Hooking Up

The Skeptical Novice posted a piece recently on the message Hollywood gives us about casual sex (and also some interesting thoughts about marriage).

I don’t understand the sentiment that sex without love is “empty.” As long as all parties involved are fully aware of what they’re getting into, then there shouldn’t be a problem. The key to this is communication.

I’ve written about the need for honesty in any relationship, from friends to lovers, but never in this context.

While sex is more fun that Super Smash Bros., religion tells us we’re not to share it to that degree.  I’ve noticed that in the atheist movement a lot of us are very split on this.  What are your thoughts on casual sex?  Have you ever tried it?  What was your personal experience?  What would you say to somebody else considering it?

And, if it’s something you have experience with, how can people make it better?  Are there any ethical rules that should be followed?

It seems to me a lot of people have pre-marital sex (as Dr. David Burger always says, it’s only pre-marital if you intend to get married) and, given the basics of human biology, we all want to have pre-marital sex (even if some people want to obey god even more).  The willingness to responsibly abide by our biology in the department of getting-it-on seems like a real selling point for atheism (what asshole of a god gives us all the fun?), but like all things in our movement we should approach it with as much reason as possible.

So let’s do it.  Discuss.

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About JT Eberhard

When not defending the planet from inevitable apocalypse at the rotting hands of the undead, JT is a writer and public speaker about atheism, gay rights, and more. He spent two and a half years with the Secular Student Alliance as their first high school organizer. During that time he built the SSA’s high school program and oversaw the development of groups nationwide. JT is also the co-founder of the popular Skepticon conference and served as the events lead organizer during its first three years.

  • Alix

    Casual sex can be great fun! But it can also be scary. :/ So far as I’m concerned, it is best enjoyed safely (says the girl with 17 condoms in her purse for demonstrations and emergencies). Both/All parties should agree to things they will or won’t do, how they should treat each other, and what to do if there are any “accidents.” After that, enjoy! Main points are fun, safely, and not fucking around with someone else’s lover/spouse. Unless they’re into that, too…

  • Randomfactor

    Agree that communication is the key. My experience has been limited but does include two marriages as well as one-time-only events with folks whom I still maintain long-term friendships.

    Never have had a friends-with-benefits relationship, though I’d be interested. (Single male here.) The relationship universe is limited to nontheists and I don’t “do” elevator pitches, so that’s two serious constraints right there.

    (Coincidentally watched “Friends With Benefits” for the first time yesterday. Disappointed that it ran so predictably, but this is Hollywood–right down to the sign–and they couldn’t just let the tennis match continue.)

  • Jay

    Sex-positive messages – that’s what we need to spread.

    I’ve found many atheists who were knowledgeable about consent and communication and promoted sex-positivity in their advice and relationships. It sort of comes saddled with the generally liberal politics/worldview that many atheists have.

    On the other hand, I’ve met atheists who were surprisingly ignorant, sexist, and sex-negative. A lot of it is leftovers from their former religious leanings, and cultural conditioning. It’s always surprising and disappointing when someone who professes to be highly intellectual and educated, turns around and says something totally ignorant and infuriating (usually involving evo psych) about the way men and women relate to each other and the sexual roles that they should play.

    The bottom line is, honesty. Being honest with your partner(s) and most importantly, being honest with yourself.

  • Melodi

    Casual sex is tricky. I’ve seen it work great for some people and be disastrous for others. People are individuals and every interaction between individual is somewhat unique. A lot of times people aren’t fully aware of the underlying variables inside themselves until they are in a certain situation. I think it’s important to really look at your motives before entering into a casual sexual relationship ( you know, if there are any beside just “sex is fun!”) and look at if that situation is right for you. Hope for a movie version of how casual sex works is doomed. I mean DOOOOOMMMED. Also if it is with an ex I’m not saying it is certainly headed for disaster; just almost certainly headed for disaster. However those are just my opinions.
    I think it’s also really important to think about the person(s)involved. You need to (1) Be able to trust them (2) Be as aware as you can of their motives. Otherwise things can go very very bad.
    I’d like to say some thing about loveless sex being “hallow” as well. It’s not hallow, it’s fun (even in the disastrously ending situations it is at some point fun, hopefully anyway). However sex with someone you have a deep emotional and intellectual report with is the bee’s knees.

  • http://tasteofmore.blogspot.com Kay

    I really think people need to be very in-tune with themselves for casual sex to work. Having a complete understanding of what is/is not involved in these encounters is necessary to emerge unscathed. Some of the most erotically fulfilling experiences I’ve had were with casual encounters, as well as while in long-term relationships. Protecting oneself and being realistic about what your boundaries are make casual hook-ups a joy to part-take in. Monogamy isn’t for everyone, nor at every part of their life. We as a society need to be open to that and accept people’s personal decisions (particularly those pertaining to the bedroom).

  • Blueaussi

    I’ve certainly had more than my share of casual sex, including friends with benefits situations.

    When I first became sexually active, my attitude was along the lines of Yay! Sex! WeeeeeLetsGo! I had buckets and barrels of wet, slippery fun. The only problem, from my perspective, was that far too many men seemed to think putting their penis in me activated some OMG Love&Matrimony Feedback Loop, and that I would henceforth hottly pursue them clothed in bridal white with a Justice of the Peace in tow.

    So, I would say that communication is not the only issue. You should treat your partners, even the most casual ones, like you would like to be treated. The ones who did that are the ones I remember fondly.

    I have reached a point in my life where I’m not especially interested in casual sex. It’s too much work. I want, at the very least, familiarity and affection in my partners. I want the toasty glow of old relationship energy, not the giddy heart thumping delight of new relationship energy. That doesn’t mean I regret my younger excesses, or that I would advice anyone else not to try casual sex.

    When asked about it, I generally tell people to do what is right for them. I don’t think it’s just lingering bits of a religious upbringing that make some people uncomfortable with casual sex. Some people are going to prefer the security of sex within a relationship, period.

    I also don’t think using HAWT SEKS as a selling point for atheism is a very good idea, just reread some of the Elevatorgate threads for reasons why. The atheist community should work on eliminating sexism within its own ranks before advertising itself as a “HitOnMEHotline” to nonatheists.

  • http://about.me/wmlamont William L

    Casual sex, as in one-night-stands, is right out for me. I dunno why but I do get attached when it comes to sex. Dunno how to describe it, really. It’s not love, nor is it possession. Maybe a sociologist can explain the meaning behind that.

    Honest friends with benefits on the other hand is awesome, ’cause you can have feelings and eat them too! You care for them; they’re your friend/ex but because you both know there’s no hard feelings if it has to end, they don’t necessarily stop being your friend.

    I do agree its comes part and parcel with our more open and honest viewpoint – or at least it should!

  • http://freethoughtblogs.com/greta/ Greta Christina

    The very, very short version of my thoughts on this: Yes, I think casual sex can be awesome, and it’s certainly not immoral if everyone involved is honest and consensual. I also think sex can be more powerful and fraught than we always acknowledge: partly because we’re screwed up culturally (by religion, among other reasons), but partly because it’s an intense biological drive. So we need to acknowledge that even when sex is casual, our feelings about it can run strong, and we need to make room for that in our decisions about it (including our decisions about whether to have it).

    And if you want a word other than “pre-marital,” try “extra-marital” or “non-marital.” It doesn’t imply that marriage is automatically going to be happening someday.

    • Daniel Schealler



  • http://en.allexperts.com/q/Atheism-2724/indexExp_111189.htm Jeffrey Eldred

    Conversation with strangers is very often better than nothing, but if you thought that conversation with a stranger was the same thing as a conversation with a close friend than you’d be missing out on most of what life is all about. Replace “conversation” with “sex”.

    • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

      Well, sure, but I think you’re doing conversations with strangers a disservice. Some of the best conversations I’ve ever had were with strangers, and some of the most boring conversations were with close friends. In other words, it can go both ways.

      And I’m not replacing conversation with sex in my above statement, or it wouldn’t be true (I’ve not had sex with a stranger). But, if I were to use your analogy when considering whether I’d like sex with a stranger, your analogy would not do much to prevent me from having that sex, since my own experience with stranger conversations has been reasonably positive.

  • http://ummwhat.tumblr.com Carly

    What Jeffrey Said.

    Sex positivity is key, I believe. I’m very positive about sex, but I don’t think it’s fair to say that’s a trait of atheists or of freethinkers or skeptics, or that it’s a not a trait religious people can have (although it may easier for nonreligious people to be sex-positive). I personally prefer to have sex with friends, or people I like, but it’s not like I haven’t had a one-night-stand just because I was horny. I’ve also had a one-night-stand with someone I was wildly attracted to and could see myself caring deeply about in another life. The latter experience was the better one.

  • http://daisiesandshitproductions.com DaisiesAndShit

    I’ve too many trust issues to consider hooking up with someone I don’t know fairly well, but I’m certainly not opposed to friends-with-benefits situations. In fact, I hop on a plane to spend a mutually beneficial weekend of frolicking with a good friend of mine every three or four months. The success of these type of relationships seems to depend, like so much in life, on an individual’s ability to be honest both with themselves and with others. My marriage is polyamorous, and my relationship with my husband is primary – I know that I don’t have the time or emotional capacity at this point in my life to handle more than one serious relationship so I stick to “recreational” relationships. Friends-with-benefits, convention buddies… as long as everyone knows what they’re getting into and everyone is up-front, honest, and SAFE, it’s all good. :)

  • aliconstantine

    Like Daisies said, it all comes down to honesty with me. I’ve had the one night flings, I’ve had the hookups with ppl I knew, and I’ve had longer term friends with benefits situations. As long as everyone was completely honest with everyone else, it worked out great. But i must say that I enjoyed the encounters with people I knew well much more than the ones I had with people I didn’t know so well. The relationship definitely matters to me.

  • http://andythenerd.tumblr.com The Nerd

    I’ve had sex with pretty much all my friends, often several at once, and it’s been an overall positive experience. Why? Because I trust them, which is why they’re my friends. And no, it didn’t change anything between us, at least not on my end.

  • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, connaiseuse des choses bonnes

    Well, I never tried it.
    No because I’m against it but because it never came to it. Yeah, the pope would be kind of proud of me, I seem to do better on the promiscuity scale than most catholics ;)
    So, I know that I could not deal with an “open” or polyarmourous relationship. And since a relationship is what I’m in, casual sex is out of the window.
    The important thing is: that’s me. There’s only one other person on this planet whom this concerns and that is my husband.
    So, not coming from an experienced background, I’d go with: honesty and communication are the key. I’ve seen it work in friends who were open, and I’ve seen it fail when one side had different expectations than the other side.
    This is cruel when the casual “friends with benefits” side knows the other one is thinking in romantic relationship terms and doesn’t bother to correct them because that would mean no more sex.
    So, talk about it, go for it, use a condom (or the equivalent for lesbians. I know they exist but I have no idea what they’re called in English.)

    • http://daisiesandshitproductions.com DaisiesAndShit

      The female equivalent of a condom for oral sex is called a dental dam. :)

      • https://plus.google.com/100177776801127531910/about The Nerd

        Dental dams aren’t just a female thing. They’re great for anywhere people want to lick, including anuses. 99.9% of people of any gender have an anus.

        • http://giliellthinkingaloud.blogspot.com/ Giliell, connaiseuse des choses bonnes

          Thank you both, learning is fun

        • http://nathandst.blogspot.com NathanDST

          What does that 0.1% have?

  • Rey Fox

    On the other hand, I’ve met atheists who were surprisingly ignorant, sexist, and sex-negative.

    I wouldn’t say “sex-negative” necessarily, but it’s been surprising for me to check my matches on OKCupid, about all of whom are nonreligious, and find how many of them seem to still be stuck in jealous/possessive modes when it comes to this kind of thing.

    The other problem is that “casual sex” seems to have different definitions to different people. I would consider “friends with benefits” to be casual sex because it generally comes without expectations of a ring or any of that stuff, but to others casual sex = one-night stand. Also, I get the feeling that there are more women out there who are into the former sort of casual sex than might appear, but 1) will still couch it in the traditional dating more, which muddies the waters somewhat, and 2) don’t want to advertise as such because of fears of appearing “loose”, or attracting creeps.

  • Brandon K. Thorp

    Hi, JT.

    I’m agreeing with Kay’s post. In the gay community, of which I’m a part, anonymous or near-anonymous sex is often used as a cheap substitute for intimacy. At certain pathological extremes, it substitutes for other things, too — professional success, the possession of a clearly delineated identity, a sense of self-worth, passion, friendship. I know folks, and lots of em, who rack up 10, 15, 20 sexual partners a week, get almost no satisfaction from the experience, and somehow come to the conclusion that the answer to their misery is to rack up even *more* partners next week.

    I’m not talking about just a few oddballs. This is, by and large, what hookup culture means in the gay universe. It leads to total misery on the part of those involved. Yet when queried on the topic they’ll point out that, no, sex isn’t morally wrong; that there’s no plausible god condemning it; that all involved are consenting adults, etc. It’s the same argument used by drunks and drug addicts.

    I agree that hooking up is very often a pleasing way to pass the time, make new friends, practice one’s bedroom technique, and keep from becoming bored with one’s spouse. And I agree that plenty of people can do it healthily. But some can’t, and I wish we free-love-loving libertines would acknowledge that. There’s gotta be a coherent secular critique of sensual gluttony. Just because the religious critique of sex makes no sense, that doesn’t necessarily mean sex ought to be taken lightly. Sex is a big, consequential force in our lives, and failing to respect its power can cause a lot of anguish.

    Straightfolk, I think, grok his better than gay men — probably because half of em are women. Thoughts?

    - BKT

  • Pandy

    There’s sadly a lot of risk of hurting the other party if they don’t properly understand your intentions, which what makes communication SO FUCKING IMPORTANT.
    But if you’ve communicated properly and you’re both on the exact same page and reading the same book, I don’t think there’s any moral problems at all.
    I had my time with casual sex and it was glorious. It did help that I was abroad and would never see those people again. Even when I came back home, I had one friend who came “with benefits” (maybe I should say “came with benefits”, lolz) and it was still glorious. We both understood that we would never take it any further than sex and I do feel that our relationship made our friendship even awesomer because we were so comfortable with each other in numerous ways.
    I’ve even experimented with open-relationships and, contrary to what everyone warned me about, never became a problem. All parties were always aware of each other and the circumstances.