Casual sex, good or bad?

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Is it possible that being explicitly told from birth that sex outside of lifelong hetero monogamous marriage is fundamentally bad for everyone could have anything to do with many people having poor experiences with it?

Don’t think that’s the message? According to Pew, only a third of Americans think a consensual open relationship is morally acceptable. Less than half of Americans think sex between unmarried adults in a committed relationship is always acceptable. Fully a quarter of Americans believe “casual” sex between adults is always wrong. For sex on the first date, 30% say this is always or sometimes acceptable. Meanwhile 27% say it’s rarely acceptable and 42% say it is never acceptable. Another Pew poll showed only half of Gen Zers (48%) and Millennials (47%) saying gay and lesbian couples being allowed to marry is a good thing for our society. We have articles saying asking for what you want in bed is wrong. We have sex ed curricula using exaggerated, misleading, and misinterpreted facts to scare kids away from sex. We have eBay wiping out collections of vintage queer erotica: zines, comics, porn mags, classified ads, and other ephemera. Schools buy software that blocks queer sex ed but doesn’t filter out white supremacist websites. I could go on but you get the point. We live in a deeply sex-negative society.

I’m not going to make blanket claims that casual sex is good or bad.

The first thing I’d need to do before making such a claim is to define my terms. The problem with concepts like modesty, promiscuity, and casual in this context is that they’re purposefully left undefined, ambiguous, and subjective.

And there’s a reason for that. Let’s imagine that we actually defined them. Obviously in real usage “slut” means “has more sex than me.” “Casual” means “without the norms I recognize as dating.” “Modest” means “not sexually arousing to me.”

But let’s imagine making these concepts measurable. Let’s make slut mean someone who has more sex partners than the average American (who has between four and six lifetime partners). We could define casual sex as sex on the first date.

The thing is, when you actually hold conservative claims about sex up to any degree of scrutiny outside of “God said so,” they utterly fall apart. For example, conservatives love to claim more sex partners cause adverse outcomes.

And it’s true that when you look at populations, people who have more sex partners than average are more likely than average to have job loss, poor health, mental health problems, poverty, etc.

But it’s not true that having more sex partners causes those problems.

In fact, the research indicates the causation is opposite. Adverse childhood experiences and poor mental health probably cause both riskier sexual behavior and adverse outcomes in adulthood.

If conservatives really cared about kids you’d think they’d briefly consider protecting them from poverty and sexual abuse instead of protecting sexual abusers and shaming people for having consensual sex.

When you dig into the evidence, every conservative fearmongering claim is exposed as false. What we see again and again (whether it’s sex outside of marriage, gay sex, trans panic, sex work, pornography, etc.) is that it’s actually the shame and stigma around sex that causes the negative outcomes conservatives blame on the sex itself. By shaming and stigmatizing sex conservatives cause the outcomes they claim they’re trying to prevent.

You see this with “casual” sex as well of course.

Shame and stigma are their own bad outcomes. But they also have knock-on effects, like less (and lower quality) sex education, a harder time communicating about sex, a harder time finding out what you want, body shame, less likelihood of being prepared for sex, etc. Shame and stigma makes every aspect of getting better sex harder to attain. They make it harder to be communicative around sex, less ego-driven, less goal-oriented, more expansive, more experimental, better educated, etc.

I would never deny that many people don’t enjoy sex they conceive of as “casual.” What I’m positing is that this likely results more from our shame and stigma around certain kinds of sex than the sex itself.