On Self-Knowledge and Casual Sex

Fact about me: I don’t do casual sex. At all. Ever. This is not an accident or a “this is how things turned out,” but a conscious and deliberate choice.

I am, by some people’s definition, a ‘prude.’ I’ve been told to lighten up, accused of being repressed, I’ve even been called sex-negative. I think this is entirely inaccurate, because actually I think sex can be a great thing, and I fully support the right for everyone to have sex – or not – in whatever ways and with whoever they choose, so long as everyone involved is a consenting adult. (There doesn’t seem to be a consensus on what sex-positivity actually means, so this is my personal working definition.)

I am just very anti-casual-sex – for me personally. I tried it, more than once, and I didn’t like it. It took me quite a bit of self-analysis and soul-searching to figure out exactly why this was something I just couldn’t enjoy, and the conclusion I came up with was roughly as follows:

I’m very body-conscious and quite shy, and it takes time for me to get to know somebody well enough to be completely comfortable around them. And to enjoy sex, to be fully present and engaged with my partner and what we do together, I have to feel that level of comfort, and I have to have a pretty strong emotional connection with them. I’m also, as a young and apparently attractive woman, highly conscious of being seen as only my looks. Therefore, sex with somebody I’m not emotionally connected to makes me feel objectified, used, self-conscious and uncomfortable. Not exactly the recipe for physically or emotionally fulfilling sex!

As such, I made a decision a little over a year ago: no more. And this decision, knowing myself to this degree and putting in place what I knew was best for me, felt like a huge weight being lifted from my shoulders. It’s not as though I have a list of “I will do X, Y and Z after 1 date, but only A, B and C after six or more dates….” No. It doesn’t work like that. The best short explanation of my policy (if you can call it that) which I use for myself is as follows:

A level of physical intimacy which is coherent with the level of emotional intimacy that person and I share.

This is certain to be different from one person to the next, and what this means will likely look different in every relationship. But that’s okay. The beauty of polyamory, as I so often say, is that not every connection must look the same.

(Physical intimacy needn’t mean sex, either. I have plenty of friends who I will never have sex with. Those who I am not very close to I will hug occasionally, but people I’m very close to are likely to be people I share more hugs, cuddles and general closeness with. But that’s probably a different topic entirely.)

Making this decision was a hugely empowering thing for me. In deciding to stop having casual sex, realising that it didn’t work for me, I found the empowerment and feeling of freedom and autonomy that I’d been seeking by trying to have casual sex in the first place! I didn’t realise what a burden it had been, carrying around everyone else’s expectations of what my sexuality should be and what I should do with it…. until I stopped.

Here’s a secret: I sometimes catch myself envying people who can have casual sex. I tell myself if I stopped being so prudish, I could find far more partners and generally have more fun. But then I remind myself that I could go and do it, if I wanted, but that I wouldn’t have fun, and it would – emotionally speaking – damage me far more than do me any good.

For others, casual sex might work really well. But we’re all different, and just knowing something of what works for me and what doesn’t is such a huge relief. It took a few mistakes to find out, as most things worth knowing about oneself seem to, but you know what? It was worth it, because this little titbit of self-knowledge has done me more good than I can easily express.

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4 thoughts on “On Self-Knowledge and Casual Sex

  1. Pablo says:

    Ah… knowing yourself is great… it’s so efficient when you stop walking paths that take you nowhere.

  2. Nile says:

    Your body, your rules… And you might equally say “I envy those who try heroin, but…”

    Neither statements are ‘Prudish’, they’re preferences; prudery involves disapproval and – worse – attempting to use shame to impose a moral agenda on others and an unwholesome proclivity towards censorship.

    Disapproval itself is something of a value judgement: not necessarily bad, and a positive thing if the value that you’re weighing is the happiness and welfare of your friends. I need hardly point out that expressing disapproval requires some tact – it’s about using persuasion, and never about shame or coercion – and it is frequently better not to express it at all.

    I note that you’re careful to avoid expressing disapproval of casual sex… Also, that you’re careful to avoid the view that selectivity in sex is a matter of self-respect: that may actually be true, but it is often expressed as forms of disapproval that are best left silent. So there’s one pitfall avoided in your post!

    I will express a very strong disapproval of those who see sexual selectivity and, specifically, rejecting people who show an interest, as a source of self-affirmation. Clubs and restaurants seek status by exclusivity, and often make a very public display of their exclusions, velvet ropes and all: this is rather vulgar, and unpleasant in its personal analogies – among lesser evils, self-affirmation through rejection implies a lack of grace in declining someone’s interest, however pleasantly (or clumsily, or downright creepily) expressed; and among greater evils it is often associated with a repellent delight in humiliating ‘lesser’ members of a social circle…

    …I would rush to point out that I see none of that around here. But there are unpleasant undertones in any discussion of sex, preferences, and choice of partners: the best that you can hope for is to keep these undertones muted, as best you can.

    Poly people do better at that than just about anybody.

    I, myself, would view casual sex as an occasional pleasure with some serious downsides – emotional and physical – that need very careful weighing-up. Hardly ‘casual’ at all, with that view! ‘Impulsive’ might be a better word but impulses are often very deep emotions; so no, that’s not a casual thing either.

    I think you’re using ‘casual’ to imply seeking sex with very limited emotional involvement, or none. That never *quite* works, unless one or both (or more) participants are somewhat limited in their ability to engage with others: I’m not convinced that that’s a recipe for satisfying sex, which needs a very intense connection and communication; and I suspect that it leaves some participants unsatisfied and feeling very much alone when they roll over on the matress and decide to get some sleep… Or leave, without even wanting to enjoy the warmth and simple pleasure of another human being breathing.

  3. Michelle says:

    I for one was like you. Back when I realized what polyamory was all about, I STOPPED having casual sex which I had done for years.

    Never liked it, but was very sexually free, so I felt I wasn’t doing anything wrong.

    My problem since 2001/02 is that other than one relationship that lasted only 2 years & wasn’t healthy, but I forged into it for reasons I won’t go into here, I’ve been celibate.

    At first I was again, like you, proud to FINALLY give up casual sex. I only wanted a deep serious relationship. Unfortunately I never found that & I run my businesses from the net, so I don’t have a social circle outside so I can meet new people. I won’t go into online dating other than to say it only seems to work for a minority amount of people.

    Then I moved to a smaller city where the people there just weren’t my type let alone polyamorous.

    I did realize & learn about 2 1/2 years ago that it’s very unhealthy to NOT have any physical contact with humans for as long as I have.

    I’ve now been celibate since 2005 & it affects my health, emotional stability & spiritual self.

    While I don’t want to go back to the way I was, I have been thinking about getting back into having casual sex because I have lost that part of me that I loved so much in the past & I really do feel like I’m shriveling up. Even hiring a male escort might be a solution.

    Your situation will hopefully NOT be like mine, just something to think about, as I don’t believe in casual sex either, but I don’t feel long term celibacy is healthy either.

    Lastly, you shouldn’t care what anyone thinks but YOU. You run your life, no one else does.

    Be well.

    Michelle

  4. Bruv, not even….

    I agree with pretty much everything you just said. except for bad body image cause y’know i’m an Adonis but needing to be close yo your partner and feeling jealous of people that can do it ‘willy nilly’ wish i could do that, life would be so much easier but a little less special i think. incidentally you best comment on my posts know >:)

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