Jocelyn Wentland Explores the Terminology Behind Casual Sex Relationships

December 1, 2014

Jocelyn WentlandDo people really ‘get’ the difference between casual sex relationships based on labels alone? The short answer: yes.

The long answer: the answer is still yes, but let me tell you why this is such a cool research question to answer.

When I started my PhD, I planned on examining women’s reasons for engaging in casual sex as this would be a direct extension of my previous graduate work. But the closer I looked at the existing casual sex research literature, the more apparent it became that I couldn’t look at women’s reasons for engaging in casual sex at all because of one critical reason: researchers can’t really agree on what casual sex is.

So I went back to the drawing table and planned out my dissertation. First step: let’s talk to young adults and get them to tell us what the different labels used to describe casual sex are. This seemed like a better idea versus us researchers creating our own definitions (that have not been endorsed by the people who are arguably more theoretically and practically versed with these relationships than we are). That article was published previously in The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality (20: 3/2011).

The next step: let’s check if young adults agree with these preliminary definitions. Turns out they do. A lot.

The present study surveyed 885 participants (75% of the sample was under the age of 30 yrs) and it turns out that a large majority of participants can identify the relationship definitions provided (even when the definitions are presented to the participants simultaneously, which to date, has not been done). Specifically, 96%, 92%, 81%, and 85% of participants identified the definitions for One Night Stand, Booty Call, Fuck Buddy, and Friends with Benefits, respectively.

And some pretty cool patterns of results emerged from this study. First – and not terribly surprisingly – sexual intercourse experience was necessary to be able to discern between these relationship labels. Second, women were ‘better’ at identifying the various relationships labels, which makes sense since the costs of casual sex are higher for women versus men. Third, previous casual sex experience did not impact people’s ability to identify the relationship labels, suggesting that for young adults, these relationships are pervasive in terms of how they are represented in popular media and on various social media platforms.

Why does this study matter? This study suggests that not only can people differentiate these relationships from one another, but it also highlights the importance for researchers to ensure that they use the terminology that accurately reflects their participants’ conceptualizations of these modern sexual relationships.

Casual sexual relationships: Identifying definitions for one night stands, booty calls, fuck buddies, and friends with benefits” is open access and can be found in Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality 23.3.

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