Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Taking Casual Sex Not Too Casually: Exploring Definitions of Casual Sexual Relationships

Academic journal article The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality

Taking Casual Sex Not Too Casually: Exploring Definitions of Casual Sexual Relationships

Article excerpt

Abstract: Researchers are beginning to explore the variety of casual sexual relationships that individuals engage in. These relationships, and the subtle nuances that differentiate them, have not been studied collectively. The purpose of the present study was to qualitatively examine casual sexual relationships (CSRs), ranging from a single encounter to an ongoing sexual relationship with a friend. Male and female focus group participants identified a number of implicit and explicit rules that guide the initiation, maintenance, and termination of four types of casual sexual relationships: One Nights Stands, Booty Calls, Fuck Buddies, and Friends with Benefits. Participants identified these rules regardless of gender or whether they had previous personal experience with any of these CSRs. The results suggest that each of these relationship types can be placed on a continuum of casual sex according to various dimensions, including frequency of contact, type of contact (sexual and/or social), personal disclosure, discussion of the relationship, and friendship. Participants' shared understanding of CSRs suggests that young adults may have common cultural knowledge of these relationships and a fluid conceptualization of what constitutes a relationship.

Introduction

Sexual encounters outside committed relationships, often referred to as casual sexual relationships (CSRs), are common for young adults in Western countries, especially among college and university students (Bisson & Levine, 2009; Grello, Welsh, & Harper, 2006; Hughes, Morrison, & Asada, 2005; Puentes, Knox, & Zusman, 2008). Media references to CSRs are widespread and the formal academic literature on CSRs has steadily increased over the last decade (e.g., Jonason, Li, & Cason, 2009; Lambert, Kahn, & Apple, 2003; Owen & Fincham, 2011a). Few studies, however, have systematically investigated definitional caveats with regards to various forms of casual sexual interactions ranging from one-time encounters to ongoing sexual relationships. In the available literature, definitions of "casual sex" differ significantly from study to study making interpretation of the results problematic and generalizability of findings limited. The objective of this study was to examine whether various casual sex encounters follow specific patterns that make it possible to reliably differentiate distinct forms of CSRs along a continuum.

Researchers have used various terms to describe CSRs. Earlier terms include permissiveness without affection (Reiss, 1960), premarital coitus (Hunt, 1975), or premarital sex (Tavris & Sadd, 1975). More recent terms include sex that occurs only once (Kilman, Boland, West, Jonet, & Ramsey, 1993), sex outside a committed relationship (Regan & Dreyer, 1999), non-relational sex (Epstein, Calzo, Smiler, & Ward, 2009), or the commonly used One Night Stand (ONS; Cubbins & Tanfer, 2000; Montoya, 2005). The ONS is often used as the representative term for a range of non-committed sexual relationships (Forster, Ozelsel, & Epstude, 2010; Greitemeyer, 2007; Zeigler-Hill, Campe, & Myers, 2009), but the term fails to capture the temporal variations and specificities that exist within CSRs that extend over more than "one night." Another increasingly popular term for CSRs is hooking up (Bogle, 2008). This term is currently used to describe single, episodic, or ongoing sexual activity between individuals who are not in a committed relationship (Fielder & Carey, 2010; Owen, Fincham, & Moore, 2011; Regnerus & Uecker, 2011).

Regardless of terms used to describe various forms of casual sex, it is often unclear what form of sexual activity determines the definition (e.g., intercourse vs. kissing), the temporal characteristics (one encounter vs. ongoing), or the degree of intimacy in the relationship (none vs. sharing activities/revealing emotions). Prevalence rates for casual sex differ significantly if researchers use any sexual activity (75%; Paul, McManus, & Hayes, 2000) versus sexual intercourse (15-35%; Maticka-Tyndale, Herold, & Mewhinney, 1998; Weaver & Herold, 2000). …

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