No Strings Attached: The Nature of Casual Sex in College Students
Grello, Catherine M., Welsh, Deborah P., Harper, Melinda S., The Journal of Sex Research
The transition to adulthood is a time of exploration and experimentation, as young people hone the life skills, relationship styles, and behavior patterns that will impact their emotional functioning and health as adults (di Mauro, 1995). The journey to adulthood often includes experimentation with sexual behaviors: the majority of adolescents first engage in intercourse before they graduate high school (Kaiser Family Foundation, 2003). Using a nationally representative sample of adolescent females, Manning, Longmore, and Giordano (2000) found that first intercourse experiences occurred in the context of a romance for the majority of young people. However, large numbers transitioned to sex with a partner who was "a friend" or with someone they "had just met." In general, engaging in casual sexual intercourse appears to be a function of the amount of time an adolescent is sexually active (Traeen & Lewin, 1992). In other words, those who begin having intercourse at younger ages are more likely to engage in sexual intercourse with casual partners. It is a relatively common occurrence rather then a subgroup trend. Nationally representative studies reveal that 70-85% of sexually experienced adolescents age 12-21 reported engaging in intercourse with a casual sex partner during the previous year (Grello, Welsh, Harper, & Dickson, 2003). Similarly, college student samples suggest that 70% of college students report having engaged in intercourse with partners they did not consider romantic (Feldman, Turner, & Araujo, 1999).
Casual sexual relationships or encounters are referred to by a variety of lexis in research literature and in popular discourse. For example, in research these relations have been referred to as "chance encounters" (Fisher & Byrne, 1978), "one-night stands" (Cubbins & Tanfer, 2000; Simpson & Gangestad, 1991), "hookups" (Paul, McManus, & Hayes, 2000), "sociosexuality" (Simpson & Gangestad, 1991), "anonymous sex" (McGuire, Shega, Nicholls, & Deese, 1992), and "casual sex" (Regan & Dreyer, 1999). In the popular press, it has been referred to as "meaningless sex" (Solomon & Taylor, 2000), "friends with benefits," and "booty call" (Marklein, 2002). Casual sexual relationships can be sexual interludes with strangers (Manning et al., 2000) or they can be sex with a friend (Shaffer, 2000). They can be brief or long in duration (Shaffer; Simpson & Gangestad, 1991). Regardless of terminology, all are describing sexual relationships in which the partners do not define the relationship as romantic or their partner as a boyfriend or girlfriend. These meetings are often superficial, based on sexual desire or physical attraction, spontaneous, and often impulsive (Regan & Dreyer; Simpson & Gangestad, 1992), and they frequently involve drugs or alcohol (Desiderato & Crawford, 1995).
The majority of research on sexuality has focused exclusively on sexual intercourse, although adolescent and young adult sexuality is not limited to intercourse alone and includes a variety of activities, from non-coital behaviors such as kissing and mutual masturbation to genital sexual behaviors including oral sex, intercourse, and anal sex (Paul et al., 2000). Broadening research to examine the context and full spectrum of sex behaviors of adolescents is theoretically important to the development of effective education programs and clinical interventions (Whitaker, Miller, & Clark, 2000), as some adolescents may use oral sex as a substitution for intercourse by defining oral sex as "not having sex" (Sanders & Reinisch, 1999).
Awareness of the prevalence of casual sexual relationships is just beginning to emerge in empirical literature, as well as in popular discourse. Parents, policymakers, and researchers have begun to ask about the nature of these relationships. This article investigates sexual behaviors in context to identify the nature of college students' casual sexual relationships and their link with well-being and interpersonal behaviors. …