Give Casual Sex a Chance


It seems we are now at an amazing, yet totally expected, place when it comes to sex. Some people seem to think that long-term monogamy has become counter-cultural among young people.

In “Give Monogamy a Chance,” a recent review of a new book called The End of Sex, reviewer Emily Smith writes that “the casual-sex culture reign[s] among America’s young adults.” If casual sex reigns, long-term monogamy must necessarily then be an aberration.

This is amazing considering that until very recently, women who were seen or even rumored to be having sex outside a long-term, monogamous relationship were publicly shamed, excluded, and sometimes even punished. In fact, some people still advocate for that! But the fact that monogamy is now seen as “transgressive” is also not all that surprising. Current scientific consensus indicates that long-term monogamous relationships are standard practice in less than 20% of sampled societies.

The book appears to be a litany of potential negative consequences of sex done “wrong,” which is to say, any variation of not within a long-term, monogamous relationship.

Smith writes:

For decades now, young women have been taught by popular culture that casual sex is supposed to be liberating.

But… Donna Freitas’s illuminating new book, “The End of Sex,” suggest[s] that for many young women it proves instead to be dehumanizing.

Well, yes. For many women, and men, casual sex is not going to be a pleasant experience. And of course if we tell young people that they should be enjoying something that they’re clearly not, that will have negative consequences. It’s obviously not an ideal situation when people are not enjoying casual sex but continue to have it because someone has told them they “should.”

But isn’t the same thing true of decrying “hookup culture?” It is just as damaging to tell someone that they shouldn’t be enjoying the casual sex they do derive pleasure from. How many people are not enjoying their committed, monogamous sex but continuing to have it because someone has told them they “should?”

Ironically, what sucked about the puritanical shaming of the past is the same thing that sucks about a tyrannical “hookup culture.” Monogamy and casual sex are both fine for certain people at certain times. What is damaging is the idea that there’s only one “right” way to have sex.

  • You really should read Sex at Dawn!

    • I temper Robert’s enthusiasm with the warning that Sex at Dawn relies on a lot of questionable reasoning and cherry-picked examples (“data”). It’s not necessarily wrong, but it presents the 100,000-year history of human sexuality in a manner far too simplistic to really take its conclusion 100% seriously. It’s (maybe) worth a read, but not groundbreaking… unless you’re specifically *looking* for a conclusion that supports a polyamorous lifestyle, in which case, have at it. The book was written for you.

      I recommend reading “Ishmael” instead. It’s basically the same book, but better written and presented as philosophy of history instead of science.

      • Thanks for the rec Libby! That sounds really interesting. Also, I think that’s the entire market for Sex at Dawn.

        • Uh, I love Ishmael and highly recommend it, but its not even remotely similar to Sex at Dawn. Its about morality and sustainability compared to an analysis of human sexuality. Not sure how that qualifies as the exact same work….

          Not sure what to say about the dismissive nature of a work based on a faulty representation of its supposed conclusion, but ok then!

          • Lucas

            My (admittedly random and out of the blue) two cents about Sex at Dawn:

            I’ll start by saying that when I first read Sex at Dawn I was blown away. That book completely changed my view of monogamy, sex, and relationships. It sparked this new openness and acceptance in me, and I will say had a very positive impact on my relationship. I thought here is the book that everyone NEEDS to read. I recommended it to everyone, talked about it with everyone, even called it my new bible (not that I put any stock in the old bible – being an Atheist, but you get my meaning).

            Then I came across a book called Sex at DUSK, by Lynn Saxon, a sort of counter-argument to Sex at Dawn. So, being a ‘seeker of truth’, I figured I owed it to myself to read this book as well. I really expected (i.e. wanted) Sex at Dusk to be a bad book in that it made a poor case, being full of religious and/or political bias, and couldn’t really negate Sex at Dawn. But what I found instead was a very objective, concise argument that pretty much laid waste to everything presented in Sex at Dawn.

            Lynn Saxon drew on the exact same scientific research that Sex at Dawn used as evidence. However she showed a much more complete view of the research, she removed the apparent cherry-picking and candy-coating that Ryan and Jetha used, and showed that almost every bit of ‘evidence’ they used has been taken out of context, and presented in a way that is completely misleading.

            I am no expert in this field so I took the authors of Sex at Dawn for their word. I believed that the evidence they showed was honest and complete. Unfortunately it would seem that it isn’t. I am truly disappointed by their dishonesty.

            The other possibility is that the author of Sex at Dusk is being dishonest, but being that she is only showing more of the same research I would find it hard to make that argument, and I think anyone who reads it will also have a hard time making that argument. I highly recommend that any and all fans of Sex at Dawn read Sex at Dusk. If you have any interest in the truth, then you owe it to yourself.

            I honestly feel like I was cheated or scammed by Ryan and Jetha. I sincerely hope that they read Sex at Dusk to address the issues it brings up.

          • Excellent comment, thank you for writing it. I will certainly check out Sex at Dusk now as you have made a very compelling case for it. Cheers!

  • “Monogamy and casual sex are both fine for certain people at certain times. What is damaging is the idea that there’s only one “right” way to have sex.” Sounds like you are making a relativist claim that “the only truth is there are no truths.”

    • I think its more of what is right for some people isn’t necessarily right for all people. Not quite the same thing.

    • I don’t know if that’s what Cathy is saying or not, but I wouldn’t think that there’s anything bad about such a claim.

      Even outside of that, it’s pretty much as simple relativity as “some people like peas and some people don’t.” It’s silly to deny that people have different preferences, different need for their lives.

      • JQ Tomanek

        I don’t know if equating sexual actions can be compared to eating peas. The latter is rather arbitrary, the former we make laws to protect others.

        • We make laws to keep people from forcing things on others. We have law against rape just in the same way that we have laws against force-feeding someone peas. The commonality there is consent, not subject matter.

          • JQ Tomanek

            Gina, I am completely with you on that, but the quote I provided, specifically the last sentence, doesn’t agree with us. If we can agree that rape is a wrong way to have sex, perhaps there are others. If it is relative, as she seems to indicate, then making a rule like “no force” violates relativistic principle. Using force is abhorrent regardless of the situation or desire.

          • The difference is that rape isn’t really sex any more than being force fed peas is really eating. Both become acts of force when consent is removed.

          • Gina, bingo. I totally agree with you. I would also include casual sex is not really sex is not really sex in a similar way. Sex has two ends, unity and procreation. Casual sex puts the procreation part in jeopardy for it denies a child a stable and long term relationship of a mom and dad. The child suffers without his consent. Using the pea example, forcing a person to eat peas is wrong like rape is wrong. However, peas can be misused from their natural end of nutrition by other methods as well.

            Rape rejects the unitive aspect of the sexual act by forcing a person to do something against their will.

            By the way, I am not for forcing via the state how a person chooses to act. Most things, like this topic, needs to be dealt with via persuasion hence my participation here. I just wanted to make that clear.

          • ” Sex has two ends, unity and procreation.” << That's where we disagree, my friend. That may be what sex is for *for you* but there is nothing about the sex act that necessitates either of those things. Recreational sex is not unusual in the animal kingdom, and has "purposes" beyond procreation and pair bonding.

          • I do thank you for the intriguing conversation and your time to respond; I see we do disagree on the ends for sexual acts. Til next time, cheers.

          • Yeah, I think society has taught us that sex is all about those two ends. But some people love recreational and casual sex. I don’t see why that’s a bad thing…

    • Logic Jones

      What did you just start college or something? She’s not putting forth a theory of epistemology; she’s just saying that it’s better to think of sex on a personal and situational level than it is to conform to a set of social expectations (whether it’s “hook up culture” or monogamy). Saying there’s no right way to do X doesn’t mean there’s no right way to do -anything- (and even that latter possibility is a far cry epistemically from “the only truth is there are no truths” ..)

      • JQ Tomanek

        I don’t know how anyone could read the quote I provided differently. You don’t have to treat me like a child though, we can all play those games. If a person supports a libertine lifestyle, be proud of it and claim it. Just don’t get upset when another force puts you in the machine when they follow the same principle.

        • How do you jump from an affirmation of the entire spectrum of sexual relationships to supporting a libertine lifestyle? It seems to me that a healthy, fulfilling long-term relationships … monogamous, open, or poly … will necessarily go through stages of closeness as it develops. In the same way, the emotional maturity of every individual grows through adulthood. There is nothing mutually exclusive about thinking that virtuous love can sprout from any seedling of attraction, from casual hookups to formal dating. Why does every thing always have be reduced to some weird binary?

          • The motto of the libertine is “there are no moral standards.” In other words, “Monogamy and casual sex are both fine for certain people at certain times.” is the application of the principle in this discussion. I am thinking we have different conceptions of virtuous love.

  • Guest

    Like anything, it’s contextual. Having

  • Curtis

    Whoops…hit “post” too early. 😉

    Like anything, it’s contextual. Having or not having consensual sex is fine, so long as you know why you’re having, or not having, it. If you understand the various potential consequences. Simply hooking up with someone can be freeing, but it can also cause a number of long-term problems. So long as you are willing to deal with the problems that may result, there’s no reason why someone else should be involved in that decision — other than those with whom one is engaging in sex, of course.

    I haven’t read the book. If it’s simply warning people about the possible long-term consequences of casual sex, then there’s nothing particularly wrong with that. Even if it’s a one-sided view, so what? There are a lot of one-sided-view books out there. At least it gives rise to debates such as this.

    • Hostile-Elite

      reisenwitz, lutterell, Sanchez can open a whorehouse, then enjoy as much casual sex, & even get paid.

      as for the rest of 90% who want strong families, children, monogamy, let them have that.

      • I think you completely missed the point here. Cathy is arguing that everyone SHOULD be able to have sex the way they want to. Monogamous people can have monogamy and polyamorous people can have that. No one is trying to dictate a particular lifestyle there.

        Sadly, we couldn’t open a whorehouse most places because that would be illegal. I cannot speak for my fellow authors, but I do not think I would be particularly skilled at sex for money, so I’m gonna stick to advocating for liberty. However, folks who want to get paid for sex should also be able to do that—AND build strong families and children. I do not think the two are mutually exclusive.

  • William

    Well said Cathy. I’m certainly not in favor of “decrying,” or at least criticizing, other people’s consensual sexual behaviors, but I do want to point out something that while it may be obvious or mundane, might explain if not justify some of the perpetual complaining and hand-wringing about other people’s choices when it comes to sex.

    Of all things, one’s sexual activities certainly belong in the category of “not other people’s business.” Yet, in a way, of all things, this is precisely one thing that we all have an interest in. I think a major reason why sexual lifestyles are such a emotional topic is because every person has an interest in *their* preferences being common: the more people who want what you want, the more successful (and happy) you are likely to be. Obviously things are more complex than this, but it’s easy to see how such a personal and enjoyable experience encourages such outcry.

    Instead of ending the discussion at “x is fine for some, y is fine for others” (which I believe is true), I think we should–if we decide to get involved in these discussions–be open to explaining our preferences. This can hopefully work to both serve as an opportunity to persuade others to tolerate, if not appreciate our preferences, but also as a way to calm the anxieties of people and, at the end of the day, create a more relaxed *and* respect sexual culture.

  • I wish I could somehow send this article to all females in my area, they really need to read this.


    very true,the important thing is to know what you want so that you don’t get tricked in to doing thing you regret later.

  • Joshua

    But what if someone believes there is an objective truth in the world, and that according to this standard casual sex is a moral wrong? Let’s also posit that this person believes that failure to adhere to aforementioned moral code have otherworldly consequences. In this hypothetical, what would be “damaging” would be to say and propagate that, “there’s only one “right” way to have sex.”

  • Joshua

    Pardon me! My failure to copyedit has hampered my ability to communicate my point. It should read as follows:

    But what if someone believes there is an objective truth in the world, and that according to this standard casual sex is a moral wrong? Let’s also posit that this person believes that failure to adhere to aforementioned moral code have otherworldly consequences. In this hypothetical, what would be “damaging” would be to say and propagate that, “What is damaging is the idea that there’s only one “right” way to have sex”

    How sure are you of your rejection of an objective moral standard with sexual restrictions?