You may have noticed that in the last couple of years there have been a bevy of stories about hook-up culture, online dating, friends with benefits and the general shift from the assumption that everyone should be engaging in “rings and babies dating” to an acceptance that a whole lot of folks are engaging in what could be described as “fuck buddy dating”. Hot on the heels of this discussion has been another conversation. A very intense conversation. A kind of scary conversation. A conversation about how all of this is very, very bad for everyone.
Studies came out telling us that people who engaged in these hook ups were unhappy. Articles came out bemoaning the death of dating, courtship and romance and in general people agreed that this was all very, very bad.
But what if they were all very, very wrong?
When we start to really look at some of the “concern” we see some interesting patterns. Studies that set out to prove that casual sex is damaging and (voila!) did! Angry writers who don’t enjoy casual relationships themselves writing scathing indictments of the practice of hooking up because, clearly it is threatening their way of being. Suddenly these “facts” start to look a bit skewed. Are there voices coming from the other side? Perhaps even (gasp!) neutral voices?
Enter Dr. Zhana Vrangaova, a sex researcher, writer and educator who has done a great deal of work examining the belief that casual sex is detrimental to our well-being. In a 2014 study she determined something very important (that no one else seems to have thought about before): casual sex can be damaging or completely healthy – depending on why you do it! That’s right, motivation matters! This study is hugely important because it offered a more nuanced look at people’s relationships with casual sex than we had ever gotten before and with that look we saw that for people who enjoy casual sex and were doing it with proper motivation (what Vrangalova calls “autonomous motives”) it could be not only fun but completely rewarding and healthy.
So, what do good, healthy motivations for hooking up look like? Well, they come from our own desires (not someone else’s) and reflect our values so, for example if I want to hook up with someone because it sounds fun and I think it will be a cool experience, I’ve got a healthy motivation. If, on the other hand, I want to hook up with someone because I think it will makes them like me better, I think it will make me feel better about myself or I am hoping it will lead to a relationship, those motivations all involve seeking something outside of me and can backfire terribly, leading to bad feelings – thus they are not health motivations.
So, check your motivations and, if you feel good about them, tell everyone else to calm the heck down. Hooking up can be fun, sexy as hell and healthy too!