Sex is something that is both pervasive and taboo in American culture. You can’t walk down the street or turn on the television without seeing sexualized images of (mostly) women, but there is still a huge reluctance to publicly discuss sex outside of its reproductive context. Our own cultural hang-ups about sex and nudity have created an environment that is relatively unfriendly to the idea that casual sex is a good thing, much less that it could be good for your health.
Now, science backs up that very idea, which is definitely cause for celebration. A study published in the journal Social Psychology and Personality Science shows that casual sex can have real benefits in improving self-esteem while reducing anxiety and depression. If you were a little hesitant about hooking up with that cute bearded guy you met at the bar, know that it could actually be beneficial for your health. This research, though, stands in contrast to previous studies that showed that non-committal sex could have a negative effect on your well being.
How good it is for you, though, depends on how you feel about casual sex. Researchers had undergraduates fill out a survey that gauged their attitudes toward sex outside of relationships, and whether they had a tendency to seek it out. 42 percent of respondents reported having sex outside of a relationship, and that those who enjoyed casual sex tended to be “extroverted,” “unconventional,” and “attractive.”
How good it is for you, though, depends on how you feel about casual sex.
Those who viewed casual sex in a positive light were much more likely to experience psychological benefits from having it. Put simply, if casual sex is something that you like, it could boost your mood. Most interesting, though, were the responses from people who didn’t enjoy or seek out casual sex. While those who did experienced measurably improved self-esteem and decreased anxiety, those who do not enjoy casual sex experienced no statistically significant ill effects from abstaining.
It’s also good to know that the guilt associated with casual sex isn’t entirely related to the sex itself. Researcher Zhana Vrangalova told Pacific Standard that other research shows that the majority of guilt after a casual hook-up or one-night stand comes with having consumed too much alcohol or not having safe sex.
Safe and consensual sex are essential components of a healthy sex life, and it’s refreshing to see research that helps us shed the shame of enjoying casual sex. For most of us, this research just confirms something that we’ve known for a long time: sex is good, and it’s really good for you, even if it’s not happening in a committed relationship.