How to Improve the Taste of Semen

Many say casual sex usually causes regret. Actually, its main result is pleasure

Our culture has a long history of demonizing casual sex, that is, lovemaking divorced from any expectation of a future together. For centuries, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam have all insisted that God approves of sex for only two reasons—cementing holy wedlock and having children. The three religions have largely condemned sex for all other reasons—especially self-sexing and partner sex solely for pleasure. Many religious authorities insist that casual sex is a one-way ticket to Hell, or at least to serious regrets that may last a lifetime.

Meanwhile, virtually everyone has engaged in the world’s most popular form of sex, self-pleasuring, and at least two-thirds of people (more than 67 percent) admit having participated in partner sex for reason other than God’s two. The actual proportion of folks who have indulged in casual sex is undoubtedly higher. Many religious folks feel reluctant admit it.

So what’s up with casual sex? Is it more likely to produce regrets? Or pleasure? Or some of both?

Over the past 25 years, dozens of studies have investigated this question. Some have shown that casual sex usually leads to regrets, while others have found that its main result is mixed feelings or pleasure. Recently, researchers at the University of Nebraska and Virginia Polytechnic University analyzed 71 studies of casual sex outcomes published over a 23-year period (1997-2019), involving 122,749 participants, who were followed for two months to seven years. This study is the largest, most compelling such review ever conducted. Its conclusion: Regret and mixed feelings are possible, but most people say casual sex leaves them feeling just fine—usually quite happy. In addition, as casual liaisons fade into memory, most people feel increasingly better about them.

Psychological Theory Tilts Negative

The three main Western religions are not alone in condemning casual sex. Many psychologists have also frowned on it, as reflected in several psychological theories:

• Attachment theory postulates that human beings evolved to form lasting intimate relationships. Casual sex contradicts this, and therefore, is bad.

• Evolutionary psychology suggests women have the best chance of sending their genes into the next generation in the context of committed long-term relationships with men who assist in child rearing. Casual sex threatens this, therefore, it’s bad.

• Sexual script theory says sex involves learned, predictable roles, “scripts.” Casual sex is often impulsive and unpredictable. Therefore, it’s questionable.

While no psychological theory celebrates casual sex, two hold that it may not be so awful:

• Developmental theory says sex without clear relationship commitments allows people—especially adolescents and young adults—to experiment with sex and relationships before settling into anything lasting.

• Motivation theory proposes that people have many different reasons for sex, and that when both share an interest in casual sex, it may not be something to celebrate, but it’s okay.

Bottom line: Psychological theories value committed relationships over casual sex.

Adding to the drumbeat opposed to casual sex, some studies of casual sex, particularly young adult hook-ups, have asked only about regrets, ignoring participants’ overall feelings, which on balance may be positive. This skews results toward negativity. I’ve been married 50 years. If researchers asked, “Do you have regrets about your relationship?” I’d have to say yes. No relationship is perfect. Everyone has regrets. But if that’s all they asked, they would miss the fact that overall, I’m very happy with my marriage.

Why Casual Sex Feels Good or Bad

While most of the 71 studies showed that the majority of people feel fine about their casual sex, some studies reached other conclusions.  In several, regrets predominated. That’s not surprising. Who hasn’t experienced a bad date? Or lousy sex with a new partner?  And some showed mixed emotions. Also not surprising. Life is complicated. Few experiences are entirely marvelous or horrible.  However, in every study that measured both positive and negative emotions, participants rated their most recent casual sex experiences as significantly more positive than negative. Most of the time, most people enjoy casual sex.

But certain risk factors increase the likelihood of regret:

Religion. The most religious participants reported the most regrets about casual sex. No surprise there.

Gender. Some of the studies showed that compared with men, women are more likely to express regrets about casual sex. But others showed that gender has no impact on regret. And one report, a survey of 364 U.S. college students, showed that the women felt better about their casual hook-ups than the men.

Education. Compared with young adults who never attended college, those who have reported a bit more regret.

Sexual preference. Gay men expressed the least casual-sex regret. Heterosexuals and lesbians reported a little more.

Sex-negativity. Those brought up in families that denounce casual sex tend to express more regrets.

Self-esteem and psychological distress. People who don’t feel good about themselves and those suffering emotional anguish tend to carry that negativity into casual sex experiences. But this association was weak and centered mostly on adolescents and young adults. As people mature and gain more experience with life, they can have low self-esteem and feel emotionally troubled, but still enjoy casual sex.

Familiarity. Casual sex with strangers, first-time partners, or one-time partners usually generates more regret than sex with partners who know one another (dating couples, friends with benefits, former lovers).

Future possibilities. Compared with casual sex that might lead to something more lasting, sex that’s entirely spur-of-the-moment often causes more regrets.

Penis-vagina intercourse. Casual sex with intercourse fuels more regret than sex that emphasizes fellatio and cunnilingus.

Alcohol. Sex when drunk increases regrets.

No condoms. Sex without contraception boosts regrets.

Nonetheless, despite the risk factors for regrets, most of the time, most people say they feel fine about their casual sex. And as casual sex experiences become increasingly distant memories—days, weeks, months, or years later—regrets usually subsided and recollections of flings grew happier.

How to Enjoy Casual Sex

Some of the risk factors for casual sex regret are fixed or difficult to change: religion, gender, education, sexual preference, sex-negative upbringing, self-esteem, and psychological distress. But others are more malleable. To experience the most enjoyment of casual sex and the least regret: Look for opportunities with people you know. Enjoy fellatio and cunnilingus. For intercourse, use condoms. And minimize alcohol.

Finally, the researchers write, women don’t always regret casual sex nor do men always love it. Many women experience self-affirmation, and many men experience regrets. But overall, most of the time, most people feel fine about their casual sex experiences, and as time passes, they feel even better about them.

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