relationship is going to be, it’s not uncommon to take precautions around what you say, and also how much you say – communicate too much and you might be thrust into a committed relationship; communicate too little and the other person might slip out of your grasp entirely.

In an effort to maintain a casual relationship, many people avoid communication entirely. But, while this may feel safe, it’s a risky strategy – rather than pulling out of the conversation, you’re better off being honest about what you want. A bit of clarity can help clear up confusion and avoid hurt feelings on both ends [3].

Friends with benefits


A ‘friends with benefits’ situation may seem ideal. You get to have sex without having to worry about the other bits of a relationship and – assuming you can keep it up – you’ll still have your friendship to fall back on. But there’s always a risk that things can get complicated when you add sex to an existing friendship [4].

If one of you starts to develop feelings for the other, it can cause friction on the original friendship. Things might work out if you’re both keen to start something up but if only one of you is along for the ride, it can be hard on both of you and it may prove difficult to resurrect the friendship [4].

It may not be the easiest conversation to pull off but being clear and honest about your intentions and expectations can mitigate against potential slipups in a short-term sexual or romantic relationship. If you’re starting something new, talk about what it means before you’re in too deep, so that the other person knows what they’re getting into. Once you’ve established this bedrock of communication, it’ll be easier to talk about any developments, like if one of you starts to fall for the other or if you want to end things [5].

It might help to think of it as a consent issue. In the same way you should always respect sexual boundaries, you shouldn’t enter into any kind of sexual relationship without being clear about the boundaries around it. When everything’s laid out on the table, there’s no reason a casual relationship shouldn’t work.

References


[1] Claxton, S., & Van Dulmen, M. (2013). Casual Sexual Relationships and Experiences in Emerging Adulthood. Emerging Adulthood, 1(2), 138-150.

[2] Sumter, S. R., Vandenbosch, L., & Ligtenberg, L. (2017). Love me Tinder: Untangling emerging adults' motivations for using the dating application Tinder. Telematics and Informatics, 34(1), 67-78.

[3] Collins, T., & Horn, T. (2018). “I’ll call you…” Communication frequency as a regulator of satisfaction and commitment across committed and casual sexual relationship types. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, https://doi.org/10.1177/0265407518755554.

[4] Bisson, M., & Levine, A. (2009). Negotiating a Friends with Benefits Relationship. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 38(1), 66-73.

[5] Eisenberg, M., Ackard, D., Resnick, M., & Neumark-Sztainer, D. (2009). Causal sex and psychological health among young adults: Is having ‘friends with Benefits’ emotionally damaging? Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, https://doi.org/10.1363/4123109.

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