The Casual Sex Series
Casual sex has become a hot topic and can be an even hotter activity. Casual sex is something we see all over the media whether it’s online, on TV, or in movies. As we socially become more and more accepting of folks having casual sex, the question to ask is: has sex education kept up with the need to talk about the complexities that exist in causal sex? Has anyone talked to you about how to communicate with a sexual partner? How to ask that friend you’re attracted to if they feel the same way? What about threesomes? Dating apps? The answer is no, and it’s time to change that.
It’s time to unapologetically expand the discourse of casual sex and that’s what I’m here to do! In my multi-part series with Earth and Salt Shop, I’m here to talk about all things casual sex. This series is not a step-by-step guide to casual sex, nor is it the “one way” to engage in casual sex. Rather, it’s the start of conversations and thoughts informed by lived experiences, sex educator knowledge, and a lot of personal trial and error. Some of the topics included in this series are casual sex and COVID-19, boundaries and communication, non-monogamy (and how to talk about it), friends with benefits, dating apps, sex toys with casual partners, and more!
Hot Vax Summer: do I know how to be casual anymore?
After over a year of quarantines, lockdowns, and distanced dating, the moment many of us have been waiting for is cumming. The “Hot Vax Summer”, as some are referring to it, is upon us! In the United States, condom sales skyrocketed from their significant dip during the lockdowns. I think we all know what that means, but in case you don’t it means…..*drumroll*....... safe sex! As things begin to open up and people are (hopefully) getting vaccinated it looks like folks are gearing up to get down safely. According to research from CNN, condom sales boosted 23.4% between March and April 2021. Now 23.4% might not feel like a lot, but that was a boost in only four weeks when less than 20% of the American adult population was vaccinated. Nationally it seems that things are moving toward a point of normalcy with 45.1% of the total U.S. population fully vaccinated, but what does this new era of no more social distancing mean for casual sex?
How do I do this again? Working with “casual” anxiety.
This new social and subsequent sexual space we are entering is exciting! If you want, you can use this social rebirth of sorts, as a second coming of your sexuality. This could be a metaphorically “blank slate” summer, meaning you can start fresh! Take this time to ask yourself the questions that matter to you about your sexuality:
What kind of sex do you want to have?
What about relationships? With who?
How can you use this time to craft your sexual practices and health in a way that feels good to you?
These are the questions I have been asking as the world reopens, and I bet I’m not the only one. It has been a stagnant solitary year. I keep thinking I’m ready to go, impatient to get back out into the casual sex scene until I remember, I feel like I don’t know how to do this anymore. How do I be casual? While I do think it will be a bit like riding a bike, I for one know that after nearly a year of social isolation, the idea of sleeping with people casually is equally thrilling and scary! Do I still know how to flirt? How do I ask for a stranger’s number? How do I even talk to strangers face to face? How do I dance in front of someone that isn’t my roommate or cat?
For many folks who indulge in substances like alcohol, it can be a big impulse to lubricate those rusty social joints with drinks or drugs. While a few drinks, if you’re a person who enjoys social drinking, is not a bad idea and can be fun (plus lower some of that social stress), it’s important to remember that when drinking or drugs get involved, inhibitions decrease. While those of us who indulge are probably craving a setting of social intoxication, we have to remember safety and consent. When we get drunk, safety and effective communication tend to be considered less, more risks are taken, and as you get to a point of inebriation, crucial things like communication and consent become murky and even impossible. I’m not saying don’t drink but I’m saying think about the intention you’re drinking with, and be aware of your limit. Are you drinking because you’re enjoying your beverage and the feeling it’s giving you, or because you are nervous?
If you’re feeling nervous, remember, you can move slowly and steadily into the social and casual sex scene again. Forget about FOMO (fear of missing out) and prioritize what you want and what you’re comfortable with! If you’re nervous about meeting people, maybe start small. Go to an outdoor event for something you are genuinely interested in and see who you connect with, whether on a sexual level or even platonically. Every interaction you have with a stranger greases those rusty social wheels. Remember, you never know when you’re going to meet someone you will want to take home!
Risk and communication in the pandemic grey zone
In thinking about the recent and rapid reopening, I’ve found myself referring to this odd liminal space we are in post lockdown as the “pandemic grey zone.” While those of us who are pro-vaccine would like to hope that everyone who could have received a vaccination, that statistically is not the case. It is still so important to communicate about sex and safety with your sexual partners, and yes, even the casual ones!
It’s normal, and okay to not be comfortable with all the same things you were before the pandemic. After the year we've had, health anxiety makes plenty of sense. The most important thing now is figuring out exactly what you’re comfortable with currently, without comparing the now to the pre-COVID world. This is an exercise in consent and boundary setting which eventually will lead to even more pleasure, comfort, and safety!
Before engaging in casual sex, it is really important to think about your boundaries are regarding sex, COVID, and vaccination. Do you feel comfortable having sex with someone who hasn’t been vaccinated? Do you feel like you have the communication skills to ask folks their vaccine status? There is no “one right way” to approach these issues. What’s most important is that you find your own way to approach this odd new world we are walking into. What feels safe to you? Write it down, think about it, make a pros and cons list, talk with a friend or partner about it - do whatever you need to to feel confident in your boundaries around sex and safety. Most importantly, if someone does not respect your “no”, or your boundary, I promise there will be someone who will!
During COVID-19 there were declines in STI (sexually transmitted infections) testing in the US. While this makes sense due to the suspension of many in-person testing facilities and fewer people having casual sex, it’s time to get those statistics back up! Now we have two types of tests of focus on, COVID tests and STI tests. Luckily, in many places with Planned Parenthood’s they offer free or low-cost STI testing. STI tests are crucial to ensuring safety for you, your partners, and the general community of people having sex with each other. STI and COVID testing is just another way to keep yourself and others safe and having sex happily!
If you’re planning on having casual sex and having a “riskier” lifestyle and sex life post-vaccine and you have good and affordable access to testing, getting tested for COVID regularly is a great option to consider. While we know that all of the vaccines work for preventing severe COVID, deaths, and hospitalizations, we still do not have a scientific conclusion about transmission while vaccinated. Plus there are other variants that may give us trouble going forward. At-home self-tests are also a great option both for STI and COVID tests. We don’t want STI rates to rise as COVID numbers drop, so let’s make sure not to forget about physical health!
Easing into the new frontier of COVID
Before we dive into the sexy part of this conversation, let's clear something up: COVID-19 is not gone, we’re just better protected with vaccines. This has been an incredibly trying time globally and for many, this has been an odd, celibate, lonely year. Now we have a semi-solution in the form of vaccines that may allow us to go back to the world and lifestyle we once enjoyed. So please, if you have the access and ability, go get the vaccine! Nothing is sexier than protecting you and your community from COVID.
Even with vaccines, as we transition back to a type of “normal” it’s a good idea to check in with folks you live with, see regularly unmasked, or have sex with to make sure that those around you are comfortable with whatever level of risk you are thinking of taking on in this weird pandemic limbo we’re in. Some might say this suggestion is “going overboard” but honest conversations about health, safety, and comfort are integral to informed consent. People have a right to opt in and out of different levels of risk! Now, if your whole home is vaccinated that’s a bit of a different scenario, still, it is well worth checking in about. As more and more people begin to shed their masks and congregate, there is still a possibility of more COVID spikes and variants.
With all of that being said, according to the Center for Disease Control (CDC) fully vaccinated folks, can have sex! Maskless (unless masks turn you on, then, by all means, mask up)! Well, those weren’t their exact words, but basically, it means: vaccinated folks can get into skin-to-skin close quarters maskless! If you have a sex-oriented mind like me, that’s where you jumped to too.
At Your Own Pace
More than anything, do not rush into this. Trust yourself. Learn what feels good and safe for you. Feeling consensually in control and empowered in your own pleasure and sexual adventures is such an important personal factor in sex. If you just want to spend a few more months on hot dates with your vibrator or maintaining your COVID sex pod, do that! There is not a single “right way” to approach this unprecedented situation, so take it at your own pace and with yourself in mind.
About the Author
Aly (they/them) is a pleasure-based sexuality educator, researcher, and activist based in Amsterdam. Co-founder and co-director of the queer-focused online sexuality and relationship education website Queer Sex Ed Community Curriculum (@queersexedcc // queersexedcc.com), Aly holds a Master of Science in Sociology: Gender, Sexuality, and Society, and a B.A. focused on sexuality education, gender and identity studies, and sexual health. They have worked at several international nongovernmental organizations as a researcher on pleasure-focused sexual and reproductive health and rights initiatives. Their work focuses on intersections of power, health, knowledge, identity, pleasure, and educational pedagogy.
Personally, Aly is a major pleasure enthusiast who loves talking and writing about all things sex, identity, politics, and pleasure!