– By Gwendolyn Shearman.
By the time Ciera Choate graduated from college and entered the workforce, she’d slept with 17 men, and she isn’t ashamed to say so. Also, she wasn’t the only one of her friends to have that many partners.
“If I meet someone and want to have sex with them, I will,” said Choate, 22, a petite brunette with a bubbly smile who writes for a weekly paper in Charlotte, NC. “I don’t think I should be judged for doing something that doesn’t really affect other people as long as I’m being responsible. I think to most people in my generation it’s not about the emotional connection anymore, it’s about the physical pleasure of the act.”
Casual sex, any intercourse outside of a monogamous relationship, is no longer a taboo subject strictly seen at college parties after a round of binge drinking or a topic reserved for behind closed doors. It has made its way into the forefront of the professional twenty-something dating scene.
Young adult women, like Choate, are choosing to engage in casual sex relationships more frequently and for a longer period of their life than did their parents and generations before them.
According to the National Survey for Family Growth published in 2011, about 20 percent of females ages 20-29 have had fifteen or more sexual partners in their lifetime, compared to about 37 percent of men within the same age range. These statistics reveal that women now feel entitled to casual sex almost as much as men do.
Paula Kamen states in her book, Her Way: Young Women Remake the Sexual Revolution, published in 2000, “Many view the role of casual sex as similar to that of fast food. Like men, young women have grown up with it and take it for granted.”
Most of these sexual partners separate of a committed relationship come in the form of friends with benefits, spontaneous sexual encounters, and a host of other arrangements that don’t include monogamy. The Guttmacher Institutes most recent report from 2010 found that about 74 percent of women who weren’t in a monogamous relationship were being sexually active with a friend or other casual partner.
“When I’m not in a relationship and I’m not particularly looking for one, I still feel the need to be physically intimate with someone,” said Brittany Cannon, 23, a behavioral health counselor. “It’s usually preferable if I can get that without any strings attached.”
One night stands and casual sexual relationships have always occurred under more tightlipped circumstances, but they are now becoming commonplace for a generation accustom to instant gratification.
Reverend Dr. Angela Moses, therapist, Co-founder, and CEO of “The Family Life Development Center, Inc.” in Brooklyn, NY says that in her 20 years of experience counseling young women, she’s seen an exponential increase in the commonality of spontaneous sex behaviors.
“It’s so socially acceptable now,” said Moses. “It’s what people talk about the most. Before people whispered about sex, now from the youngest age you can imagine they talk openly about sex and they feel it’s normal, casual conversation.”
These aren’t just unschooled adolescents or coeds sowing their wild oats anymore. The most educated generation ever, including bright, intelligent women, are putting themselves out there and aren’t apologizing for it. According to the Educational Attainment Survey by the U.S. Census Bureau, about 25 percent more women than men obtain academic degrees each year, and the number is growing.
This same generation has grown up with readily available information on sexually transmitted diseases and AIDS. Education, alongside the sexually saturated media, has created a social climate where sex isn’t just seen as more acceptable, but it’s safer too.
Out of the 62.2 percent of sexually active women that are currently using any contraceptive, one in six of them use more than one method, according to the National Survey for Family Growth. Showing that regardless of the sexual practices women decide to participate in, they are being smarter about protecting themselves.
“We’re at a point in society where there’s enough education out there so you know what it is to have safe sex and you know the risks, unless you just choose to be ignorant and not pay attention,” said Morgan McLeod, a 22-year-old graduate student from Thousand Oaks, CA.
With all the tools, education, and technology available for women to obtain anything they want, women are frequently deciding they want more sex, whether it be emotionally connected or not. The goal for many twenty-something women isn’t to find a husband early in life, like generations before them. It is to enjoy their independence and grow in their careers.
“When we compare particular sexual behaviors between generations, we see quite clearly that the old-fashioned bond between sex and marriage has been severed by all,” said Kamen in her book about how women are creating their own sexual patterns.
The influence of the women’s movement and sexual revolution of the 1960s and 1970s opened the door for women, and men alike, to explore and express themselves by accepting sex outside of marriage. The creation of Title XI, the passage of Roe v. Wade and arguably most important, the creation of the birth control pill created a shift in culture that gave women a new sense of control over their futures, not just sexually but financially and politically as well. This now shapes how women conduct all areas of their lives.
“Greater access to economic opportunity is something fairly new for women,” said Lauren Weis, Ph.D., Director of Women’s, Gender, and Sexuality Studies at American University. “I think that kind of economic independence allows other kinds of independence and freedom in a persons life, so it makes it more possible that someone might choose a life that prioritizes sexual experience in different ways.”
These sexual experiences are still subject to opposition and scrutiny from traditional values and longstanding stereotypes. While some women and men of the twenty-something generation may be more accepting of this new social and sexual discourse, not everyone sees it that way.
“Society views males with multiple partners as an average male. Females with multiple partners are viewed as sluts. It isn’t right, but it’s the way it is,” said Katie Strickland, 24, a single mother and retail manager at a major department store.
Men and women alike understand that the stereotypes of previous generations are still prevalent, whether they agree with them or not. Escaping from generalizations, especially those based on females who engage in casual encounters, is difficult even for women who embrace the ideals in their private lives.
“I struggle with being judgmental with my students,” said Lauren Taylor, 23, a high school English teacher in Tampa, FL. “I dislike overhearing conversations about their weekends, but I can’t judge them because I have sexual encounters on the weekend as well.”
While some women feel hindered by gender stereotypes, some feel it gives them more control over their emotions.
“I do feel empowered by my independence and ability to make my own choices about hooking up,” said Taylor, who recently broke up with her boyfriend of four years. “I am free to have different types of guys at my disposal, depending on what I want at the moment. I have no desire to start a relationship, so my options are wide open.”
Calling the shots on whom to take to bed may empower some, but many agree there is a fine line between liberating themselves from being typecast and decaying their self-esteem, “It depends on the guy you are engaging in casual sex with. There definitely are guys out there who just want to use you and be done with you,” said McLeod, who says she doesn’t frequently engage in casual sex, but she isn’t opposed to it.
All people are different, what makes one woman feel satisfied may make another feel used. Many women say they don’t see casual relationships as a replace for serious commitment or intimacy, but they want to wait until they’re ready to commit to someone. In the age of individualization, it really all depends on the person and their particular set of beliefs.
“I think its possible for sexual encounters that are short term to be respectful, to be adult, and responsible,” said Weis. “I also think its possible for the opposite to occur, for people to engage in ways of relating with each other that are not responsible, that aren’t honest, that expose people unnecessarily to risk and harm.”
The shift in the dating culture, or lack of dating culture, comes to the surprise of older generations who view the practices as damaging to romantic relationships. Others are worried about the toll casual sex is having on the generation’s ability to find real intimacy.
“There’s nothing good about the hook up culture in my view,” said Iris Krasnow, 58, A best-selling author of relationship books and professor at American University. “Every time you sleep with someone you are tearing off a piece of your heart, man or woman,” said the married mother of four and self-proclaimed feminist.
“If you meet someone you think you love, how are you supposed to recognize that the love is true and have a real shot at intimacy when you already have been intimate with so many other people,” said Krasnow.
It remains to be seen whether the casual sex culture will leave a positive or negative mark on those who partake in it, one thing is clear: most are accepting of the individuals right to choose what they do in their personal life.
“There are people who do engage in a very casual sex culture, but there are still plenty of people who refrain from it. I don’t have a problem with it, but I feel like it’s a personal decision,” said McLeod.