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People gambling with casual sex in an increasingly sexualized culture

Teens find booty calls aren't so harmless

Celina had met enough people through online and print ads to decide, years ago, that she'd never find the single, perfect mate.
Between serious partners, she always turned to casual sex for now. Problem was, Celina - who, like other individuals interviewed for this story, asked that her real name not be used - wasn't good at it. She'd get attached; she'd want more.

So I just decided to make a conscious choice, Celina said. Now she has four partners and says she's open to inviting more into her circle. She says that she cares about her mates, that each knows about the others - and that she feels less emotionally vulnerable.

Kind of the same way you have more than one friend, your feelings for one friend don't mean you like the others any less, said the 37-year-old, who works for a pharmaceutical company in Seattle.

Today, casual sex has found a comfortable spot out in the open. It's on television, on the Internet, in the lives of ordinary people who wouldn't be classified as good or bad (as they were 50 years ago) based on their sexual habits. Experts say that adults are increasingly embracing the idea of no-strings-attached sex, and that women are reportedly more comfortable with that lifestyle.

The reasons are varied. We're marrying later, meeting more mates/one-night stands through the Internet and starting to have sex at a younger age, said Pepper Schwartz, professor of sociology at the University of Washington.

Dr. Paul Hutchinson, a clinical psychologist in Bellevue, added that for some, casual sex offers a phase of excitement and adventure - typically during the late teens and sometimes into the 30s - during a time of wanting to avoid the responsibilities of serious relationships and parenthood.

The reality is, on your way to sex with meaning, you often do a lot of happenstance sex, Schwartz said.

The modern, seeking woman

The personals section of Craig's List, an online community bulletin board listing everything from job and apartment listings to regular personal ads, shows that most visitors just want a good time.

While there are hundreds of ads in the Women Seeking Men and Men Seeking Women sections, there are over 1,500 ads in the Casual Encounters section for the Seattle/Tacoma area.

Here, people seek no-strings-attached sex. Most are explicit and specific about what they want; others say they're open to anything. Sex counselors venture that this form of sex-seeking is popular partly because it's easier to take sexual risks with strangers than with a serious mate. You're also likely to find what you're looking for, fast.

Personal ads are also easily accessible - not on pornographic sites, but on countless mainstream, generally G-rated Web sites used primarily as search engines, not to mention the classifieds sections of newspapers.

Offline, you may find someone, you may not, said Andrea Orr, author of Meeting, Mating and Cheating - Sex, Love, and the New World of Online Dating. But the Internet has created an incredibly efficient system. The odds are very good that you can find it the same night.

Though statistics about casual sex behavior are scarce, surveys sponsored by erotica distributor Adam and Eve in 2001 said 48 percent of American adults have had at least one one-night stand and that the average American has had nine sexual partners. A 2003 Gallup survey found that 58 percent of Americans say premarital sex is morally acceptable, compared with 53 percent in 2002. Another Gallup survey with slightly different wording found that 21 percent in 1969 said it was not wrong to have premarital sex, compared with 60 percent in 2001.

And while nearly three times more men seek women on Craig's List than the other way around, sex experts say women are becoming more proactive about their sexual needs. Men who engage in casual sex say women are making the arrangements easier.

Eric, who prefers casual sex over relationships and marriage, said he's confident he can bring home new partners whenever he wants. Since moving to Seattle last summer, he had been intimate with five women during the first six weeks. He said this lifestyle makes it easier for him to remain single and not have to worry about calling a girl every day.

It's hard for me to get emotional with a woman because I've been married two times before, said the 32-year-old. But I'm friends with every girl I've ever slept with. I don't have intentions to not talk again.

Hutchinson attributes this sort of casual sex behavior to psychological motives.

One could say you let your physical guard down, but you don't need to let your emotional guard down ... to have casual sex, he said.

In an age of feminism and equal rights, women are also feeling more confident about their sexuality, said Emma Taylor, part of the columnist duo Em and Lo from the literary sex site

I think people are figuring out how to do it without it getting so messy, she said. Women are getting better at it, and it's much more mutual.

They're also not relying on men and marriage for stability or money, added Lorelei Sharkey, the other half of Em and Lo.

In Jan's case, the three-time divorcee had the money to support herself and even a casual sex partner. But the arrangement got messy and Jan landed in what she was hoping to avoid all along: heartache.

Having recently left a violent husband, the 51-year-old Snohomish County resident logged onto Craig's List looking for nothing more than a good time. She found a guy, an escort offering his services in the Web site's Casual Encounters section, and they ended up meeting almost every weekend for nearly 10 months.

Jan started developing feelings for her partner. And though he wouldn't get violent, he would, at times, blurt that she was just a job, reminding her of their financial arrangement. After a while, she also paid his rent.

I wanted someone to care about me and I wanted to at least have companionship because it's hard to be alone when you get older, said Jan. You end up sitting alone on Friday nights a lot and everyone else is out having fun, or you think they're having fun.

Jan broke off the relationship a few months ago. There was a point at which I realized that I needed to try to find someone else, because the casual thing really was not what I was up for, said Jan, who admitted, though, that she's continued to have casual sex partners since.

A lot of why I do this is I hope for a normal, nice guy.

What's real, what's right?

Taylor says a completely mutual, casual sex arrangement is hard to come by because it's a rare human that can cut out the jealousy gene.

People also mistake casual sex to mean nothing when it means different things, she added.

Those who have casual sex say it's essential to communicate motives and expectations. When it comes to public discourse on the topic, Sharkey finds it kinda crazy that with so much casual sex on TV and in movies, there isn't as much talk about safer sex.

You can't separate the hot steamy sex from the cold, harsh realities of sexual health, she said.

But reality can get confusing nowadays, especially with the barrage of not-so-real reality TV.

Bill Johnson, president of the Fremont, Mich.-based American Decency Association, wonders if shows like Paradise Hotel convince viewers that everyday people are really that promiscuous.

It could be your neighbor, it could be your uncle; if it isn't some high-paid actress, you can generalize down to yourself, he said. Our culture is becoming increasingly sexualized and desensitized and it's very concerning.

Author Orr added that the Internet also makes it easier for people to have affairs, as dating services now have sections specifically for married visitors.

Johnson again blames television and the Internet.

As a culture just acclimates themselves to such a wide variety of sexual issues or sexual themes, it seems to damage the natural inhibitions that we, as human beings, have, he said.

Still, some practitioners have their moments of doubt.

Rick (who asked that his real first name not be used), recently left a serious relationship, saying he's looking for companionship through casual sex. The biggest plus for him is not having to risk so many emotions.

But I'm not fully confident that I'm right about this, said the 26-year-old of his lifestyle. I'm trying to always have an eye out for my own emotions and the other person's. If it starts to make people feel bad, then you need to stop.

Full credit goes to:

Seattle Times, WA

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