The dating world has taken a lot of criticism recently. Tinder is the scapegoat for everything that’s wrong with romance in this day and age. According to some, the invention of that phone app has triggered the destruction of intimacy and neutered our abilities to have genuine romantic connections and create meaningful, lasting, relationships. I have more than my fair share of criticisms to make towards dating, specifically online dating. I’ve written about how I feel online dating has changed the way we relate to each other and that this change isn’t for the better. I stand by those words even though reluctantly, I occasionally take part in online dating. For the most part, everyone I know and talk with about online dating feels the same way. It’s an unsatisfactory experience that people reluctantly take part in because too many people are using it for one person to reasonably avoid it. While my critiques revolve around the emotional downfalls of online dating, a lot of the other critiques deal with the overt sexuality some of those dating apps seem to foster. You might think I’m here to hop on that bandwagon, but I’m not. I’m here to tell you that “casual dating,” as in an arrangement based mostly on physical intimacy, is totally healthy, fine, and something that you should explore as long as you take the proper responsible steps.
First, know what you want out of this arrangement, and make sure your partner does as well. Some people feel that it’s impossible to have sex without any sort of emotional connection or impact, and some people feel that sex is naturally fun and thrilling, regardless of emotional connection. If you’re going to move forward with having a “friends with benefits” arrangement with someone, you better have a good grasp of where you stand on that spectrum. If you don’t know for sure how you feel about this, I don’t recommend getting involved with someone in this matter. Sooner or later it’s going to come up. And when it does, you’re going to have to deal with it. So, be sure how you feel about this kind of situation and more specifically, the other party involved, before you start sleeping with them. Once you know what your intentions are, communicate that to the other person involved. Make sure the two of you are on the same page from the very beginning, or things have the potential to get awkward if not downright ugly.
Like any other kind of relationship, communication is important here to make sure that both parties get what they want, have fun, and feel safe with the arrangement. I’d even argue that communication in this kind of relationship is even more important than communication in a more conventional relationship. If you’re bargaining away emotional intimacy and the things that come along with it for pure physical engagement, there needs to be a very open and clear line of communication that both parties are comfortable with where things are at. But it’s also tricky because you don’t want to share too much, right? This is a delicate area, and the line between sharing and over-sharing is so thin it might as well be invisible. Are you hanging out with this person just because you have good sexual chemistry, and that is the stated basis of your relationship? Yes, and that’s good that it’s been established. But it’s probably not the best thing to state that fact and intention time and time again. If you’re engaging in a sexual relationship, does your partner have the right to know if you’re sleeping with other people? I say yes, absolutely. But it might not be in your best interests to parade around such information in front of them. It might be for the best for you and your partner to lay down some ground rules before you get involved with each other. For example, I’ve had people who I slept with casually who were perfectly okay with me doing the same with other people as long as I got myself tested and used protection with them and with other women. Figure out those sorts of things as early as possible, so there’s less of a chance of anyone getting hurt as things move along.
Even with all the communicating and boundary setting, there’s still going to be opportunities to run into pitfalls. What happens if one partner develops feelings for the other, and those feelings aren’t reciprocated? What happens if one partner says they’ll only have sex with the other if they agree to do so monogamously? These are the kind of things which can and do, come up when you’re dealing with this type of arrangement. While I stand by my original position that you can have sex that isn’t emotionally driven and is just for the fun of it, these feelings can change over time. If that happens, know where you stand, and if/when it’s time for the nature of this relationship to change, or possibly leave it altogether.
Romance is complicated; relationships are complicated. But sex doesn’t have to be. It’s completely healthy and normal to engage in a purely sexual relationship, as long as you communicate those intentions in an appropriate and honest manner.