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Thursday, November 3, 2016

Getting Science Right: Investigating Casual Sex



The twenty first century is of course not the first time in history that people are involved in casual sexual relationships (CSREs). But the phenomenon definitely seems to be expanding the latest decennia in Western countries. To be more specific: we are talking about hookups, one-night stands, friends with benefits, and booty calls.
Various studies suggest that a majority of emerging adults, both men and women, will experience one or more of these shortly said CSREs. Shannon Claxton and Manfred van Dulmen, from the Kent State University, therefore dove into scientific findings about the issue. They read, for example, that CSREs in emerging adulthood have been associated with lowered psychological well-being, physical dangers and negative relationship outcomes.

Terminology

But there is a problem with these studies, they notice. In the relatively new field of casual sex, research is still a bit sloppy. Definitions are not yet sorted out completely. What exactly is a hook-up or a booty call? And how does it differ from a one night stand or friends with benefits?
In some studies hookups are the same as friends with benefits, in others these are treated as different. It is the same with the other categories: all varying in terms of connectedness and repetition of the encounter. That makes it difficult to draw general conclusions. And of course the participants themselves have even more names, like ‘‘play buddy,’’ ‘‘bang buddies,’’‘‘hit it and quit it,’’ and ‘‘last calls’’.
Then there is also the difficulty that the majority of the studies on casual sex are cross-sectional in nature; just at one specific point in time subjects are questioned about their relationships and then compared on certain aspects.
This gives some insight into possible relations between casual sex and demographics or psychological characteristics. Securely attached individuals, for example, report less involvement in CSRs (and less partners altogether). This also counts for people that show a high conscientiousness and agreeableness, as opposed to those who score high on neuroticism and extraversion.

Alcohol and religion

Sensationseeking, narcissm and psychopathy have in this way also been linked with CSRs. What the various groups of individuals concerning casual sex have also been found to differ on is alcohol use and religiosity. “In fact, alcohol use is the most highly cited reason that college students give for engaging in CSRs”, the researchers write.
Two researchers, Fielder & Carey (2010) tried to look for possible consequences of casual sex. In their prospective study, where college students were followed for at least a few months, it appeared that CSRs led to higher distress in women 2,5 months later and to lower levels of self-esteem.
But, like most studies in the field of casual sex, the findings are not generalizable. Because here again the subjects are only college students. While this group seems to be the one that is indeed most often involved in CSRs, Claxton and Van Dulmen are strongly suggesting more comprehensic and consistent future studies, with more innovative study designs and theoretical guidance.
For now, they conclude it is still too early to make any strong claims about hookups, friends with benefits, one night stands, bootycalls or whatever else you might like to call it.

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