Depathologizing Casual Sex
I recently read an interesting albeit brief article discussing research on casual sex, and calling out the different types and functions of casual sexual encounters (click on the following to read)…
…and I really appreciated that it calls out the oversimplification of these types of sexual interactions. I often have a strong reaction to the way that certain words are reductive, and used to pathologize or stigmatize non-reproductive sex—casual sex, hypersexuality, promiscuity to name a few. The phrase “casual sex” has an inherent assumption that “casual” is not “meaningful” and that there is something wrong with having casual sex. The same sort of implication exists in the terms “hypersexuality” and “promiscuity”—both are terms coined by the mainstream majority to refer to sexual activity that deviates from social norms, and are loaded with negative connotation. I am of the mindset that sexuality is a very personal matter; that how many sex partners one has or how they choose to interact with sex partners or engage in sexual interactions is very much dependent on individually assigned meaning and motivation.
For example, person A might have a variety of sex partners (perhaps who they consider “casual”) and types of sexual interactions, and experience their sexual expression as egosyntonic—i.e., a positive expression congruent with their values, beliefs, and self-image. Person B might have a sex life similar to person A in terms of sex partners and types of sexual interactions, but experience it as egodystonic—i.e., it might create internal and external conflicts, and negatively affect interpersonal functioning and the way they feel about themselves. In defense of person B, I would say that a large part of the conflict someone might have regarding their means of sexual expression is a reaction to the societal expectation that they conform to what is considered “appropriate” sexual behavior. For many, the resulting stigmatization from words like hypersexuality and promiscuity can cause far more discomfort than their internal dissonance, not only due to negative reinforcement, but in that it can create additional conflicts that delay or mitigate an authentic expression of sexuality.