Sex on the Square: Debunking myths about casual sex

Casual sex is imbued with misconceptions and misrepresentations. Let’s talk about what it really looks like.


Aaliya Luthra

(Illustration by Aaliya Luthra)

Shreya Tomar, Contributing Writer

Did you come to NYU thinking casual sex would be like “Friends with Benefits” or “No Strings Attached”? Were you thinking that casual sex is only about drunken one-night stands, walking the walk of shame to your dorm and eventually catching feelings? Well, me too.

Having been immersed in the casual sex scene in New York City for almost three years now, I’ve crossed paths with a lot of sex negativity and slut shaming. Along the way, however, I’ve developed a resolve to tackle misconceptions about casual sex wherever they appear. So, let’s debunk six myths surrounding casual sex. 

Casual sex equals disrespect

Casual sex can embrace respect as much as any other sexual situation. “Casual” doesn’t imply that the encounter has to be insensitive or thoughtless. Setting boundaries, checking in regularly, offering water, giving your partner the space to tell you what they want, and making sure they get home safely are only a few of the many concerns casual sex partners can take into consideration to create a respectful and safe environment for one other. Showing mutual respect and honoring established boundaries are the essence of having a great casual experience.

Casual sex is meaningless

Students who engage in casual sex are often looking to fulfill their sexual needs and learn more about their own identities. Other reasons might include relieving stress, exploring sexual freedom and boosting self-confidence. Just because these sexual experiences may not be happening with a close partner doesn’t mean they should be disregarded. 

“Casual sex has taught me to not be codependent, has helped me connect with others, and has given me the space to be more confident, both physically and mentally,” said Bella, a Tisch sophomore who asked to be identified by her first name only. “I used to be a big relationship person but now that I have experienced casual sex, I’m happy being single and exploring my independence.”

People engage in casual sex because they don’t respect themselves

Young adults who engage in casual sex are often heavily criticized for their choices. They are told it is dangerous, it is slutty, it is not the “right” kind of sex, it is pointless, and on and on. But having a healthy casual sex life is an intentional choice. Responsible “sluts,” including myself, proudly own their sexual desires and use casual sex as a means to fulfill them.

It’s important to keep in mind that casual sex can become a toxic experience if not carefully approached. Make sure that your motivations going into it are appropriate for your mental and physical health, and that engaging in casual sex actually adds positivity to your life, instead of becoming a way to seek validation. If you know it’s not for you, that’s completely OK.

Casual sex is not safe

Intentional casual sex lives come with the responsibility of seeking safer sex. Sleeping with multiple people can come with the risk of sexually transmitted infections or potential pregnancy scares, but there are certain steps you can take to decrease the likelihood of bad outcomes. Casual sex is not inherently dangerous. There are many ways you can stay protected during your casual encounters, including getting routine STI tests, and discussing if preexposure prophylaxis, an antiviral to reduce the risk of HIV infection, is the right option for you at NYU’s Student Health Center.

Free condoms, lube and dental dams are offered at the Student Health Center and at select NYU dorm resource centers, so you can make sure you’re stocked up. Appropriate birth control is another crucial detail to consider for practicing safer sex. Sexpert appointments, sex education workshops and birth control consultations are available at the center if you’re new to casual sex or have any health and pleasure-related concerns.

There can be no intimacy in casual relationships

It’s possible to experience intimacy and tenderness in your casual hookups. Casual sex can take many different forms, and you have to decide which type satisfies your sexual and intimacy desires the most. I’ve found that the best way to look for intimacy in casual experiences is by asking for it, unapologetically. You need to be able to define what you find intimate and communicate that directly to your casual sex partners. Time-wise, intense intimacy might not be possible for short, casual experiences like one-night stands, but eye-gazing and cuddling are always good options to bring in the closeness you desire. 

Casual sex means penetrative sex

Sex does not always have to mean penetration. That definition is not inclusive of the LGBTQ+ community and can limit us to seek pleasure only through penetration. Sex is pleasure-centered and can involve anything from rubbing the clitoris to leaving hickeys on your partner’s chest. NYU’s LGBTQ+ Center offers a range of educational and community support if you want to explore more queer-focused sexuality dialogues. If an act gave you the sexual pleasure you desired, congratulations — you just had sex!

To send us questions or experiences, fill out this formContact Shreya Tomar at [email protected].