My first one-night stand ended in me inviting my hookup to a '90s-themed party, only to realize they had little to no interest in ever seeing me again. Don't get me wrong, I didn't believe that having sex one time meant we were destined to be together forever. Still, I couldn't help but feel rejected by our glaring misunderstandings of what the previous evening had meant. As I walked into Sociology class, thinking about how badly I needed to brush my teeth and hair, I wondered, does having sex mean they like you? I knew you didn't need to be in love with someone to have sex with them, but I wanted to know if you needed to be somewhat interested in them at all.
"Technically, we do not need to feel attracted to someone to be physically aroused because our brains and our bodies operate somewhat separately from each other," Dee Stacey, certified sexual health educator for Blume, a self-care oriented period product company, tells Elite Daily. "This is also true for the opposite case, too. We can be very attracted to someone and for whatever reason, not be physically aroused by them."
As Stacey shares, it's possible to be super into someone emotionally but not want to sleep with them. It's also possible to want to sleep with someone you're not super into. And while sex without emotions isn't for everyone — as long as you and your sexual partner(s) communicate openly, experts say that separating having sex from developing feelings can feel super liberating.
"It's OK to have sex with someone without wanting a relationship or 'liking' them because sex feels good," Gigi Engle, a certified sex coach, sexologist, and author of All The F*cking Mistakes: A Guide to Sex, Love, and Life, tells Elite Daily. "As long as everyone knows what they're doing (and not doing), sex is a thing they can all have and enjoy. Casual sex isn't for everyone, but if you're someone who likes it, you go and do your thing."
Engle shares that there's a social notion that sex always comes with emotional attachment. And while sleeping with someone can be meaningful, Engle emphasizes the importance of embracing all types of consensual sexual encounters. "The real truth is that sex can be beautiful, sexy, weird, with emotions, or without emotions," Engle says. "It's all based on you as a person, your partner, and what kind of relationship you want or don't want."
Alexandra Fine, CEO of the sex toy company, Dame Products, states that it's actually essential to differentiate between sex and love. Fine shares that while emotional and physical connections may interact, it's important to understand that they can and do exist without each other. As Fine explains, it's possible to have consensual sex with someone you kind of like, maybe like, or don't really like. "For many, sex is very intimate, and they’d prefer to do it only with someone they have deep feelings for," Fine tells Elite Daily. "However, it isn’t that way for everyone. Some people have sex for personal pleasure, and others have sex to connect deeply for a short time with a passerby. Some people do it to feel power. Others do it to submit."
Though Fine attests that sex and love can have a beautiful relationship with each other, she shares the importance of understanding them as separate entities. "You do not need to like someone in order to have sex with them," Fine says. "You can like someone physically and not emotionally or the other way around."
While some people solely associate sex with pleasure, others may see sexual contact as a way to deeply bond with someone. Although there is no one right way to embark on a sexual relationship, Lola Jean, sex educator, and mental health professional, emphasizes how important it is for all parties to be on the same page before getting it on.
"You can both have sex for healthy or unhealthy reasons, and this is dependent on the individual," Jean tells Elite Daily. "What is healthy for one person may be extremely unhealthy for another. It can be just as much psychological as it physiological or completely one or the other."
Though everyone navigates their sexuality and sex life differently, Engle affirms the importance of expressing your intentions before you and your partner begin a sexual relationship. "Discussing boundaries is critical in casual sex encounters because sex can complicate things," Engle says. "We need to let go of the idea that we need to be so 'cool and casual' all the time. Being cool gets you in trouble."
If expressing your intentions to a sexual partner feels intimidating, sexuality educator Jamie J. LeClaire shares that initiating the conversation can get easier over time. "It's really about discussing the first place," LeClaire tells Elite Daily. "You can ask, 'What kind of relationship are you looking for?' or tell them what it is you are looking for. The more times you have these conversations, the more natural and normalized they become, the more confident you become, and the easier they are to have."
As LeClaire shares, if properly communicated, "casual sex," or sex without emotional attachment, can be super enjoyable. "It's totally fine to have sex purely for pleasure without feeling romantic attraction for them or being in a relationship with them," LeClaire says. "You might be physically and sexually attracted to a person, but simply don't see a future with them. You might not be looking for or have time for a serious and committed relationship. It's okay because it's your body and your prerogative."
From one-night stands to long-term monogamy, Fine says that there's much to be learned from every sexual encounter. However, she echoes the importance of discussing consent and intentions, before turning up the heat. "You should only engage in sexual activity because you want to, and because in some way, that experience feels good to you," Fine says. "You are entitled to explore your body and your world as you see fit with only one caveat — be compassionate towards others."
Though "playing it cool" may seem like the trendy thing to do — Engle shares that suppressing your feelings or forcing yourself to appear aloof can actually cause you more stress. "Trying to be chill just sends you down a winding downward spiral into Feelings Town," Engle says. "Ask the person what they're looking for, ask about using protection, ask if they see this is as a one-night stand. These are important questions. These questions set up boundaries from the get-go."
If your sexual partner(s) refuse to communicate with you about your emotional and sexual boundaries and it's making you feel a little off — Engle attests you should trust your gut. "If the person you're sleeping with is being weird and won't even entertain this conversation, that's a big red flag," Engle says. "Talking about stuff removes the confusion. And emotions are straight-up confusing. We should stop pretending we don't have emotions, so we don't wind up drowning in them."
According to Engle, asking your date something like, "So where do you see this going?" before having sex with them, can help nip any potential post-sex stress or miscommunication in the bud. "It may seem awkward to talk about this stuff, but it's a lot more awkward to be sitting at your desk the next day, hoping for a text when you shouldn't expect one." Cue me staring at my phone, contemplating getting bangs and moving to Paraguay when my date won't text me back.
From personal experience, I can tell you that getting hit with a text that says, "I thought this was a one-time thing," (or getting no text at all) after you've sealed the deal with someone can be totally disorienting. While having sex with a cutie is exciting, getting blindsided by your different intentions after you've done the dirty is just painful and confusing. No matter what your preferences are — making sure you and your partner(s) are on the same page before engaging in any consensual sexy time is essential for everyone's physical and mental wellbeing.
As Kelis sings in "Bossy" (the best song of all time), "You don't have to like me, but you will respect me." In other words, you certainly don't need to have long-term romantic feelings for every one you get it on with. You don't even need to "like" them. But openly discussing consent, intentions, and boundaries with them should always be at the top of your "to-do" list.