December 11, 2018

Getting Closer

Even young adults enjoying casual sex say they like to experience intimacy.

Casual sex or one-night stands have the reputation for being largely about physical pleasure. But a new study finds that young people who engage in them are also looking for emotional connection more than you might think. This is true for both sexes, a finding that came as a surprise to the researchers.

Over 600 college kids were asked about their sex lives, including whether they were having sex in the context of committed relationships or casual sex (“hookups”). Students in the study were also asked about whether they enjoyed certain intimate behaviors during their sexual encounters, including foreplay, eye gazing, cuddling and spending the night.

Young people who said they preferred casual sex to relationships were especially likely to want to experience the intimate behaviors.

People enjoyed these behaviors in both the context of casual sex and committed relationships, but they reported they enjoyed them in casual sex encounters significantly more than the researchers had predicted. Young people who said they preferred casual sex to relationships were especially likely to want to experience the intimate behaviors.

“Young adults who indicated they prefer casual sexual encounters over relationship sex were more likely to want affection and intimacy from them,” said author, Sean Massey, in a statement. “This suggests they seek to meet their need for intimacy through those casual encounters.”

Though women tended to report enjoying the four intimate behaviors more than men, there wasn’t as much of a sex difference as the team had expected to find. In fact, there was no gender difference in two of the behaviors: eye gazing and foreplay.

“We have a stereotype that casual sex (hookups) are just about meaningless sex, but this research shows this is not necessarily true,” said author Ann Merriwether. “It shows intimacy is important and desired by many people, especially those who prefer hookups to more traditional relationships.”

The researchers, from Binghamton University, Indiana University's Kinsey Institute and SUNY Broome, hope the results will help reduce stigma around short-term sexual encounters, which are more common among young people and on college campuses. They’re also looking into other issues on campuses, including excessive drinking, which often accompanies casual sex, and the important and timely issue of consent.

The study is published in the Journal of Relationships Research.

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