I recently wrote an article about casual sex and the response to it was anything but casual. Despite contraception, despite equal rights, despite the twenty-first-sodding- century, the hypocritical “he’s a player, she’s a slut” double standard appears to be alive and well, and living in middle England. While I’m not an advocate of casual sex, I get annoyed by gender-reductionist nonsense which makes out that men can have as much sex as they want, but women ought to hold out for a marriage proposal. The idea that men want sex and women want emotional commitment is out-dated and divisive. Men and women need both, and because relationships have to start somewhere, casual sex is often the bridge between the two.
The ‘Hooking-up’ phenomenon has been researched and condemned in equal measure but Helen Fisher’s work in this area reveals that most people who have one night stands hope that it will trigger a longer relationship, and 33% of the time that’s exactly what happens. Jocelyn Wentland and Elke Reissing arrived at much the same conclusion when they explored the subtle nuances that differentiate One Nights Stands, Booty Calls, Fuck Buddies, and Friends with Benefits. Regardless of gender, the men and women that they interviewed were much more likely to date someone with whom they had had a one-night stand, rather than someone with whom they had an ongoing booty call. It makes intuitive sense. Booty calls are based on sexual convenience, but a one-night stand is a newly discovered mutual attraction, which obviously has the potential to deliver much more.
Though a man and a woman who are (relatively) sober, and above the age of consent, are perfectly capable of deciding whether they want to have safe sex with each other, there are definable gender differences in the way people respond to anonymous sexual propositions. In 1989 Elaine Hatfield and Russell Clarke recruited a small group of male and female college students and asked them to approach members of the opposite sex and make one of three requests; “Would you go out tonight?”, ‘Will you come over to my apartment?” or “Would you go to bed with me tonight?”. It was the middle of the AIDS crisis, so unsurprisingly, not a single woman (0%) said yes to the offer, but the majority of men (71%) accepted. It’s hard to tell whether this study proves that men have different sexual appetites, or that women are smart enough to realise that any man who propositions a woman in broad daylight is either a serial killer, or a total creep, but in fairness to the men involved, we should also acknowledge that there is a world of difference between saying “yes” to sex and actually and having it.
What would have happened if the Hatfield Clarke study wasn’t hypothetical? Funny you should ask! In 2003, ‘Seitenblicke’, an Austrian magazine sent a good looking 28 year old male journalist out onto the street to carry out a far less ethical version of that experiment. The journalist approached 100 random women aged between 16 and 50 and asked them “Do you want to sleep with me?” He encountered lots of abuse, and one lesbian, but six out of the remaining 99 women agreed to his proposition… and he had sex with each of them. Unlike the Hatfield Clarke study, the journalist approached his subjects in hotels, bars and cafes, places where people might conceivably make a social connection. That context is important because studies confirm that most casual sexual encounters occur between friends or acquaintances who already know each other and their primary goal is nothing more sinister than mutual sexual pleasure and potentially, emotional intimacy. Sure, people occasionally make mistakes and regret the fact that they have had sex with someone, but people occasionally regret the fact that they got married too. Ask Paul McCartney.