Is casual sex anti-feminist?

Are you a person having casual sex? Are you floating around in this sex-focused society, shamed for irregular or regular spells of sex simply because you are single? Starting to think that being a liberated sex-positive feminist isn’t all it’s cracked up to be?

After two years of sporadic casual sex with near strangers, friends of friends, and actual members of my friendship group, I’m starting to think that it’s not for me.

So let’s explore it a little. I’m a liberated, sex-positive feminist. I’m not looking to be a nun, far from it. So what’s this all about? Is casual sex really bad for feminism?

A message of sex-positive feminism

Sex-positive feminism emphasises that “sexual freedom is a major part of gender equality” and so the freedom for womxn to have sex whenever, and with whoever they want (needless to say with the basis of consent), is a huge part of liberation. 

Of course, this is completely true. For centuries, womxn have been subjugated by patriarchal standards of sex. The double standard of sexual desire being more ‘natural’ for men than for womxn. The idea that virginity is important for womxn but not for men, in some cases going so far as to check womxn with vaginas for a still-intact hymen before marriage. 

Even the Virgin/Whore dichotomy still rings true in today’s society, where many womxn are shamed for being sexually active, yet also shamed for not being available to have sex with whoever expects it of them.

Sex-positive feminism is certainly needed, womxn should be encouraged to explore their sexuality outside of these patriarchal norms. We should be able to express desire for sex, to have it, and to move on without consideration for what men find acceptable. It’s not a big deal. 

Is casual sex patriarchal?

While sex-positive feminism is a phenomenal movement to liberate womxn, it’s not all lube and roses. There is criticism that it has created a society which generates pressure to be having sex that we just don’t actually want to be having. Womxn can feel pressured that, given today’s leaps forward in gender equality, they should want to have a plethora of sexual partners and be ‘free’ in their sexuality. 

Yet that’s just not the case. Womxn don’t need to be having copious amounts of sex to be liberated. Sucking lots of dick, for example, doesn’t epitomise ‘equality’ to some as it does others. 

This is a trap I’ve fallen into myself. Ending up sleeping with someone because ‘you’re single, you like them, why not?’ and then feeling sort of empty the next day. ‘But why?’ you ask yourself, ‘I should enjoy being able to have all the sex I want, I want sex and I’m a 21st century womxn’. 

Some writers claim that this feeling is because of the still very patriarchal concept of casual sex. In effect, casual sex might be interpreted to be exactly what cishet men want from straight womxn: sex with no need to even pretend to respect them as a person or to care about their feelings. “The flipside to the destigmatisation of sex for women,” writes Van Badham, for The Guardian, “has been a sense of patriarchal entitlement to sex with women.”

The sheer availabiltiy of sex in today’s society creates the pressure that to be doing otherwise is against the norm, that there must be something wrong with you. This goes for all genders, too. The assumption that healthy adults want to have sex, and take it when they can get it, is also damaging to anyone who doesn’t have the acquisition of sex as one of their major driving desires in life. 

Even if womxn want to use others for their own sexual pleasure, in a similar way to which it is being argued that men want to use womxn, they will still face prejudice. As mentioned above, it can be disheartening to embrace this aspect of sex-positvity, and still be labelled a whore.

Other potential issues with casual sex

Other than the societal expectation to pursue casual sex, there are other reasons why it might be identified as particularly undesirable for womxn in general.

One of these being the orgasm gap.The infamous statistic that shows that when having sex, only 65% of straight womxn, and 66% of bisexual womxn, actually achieve orgasm, compared to 95% of straight men. This isn’t doom and gloom for all womxn, lesbians achieve orgasm 86% of the time, but it shows how the world of straight sex still seems tailored towards the pleasure of men above the pleasure of womxn. 

Indeed, supposedly only 4% of womxn (sexual orientation not disclosed) said that they came from having casual sex with a partner for the first time.

Yikes. It might be reasonable to ask: why bother having casual sex when your needs are likely to be neglected?

Another reason suggested for womxn being harmed by or just uninterested in casual sex is that we have a biological disposition to be against it. This sounds a little fishy to me. The claim is that there are hormones that our brain releases after orgasm that incline us to feel trust towards our sexual partner. Apparently this chemical, oxytocin, is released at a greater quantity in the brains of womxn. This results in the bizarre claim that us womxn are more likely to get attached to those we sleep with, thus ending up emotionally hurt by our casual partners.

This generally sounds like a very flawed argument, though, by reducing womxn’s desires to hormonal whims. This is akin to those incredibly misogynistic arguments suggesting that womxn with menstrual cycles cannot be taken seriously during ‘that time of the month’.

Stop right there, I’m a womxn who loves sex

While there definitely are concerns about how casual sex affects womxn particularly, this could be considered a very unfeminist perspective.

Assuming that we are biologically disposed to want to find a ‘baby daddy’, and not just fool around sometimes, is ludicrous. Some people’s hormones are nuts, we all have that friend who’s been broody since their school days, but this biological essentialism is not the case for everyone. What claims to be feminist in terms of ‘looking out for the needs of womxn’ just ends up being very narrow-minded, and reduces womxn to being entirely governed by our hormones.

Many people love having sex, and want to do it in whatever form they see fit, be it casual, monogamous, or paid-for. To generalise that only one gender is benefitted or disadvantaged from the casual-sex-culture we have nowadays seems obtuse at best.

So is casual sex bad for feminism?

Sex-positivity is fantastic! I can’t thank the movement enough for how it’s changed society. The freedom to do as you want with your body is an essential human right, and this sexual liberation comes with better sex-education, better sexual-health services, and generally less smoke and mirrors around our bedroom lives.

Nevertheless, maybe now it’s time for sex-neutrality? Emphasise the ideal of choice over and above everything else. It seems as though this is already the case, but I’d argue otherwise. Far too many people feel obligated into having sex they might not want, pressured to have sex for the first time before it’s ‘too late’, and our sex-obsessed culture completely ostracises those who are just not that interested in sex.

Maybe the assumption that casual sex is fun and beneficial is the case sometimes, but not for everyone. You’re all allowed to go on living your sexy lives and I’ll praise you for it. For those of you like me, though, who are fed up waking up next to someone who will never text you again or someone you never want to text again: be free.

There’s no pressure here, you don’t need to have casual sex to be liberated.

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