Thursday, February 20, 2014

A Defense of Casual Sex

Dear Viny,

Can you please explain the appeal of casual sex?

- Curiously Serious


Dear Serious,

It depends on what you mean by “casual”.

For me, there's the kind of casual that's almost purely physical, except that it's shot through with a sense of personal power. I'm suffused with feelings of pleasure that derive from being alive, in motion, and thoroughly in my own body.

There's the kind of casual that's about observation, exploration, and discovery: who am I in this moment, and how am I being perceived/received by others? Who is this other, and how do I perceive/receive him or her? It can be a cerebral experience, even dispassionate, but I often feel as though I am learning something important about how to be more fully human. There's also the reverse: an experience in which I am offered relief from thought, when some non-rational version of self takes over, and “I” am just along for the ride.

There's the kind of casual that allows me to float free of time. I don't have to ask myself, “What led to this moment? Where is this going? What does it MEAN?” Instead, I immerse myself in the present. I am able to pay close attention to sensory details and the play of my own emotions, moment to moment, without being tempted to turn them into a story with an exciting beginning, a ho-hum middle, and a tragic end.

Then there's the kind of casual that makes it possible to connect with another person (or with a group of people) without having to run the usual compatibility scripts. It doesn't matter whether I approve of his politics or share her dietary preferences, because we're communing on a different plane. The love I feel may be light, in the sense that it is transitory and weightless, but it is nonetheless true.

I hope I've given you a sense of the some of the ways in which “casual” sex might be appealing. But I have a confession to make: up until now, I have been talking about dancing.

For me, dance is a form of sex. (Interestingly, there are fundamentalist religious groups that agree with me on this!) When I interact with others on the dance floor, I bring my whole self to the experience. The exchange of energy feels sexual to me. Sex: desire, movement, release. A creative force grounded in physical expression, transcending physical boundaries.

However, if by “sex” you mean something unimaginatively literal, such as “the insertion of one person's genitals into another person's body cavity” or “any activity between people that involves a certain degree of nudity, a certain amount of flesh-on-flesh contact, and preferably at least one garden-variety orgasm,” then you may need to take your question elsewhere, because that kind of sex doesn't appeal to me in a casual context. I can extrapolate, based on my experiences of “casual” dancing and non-casual “sex”, what the appeal of casual sex might be for someone else, but I have very little direct experience of it myself.

About five years ago, I decided to try out “I think you're hot but let's keep it cool” sex. I found someone on OKCupid who met my basic requirements (attractive, intelligent, ethically non-monogamous, and not a health risk) and commenced my experiment. (Yes, he knew I was playing around with him, and he was okay with that.) After several dates, which were spread out over several months, I reached my conclusion: although the sex worked the way sex is technically supposed to work (meaning that our bodies functioned the way we expected them to function), I just didn't get off on getting off that way. Thankfully, I was able to extricate myself from this “acquaintances-with-benefits” arrangement with minimal fuss and no hurt feelings.

Although I have decided I don't want to engage in casual sex-as-it's-typically-defined, I'm unabashedly sex-positive. I defend the right of every individual to define, explore, and express his/her (nir/vis/eir/hir/zir/xyr...) sexuality in any way that does not prevent someone else from exercising that same inalienable right. I celebrate sex, in all its glorious multiplicity – and I am delighted that others are able to enjoy forms of sex that don't appeal to me personally.

So, if casual sex – however you define it! – appeals to you, go for it! If it doesn't, that's also completely fine. Whenever you try but fail to understand the appeal of something that others seem to find appealing, all it means is there's something you don't understand. Not understanding something doesn't make you – or anyone else – wrong.

Tangos & Mangoes,

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