Is Casual Sex Good For You?

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sexopenerPhotographed By Lauren Perlstein.
We Americans are strange creatures. Even as numerous studies show that more of us than ever are having casual sex, it's still a difficult subject to discuss openly without at least a hint of judgement — particularly when we're talking about women. This is often due to the assumption that hooking up is pursued at the expense of committed relationships. After all, long-term monogamy must surely be a more noble goal than bringing home that guy you met before last call on Thursday night...right? And, of course, there's that whole "eroding the morals of American civilization" thing to worry about, as well.

But, if hookup culture is really so destructive to our society, why do we keep doing it? A new study conducted by NYU researchers paints a (positive) new picture of one-night stands and the strapping lads and lasses who have them: For those who have liberal views on sex, casual encounters have a positive effect on psychological well-being.

The research, published this month in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science, involved 371 undergrads, who were surveyed periodically over nine months on both their sex lives (frequency of sex, number of partners, and level of enjoyment and agency felt during the act) and their emotional health. In addition, at the beginning of the study, the students were asked to report their "sociosexual orientation," a measure of "propensity toward casual sex" based on responses to questions about behavior, attitudes, and desire.

In a twist that would surprise maybe three people in the universe, results showed that subjects who were sociosexually unrestricted reported lower stress and greater overall emotional health after having casual sex. As the study's authors put it, "the effects of casual sex depend on the extent to which this behavior is congruent with one’s general personality tendencies." In other words, engaging in casual sex can be an empowering experience for those who embrace it.

This finding isn't at all shocking, nor should it be: Basic (liberal-minded) common sense dictates that people should be entitled to lead their own sex lives as they see fit — as long as they're not mistreating others in the process. And, perhaps the study results are at least partly influenced by an increased acceptance of casual sex among young, sexually-active Americans; if your friends have a "you do you" attitude toward intercourse, you may be more likely to find it empowering. All in all, people tend to have a pretty good idea of what's best for them — so maybe sex is best viewed without any other ideals or morals than those of the person doing the sexing.