Hooking Up
couple lying down after casual hookup

Casual Sex Is Often Just Bad. Why?

Many women say the lack of commitment isn’t the problem — the lack of care is.

Say the term “casual sex” in front of a group and there are bound to be strong opinions. Your bestie will tell you she swears by it and finds it liberating. Your roommate will say they tried it a few times and always caught feelings, so they swore it off. Your cousin will be surprised to hear you talking about it at all, given all the anti-sex shame you both grew up with.

In January, Cindy, 26, from Texas, saw these differing views around hookup culture firsthand. She had been celibate for a few years, and it wasn’t because she didn’t want no-strings-attached sex — it was because she couldn’t find a casual partner who was also thoughtful and caring. So she tweeted about her frustration: “Hookup culture would be so much better if males weren’t so emotionally dead. I think more Women would be down for casual hookups…if they were also seen as humans in the process.”

The tweet got 60,000 likes and almost 8,000 retweets, but it also launched an online debate over the “guidelines” around good casual sex. Some argued that a hookup should be about sex and nothing more, but others agreed that “bare minimum respect” from a partner would make the experience more enjoyable. Cindy tells Elite Daily she wishes casual sex felt more respectful. “I’m all for people doing whatever they please with their body, but in my experience, it can feel like everyone’s in it for themselves when sex should be shared and mutual.”

Regardless of how you personally feel about non-committed sex, there’s no denying that sometimes it’s just bad. Not in a moralizing sense, but in terms of the experience: Think “I brought him home and we did one minute of foreplay and then he never texted me again.” And according to Maria Yagoda, author of Laid and Confused: Why We Tolerate Bad Sex and How to Stop (out May 30), a lot of sh*tty sex has to do with poor communication — or worse, a complete lack of it.

“We don’t have intimate communication modeled to us anywhere: in Gossip Girl, in sex scenes, in movies, in sex ed, in porn,” Yagoda tells Elite Daily. “So we are not seeing or internalizing what it might look like to communicate during sex for things we want and don’t want.” Take the example above — not only was the foreplay almost nonexistent, but maybe you didn’t really know how to correct him, so you tolerated the bad sex instead. For women in their 20s, having better sex (casual or otherwise) may come down to communicating better. And that doesn’t just mean saying what you like and don’t like in bed — it means telling your partner exactly what you need from them, and vice versa.

Hayley*, 27, from New York, is a fan of casual sex and says “dating in abundance” has been empowering and life-changing for her. In each casual relationship, she prioritizes humanizing the other person and expressing boundaries. “With one partner, we talk for a bit before we have sex each time, but we don’t see each other in public or go on dates,” she tells Elite Daily. “Another partner and I like going on dates, but it’s important to us both that I don’t sleep over and we aren’t monogamous. Every scenario is different but built on respect — once you lose that, it’s hard to come back.”

For some, asking for what you want in bed comes down to asserting how you wish to be treated. “I definitely demand respect from partners,” Erica, 29, from Toronto, tells Elite Daily. “I’m learning that it’s OK to ask for what I want and explain how I feel. And I’ve found that my increased ability to say, ‘Hey, don’t treat me poorly, this is what I expect from you’ has helped me have better casual relationships.” When she isn’t feeling cared for by a casual partner, she isn’t afraid to walk away.

There should be a mutual understanding of valuing each other, even without a serious partnership.

Sometimes the honest conversation you need to have about casual sex is with yourself. Is it something you truly want right now? Are you feeling pressure from others to hook up when you’d rather just hang out with your vibrator collection? Emily*, 27, from New York, realized a few years ago she wasn’t having casual sex for the right reasons. “I was using it as an empty substitute for genuine intimacy at a time when I didn’t feel ready for a full-blown relationship,” she tells Elite Daily. “I needed to focus on myself when I was instead seeking outside validation from men who frankly didn’t matter.”

So she took a step back, focused on healing from previous relationships, and started approaching sex more intentionally. “Now, I tend to listen to myself a little better and choose casual sex at times that I feel most confident, so the experience isn’t centered around feeling better about myself, but rather just having fun,” she says.

Of course, every person has different boundaries, wants, and desires, and there’s no recipe for the perfect sex life (if only it were that simple). Still, Yagoda writes that we owe it to ourselves “to seek out sexual situations — casual or otherwise — where we feel safe enough to communicate.” And for those who’ve realized hookups still aren’t fulfilling for them no matter how much they’ve tried, finding that level of comfort may mean casual sex is no longer on the table.

Rosie, 25, from Los Angeles, admits her recent situationship was making her miserable. “I had caught feelings and he was not able to commit, but he wanted to keep having sex with me,” she recalls to Elite Daily. In January, she tweeted, “why would u ever want to be friends with benefits with a man? like what benefits are u getting aside from a life lesson.” In a thread, she continued: “if he’s not obsessed with u and thanking the stars every time he gets to kiss u you need to start investing in a vibrator. it’s gatekeep your body 2023.” The tweet thread racked up 190,000 likes and 21,000 retweets, proving she wasn’t alone in her dissatisfaction.

Rosie thinks gender norms are partially to blame for why many hetero FWB situations aren’t working. “Women are really socialized to please the other partner, and so many guys I’ve been with don’t care about foreplay or making sure that you feel good, safe, and cared for,” she says. “For me at least, sex doesn’t feel good unless you care about the other person.” She’d rather masturbate and put her energy toward caring for herself, or hook up with people she feels truly connected to.

Yagoda spends a chapter in her book advocating for having less sex, especially when the sex you’ve been having “wastes your f*cking time.” She writes, “There has never been a better time to overhaul our sex lives, and I believe that starts with having less of it, by cutting out the bad stuff and being choosier about the sex we do have.”

That’s a message that resonates with many women. “Especially in today’s day and age where abortion rights are being stripped and birth control is being challenged, sex is such an intimate and risky act,” Cindy says. “If you’re going to embark on that with somebody, there should be a mutual understanding of valuing and appreciating each other, even without a serious partnership.”

*Names have been changed.