CAN WE TALK?
A Woman’s Guide to Casual Sex
Getting busy without feeling awful
Go to the profile of Alison Stevenson
Photo by Gabriel Matula on Unsplash
It’s a question that has plagued young women for generations: Do I like to fuck?
After years of trial and tribulation, I can say that I do indeed like to fuck. Better yet, I love to fuck. Well, for a long time I wasn’t sure if I liked to fuck. My early twenties were filled with sexual encounters that left me questioning whether I might be asexual. I was under the impression I was having sex the proper way, yet I was not enjoying it one bit. That didn’t stop me from having sex though. It didn’t even stop me from wanting it. How did I want something I knew I wasn’t going to like? After giving it a lot of thought, I realized I wasn’t viewing sex as something I was doing for pleasure.
I essentially viewed sex as something men wanted and women forfeited.
I wasn’t fucking to get off. I was fucking to get someone else off.
I didn’t know it then, but I essentially viewed sex as something men wanted and women forfeited. To be clear, I didn’t think of it in those exact words—which is probably why it took me so long to realize it.
When I was 22, I moved to Oakland, California. I had just graduated from college and was freshly dumped by my first boyfriend. I chose to be in Oakland for him. I thought I was in love. I wanted to be in love. In other words, my intense feelings for him had nothing to do with him. He wasn’t the right guy for me; we had very little in common. He was simply the first guy to put some effort into spending time with me, and I confused that with love. Sad, right?
Alas, that’s why it broke my heart when he dumped me on the front steps of the apartment I had already signed a lease on. I was left wondering, who the hell else is going to want to spend time with me?
This period of my life was a strange one. It was the first time I started getting close to obtaining the deep, romantic love I desperately craved. The disappointment of not getting it, but feeling so close to it, left me in an even more disastrous mental state.
Let me take a moment to emphasize how desperate I was. I really, really wanted to be in love. I wanted a boyfriend more than I wanted world peace. If for some reason, at that point in my life, I had to pick between having a million dollars or a twenty-something boyfriend whose only mode of transportation was a skateboard, I would have said “buh-bye” to all the money and “hello!” to some likely unappreciative and emotionally unstable jerk named Zeke or Cody.
What kept happening time and time again was self-blame. Men kept reacting the same way, and I kept wondering what I was doing to leave them so unresponsive toward me.
Social conditioning is what truly pits women against men.
“He stopped texting me after texting me every day for two weeks straight. What did I do wrong?”
“We had a great first date. Why does he keep avoiding making plans for a second date? Am I crazy? Did we not have a connection? Is it all in my head?”
“He told me he can’t get into a relationship right now, so why am I seeing him here at this bar two weeks later with a new girlfriend? I must have scared him away somehow. I’m not attractive enough for him.”
Women are socially conditioned to self-blame. It likely stems from our natural inclination to think outside ourselves. We tend to be the more empathetic—and the more analytic—gender. We don’t just consider our feelings; we consider other people’s feelings too. Men, whether they know it or not, take advantage of this. I know this from my years of being a self-identified woman living in a cis-male-dominated world. I don’t believe physiological differences are the reason for these gender differences either, by the way. I believe it comes from centuries of societal forces building this narrative.
Many people try to make the argument that male and female behavior is innate and we’re essentially hardwired to act a certain way thanks to our Stone Age ancestors. No doubt there’s an inkling of truth to this. Our ancestors and their genetics still live inside us to an extent. But to use this thinking as a means of justifying why men today are more inclined to abandon, cheat, and even rape is wrong. It’s odd to me how this logic even works. A caveman lives inside every man, who tells man to spread his seed by any means necessary, but also happens to greatly support man’s decision to be vegan or to release his poetry zine or become an accountant.
The human mind is powerful—perhaps too powerful. It would be less troubling, especially for ego-driven males, to deduce that we are primitive animals than to admit that our consciousness is malleable to such an extent that it can be mistaken for physiology. Social conditioning is what truly pits women against men. Not to sound like every stoner you’ve ever met, but here I go: It’s all in our minds, man!
Actually, let’s talk about what the hell casual sex even is. Is it sex that goes to work wearing a T-shirt instead of a suit? Kind of, yeah. Casual sex is sex you engage in outside of a monogamous relationship or marriage. Sex you engage in after a few dates, or just one date, or no date at all.
Now, what is sex? I have no idea.
Sorry, bad joke. I’ll tell you what sex is (trust me, my definition might not be what you think). A mistake I made in the past was to think of sex from a heteronormative frame. To me, sex was a dick inside my vagina. Everything else—such as fingering and handjobs—I viewed as something separate from sex. Oral sex, as most people refer to it, is not separate from penetrative sex. Obviously, you should do whatever makes you comfortable, but know that if you are engaging in oral sex, you are still engaging in casual sex (and that’s totally chill, by the way).
Of course, for heterosexual men and women, vaginal sex can feel more like an emotional investment. That’s understandable. It feels more weighted, especially for women, because of the emotional repercussions that can arise post-intercourse. We are the gender more crucified for being horny. Vaginal sex is a bigger deal because our worth is measured in relation to how much or how little we engage in it.
Enter now, the guys who “get it.” The men we have aligned ourselves with because they claim to be feminists too—or at least nonjudgmental when it comes to casual sex. These are the men who encourage sexual freedom and consider themselves nothing like those other guys. They are not cavemen. They took a women’s studies course in college, for crying out loud! They have mothers and sisters they love and respect. They march alongside us at pro-choice rallies and say things like “I hate sports.” These are our boys. With guys like these in our lives, what could go wrong?
None of the sex I was having was satisfying my needs.
I moved to the Bay Area under the impression my sexual freedom would feel just like that: freedom. As time went by, I grew less obsessed with finding my soulmate and more interested in just meeting a nice guy I got along with and could potentially see a future with. However, I couldn’t help but notice a pattern. It kept happening time and time again: Me and a nice guy would fuck, then never talk again. Sometimes we’d fuck a few times before the sudden stop, but it would always be abrupt. Usually with no explanation. And if there were an explanation, it’d be brief and some sort of lie. Something to do with bad timing or not being in the right emotional state. If not that, it would be defensive behavior pitting me against myself or belittling me like I was presumptuous or naive. “I thought you knew this was just a one time thing.” “I told you I can’t be your boyfriend; you should have known better.” Etc.
Mind you, I was being fed these lines after just a date or two. Every single one of these guys assumed I was ready to be their girlfriend after just knowing each other for a week or less. Yes, it’s true that I wanted to be in love. I’m not afraid of commitment, sue me! However, even in my most arduous attempts to have romantic love, I still knew that forming a relationship takes time. It takes getting to know one another and having several deep discussions that go beyond, “So, uhh, what movies do you like?” None of these men really wanted to get to know me, and my reasoning (at first) wasn’t that there was a problem with them. It was there must be some problem with me.
Insecurities about my body and self-image fed into this. I would attempt to alter my behavior, adhering to the advice of awful self-help books for dating or female friends of mine who also happened to be reading the same books. One book told me to be more of a bitch. Ignore him as much as he ignores you. Force a facade of disinterest that’ll drive him crazy. Another said: No, wait. If you really want to snag him, draw him in with sex, but don’t give him sex. Look like a slut, but don’t you dare act like one. Delaying sex will keep them interested longer. You’re a prize, not a giveaway! Then a third added: Have you tried needing his help? Men love to feel useful. Cook him dinner and then have him build an Ikea desk for you. Your weak, freshly manicured hands can’t handle all that intense physical labor. Well, at least you pretend they can’t. Wink wink.
Ugh that “wink wink” bullshit. Wink wink phrasing is what I call messages that try to portray themselves as progressive or on the side of feminism, but really have an underlying need to maintain a cultural status quo. This status quo keeps women incentivized to spend money.
Dating books do it by saying something to the effect of, “We’re all powerful, independent women here, but let’s get real—dating is a game. In order to win this game, we have to play by their rules. At least, we need to make them think that’s what we’re doing.” Wink fucking wink. It’s the same sort of crap found in advertising for products encouraging that we embrace our “real” beauty, while still trying to sell products that “enhance” the beauty they say we naturally possess. “You know you’re a beautiful badass babe so stop saying sorry all the time and how about adding this cellulite reduction cream to your Amazon wish list?” Wink wink wink. All the way to the bank bank bank. Bottom line: Both of these things can’t exist at once. You can’t tell me I’m empowered while still shoving misogynist ideology at me.
Anyhow, the treatment I kept receiving from men post-coitus left me angry and bewildered. I knew that I could and should indulge in as much sex as I wanted, but the aftermath didn’t leave me feeling empowered. I didn’t enjoy being ignored, then patronized after expressing my displeasure. I’m not just a thing you fuck then never talk to again. Don’t give me that, “I thought you knew what this was” crap. If you just wanted this to be a one-time thing, why not tell me that before the fucking? Oh, out of fear that maybe I wouldn’t fuck you if I knew? Sounds rather manipulative to me.
That “wink wink” bullshit that tries to portray itself as progressive or on the side of feminism, but really has an underlying need to maintain a cultural status quo.
Yes, I take responsibility too. I know I could have asked, “What do you want out of this?” before we got to the sex. However, as I mentioned earlier, the general consensus I was fed by not just my peers but by media and society at large is that talking about commitment, or even the possibility of it, is a giant red flag. Women are warned about being “clingy” and “high-strung” and “emotional.” We’re conditioned to repress our emotions to give off the appearance of being a “cool chick.”
Even worse, the sex itself was almost never that great. None of the sex I was having was satisfying my needs. In other words, I wasn’t coming. The men I kept deeming suitable for me personality-wise were almost always selfish assholes in bed. I’m talking close to zero foreplay followed by jackhammer thrusting that left me unsure whether we were fucking or breaking apart cement.
Why were so many of these men, who I thought were smart and understanding of women’s needs, so awful when it came to providing me sexual pleasure? A lot of it boils down to lack of education. Men, and even women, aren’t really taught much about the female orgasm. The hyper-popularity of internet porn has only made this worse. The narrative of heterosexual sex is that it’s an act done to fulfill a man’s fantasy. This fantasy also assumes that women get off solely by getting men off.
While it’s nice to see a man enjoy himself, it’s definitely not all it takes to get me horned up. You know what does? Clitoral stimulation. How often is that depicted in porn (for longer than just a few seconds)? It’s not just porn, but pop culture too. You know what I’m talking about, that infamous sex scene in almost every movie: Man and woman come at the same time, both shouting and screaming yes, yes, yes, as the camera shows guy on top of girl (presumably inside her). For decades we have been made to believe that so many fictitious movie couples have reached orgasm at the exact same time, together, through vaginal sex. I’m not saying it’s impossible, but let’s be real. It’s not the norm. And yet, it’s sure made to seem like it.
Casual sex is complicated. It can’t be thought of in terms or good or bad, wrong or right. What needs to happen more is communication. Without communicating real thoughts and feelings, I felt manipulated by men. I felt used, and I resented this. I kept giving a new man a chance only to be let down in the same way.
Why aren’t men held more accountable for their irrational and hypocritical behavior? How can they be progressive if they believe all women want a monogamous relationship—and want it immediately after having sex with them? I understand being terrified of commitment, but there is something peculiar about being so adamantly against it. Why is the possibility of falling in love so terrifying for so many men? I was (and still am) sick of being made to feel like being open to romantic love is a problem and that my desire for it means I should not be engaging in casual sex. Because get this: I love fucking too. I also love being treated like a human being. I am multifaceted like that. We all are.
Today, I know the importance of speaking up about my needs and encouraging important conversations that make sex a lot more comfortable for me. I have learned to recognize patterns (sadly out of trial and error), and I don’t feel the same manipulation I felt in my early twenties. I put in the work and assert myself. Rome wasn’t built in a day, and sex isn’t fixed in a day either.
The Should-We-Bone Checklist:
Do you like him?
Is he a good person who doesn’t seem like the kind of guy who would kick a puppy or steal your laptop? (This happened to me, FYI.)
Is he being respectful and not pushing you to have sex?
Is there a condom present?
Have you discussed what you want from one another beforehand?
If he doesn’t want a relationship, are you truly okay with that?
Does he eat pussy? Even if you don’t particularly like being eaten out, this should still be something he should tell you he engages in.
Does he text back? I don’t mean like, eventually. I mean, does he text back the same day that you texted him? If he is taking longer than that to respond, he needs to get his act together.
Is he respectful toward you and your feelings?
Do you feel comfortable around him?
Does he smell okay? Smell is important! If his natural body odor is foul to you, that could mean there is no sexual attraction.
Is he pressing you to send him nudes? It’s okay to send nudes if you want to send them, but make sure it’s not a response to pressure.
Does he refrain from sending you unsolicited dick pics? If you asked for a dick pic, or he got your consent to send you one, that’s fine. However, if he’s sending without even asking, maybe he has some growing up to do before shit goes down.
Has he kissed you? Is he a good kisser?
Is he the type who gets easily offended? This is important because you don’t want a guy whose ego is so fragile he can’t take instructions during sex. He should be cool with listening to your needs and making sex just as pleasurable for you as it is for him.
Of course, deciding whether to have sex with someone is completely up to each person. This is merely a guideline of things I found mattered most to me in my sexual encounters. Ultimately, though, no one can or should tell you what to do with your body. If you’re horny and want to have sex without giving a damn about any of this, well go ahead and do it. Be safe, of course, and happy boning!