Hooking up. Friends with benefits. Casual sex. No matter what you call it, this kind of relationship is about one thing. But is spending plenty of "no-strings-attached" quality time in the bedroom really enough? Are you kidding yourself to think that getting it on with a guy, but not getting much else, is all you need or want?
Common questions these days, given how accepted this kind of purely physical pairing has become for women. A study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 42.9 percent of women reported having at least one "friends with benefits" relationship in the past year.
Whether it's because a woman would rather put more time and effort into her job than into a relationship or because with this particular guy she's really only interested in getting naked, the sex-only setup can be fulfilling.
Casual sex works "when you're in a good place with your job, social life, and personal life, and all that's missing is sex," says Desiree Dean, author of The Sex MANual.
Sasha, 36, who works for a tech company in Portland, was looking to fill that void when she met a hot-looking, confident guy one night. "It struck me that he was the perfect guy to have lots of sex with and little else," she says.
Andrea, 36, a graphic designer in Los Angeles, found the same kind of single-purpose man after the breakup of a serious live-in relationship. "I wanted something that was noncommittal," she says. "The best part is no arguing about the bills and cleaning house."
Along with providing you with someone to regularly get horizontal with, these partnerships can give you space to explore your sexuality, says Sari Cooper, a certified sex therapist and licensed psychotherapist based in New York, "while having enough time to devote to your job or education."
It's smart to talk some things through at first. "To make the most out of casual sex, you need trust, reasonable expectations, and clear communication. You need to know that the experiences will stay between the two of you, and that you're in a safe zone," says Rachel DeAlto, author of Flirt Fearlessly. Dean also advises discussing your sexual history in the beginning (friendly reminder: A casual relationship doesn't mean being casual about STIs). "Get the awkwardness out of the way early on," she says.
That study in Archives of Sexual Behavior, however, showed that the emotional part of these supposedly nonemotional relationships can be tricky to navigate, particularly for women. The men studied reported more positive and fewer negative reactions to sex-focused relationships than the women (though on the whole, the female view was more positive than negative).
So even when you may think you're being nonchalant about the whole thing, it's important to check in with yourself often to make sure it's working. Ask yourself these questions:
1. Are you giving yourself a hard time about it?
Whether it's for religious, cultural, or moral reasons, some women worry about having sex outside of a committed relationship. "You shouldn't be calling yourself names," says Isadora Alman, a relationship therapist in the San Francisco Bay area. "If you believe only sluts do this, you won't be happy."
2. Are you boozing to loosen up?
"If you can have sex only when you've had two or more drinks in your system, it may mean you're not as comfortable with it as you might think," says Cooper.
3. Are you being honest with yourself about what you want from the relationship?
Are you really looking for just sex? It's important to be truthful about what you want from the romps. "I'm in favor of sex-only relationships if you enter them knowingly. 'Knowingly' means you're taking it as casually as he is, " says Alman. "Both of you have to understand the nature of it."
4. Are you having fun?
And perhaps the most important thing is your level of enjoyment--or obligation. "The whole purpose is to enjoy sex. The moment you feel as if you have to go have sex with him is the moment the agreement should be over," says Dean.
Enjoy It to the Fullest
If it's all going well in a sex-focused relationship, make it even better. A 2010 study in the Electronic Journal of Human Sexuality found that for both men and women, no-strings-attached nooky improves feelings of sexual satisfactionÃ¢â‚¬”so why not use this opportunity as a time to become more open and daring in bed?
Whatever way you want to push your sexual boundariesÃ¢â‚¬”whether it's trying out fantasies or telling a guy specifically (and loudly) what you'd like him to do to youÃ¢â‚¬”be direct. "Let him know that you want to experiment a bit," says DeAlto. But she also advises that you make it clear that you have limits. "If he's interested in something beyond what you're comfortable with, tell him in a nonjudgmental way, 'You know, I'm just not into thatÃ¢â‚¬”how about we try this other thing?'" she says.
Finally, sex is what this matchup is all about, so you should feel free to have lots of it. "Consider this time in your life a prime opportunity to explore your sexuality," says Dean. "Let loose."
Audrey, a 35-year-old architect, did just that with a boxing teacher at her Vancouver gym. "He was so gentle, the opposite of what I thought a boxer would be like," she says. "And he was so physically fit and had such control of his body, it was like he was doing yoga poses. I had never had sex like that. It was good for my self-esteem."
With sex-only setups, you're not seeing this person at the end of an exhausting day when your biggest fantasy involves time to yourself for some unfettered online shopping; you're meeting him explicitly to have sexÃ¢â‚¬”and in fact, you might just surprise yourself by how often you want to do exactly that. "Good sex should be repeated," says DeAlto, "and often."