Can You Have Meaningless Sex While You’re Looking for a Long Term Relationship?

Can You Have Meaningless Sex While You're Looking for a Long Term Relationship?

Dear Evan,

If you’re looking for a long term relationship… can you just go back to having meaningless sex until you find one? For the past couple years I feel that I’ve been so focused on doing the right things to attract long term relationships that I’ve lost touch with my vixen playful side, or at least hidden that side until I’m in a relationship. I feel like I’m going through a phase where I just want to have some hookups or just get LAID and go out with guys just because I’m attracted to them and because I CAN. Would that be totally backtracking? Will men still take me seriously if I “go there” right from the beginning? Lately I just don’t care HOW it’s perceived, I just want to have some sex with a hot sexy guy. Melanie

Dear Melanie,

Like I said in a post from last week, rules are rules for a reason. You can choose to live by them, or you can choose to break them, but, for the most part, the results they produce are going to be somewhat predictable. So, as a rule, will men take you seriously if you “go there” right from the beginning? No, they will not. That’s where the whole idea of making a guy wait until he’s your boyfriend came from.

Men are usually sexual hypocrites who push you to have sex quickly and judge you for having sex quickly.

Men are usually sexual hypocrites who push you to have sex quickly and judge you for having sex quickly. Indulge them and you are unlikely to inspire confidence that you are “different” and that you don’t do this with “every” guy. I’m not saying it’s fair or right. I’m saying it’s real.

However, you know that, Melanie. What you’re concerned with is strictly feeding the beast that is your own libido. And frankly, I’m all for it. There is absolutely no contradiction between wanting to have some exciting, hot sex and wanting to find true, everlasting love. Both desires live within you and shouldn’t be ignored. I hooked up with a LOT of people on my way to marriage; some turned out to be girlfriends, most turned out to be random. I would never judge you for doing the exact same thing I did for ten years. BUT, (oh, come on, you knew there was going to be a ‘but’,) there are two things that merit your attention:

Every second you’re investing in the wrong guy is a second you’re not looking for the right guy. It’s not that there’s anything bad about playing around on the side while you pursue a relationship, it’s that if you’re juggling one or two booty calls on Tuesday and Saturday nights, when exactly are you making time for the potential keepers? That’s right: you’re not. The time and effort you put into pure sexual relationships could potentially be channeled into something that is, in the long-run, more productive.

You may want to be able to handle meaningless sex more than you’re actually able to handle it. It’s easy to theoretically have meaningless sex. It’s different when you’re intoxicated by the presence of a man, when you crave his touch and his attention, when you’re under the influence of oxytocin, which chemically bonds you to a man after intercourse. These are very real, very biological reasons that makes it far more difficult for women to sleep around. If you think you’re immune to these feelings, look back on your life at your more promiscuous days.

Every second you’re investing in the wrong guy is a second you’re not looking for the right guy.

Were you happier?

Were you feeling better about yourself?

Did you end up falling for some of those guys in spite of yourself?

History tends to repeat itself, and only you can answer whether you’d actually like it to. All I can tell you is this: if you have an itch and you need to scratch it, go ahead. But if you keep scratching that itch over and over, eventually, it’s going to start to hurt. Take care of your libido, Melanie, but don’t lose sight of your emotions in the process.

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  1. 1

    I think this is one of the more interesting questions that’s been raised in awhile.

    The BF and I had sex on our first date and I think if we hadn’t, there’s no way we’d still be together. Though, odds-wise, I certainly slept with a lot of folks on the first date that didn’t work out. So it’s certainly not a “finding the one” strategy, although it doesn’t sound like the LW intends it that way.

    Evan’s questions are good ones. Thinking back on my promiscuous days…

    Was I happier? No. Was I as happy as I am now? I’d say yes. I mean, I wanted a relationship, but my happiness wasn’t in any way predicated on finding that. The times in my life that I remember being unhappy were when a long-term relationship went sour.

    Was I feeling better about myself? At the time, I was young, in fantastic shape, in a great grad program, and going on tons of dates. I felt pretty darn good about myself. Again, I don’t think you can miss something before you have it. If I lost the BF now, I’d be devastated, and I don’t think that I could be promiscuous again like when I was younger, because I’d be comparing it to the “real stuff” you get in a really great relationship. But before I found him, I was all about it.

    Did I end up falling for some of these guys (I’m assuming casual sex partners) despite myself? No. I ended it first every time, I’m pretty sure. The only guy that I remember liking who ended it with me, I never slept with. Go figure.

    As far as I knew, oxytocin is produced by both men and women during sex. It’s higher after orgasm for women, but I’ve never had an orgasm from anything except a vibrator, so maybe that’s why I never got attached to any of those other fellows.

    I’m SO INTERESTED to hear what others have to say. Rock on for picking this one, Evan!

  2. 2

    Clarification – I’ve fallen for guys who didn’t fall for me (and had my heart broken) plenty of times. It just wasn’t ever in the context of casual sex – it was always in the context of relationships lasting 6 months or more. Though really, now that I’ve been in a longer-term relationship, 6 months seems pretty casual to me.

  3. 3
    Karl R

    Melanie asked:
    “Will men still take me seriously if I ‘go there’ right from the beginning?”

    That depends on the man. I’d be less likely to take you seriously, but there are other men who would still take you seriously.

    By initiating a relationship with a hookup, you may be changing what kind of man you’re likely to end up in a relationship with. Therefore, you might want to think about what kind of man you’re looking for.

    “Lately I just don’t care HOW it’s perceived, I just want to have some sex with a hot sexy guy.”

    If that’s what you want, then that’s what you’ll probably end up doing, regardless of what Evan recommends.

    Therefore, the real question becomes: How do you have a hookup or get laid without harming your chances for a serious relationship?

    One possibility is to date someone until you determine whether he has relationship potential. If you’re sure he doesn’t, then you can hook up with him. This solution generally works better for men, since we tend to compartmentalize. Evan already mentioned the potential complication of oxytocin. Another potential complication is that the man may assume you want a serious relationship when you have sex. This could be circumvented by explicitly letting him know that you don’t see relationship potential, but you’d like to have sex anyway. This openess works in your favor, since a man is more likely to agree to this sort of an arrangement than a woman. You also don’t need to feel guilty that you might have “led him on”, since you were explicit about your intentions from the outset.

    And as Evan pointed out, don’t let hooking up limit the time you spend searching for a serious relationship.

  4. 4

    What Karl R said. As long as you don’t pass up a date for what you know is a random hookup, and if you are able to have sex without getting caught up (I think more women are capable of this than people think) you can be fine.

    Frankly it’s hard to imagine going months without sex at all as an adult (which is what it can easily equate to if we are talking the time it takes to date, find a guy you like, get to know him and/or get exclusive and have sex) so I don’t blame you at all for trying to figure out what to do in the meantime.

    Here’s a tip though- don’t call a random hookup guy when you are lonely. Only when you are horny. If it’ll really hurt your feelings if he doesn’t stay and have breakfast with you, or even stay the night with you, then this random hooking up thing may not be for you.

  5. 5

    Almost all the women I know are capable of having sex without getting attached, Jennifer. (Though the exceptions I can think of are every man’s worst clingy nightmare.)

    I think that secretly, the fact that women are just as capable of casual sex is men’s greatest fear. Many men complain about the inconvenience of women getting attached too quickly (or reading things into what are to the man, meaningless fun), or at least that’s the stereotype when they are young and “sowing their wild oats.” However, later when they ARE looking for a relationship, if sex doesn’t automatically bond women to them without their even having to try, then they actually have to work at being desirable partners.

    1. 5.1

      Men dont exactly fear women’s ability to have casual sex.

      What they are insecure about is that casual sex opens up unlimited opportunities to women. The average woman can easily have casual sex with high quality, good looking men.

  6. 6

    Ooooooooooooh, all such great responses to a great letter. And thanks, Melanie, for being so direct. I sometimes feel like the odd-ball or “loose” one among my women peers because I’ve had casual men friends-with-benefits while looking elsewhere for a long term relationship. Not tons of them, but several over the years. It hasn’t always worked out as smoothly as it sounded in the beginning, but I don’t regret any of these encounters. I admit, sometimes I feel that tug as we part ways, because for me, a connection has been made. But it isn’t a crushing, betrayed, abandoned feeling… it’s more that I’m just plain sad (or greedy) that the great physical feelings are ending for now, that we’re both going back to our real lives, and there’s nothing definitive about when or if we’ll be together again. The sadness passes quickly &, in fact, I usually feel energized after sex & actually grateful all my parts still work & that I can also give pleasure that way. But I do think men get a little weird sometimes when a woman states her sexual desires & expectations about the limits of these “arrangements.” It’s like men want you in the same way you want them, but they’re a little uncomfortable hearing you say it out loud. I suspect that’s a result of our cultural background & the fact that maybe evolution hasn’t caught up yet with the dramatic shift women have made in the context of the outside world — financially, professionally, socially, and sexually. Just some thoughts.

  7. 7

    Curious letter, Evan. She wants to “just hook up” but she also wants to be “taken seriously”? I would suggest (as I think you have – I’m not sure) that it’s one or the other, but I’d assure her that she won’t be “ruined” for a solid relationship if she has a few (a few!) one-night stands.

    As far as the emotional issues, having spoken with hundreds of women on this I can tell you that Honey’s friends are in the minority (but I’m sure she’s telling the truth: we’re usually attracted to our friends because they’re like us) but that said there are a reasonable number of women who can deal with a one-night stand on occasion. Melanie won’t know until she tries it.

    My one recommendation for someone in Melanie’s exact situation would be to make sure these are truly one-night stands: avoid the temptation of the “f***-buddy” or “booty call,” which are addictive (if the sex is good) but offer too much false hope that a relationship might one day spring up out of it.

    Make sure to get on the same page about STDs and protection, leave before morning, and afterward don’t call or text or return calls or texts. Have fun!

    1. 7.1

      Michael –

      I think that i am actually ‘living’ your advice to Melanie in your post above 🙂 Long story short: I’ve never been in a long relationship after m divorce ( 2011) , although, i did date people who i believe had a potential for a long term relationship. Sadly , none of them worked out. So, i figured until i meet that ONE, i’d take care of my libido. I wasn’t hooking up alot around as i met this fun guy who i knew from the beginning won’t turn into a boyfriend. However, the sex was and still is AMAZING ! we hook up occasionally when we both have the urge , we agreed on sex only , and in meantime, we both search for what we call the person we want to have a normal relationship. So far – it’s been working great ! No fear of STD’s as we both confirmed that , we don’t talk about too personal stuff and we both love what we have.   and i dont think we are doing anything wrong here as we don’t lead on each other nor we cheat on someone else. When and if the right one comes along – i am sure this hook up scenario will stop, but until then – i have zero intentions of calling it quits 🙂

  8. 8

    Honey, you wrote: “I think that secretly, the fact that women are just as capable of casual sex is men’s greatest fear.”

    Blessings to you. I don’t know that I agree that men fear this the most of all… but I do agree that it is possible for women to have casual sex with very little emotional attachment, and that if women just realized this, they might feel much more free about themselves and about others.

    Evan, I wouldn’t be as urgent with this woman (Melanie) as you are about her “wasting time”. After all, your previous post pointed out that a woman could wait till age 73 for a relationship! Good on you! Then why should she be in a rush? Why shouldn’t she just enjoy casual sex?

    1. 8.1

      I agree with you Helen, I am 46. I broke up a 10 year old relationship three years ago. We separated because he did not want to marry me in the end…well…there was also other things. Now I live my life as a free soul…I have had many lovers and I love it..I just want casual sex, nothing more now. It is not difficult for me, I just enjoy all those wonderful men…I do not excpect anything from them nor they from me…I do not fall in love, that is ok with me to live like this. Although I would like to find a special loving relationship..still….Maybe it is not going to happen, but at least now I am doing what I want…and when I want. Nothing wrong with that.

      1. 8.1.1


        Its good that women in their late 40’s / early 50’s can get casual sex so easily, with good looking men. Because the men your age who are single or divorced have no one but prostitutes to turn to.

        Men need to be young, good looking, well built in order to obtain casual sex.

        1. kay

          Tim… Wah?   I keep seeing this repeated over and over here.   First off, no one woman has stated she was sleeping casually with amazing good looking men.   This seems to be all in your head, Tim.   I’m sure there’s as much variety in the “looks” category for women as there are for men. Looks, youth are paramount for men.   Not as much for women.   Even when hooking up casually.   The panties can fall off even when he’s short, bald, crater faced but he’s hella funny.   It’s about how the man makes the woman feel, even when hooking up. You’re torturing yourself if you think that women have the advantage in casually sexing only single good looking young men.   Yes there are a plethora of men willing to hook up with women in their 30s and 40s.   But no, they are not (if hardly), good looking (7+), or can even put a sentence together, or don’t come without their own set of Louis Vitton baggage.  
          As far as the OP’s letter, I read it this way: She wants to hook up with men who she does not deem relationship material. Not sleep with them and hopes that maybe something will come out of it.   Two different tracks.   I decided I had to do this myself after three years of celibacy trying to play by the rules and find a husband.   Three years of wearing out the vibrator, and no closer to a husband, I decided that it was okay to choose men for sex, and then also date men for the relationship track.   Neither one overlapped.   But it does take a lot of maturing on a woman’s part to be able to bone a dude and then not call or walk away altogether afterwards.   But it can be done.   And I’m less ancy on a date with a guy I want to take my time with to get to know before having sex.   Not having sex while dating and looking for marriage quality men, got me NO CLOSER to actually getting that long-term boyfriend.   So go figure.   I think that type of thinking is remnants of puritanical Judeo-Western Christian bullshit agenda to keep women from enjoying their sexuality and their position of power (once they own their sexuality). When women sex men like men sex women, men rightfully and collectively get scared.   Even the feminist men will argue the familiar diatribe, “BUT, you know…. your virtue…”   What power will men then have in this world if they can’t convince the female gender that her virtue is comprised with too many lovers? Or, gasp, sexing lovers whilst also separately pursuing a fully committed, healthy relationship?

        2. Henriette

          @Tim 8.1.1 – I can’t tell if you are being ironic.   Based on your photo, I guess that you are in your 20s so I’m not sure why you believe you have such a clear idea of what it’s like to be a 40/50-something single woman or man.  
          My experience is that most middle aged people can get sex quite easily but that finding & sustaining a happy, healthy relationship can be difficult for anyone of any sex, any age.

  9. 9

    I’ve never had a long term relationship with a woman that didn’t start with having sex early on. And I’ve been married and divorced twice. So much for the hook ups. Ya, I’ve had lots of sex, in my early days I did what all men try to do…get laid as much as possible. What did it get me? Nothing really. I think if you really want a long term relationship…which used to be called marriage… you wait. Sex ruins perspective. It clouds the issue…and you might make a different decision had you not slept with the guy. So I think in essence, it’s mutually exclusive…you can’t just go around sleeping with anybody and everybody and find the man of your dreams at the same time. Either you’re a good girl, or you’re a slut. It’s that simple. You can’t have it both ways, sorry. And oh, by the way, the women that can just sleep around like that, used to be called sluts…and most girls didn’t want to be one! How times have changed. I think you need to work on your self respect, because no self respecting man is going to want a woman who will go to bed with him easily, and for good reason…if your that easy, you’re likely to do it on him, hell, maybe with his best friend! I’m looking for a girl who WON’T go to bed with me…now that’s a keeper! The question is do you want to be a keeper, or a “find em, feel ’em, f_ _ k ’em and forget ’em”, throw away girl?

    1. 9.1

      This is why women must be discreet about their casual encounters and project a “nice girl” vibe through it all. And outright lie if asked. For this purpose it’s best to completely separate the pool of men for cause sex and committed relationships. Men like women who like sex, but they want to believe that they’re the only ones who can truly please you, that you’ve been “saving it all” for them. But they also want you to be good in bed and know what you’re doing.

      Employ whatever means necessary to allow them to think that…

      1. 9.1.1
        Emily, to

        “This is why women must be discreet about their casual encounters and project a “nice girl” vibe through it all. And outright lie if asked. For this purpose it’s best to completely separate the pool of men for cause sex and committed relationships. Men like women who like sex, but they want to believe that they’re the only ones who can truly please you, that you’ve been “saving it all” for them. But they also want you to be good in bed and know what you’re doing.

        Employ whatever means necessary to allow them to think that…”
        I like the way you think. 🙂 What’s good for the goose is good for the gander. Men have been separating women into casual sex and relationship-oriented categories for years. Go out and get you some and when the day comes and you meet someone to get serious with, get serious.

  10. 10
    Curly Girl

    Honey, I LOVE your frank talk!!

    And thanks to both you and Jennifer for calling into question this stuff about oxytocin. It’s a hormone that comes and goes in your blood stream for a brief time. It’s not superglue. 🙂

  11. 11

    My suggestion is that she not make ‘relationship guy’ and ‘random sex guy’ the same person. Either she’s interested in the guy for a relationship and sees how it plays out or she finds the guy unsuitable for a serious relationship for some reason or another and considers sleeping with him every now and then just because she wants to. A little different than what we’ve been taught, but it can get her needs met. Not every sexual encounter has to be soul stirring and deeply meaningful and filled with proclamations of love but like Evan cautions, I wouldn’t make a habit of it. Everything in moderation. The best part of it is that if it’s offensive to you then women, you don’t have to do it and men, you can find a woman who finds it offensive also. Everyone can win LOL

    To the ladies (Honey, CG, Helen, Zann)- great points all!

  12. 13

    @Paul #0: That’s ridiculous. You can be both a good girl and a slut. They are simply two frames that any of us can take on, switching on or off. I’m sure every good girl who reads has had a slut fantasy, whether they admit it or not.

    I generally agree with EMK here. There’s no issue with casual sex while you’re looking for an LTR provided you’re clear with your intentions with your casual partners. Goes for guys and gals. We all have to have sex. It’s a need.

    I find it refreshing when a woman says she just wants to get laid and nothing more. That’s coming from a place of security and it’s nothing to be frightened of.

    1. 13.1

      So, be honest with the guy you just want to hook up with?   You should be honest with the guy you really like, too.   That’s even more important!

  13. 14

    I’d be curious to know how old Melanie is and if she’s divorced or has kids ? I can assure you from my experience women in their 40’s and 50’s think about casual sex a lot differently than their younger peers.
    I, on the other hand have always said “everyone wants to be in love,but in the meantime life goes on” and so does casual dating.

  14. 15

    @Evan #12- I’ve got no doubt that oxytocin is a real thing, I just have a quibble over whether it overrides all of the other factors that come into play with sex and relationships.

  15. 16

    “I think that secretly, the fact that women are just as capable of casual sex is men’s greatest fear.”

    A couple of things.

    As we’re feeling comfortable speaking on behalf of our genders, I will speak on behalf of all men and claim that our greatest fear is more like likely to involve death/violence/prison rape/having our children eaten by dingos/whatever than it is to involve OMGWTFBBQ WOMEN ARE CAPABLE OF CASUAL SEX, TOO.

    I will also assert that, in light of anecdotal evidence, teh_Science, and my personal judgment, while any particular woman might be capable of living a wild lifetime of NSA splorking hedonism, and the percentage of your girlypals being keen on same may approach or be equal to 100%, the odds of a woman picked at random from a population sharing this proclivity are considerably lower than those of a random male picked from the same group.

    Disclaimer: I’m an idiot who has no idea what he’s talking about.

  16. 17

    Thanks for the link, Evan.

    I read the description of the book, as well as the author’s bio, and I have to say that I don’t consider her a credible source (a JOURNALIST who BLOGS about this because she can relate it to her life experiences? Please, that’s right up there with astrology), though if there’s other information out there I’d love to know about it.

    I ran a search on oxytocin in the academic database Medline/Ovid, and almost all of the research that’s been done on oxytocin is in the context of pregnancy, childbirth, and lactation, since that’s when it’s most commonly produced.

    Many of the articles I found did say that oxytocin promotes pair bonding in highly social species, but how it actually functions (and to what degree, and whether that function is gendered) remains unclear. Here’s the most specific reference I found: In nonhuman mammals, the neuropeptide oxytocin has repeatedly been shown to increase social approach behavior and pair bonding. In particular, central nervous oxytocin reduces behavioral and neuroendocrine responses to social stress and is suggested to mediate the rewarding aspects of attachment in highly social species. However, to date there have been no studies investigating the effects of central oxytocin mechanisms on behavior and physiology in human couple interaction. (This is from an article in the May 2009 issue of Biological Psychiatry)

    I also discovered that, apparently, rats with oxytocin deficiencies are statistically more likely to develop adult-onset diabetes. Interesting…

    So, yeah, until I find some quality medical sources that say otherwise, I’m calling a big urban legend on the whole oxytocin thing.

    I do agree with what others have said that she won’t know if she’s capable of the casual sex thing until she tries it, and that she should be sure that she’s not trying both angles with the same person. And that if she’s not worried about finding “the one” in the next five minutes and is willing to slow down and have some fun, we certainly don’t need to panic on her behalf 🙂

  17. 18

    I should say, the rats developed adult-onset OBESITY that made them more susceptible to diabetes. Oops.

  18. 19


    1. I am not at all comfortable speaking for others, though as a human being without mind reading abillities I am forced to project/interpret in order to make any sense out of the world, unless I have the good fortune of encountering the explicitly described reactions of others. Which I often do, on this blog!

    2. I suppose I could have clarified that it is one of men’s biggest fears, in the context of romantic relationships/encounters, if and only if the first and second tiers of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs have already been met, but it seemed a bit over the top to me 😉

    3. While I readily agree that my friends are my friends because they’re similar to me, I do think the number of women who participate in casual sex without attachment or emotional scarring, at least on an irregular basis, is much higher than is often assumed. Similarly, I think the number of men who participate in casual sex without attachment or emotional scarring is much lower than is often assumed. I.e., women aren’t slaves to their hormones, nor are men emotionless machines. We’re all far more alike than we are different.

    Which I am very happy about!

    1. 19.1

      Hi. I have been reading and just thought to buttress Honey’s points. First, thank you all for such a brilliant and interesting discussion.


      I totally agree that the notion that women are prone to being attached after sex is founded on a non-experiment based belief. I feel this is more so because of the stigma attached to women having multiple sexual partners. It seems more virtuous to be a virgin or have very few sexual partners than to be involved in casual sex at will. This has made loads of women claim to either not like casual sex or lie to having a high number of sexual partners.


      I have questioned myself severally on whether or not I am a slut for my capacity to have casual sex and not blink an eyelid. I thought it had something to do with my father being absent, the issues with unsecure attachment types or simply because I went to an all girls school and couldn’t handle boys.


      I am still very much young (29) and enjoy casual sex. However, there is that part of me that wants a lasting and happy relationship – to live life with all these desires and still enjoy them with someone I love and who loves me. I believe the world would be a much better place if we all could just embrace ourselves as we are instead of painting some ideals that are not realistic.





  19. 20

    I realize that maybe “urban legend” is too strong a response to current claims about oxytocin. A more accurate response would be “we’re jumping the gun since the studies proving our suspicions haven’t been conducted yet.”

    Just in case anyone was going to give me a hard time over that 🙂

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