Casual Sex: An Exploration of Attitudes, Practices, and Consequences


Casual sex has become increasingly prevalent in culture today, leading to significant shifts in sexual attitudes and practices across the globe. This rise in casual sexual encounters has been accompanied by a corresponding increase in research, exploring attitudes, practice, and consequences of these experiences. This article will explore the various definitions of casual sex, conditions that may support higher levels of casual sex activity, the way casual sex impacts individuals’ psychological wellbeing, and its implications for wider society.

Defining Casual Sex

Casual sex is a broad term that intrinsically contains many different definitions, with each individual having their own impression of what the term entails. Generally, casual sex refers to any type of sexual encounter that does not lead to a committed relationship or marriage, or an encounter that involves multiple anonymous partners over a relatively short period of time. While more objective definitions of casual sex have been proposed in academia, such as B. J. Harper, D.D.sole, and B.P. Baldinger’s (2001) labeling of casual sex as “sexual encounters with a variety of people that are not necessarily exclusive to one another,” with “no intention of developing the relationship to a second or more dates in combination with the convergence of same-gender attraction,”there is still much room for personal interpretation.

Potential Supportive Factors

Though casual sex and open relationships are still relatively taboo, they are steadily becoming more accepted in modern society. Increased access to modern communication technologies, such as the internet and mobile phones, have helped to support the growth of casual sexual encounters. This has led to the creation of “hook-up” sites, such as Tinder, Grindr, and OKCupid, which enable individuals to quickly find potential sexual partners in their local area. Additionally, the ubiquity of pornography on the internet has had a notable effect on attitudes towards sex and sexual expression, with some studies indicating that up to half of all respondents have consumed pornography in the past year.

The psychological wellbeing of those engaging in casual sex is also a factor that should be acknowledged. Research has indicated that individual differences in motivation influence casual sexual behavior, sensitive to how prospective partners display their interest and behavior, as well as the atmospheres of venues chosen for sexual activity. University campuses have been particularly well documented as settings for casual sex hookups, with research conducted by Lalvani, H., S.M. Eviley, and M.B. Simine (2017) finding that college students engaged in significantly more casual sex than their non-student counterparts.

Impact on Psychological Wellbeing

Though avoiding commitment and potential entanglements can make casual sex seem like a liberation in the moment, recent research has suggested that engaging in casual sexual encounters can have a much longer-lasting and more profound impact on psychological wellbeing. Often times, casual sex is accompanied by feelings of guilt and regret, as well as feelings of worthlessness and a general decrease in wellbeing.

Social Implications

There is also a wider social implications of an increase in casual sex. Associating casual sex with forms of unethical or immoral behavior, which is often seen as the societal norm, can lead to significant levels of stigma, shunning, and even criminalization of those who engage in such behavior, which can have a nonreciprocal, long-term impact on mental and physical health of those engaging in casual sexual encounters. Furthermore, unchecked casual sex and open relationships can also lead to the potential spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unintended pregnancies, which can have far-reaching implications for society, both medically and economically.


Though casual sex can appear to be the perfect shortcut to intimacy, research suggests that the consequences of engaging in casual sexual encounters can be both physically and mentally damaging to individuals. With higher levels of casual sex activity associated with increased experiences of risky behaviors, mental health issues, and STIs, it is important that we begin to address the potential factors and consequences that come with casual sex and open relationships in order to maintain a healthier society.

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