What’s in a number? If a person has had sex with 50 people, what does that say about their values compared to somebody who is still a virgin? I’d argue that it says very little but, as a sex positive twenty-something, I find that despite the growing sexual liberation movement within our society, there are still people who will automatically jump to conclusions about a person based on their sexual behaviour.
I have found that, despite my own open attitude, actually sitting down to write an article about casual sex is surprisingly difficult. For the most part you’ll be preaching to the choir, or else the reader will have totally different values and you probably aren’t going to change anyone’s opinions. If somebody feels strongly about waiting until marriage, you’re unlikely to convince them that having sex with an attractive acquaintance is the way forward (although both of said decisions are totally legitimate – you do you).
Either way, as a student at university, casual sex is something you will be exposed to. Whether you engage in it yourself, or hear the post-bop college gossip, or even if you just occasionally scroll past an Oxfess hook up confession (but did that person really have sex in the Rad Cam?) With hormones surging and the ubiquitous desire for a release after an essay crisis, sex is everywhere.
Yet, bizarrely, who you have sex with, how often you do it, or how many partners you’ve had, are all factors that people take as entitlement to judge your sense of morality, or else to be fetishised or glamourised.
It’s hard not to have had a personal experience of slut-shaming, or else be called a prude if you are more reserved. Even in casual relationships, people sometimes ask what your ‘number’ is, and there are assumptions that a higher number makes you more likely to be ‘unclean’ or to have an STD. For the record, it doesn’t. For that matter, why is talking about STDs so cringe in the first place?
Half of sexually active people will get an STD before the age of 25, so use protection and get tested, but it’s so common that you’re not suddenly a leper because you’ve had one. Equally, a higher number doesn’t mean that you don’t value romantic intimacy – maybe on top of an Oxford degree – you just don’t need the pressure of a partner!
One thing that really lacks representation and can be particularly hard to navigate is how casual sex fits into queer life, particularly for those who identify as female. Casual hookups seem, to me, to be more often spoken about in TV shows that focus on heterosexual or often cis, homosexual men. There are still the taboos and misconceptions about who can be a sexual person, or who is ‘too sexual’.
As a bisexual woman, I feel that people often automatically view you as more ‘promiscuous’ (who said that word has to be negative anyway?) just for being hypothetically attracted to a bigger pool of people. There are misconceptions that bisexual people are more likely to cheat in relationships, or else men assume that they can have a threesome with you, or lesbians won’t want you because you’re not ‘gold star’ (shocker: you’ve been with a man!) Of course, not everyone treats you like this, but every negative assumption based on your sexuality sounds out louder than 20 positive and informed things.
There is an elitism as to who is perceived as acceptable in their experience of casual sexual relationships, or who is perceived as doing it too much. To be LGBTQ+, BAME or, worryingly, having a mental health condition (think Effy in Skins), is to be automatically sexualised. Yet to be older, or to be disabled, is often to be entirely desexualised, sometimes even causing people to be disgusted at you having a totally normal human feeling (again, humans have human feelings…isn’t shocking really, is it?)
For me, stereotypes and societal attitudes to sex will always make the topic of casual sex difficult. Breaking down our assumptions about how other people should behave in their consensual, private lives (i.e. not treating them differently for their choices), and instead focusing on having a positive atti- tude to ourselves should be all you really care about. Have (safe) fun, or don’t – that’s your choice.