We surveyed more than 2,000 single women and found that sex outside of a committed relationship doesn’t have to be forgettable or regrettable. See the results and get ready to change your assumptions about what women are doing between the sheets, and how they feel about it!
From Self and TreeSugar
Eighty-two percent of women have had at least one casual sexual encounter, and far from experiencing a bout of self-recrimination in the morning, 63 percent of them say they felt "great" or "fine" once their clothes were on again. "Women aren't waiting for a boyfriend to have sexual experiences," says Pepper Schwartz, Ph.D., professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Increasingly, they are giving themselves permission to fool around, enjoy themselves and have a good time—those are the phrases I hear over and over." Of course, not everyone is cool with being casual. In our survey, 19 percent of women said they regretted having noncommitted sex, and 37 percent felt uncomfortable afterward.
Casual Sex Defined
Hookups, booty calls, friends with benefits, one-night stands: The terms alone suggest how complicated sex outside a romantic relationship has become. To be clear, when we refer to flings, sex and hooking up on these pages, we mean sexual intercourse (as opposed to a makeout session or oral sex) that occurs outside a committed relationship. Traditionally, researchers have referred to this behavior as casual sex. But that's something of a misnomer. "The termcasual assumes the experience isn't meaningful, when, in fact, it can be a very meaningful interaction," says Marta Meana, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Nevada in Las Vegas. At its best, sex outside of a relationship lets a woman explore her needs, celebrate her sexuality and get information about herself and what kind of mate she might want. Doesn't sound very casual to us! From here on, we'll refer to it simply as what it is: sex.
How Many "Casuals" Have You Had?
1 or 2: 39%
About 5: 24%
About 10: 12%
Even though 82 percent of women have had at least one no-strings encounter, it isn't exactly hookup central out there: Thirty-nine percent have had only one or two casual partners, and 24 percent have been with about five partners. Considering that the median number of lifetime (male) sex partners for women ages 20 through 59 is four, perhaps the low-ish numbers aren't that surprising. What is? The age breakdown. Women 30 and older are more apt to have had nonrelationship sex than 18- to 29-year-olds, the so-called hookup generation. Besides the obvious fact that older women have had more time to increase their numbers, they may also be clearer about their desires. Indeed, 38 percent of women 30 or older said they felt freer to try new things with a nonrelationship partner than they do with a mate, versus 23 percent of 18- to 29-year-olds.
63% of women have had sex with a "casual date"
What it means
You've been on a few dates, but the relationship is still officially (or unofficially) nonexclusive.
What to keep in mind
Thirty-one percent of women who have had sex with a noncommitted partner say they hoped the physical connection would lead to something serious. But studies show that lasting bonds that start with sex tend to be the exception. To avoid getting hurt, be honest about your motives.
58% of you have had a "friend with benefits."
What it means
Your lover is a good pal or a guy in your circle.
What to keep in mind
It may be only a matter of time before your FWB develops deeper feelings. If you suspect that's happening for either of you, "talk specifically about what both of you want," says Linda Young, Ph.D., a psychologist in Bellevue, Washington. Not in agreement? You may want to reconsider the arrangement, to spare your feelings and the friendship.
49% have had sex with a stranger.
What that means A one-night stand
What to keep in mind
Under the right circumstances, unexpected sex can be a major confidence boost. Heed your gut, though, before you get naked. Forty-one percent of women say a concern for personal safety would stop them from having a noncommitted encounter. That's healthy: If something doesn't feel right, don't follow through.
34% of women have had a partner solely for booty calls.
What that means
Ongoing sex with someone you socialize with only in bed. Or on the couch or the kitchen table…
What to keep in mind
Sure, a steady sex buddy can mean not having to deal with the effort (and drama) of dating; plus, it offers the chance to experiment in a safe situation. "But after a while, sex purely for the sake of sex may not feel satisfying," Schwartz says. When that happens, it's time to move on.
Your #1 Reason for SEX: to Have Fun!
51% of you said your goal in having a fling is purely a good time.Sometimes, human beings are simple, especially when it comes to sex. True, in two studies of nearly 2,000 people at The University of Texas in Austin, people cited more than 200 reasons for having sex, including "I wanted to break up." (Um, we don't get it, either.) But most women (and men) are after a good time in bed, period. That's a healthy impulse. "For women, having sex for pleasure is linked with higher satisfaction," says Tierney Lorenz, a doctoral candidate at The University of Texas. Another perk: "Sex is a good way to tell if a guy is boyfriend material—if he wants to please you," says Helen Fisher, Ph.D., a biological anthropologist in New York City.
More Survey Stats
82% of you have had one or more non-commitment encounters.
63% of you felt "great" or "fine" after your last hookup.
60% of you have had a one night stand with a friend or an acquaintance.
Sex & Alcohol: Who's Getting Drunk & Naked?
60% of women 18–29
47% of women 30–39
28% of women 40 and up
Like martinis and olives, alcohol and sex go together. But drinking is a far bigger influence for women in their 20s and 30s than it is for older women. About half of the younger group said sex "just sort of happened" when they were drinking. Yet it's easy to cross the line from spontaneous to sloppy (and regretful). A study from California State University in Long Beach found that women were more apt to agree to have sex if they'd been drinking or even if they'd taken an alcohol placebo; other research has found that women who are ambivalent about sex in the first place are more likely to be swayed after imbibing. But if you rely on booze to justify your behavior, it may be better to keep your clothes on. "It's about control," says Catherine Birndorf, M.D., SELF's mental health expert, who suggests giving yourself a mini sobriety test before going home with that cute guy at the bar. Ask, Do I want this? Would I do this if I were sober? Do I know what I'm doing? If you're coming up with some negatives, consider setting up a date for the following week, instead.
66% of women under 40 meet sex partners through pals or work. 56% ofwomen 40 and older meet them online, at parties, at the store, at the gym or in the bars.
Younger women typically cull partners from a broad social network; college and first jobs provide a stream of potential lovers. The upside? The men come with references! But as women get older and friends start to marry in their mid- to late 20s and early 30s, the dynamics of their social circles shift; there may be fewer eligibles in day-to-day life. As for work, only 21 percent of women 40 and older said they have met a casual partner at the office or at school, whereas 28 percent of women in their 20s and 30s have found passion among the cubicles. Why does office romance get rarer by the decade? "Older women may be further along in their career, which could call for more professionalism on their part," Conley says. "And the consequences of a job loss can be more dire when you're older." In other words, the older you get, the more apt you are to keep your hands off that hot colleague.
74% of women have a harder time getting to say yes, yes, YES! when they're with a non-romantic partner.
That doesn't mean the lovin' isn't fun: Research suggests that women have a slightly easier time getting aroused with a casual partner (the thrill of an unfamiliar lover, perhaps?), even though orgasm itself can be elusive. "An encounter can be very arousing, but you might not feel totally relaxed, so you have a tougher time climaxing," Meana says. "But the experience can still be exciting." It can be emotionally fulfilling as well. SELF found that 37 percent of women have sex because they want to make an emotional connection. That's reasonable, says Terri D. Conley, Ph.D., professor of psychology at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor. "We often assume you can feel intimacy only within an established bond, but it's possible to feel intense closeness with someone you don't know well," she says. Just be clear with yourself about the state of your ego and your confidence (are you very lonely or merely wanting company?) so you don't feel worse than you did before your rendezvous.
42% of you sometimes forgo condoms.
Why risk an STD (including HIV!), particularly when 73 percent of you also say that worry about just that would keep you from having sex outside a relationship? Be safe!
What we learned from having a fling.
I used to go into sex thinking it might lead to a relationship, but I learned through experience that hookups are just that. Now if I meet someone I'm attracted to, i may still want sex, but it's for the physical satisfaction. When I haven't been in a relationship for a while, having a guy touch my skin is really pretty amazing." --Connie, 36
"I once slept with a guy during a time I was feeling generally lost. I felt awful afterward, which made me realize that I have to be feeling good about myself to really enjoy a hookup. If I'm feeling at all vulnerable, it's not a good idea." --Mary, 39
"When I was younger, I could separate sexual desire from everything else. Now I try to be more selective, because I put more value on what I have to offer. I also expect more out of the guys—that they'll be respectful, considerate and communicative and that they'll not play games. Giving and receiving pleasure had better be on the agenda" .--Laura, 31
"A few years ago, I started having sex with a guy from my apartment building. It was fun for a while, but I did feel a hollowness afterward. Ultimately, I realized I needed to be in a relationship to truly enjoy myself." --Tracy, 42
I used to hook up with guys because they seemed super cool or were really cute, even if I wasn't totally comfortable. Then I'd get hung up on 'Does he really like me?' or 'Is it just about sex?' Clearly, I wasn't in control of my feelings. When I started focusing on what made me happy in life, things fell into place. Now if I have sex, there has to be mutual chemistry and I have to feel comfortable with the situation. In other words, it's more about what I want. And that makes the sex better".--Amy, 25
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