A study out of University of Minnesota this week reveals the truth that neither Hollywood nor the Religious Right want you to know: casual sex won’t damage you emotionally. Not even if you’re a girl!
The researchers interviewed over 1300 sexually active young adults between the ages of 18 and 24 about their last sexual encounter, and then assessed their emotional wellbeing. Guess what? The 20% who last got it on with a casual partner were no more emotionally damaged than the 80% who had most recently played with a committed partner. They weren’t more depressed, and they had just as much self-esteem.
The researchers were shocked. "We were so surprised," said study author Marla Eisenberg, "The conventional wisdom is that casual sex, ‘friends with benefits,’ and hooking up is hurtful."
You can say that again. From abstinence-only education in schools to the anti–hooking–up book-boom of the ’00s, from Salt-N-Pepa (vid above) to Taylor Swift, girls especially are taught every day that having sex outside of marriage or a committed relationship will leave us emotionally broken in ways that can’t be repaired. (It’s easy to pick on Taylor Swift, I know, but come on: "And Abigail gave everything she had/To a boy who changed his mind. And we cried." Really? Can she never have sex again? Did he rob her of all of her possessions? Otherwise, I fail to see how she "gave" anything more than he did, just because they had Teh Sex.)
Not shockingly, this study has received precious little media attention. But if these results are replicable, and if they could be followed-up by a longitudinal study showing that those friends-with-benefits are just as happy as their more monogamous counterparts even later in their lives, it would go a long way to revealing the anti-casual-sex argument for what it is: a way to keep women’s sexuality taboo and mysterious, so it can be used to control our behavior and sell us things we don’t need.
Moreover, if we could all collectively stop wringing our hands about the mythical psychological risks of "hooking up," we could get down to the actually important work of educating each other about how to prevent the real risks that come with sex – STDs and pregnancy – risks that abstinence-only education has failed utterly to deal with. And we could start having frank conversations about how each of us can decide in any given situation what we personally want and are ready for, without having some one-size-fits-none pronouncement from the culture at large to contend with.
It would be almost as if sex were a perfectly healthy act that most adults enjoy in one way or another.