Women Want Casual Sex? Yes and No

Women want casual sex as much as men, says one study. No they don’t, says another.

Which is it?

Maybe you’ve heard of this project: strangers approach students on college campuses and propose a one night stand or a short-term fling. Women almost always decline, but a lot of men accept.

Standard conclusion: evidence supports evolutionary psychology which claims women are picky, wanting faithful men with good genes, who will provide for their children. Men, on the other hand, will have sex with as many women as possible to better “spread their seed.”

But wait. Another study found that women were as likely to accept casual offers as men. So long as the possible partners were Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp.

Neither Brad nor Johnny propositioned real live research subjects. Rather, men and women were surveyed on a variety of scenarios.

Would you like to have sex if a stranger propositioned you in broad daylight? Survey says women find this set-up is no more appealing on paper than in the real life original study. Real or imagined, men were much more likely than women to accept.

What if fears of violence were removed? Women were asked if they’d like to have sex with their best male friend. Not really. Men were much more interested in sex with a female friend.

How about sexy men who seemed non-violent. Johnny Depp or Brad Pit? By all means, YES!!! Just as interested as men were in having sex with Angelina Jolie or Christy Brinkley.

Researchers queried on a variety of factors that might drive appeal or repulsion, including assumed sexual capability, status, warmth, faithfulness, likely gift-giving, or worries about danger, STDs or mental illness.

For women, nothing much affected their feelings other than worries about violence, or most especially, sexual capability.

For the most part, women said “no” to strangers and good friends because they didn’t think they’d enjoy sex with them very much. And they said yes to Johnny and Brad because they thought they would.

Still, another survey found that large numbers of women regretted one-night stands. While 80% of men had positive feelings, only 54% of women did. Displeased women felt used or worried about their reputations, while the men felt even more confident after these encounters. Lead researcher, Professor Anne Campbell of Durham University (UK) explained,

What the women seemed to object to was not the briefness of the encounter but the fact that the man did not seem to appreciate her.

Others have found emotional connection to be extremely important to most women.

Maybe the truth lies somewhere in between. I need a strong emotional connection, myself. But I’d probably make an exception for Brad or Johnny.

Is my general preference due to evolutionary psychology? I doubt it. American Indians and Tahitians were promiscuous before European contact, so I don’t think monogamy’s in the genes.

In the western world women’s sexuality is repressed by negative messages from parents, friends, religious instructors, words like slut and whore, and worries about reputations. The threat of sexual violence can make sex seem fearful, while the act of sexual violence can make sex seem abhorrent. Since women are the sex objects, we don’t have sexy men to focus on. Instead we too often dwell on ourselves, distracted by how good or bad we look. All of this makes casual sex a bit dicy for women.

My conclusion: Women are as biologically capable as men of wanting casual sex. But a lot of women want a lot more.

I’m on vacation, this is a rerun.

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on December 29, 2014, in feminism, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 43 Comments.

  1. I think this question is a lot more complicated than a yes or no answer. I completely agree when you said that women must be: 1) attracted to the guy (or girl) propositioning casual sex and 2) feel safe and comfortable in the situation. Every woman can answer yes or no to casual sex depending on their answers to the two questions. I don’t think you can have a survey like this one and come up with the conclusion that women do or don’t want casual sex more than men. You have to include all the factors that influenced their answers instead of lumping them together with the assumption that they all responded no or yes for the same reason. I think if a study included more information about who was asking for casual sex and also included the person who was asked and their reason for their answer, the study would be more accurate.

  2. I absolutely agree with you. For example, I recently had a conversation with a friend about a guy she is seeing. Despite the fact that she acknowledges that she wants to have sex with him, she is determined to wait four dates, so that she doesn’t seem “easy.” They have already discussed their relationship and have decided neither wanted a relationship other than a physical one, so her determination doesn’t make sense to me. Shouldn’t two consenting adults be allowed a causal sex relationship free from judgement? Even after I assured her that absolutely no one is judging her, she said that she would be judging herself. This absolutely saddens me, and is a total reflection of the above article.

  3. There are so many benefits in casual sex… Of course the most important one is lack of commitment… But as soon as it is over, the following day to be precise, one feels “empty”… It is interesting that women and men have different approaches as to “touch and go”… Because at the end, “both” genres might experience a rush of bodily need, somehow! I think Regards!, Aquileana 😛

    • In US culture, anyway, men typically have an easier time with casual sex, likely because women’s sexuality is much more repressed. Yet men and women both tend to prefer connected sex over casual sex.

  4. “Standard conclusion: evidence supports evolutionary psychology which claims women are picky, wanting faithful men with good genes, who will provide for their children. Men, on the other hand, will have sex with as many women as possible to better “spread their seed.””

    Yep, that’s basically the default answer for topics like this. But both biologists and evolutionary psychologists commit a fallacy in assuming that humans can be easily compared to other species. While this popular theory (which some even regard as proved beyond reasonable doubt) fits the animal kingdom better it’s very hard to apply it to humans as no other species have such an abundant sociocultural influence. Also, the premise may be unrealistic or even false. Strictly biologically speaking, you can’t know if a guy is a good provider before you’ve known him for a long time. In the animal kingdom a specimen of the species in question is often considered well suited for the task of raising offspring based on physical strenght alone, but it’s not as black and white for humans (and yes, there are other advanced species with a relatively advanced degree of interaction and communication but hey, they haven’t made music or poetry so far…). Among humans a guy can be relativly ill or even of poor physical condition and still be able to provide, you don’t find that very often in mother nature. And vice versa you’ll have guys with (biologically) good genes that aren’t good providers, thus there’s not necessarily equivalence between good genes and provider abilities.

    The other premise in such discussions is the conscious choice of a mate with good genes (and thus perceived abilities). The problem is that evolution is random in nature and at its lowest level it’s basically random mutations. There’s no set goal of output from the evolutionary process and you can only be sure of what _were_ beneficial traits for a given species by looking at the evolutionary tree backwards, but you can’t predict progressively. Environments for species change and perceivable well adapted species are suddenly at risk of extinction. (you can of course make mathematical models and implement them but they are more or less qualified “guesstimates”). So, given the random and unpredictable nature of evolution and mutations what are “good genes” really? No one can _really_ tell so I’d say it’s another point to sociocultural influence.

    • Yes, I have a lot of problems with evolutionary psychology and have written a bit on the topic. For instance, chimpanzees and bonobos are equally related to us yet very different from each other. And neither are symbol users to any great extent. Whereas the human experience is more symbolic than biologically-based. (I’ll write more specifically on that later) Plus all the points you bring up.

      I so appreciate your comment!

      • Seems like a lot of the theories within evolutionary psychology tend to be caught between a rock and a hard place to me. It’s neither sociology (or similar fields) or biology.

        There’s of course another side to this argument as well that I didn’t bring up that sort of counter what I wrote; since every human ability was made possible trough biology (such as our big brain that’s capable of advanced reasoning for instance), everything stems from biology and one can thus argue that everything human is anchored in that biology and that everything else is irrelevant. But that’s beyond the scope of this topic and this blog so I won’t make any full fledged “bioarguments” 🙂

        The seemingly non-static boundary between biologi and socialisation is indeed interesting!

        btw happy new year!

      • Happy new year to you, too.

        My area of sociology sees it this way (To oversimplify):

        . We have a basic biological needs, but how we feel them are shaped by society. We have to drive to eat, but different societies have created different kinds of foods. We have a sex drive, but societies affect what we see a sexy and how our sexuality is expressed

        . Because humans are symbol users we can escape mere biology, and that escape gives us great freedom, and expanded minds. Helen Keller was born without the ability to see or hear so it took her a long time to learn language — symbols. She says that before learning language she had thoughts but they were very limited.

        . Our symbols both expand our experience and imprison us. Helen Keller talks about how language expanded her mind. But we also get trapped in our cultural ways of seeing

  5. happy new year by the way too.

  6. “how is casual sex really different from casual dating? ”

    Casual dating doesn’t necessarily involve sex. I have done a lot of casual dating without any sex involved. That’s actually very common.”

    Seems pretty common or much more so for women. It’s nice to have the sex drive women can have where they can do on dates and just date and have fun with it and just meet different guys without wanting or caring to have sex. It seems like a waste of time for me as a guy to go on a bunch of dates with women if sex doesn’t happen. I don’t mind having female friend and see it as a good, but then again I don’t go on dates to meet girls that I want to become friends with and just that. Girls I become friends with, I meet at work or from my friends or people I know and can befriend them. I have some girls I’ve befriended and I hang out with them and others from work and go out some nights.

    Women going on dates with men just for company and meeting men simply, seems like they are finding “girlfriends”. If I’m going on dates, I’m hoping it leads to sex atleast and if she’s a nice, cool girl, then a relationship. If I’m attracted and I see her as a a great girl, then I might hold out on sex longer or wait if she doesn’t want it yet, but likes me.

    • When I was single I casually dated for a variety of different reasons. Sometimes I was trying to see if the guy was someone I wanted a relationship with. Sometimes I had feelings for him but did not feel ready for sex — I needed to be extremely interested and to feel emotionally connected to want sex. And at younger ages, like high school, I wanted to experience relationships, but not have sex. I didn’t feel ready and wasn’t ready to deal with the consequences, should something go wrong.

      • It’s probably because I’m a guy, but I’m not enjoying going on dates if I’m not getting sex or a relationship out of it and it’s just simply company with different women. While it might be decent for a moment, it would get old very fast for me. I guess I don’t see the point in it and it seems a waste of time, it feels so neutered to enjoy the opposite sex’s company on many dates without anything sexual coming from it or a relationship coming from it, but like you said not just you, but women liking to date various men without sex or anything. It seems some of just fine with finding out if guys can be a match or just knowing different guys or company or something,

        I have no idea.. Even if I mainly wanted a relationship out of dates or hoping for that, I don’t know how many dates with nothing that I’d go through, before being done with dating. And even if wanting a relationship, I’d probably simply just have sex eventually if some of the women showed sexual interest right off the bat, even though initially want to hold off on my point for something more. A man will probably still have sex even if wanting more than that eventually if getting the offers from the women he’s dating. To get nothing seems no fun and a waste of time. I sometimes envy women in the sense of how unsexual women are as in desire for sex and it’s seemingly not that tough on women to have guy or plenty of guy playtonic friends or serial date and enjoy it without getting a relationship or not getting “laid” so to speak and still just enjoying non sexual company from men.

        I can’t understand what it feels like for women as far as urges, and I know women know who guys can be. But I still don’t understand what this sexual surge, drive, horniness feels like men. Most guys watch a lot of porn and jerk off a lot, to keep sane if they aren’t getting laid and even guys who are getting laid or in a relationship still masturbate and watch porn. It’s like there’s a high charged motor down below for men, that’s always running and have to have some release to focus and think straight. I don’t think men would be productive if get much work done if they couldn’t masturbate or find some release if they aren’t getting laid.

      • There seem to be advantages and disadvantages either way. I have memories of a time before I became so repressed and I miss how easy it had been to gain pleasure. On the other hand, feeling compelled and powerless to fully satisfy seems incredibly frustrating. Not sure which is worse. I imagine something in between would be ideal. An ability to gain great pleasure without feeling compelled and frustrated. Some people do seem to be in that place.

  7. Just thinking about being approached for a one-night stand fills me with the same combination of performance anxiety and mild distaste that I had when my mother’s new husband, a Texan with the reddest neck you could ever hope to see, thought that it would be a good idea to celebrate my 18th birthday by taking me out to a nice lady who could teach me how to be a man.

    Fortunately (or not, depending on your point of view) I only found out about this after the fact. My mother had firmly rejected his idea and left me blissfully in the dark until years later when I was safely married.

    I suppose it’s redundant to say that my aversion to casual sex puts me out of the mainstream of average men; you’d think my preference for wearing big poofy dresses would be enough of a clue. But now that you’ve told us what the average man wants, I wonder if the shyness and the dresses come from the same part of my brain (the “I’ll be a man, but on my own terms, dammit” part).

    • Actually you’re not so different from other men after all. Well you are and you aren’t.

      Here’s how you’re similar: about three quarters of men prefer emotionally connected sex over casual sex.

      Here’s how you’re different: generally speaking, casual sex doesn’t typically bother men as much as it typically bothers women, and can’t even help their egos — even though their preference is for emotionally connected sex.

      • “…casual sex doesn’t typically bother men as much as it typically bothers women,..”

        If women are so repulsed by it, then why are so many women engaging in it. This is what I cannot grasp. If women want emotionally connected sex, then why are women doing porn? or becoming escorts? or having several different partners each year?

        To me, what I hear women saying simply does not square with what they are actually doing. Are they engaging in casual sex and enjoying it but saying they do not?

      • As we’ve discussed before, not that many women engage in it long term. More than half of young women experiment with it in college, but few remain interested over time. Very few women have several partners each year. Your ex-wife is an exception that colors your whole view of women.

        I’m amazed at the number of men who think that women do porn or act as escorts because they’re sexually interested. They do that work because they can make more money than in any of their other options. These aren’t women who have a lot of options. And as a percentage of the population, Not many women do this sort of work.

  8. I think if society were not there to act as moral police especially for women when it comes to casual sex, more women would find it acceptable. It’s the fear of hearing abhorring adjectives from others along with STDs and sexual violence, that women say ‘no’ to casual sex.

    • I’m sure that more women would find it acceptable and less depressing without the moral police. I suspect that women would end up similar to men, with most women preferring emotionally connected sex and a minority preferring casual sex.

    • Yes, I agree.

      However, all societies need a moral code of conduct. That code of conduct and decency must be applied similarly for both sexes.

      Women would indeed engage in more casual sex than men without a moral police. I would also venture to speculate that they would also be far more overzealous about it than men!

  9. I echo your conclusion- sex to me is much more satisfying when there is filling- meaning depth- and that I’ve found is seldom present in casual encounters. Even more rich is the kind of sex that deepens over time…. when the initial rush of attraction has shifted…

    • True for me as well. And statistics suggest that it’s true for most women — and men.

    • diahannreyes,

      “Even more rich is the kind of sex that deepens over time…. ”

      Well, studies show that for long-term relationships and/or married couples, nothing could be further from the truth. Sex greatly diminish over time for such relationships. So, I am not sure how it can deepen if it is not happening!

      Unless you are referring to relationships lasting on average less than two years? So, your “over time” is a pretty short time horizon. It seems like most single sexually active people change their partners once a year, or even less.

      Which brings me to the next thing that really confounds me: Just how is casual sex really different from casual dating? Yes, I know hookups, booty calls, one night stands, friends with benefits are all forms of casual sex. But, it seems to me that if you are dating casually and having sex, then you are also having casual sex too.

      Is the casual sex this article is referring limited to one night stands, booty calls, etc?


      • First, sex often gets better with age.

        Sex Gets Better With Age?
        How Sex Gets Better With Age

        However, it often does not. I have some theories as to what makes the difference but I will need to do more research.

        Re: “how is casual sex really different from casual dating? ”

        Casual dating doesn’t necessarily involve sex. I have done a lot of casual dating without any sex involved. That’s actually very common.

      • Huggy Bear, studies may be right but they are also a reflection of the society in which we live in and how we view/experience sex in long-term relationships and and marriage. I think that the reasons sex greatly diminishes in long-term relationships and/or married couples may be the norm but it doesn’t have to be the reality. I have definitely experienced that which you speak of and I’ve also experienced the deepening. A lot of it for me depended not just on the partner but on the kind of relationship (is the intimacy and connection deepening with time or shutting down) and my desire to physically open even more. They are all interrelated.

      • Diahannreyes,

        Happy New Year!! Thanks for the insightful reply. I guess it all varies from person to person and relationship to relationship. Perhaps I simply lack sufficient experience. I know what I most desire: a long term permanent relationship full of love and sex. Lots of sex!. However, these two things appear at odds. I have no answer. Hence, i have opted to just be celibate.

      • Happy new year, Huggybear! I think that is what most of us long for. 🙂 thank you for your thoughtful reply.

  10. “In the western world women’s sexuality is repressed by negative messages from parents, friends, religious instructors, words like slut and whore, and worries about reputations. The threat of sexual violence can make sex seem fearful, while the act of sexual violence can make sex seem abhorrent. Since women are the sex objects, we don’t have sexy men to focus on.”

    No, that can’t be right! It makes too much sense! Obviously the answer is that women are biologically “hard-wired” to fulfill every late-20th-century, first-world-country, idealistic stereotype! We couldn’t possibly have societal expectations muddying the data at all!

    /sarcasm off

  11. blackboypardbrad1953

    I think SOME women want casual sex,but MOST want a day-and-nighttime boypard!!!!!

  12. Such studies are often skewed because of the uncontrollable factors. I guess the social perception also plays a role in the choices of women. A woman looking for a no-strings attached relationship will not be looked upon in the same way as her male counterparts. Times are changing, but it still happens. Thanks for sharing such an interesting post 🙂

    • You’re welcome.

      Studies could be skewed, But a lot of studies do find women, or most women, avoiding casual sex. Probably not for the reason evolutionary psychology provides, though. More likely because of societal repression, which helps explain why they need so much motivation to be interested. Motivation like Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp,Who provide not only sexiness but a huge boost to the ego.

      Sometimes conflicting studies both hold truth, you just have to see the commonality that lives behind them.

      • I agree on that. The sexual preferences also varies from person to person. The roots may me in the psychological make-up of the mind. For e.g. a casual one night stand is not necessarily a turn-on for me. Emotional attachment do play a role, but we can not generalize.
        P.S.: I am no-one to question the views of a sociologist 😉

      • And actually, most men actually prefer emotionally connected sex even though casual sex is more likely to be an ego boost for men than women.

        Sociologists are all about social patterns. It’s not to say that all men are one way and all women are another way. But we look at general patterns in the population, and try to understand what lies behind those patterns.

        By the way, thanks so much for adding your perspective.

      • My pleasure, I love such healthy discussions 🙂

      • “More likely because of societal repression, which helps explain why they need so much motivation to be interested. Motivation like Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp,Who provide not only sexiness but a huge boost to the ego.”

        So, how do you explain the lack of motivation on the part of so many women for sex with their husbands?

        Lastly, do you not find it quite offensive (say to a husband) that desiring a Johnny Depp or Brad Pitt over a husband? So, having sex with your husband is neither sexy nor an ego boost?

        These are the attitudes that are so prevalent today with so many women that average men simply feel it simply is not worth the effort. Why? Because either their is lackluster desire or you are always in competition with some other men. We simply cannot win.

        Anyhow, I think women desire casual sex as much as men. It’s just that the guy needs to be “superior.”

        Happy holidays!

      • Happy holidays to you huggy.

        Well, this study is comparing men and women and their experience with casual sex, not comparing women’s experience of casual sex with married sex. About 90% of women prefer emotionally connected sex. Unfortunately you’ve had some bad luck with becoming attached to a woman who doesn’t fit the typical experience.

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