Is casual sex worth it?
July 28th, 2011
07:09 AM ET

Is casual sex worth it?

Ian Kerner, a sexuality counselor and New York Times best-selling author, blogs about sex on Thursdays on The Chart. Read more from him at his website, GoodInBed.

To do it, or not to do it: That is the question of casual sex - at least as depicted on film.

In both "Friends With Benefits" (currently playing) and the previously released "No Strings Attached," casual sex is anything but casual. It’s carefully weighed, hotly debated, methodically scrutinized and, of course, comically miscalculated. As in most romantic comedies, the casual sex turns out to be quite committed and just a part of falling in love and living happily ever after.

In the movies, blind lust and romantic love often intersect seamlessly, but in reality, casual sex is often an emotional dead-end rather than an on-ramp to relationship bliss.

Anthropologist Helen Fisher describes love as a three-phase system:

1) Lust, in which we can attach to anyone.

2) Attraction, in which lust finds its focus and blossoms into romantic love.

3) Attachment, in which romantic love matures into a long-term relationship.

Casual sex is often an expression of Phase 1 (lust at its most unfocused), but, unfortunately, many people go into it with the false hope that it will lead to romantic love. And that’s where life does not imitate the movies.

That’s not to say that casual sex is a bad thing. It can be loads of fun, as well as a way of trying out new things and practicing your sex skills for that future special person. But casual sex isn’t always so simple.

As my colleague Emily Nagoski, author of the Good in Bed Guide to Female Orgasms, writes, “Especially when it comes to having sex with someone for the first time, the question of what it is you actually want when you want sex is very complicated indeed. Because what do you want, when you want sex? Do you want to get laid? Do you want a relationship? Do you want love? Do you want revenge? Do you want to rebel? Do you want to get pregnant? ... Then there’s the question of whether or not (and what kind of) sex will get you what you want. Sex will get you laid. Whether or not it gets you a relationship or love or revenge or rebellion or a baby is less certain, and so the decision becomes complicated.”

Casual sex has its risks and rewards, although the movies tend to focus more on the risk of falling in love than, say, the very real consequence of contracting a sexually transmitted infection.

As the authors of "Sex in America" write of their interviews with more than 3,000 people, “Although we find that large numbers of Americans have had a sexually transmitted disease at least once in their lives, there is nothing random about where the diseases strike … the people who are most likely to be infected share one key characteristic: They have many sex partners.”

As it turns out, if a man has two to four sexual partners in his lifetime, his chances of ever having contracted a sexually transmitted infection are about 3%.

As the number of partners increases, so does the risk. With more than 20 partners, his risk is about 28%, almost a 1,000% increase. The same rough pattern is true of women, with the spectrum of percentages increasing from 5% to 35%.

It should therefore come as no surprise that the more partners a person has had, the more likely it is that he or she has engaged with those partners outside of a monogamous relationship, and that his or her partner falls into a similar pattern of casual sex, thereby greatly increasing the risk of having come into contact with  a sexually transmitted infection.

Casual sex could trigger a domino effect of risky behaviors.

“The more partners an individual has,” according to "Sex in America," “the more likely he or she is to have sex with people who themselves have many partners, the more likely he or she is to have sex with virtual strangers, the more likely she or he is to have been under the influence of drugs or alcohol during some sexual encounters, and while it is more likely that a condom was used, the rate of increased use of a condom does not seem great enough to offset the higher risks of infection.”

I’m not trying to scare anyone out of casual sex. As Dr. Alex Comfort had to say in his book "The Joy of Sex," “There is no occasion for panic, or for losing out on the joy of sex - simply informed caution.”

So is casual sex worth it? You tell me. Like the recent spate of movies, does it ever have a happy ending?

Follow @CNNHealth on Twitter

soundoff (1,574 Responses)
  1. Trang Kopperman

    Pretty! This was an incredibly wonderful post. Many thanks for supplying these details.


    May 27, 2021 at 05:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Marion Walburn


    May 27, 2021 at 09:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Vince Crosbie


    May 27, 2021 at 11:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Tembepteriope

    https://cttadalafil.com/ prescription tadalafil online cialis without prescription cheapest tadalafil cost buy tadalis

    May 27, 2021 at 12:25 | Report abuse | Reply
  5. reupholster places near me


    May 27, 2021 at 14:21 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. RV Awning Los Angeles

    You're so awesome! I do not think I have read through a single thing like that before. So wonderful to discover somebody with genuine thoughts on this issue. Seriously.. many thanks for starting this up. This site is something that's needed on the web, someone with a little originality!


    May 27, 2021 at 14:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. MileSwa

    cialis online delivery overnight https://ckacialis.com/ – original cialis online how to purchase cialis in canada

    May 27, 2021 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Unitmerienepeft

    tadalafil dosage https://tadagatadalafil.com/ cialis tadalafil side effects for tadalafil canada generic tadalafil

    May 27, 2021 at 15:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. EncoxAni

    cheap drugs online https://pharmacyken.com/ – first medicine online pharmacy store canada pharmacy online legit

    May 27, 2021 at 17:29 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. furniture restoration orange county

    It’s nearly impossible to find well-informed people for this subject, but you seem like you know what you’re talking about! Thanks


    May 27, 2021 at 17:53 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. EncoxDev

    walgreens store locator 24 hour pharmacy restasis canadian pharmacy alpesh pharmacy store charlotte nc

    May 27, 2021 at 18:40 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. RV Sound System Los Angeles

    When I originally commented I appear to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on whenever a comment is added I recieve four emails with the same comment. There has to be a means you can remove me from that service? Thanks!


    May 27, 2021 at 20:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  13. RV Bathroom Los Angeles


    May 27, 2021 at 20:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. rv replacement parts near me

    Everything is very open with a very clear explanation of the issues. It was definitely informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Many thanks for sharing!


    May 27, 2021 at 22:16 | Report abuse | Reply
  15. Social Media Marketing Agency Around Me


    May 28, 2021 at 00:07 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. RV Remodel Near Me


    May 28, 2021 at 04:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  17. rvtv youtube

    Wonderful post! We will be linking to this particularly great content on our site. Keep up the good writing.


    May 28, 2021 at 05:36 | Report abuse | Reply
  18. RV AC Near Me


    May 28, 2021 at 05:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. RV Entertainment System Orange County


    May 28, 2021 at 10:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. EncoxGtv

    cvs pharmacy 24 hour store planet drugs direct canada best canadian pharmacy online

    May 28, 2021 at 11:27 | Report abuse | Reply
  21. RV Entertainment System Los Angeles

    Your style is unique in comparison to other folks I have read stuff from. Thanks for posting when you've got the opportunity, Guess I will just book mark this page.


    May 28, 2021 at 12:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  22. rv restoration companies near me

    An impressive share! I have just forwarded this onto a colleague who was doing a little research on this. And he actually ordered me breakfast simply because I discovered it for him... lol. So let me reword this.... Thank YOU for the meal!! But yeah, thanx for spending time to talk about this topic here on your website.


    May 28, 2021 at 13:31 | Report abuse | Reply
  23. RV Wraps Los Angeles

    This site truly has all the info I wanted concerning this subject and didn’t know who to ask.


    May 28, 2021 at 13:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  24. camper fiberglass repair


    May 28, 2021 at 13:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  25. Best Tucker Sprinter Repair

    After I originally commented I seem to have clicked on the -Notify me when new comments are added- checkbox and from now on each time a comment is added I recieve four emails with the same comment. There has to be a means you can remove me from that service? Many thanks!


    May 28, 2021 at 18:56 | Report abuse | Reply
  26. EncoxGtv

    deaths from prescription drugs pharmacy in canada salary overnight canadian pharmacy

    May 28, 2021 at 22:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  27. geico painting commercial


    May 29, 2021 at 00:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  28. Zisseloh

    cialis wholesale https://rcialisgl.com/ – viagra vs cialis cost cialis uk supplier

    May 29, 2021 at 00:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  29. EncoxDev

    how to get prescription drugs online pharmacy indonesia mexican online pharmacies

    May 29, 2021 at 11:48 | Report abuse | Reply
  30. Truck Technician Shop


    May 29, 2021 at 12:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  31. Box Truck Mechanic Shop Near Me

    You've made some decent points there. I checked on the net for more information about the issue and found most people will go along with your views on this web site.


    May 29, 2021 at 16:10 | Report abuse | Reply
  32. Truck Restoration Shop

    Everything is very open with a really clear explanation of the issues. It was truly informative. Your site is extremely helpful. Thanks for sharing!


    May 29, 2021 at 16:47 | Report abuse | Reply
  33. Digital Marketing Firm


    May 29, 2021 at 18:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  34. Content Marketing Companies

    I have to thank you for the efforts you have put in writing this website. I'm hoping to check out the same high-grade content from you later on as well. In fact, your creative writing abilities has motivated me to get my own site now 😉


    May 29, 2021 at 18:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  35. ZisseVed

    is online cialis safe https://krocialis.com/ – whats better viagra or cialis cialis results

    May 29, 2021 at 19:20 | Report abuse | Reply
  36. CrulkAsd

    cialis viagra gr https://cialisjla.com/ – viagra vs cialis vs levitra reviews cialis canada purchase

    May 29, 2021 at 20:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  37. Local Marketing Agencies

    Oh my goodness! Amazing article dude! Thanks, However I am going through troubles with your RSS. I don’t understand the reason why I cannot join it. Is there anybody else having the same RSS issues? Anyone who knows the solution can you kindly respond? Thanx!!


    May 29, 2021 at 21:58 | Report abuse | Reply
  38. Content Marketing Consultants

    You're so interesting! I don't think I've truly read through something like this before. So wonderful to discover someone with unique thoughts on this issue. Really.. thank you for starting this up. This web site is one thing that is needed on the internet, someone with a little originality!


    May 29, 2021 at 22:28 | Report abuse | Reply
  39. Handicap Van Repair

    Pretty! This was an extremely wonderful post. Thanks for providing these details.


    May 30, 2021 at 02:59 | Report abuse | Reply
  40. Local Marketing Agencies Near Me

    This is a topic that is close to my heart... Many thanks! Where are your contact details though?


    May 30, 2021 at 03:22 | Report abuse | Reply
  41. Ram High Top Van Repair

    I need to to thank you for this great read!! I certainly loved every little bit of it. I've got you book-marked to check out new things you post…


    May 30, 2021 at 13:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  42. Truck Maintenance


    May 30, 2021 at 15:55 | Report abuse | Reply
  43. Internet Marketing Business

    There is certainly a lot to find out about this topic. I love all the points you have made.


    May 30, 2021 at 21:41 | Report abuse | Reply
  44. RV Appliance Repair Near Me


    May 30, 2021 at 23:23 | Report abuse | Reply
  45. RV Exhaust Repair Near Me

    Right here is the perfect webpage for anyone who wants to find out about this topic. You know so much its almost hard to argue with you (not that I personally would want to…HaHa). You definitely put a brand new spin on a subject that has been discussed for ages. Wonderful stuff, just excellent!


    May 31, 2021 at 00:50 | Report abuse | Reply
  46. Camper RV Repair Near Me

    Hello there! I just want to give you a big thumbs up for your great info you've got here on this post. I'll be coming back to your blog for more soon.


    May 31, 2021 at 01:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  47. RV Body Repair Shops Near Me

    Nice post. I learn something totally new and challenging on websites I stumbleupon every day. It will always be interesting to read through content from other writers and use a little something from their websites.


    May 31, 2021 at 03:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  48. 2800 Suspension Repair Sprinter Van


    May 31, 2021 at 04:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  49. RV Repair Parts Near Me


    May 31, 2021 at 05:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  50. Content Marketing Agency

    Howdy! This blog post could not be written much better! Looking through this article reminds me of my previous roommate! He continually kept preaching about this. I'll forward this information to him. Fairly certain he'll have a good read. Thank you for sharing!


    May 31, 2021 at 06:58 | Report abuse | Reply
1 2 3 4 5 6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16 17 18 19 20 21 22 23 24 25

Leave a Reply to perris collision


CNN welcomes a lively and courteous discussion as long as you follow the Rules of Conduct set forth in our Terms of Service. Comments are not pre-screened before they post. You agree that anything you post may be used, along with your name and profile picture, in accordance with our Privacy Policy and the license you have granted pursuant to our Terms of Service.

About this blog

Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.