I have news. Big news. Are you ready? Are you sitting down?
Straight people have discovered casual sex. Well, not casual sex, exactly (I think they got that message in the 70s, along with disco and bell bottoms), just a recognition of its health benefits. Apparently, it took a group of academics to reveal to the world that casual sex is good for your mental health. And the media decided that it’s news.
Who’d have thunk it?
When gay men started sleeping around (and around) in the 70s, we were superficial, promiscuous, incapable of mature relationships. When straight people start doing it, it’s suddenly a wellness program.
I suppose it was inevitable. First we introduced the world to disco. “Hello, straight people, meet Gloria Gaynor. … You’re welcome.”
Not that we ever got so much as a thank you. It seems that every trend, from facial hair to Bette Midler to the cosmo, is greeted by mainstream America at least 5 years after it was all the rage in the gay community—and always with the gay backstory ignored. It’s as if a forest of trees were falling silently for decades just because there were no straight ears to hear them. (I challenge you to ask the average Bette Midler fan what a bathhouse is.)
Interestingly enough, by the time most of these trends become hot in the straight world, they’ve already gone cold among the gays. (Bette, sure, she can stay—but cosmos, oh please.) Frankly, it’s a chicken-or-egg mystery: sometimes we give up on the trend less because we’re bored than because … well, style being what it is, such things just aren’t interesting when everyone’s doing them.
Except for this one. Casual sex is a trend that I don’t see the gays giving up anytime soon. The jury, however, is still out on straights.
The researchers could have saved a lot of trouble just by asking us. If you want to know the benefits of casual sex, Dr. Feelgood, come to the source. We didn’t invent bathhouses, back rooms, pick-up bars, sex clubs, and hook-up apps as a route to the Nobel Prize. We invented them because they’re fun. Because casual sex offers a break from the stress of life.
The problem, of course, is that our larger society—and in particular, the religious wing that is intent on controlling everything and wrenching the fun out of dysfunction—has done too good of a job of convincing people that sex is primarily for making babies and filing joint tax returns. They want you to believe that the term casual sex is an oxymoron. For ages, casual sex was considered a sign of inadequacy (especially for women, of course), a futile attempt to fill a psychic hole (no pun intended).
But that’s not what it was for gay men. For gay men, casual sex has always been about having fun—guilt-free fun. And fun is good for you. When you do something for no other reason than to have a good time, it has benefits to your mental health. Like roller coasters, cotton candy, or the sacred trinity of straight men everywhere: football, baseball, and basketball. Or, for women, I don’t know, shoe shopping.
Don’t get me wrong. Emotional sex has its place. And god knows that in the long run, there’s nothing better for your mental health than a solid relationship, a safe space to rely on. But as anyone who’s ever been in a relationship for long knows all too well, sex between lovers can fall prey to its own challenges: routine, dissatisfaction, unnecessary complication. You may be reluctant to ask for what you want sexually, lest you come across as dirty-minded, or overly critical of your lover’s performance. And let’s not forget that sex between lovers can be used as a weapon—albeit, in such circumstances, the weapon typically lies in not using it.
And then there’s that other hallmark of the “proper” relationship: the misguided equation of sex and love, the expectation that sex always has to be tender and heart-based, with a background of soft jazz and rose petals. But let’s face it, sometimes you just want to fuck.
And just fucking, as we’ve finally been officially told, is good for you. It’s a stress reliever, sure, but also—and paradoxically—a chance for human connection, albeit on a fleeting level. Sex with anyone—lover or stranger—has the potential to create moments of tremendous connection, an awareness of our common humanity. It wouldn’t be hard to argue, in fact, that sex with strangers has more to teach us in that regard than sex with our most intimate lovers. That sort of connection and giving is easy with someone you love. But when all you share with someone is physical attraction and your common humanity, the momentary feeling of kinship that sex affords can be pretty earth-shattering.
Finally, the word is out. The benefits of casual sex are too good to be kept secret.
Welcome to the party.