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Online Dating Magazine > Columns > Office Hours with Dr. Jim > Casual Sex

Office Hours With Dr. Jim
by James Houran, Ph.D

In this column, "Dr. Jim" honestly and candidly answers your questions about dating, love and sexuality. He doesn’t tell you what you want to hear – he tells you what you need to hear. Dr. Jim is committed to offering you guidance based on responsible clinical practice and hard data from the latest scientific studies. Send Dr. Jim your questions today for consideration in an upcoming issue.

Casual Sex with Friend | Casual Sex Between Consenting Adults

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Casual Sex with a Friend
Casual Sex Between Consenting Adults?

Does it hurt anyone to have casual sex with a friend?


I hear these arguments a lot – “Why not do it? Who does it hurt?” I suggest those rationalizations are short-sided and selfish views of the situation. I’ve two main points to make on the subject. First, is that there’s no such thing as “casual sex.”  Sex is not just a physical act; there are always emotional consequences to it, whether you like or not and whether you admit it or not. Sex releases brain chemicals called neurotransmitters like dopamine and serotonin that give us intense feelings of euphoria. Also released in the brain are chemicals that regulate feelings of emotional attachment. These chemicals are vasopressin and oxytocin. There’s a reason why sex is referred to as “making love” – sex actually heightens our psychological connection to a person.

This leads me to the second point. Whenever there’s a sense of attachment and bonding, there’s the opportunity for spoken or unspoken jealousy and unmet or unmanaged expectations. You can’t hide or escape these feelings. A “brain on love” is much like a “brain on drugs.” People in the euphoric, early love and attachment phases of romance (encouraged by sex) become irrational. Love truly is blind during some of its phases. We think we can overcome, handle or ignore these emotional ties by telling ourselves “it’s just sex” and “it doesn’t mean anything,” but on some level even casual sex introduces feelings and emotional consequences we might not have anticipated.  

People should be cognizant of these potential consequences from the start, because almost assuredly will interfere with your friendship. Really, let’s be serious here, how could they not interfere?  This point was amusingly depicted in an old Seinfeld TV show episode in which Jerry and his “best friend” Elaine decide to start having “casual sex.”  After doing the deed once, they decide they’d like to continue but not have the affair harm their friendship. Their solution was to develop a list of rules to sidestep any misunderstandings and avoid any expectations. It didn’t work for them, and it probably won’t work for you. It’s just not reality.  The people who really benefit from casual sex between friends are “predators” – acquaintances or other people on the periphery who prey on people who are distraught from a relationship they are trying to figure out. These type of people swoop in and “comfort” the person with unmet expectations that arose from casual sex as a means of manipulation for getting what they want.

And I’m not even to the part where I talk about the possible, yet unanticipated, physical consequences of casual sex with friends or anyone for that matter, such as STDs or pregnancy. But I’ve probably said enough already.

What's the harm of casual sex between consenting adults?

Many of the points I raised above apply equally well here, so reread my reply to the first question. However, I want to expand on one thing. There are many questionable reasons why people might have casual sex to begin with. And these reasons can make a person feel worse the morning after. Think carefully, you likely can anticipate what I’m going to say: loneliness, quick physical pleasure, power-control issues, boredom, manipulation, low self-esteem, rebellion or acting out of revenge or anger and finally a condition where a person’s inhibitions are down like strong peer pressure or alcohol-drug use.

It’s probably true to say that people have sex for many reasons at any given time, but when we act out in any way due to negative motivations, the outcomes usually don’t make us feel any better. Indeed, we can actually worse after trying to fill a void that sex didn’t heal. To be fair, it seems impossible to say with certainty that casual sex between some consenting never yields anything positive. But that’s not my point. My concern here is to encourage people to actually think before they act – to ponder why they are doing what they’re doing. Having sex to run away from something is probably not a good idea. Instead, sex is better when it is a means of running towards something positive for you, such as an unparalleled expression of love and a wonderful means of deepening bonds that are already there between two committed people.

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