You Should Like The People You’re Having Sex With

Two smiling women are in bed together. One woman touches the other woman's cheek.

Here is my number one tip for having better casual sex: You should like the people you’re fucking.

You don’t have to date them. You don’t have to meet their parents, or their friends, or their pets. You don’t have to listen to them complain about their boss. You don’t have to know their favorite color or their irrational fears or their seasonal allergies. You don’t have to spend time together that isn’t about sex. 

But you should like them as people. You should never lose sight of their humanity: Their individual needs, desires and boundaries. Ideally they should like you just as much, with equal respect and care.

The best casual sex — the best sex, period — happens between partners with a shared investment in each other’s wellbeing. 

That may sound antithetical to the nature of casual sex. Surely casual sex is about freedom from commitment, right? It’s about pleasure and adventure and getting what you want!

But mutual respect and care are not incompatible with casual sex, and monogamy isn’t a requirement for collaborative sexual experiences. There is no binary of casual versus serious sex, with selfishness on one side and compassion on the other. Focusing entirely on your pleasure and ignoring the humanity of your partner isn’t “just how casual sex works,” it’s degrading and shitty behavior. 

Besides, as anyone who has been in an unhappy long-term relationship can tell you, sex between committed partners can be humiliating and empty, too. 

My best casual sex partners never lost sight of me. They were present with me, noting my little sounds of satisfaction and changes in my facial expression. They asked questions: Does this feel good? Do you want more? Are you sure? I endeavored to do the same. We paid attention to each other. 

I may not have known them very well, but my interest in them went beyond their bodies or their reputations. I liked their sense of humor and their passionate answers during class discussions. We swapped career advice. We respected the lives we lived separately, outside of our sexual collisions. The full context of who they were strengthened my attraction to them as opposed to diminishing it. 

These experiences were mostly sober, and they weren’t all that impulsive. They notably were not anonymous. When I slept with a stranger I met at a bar, we chatted for an hour, kissed goodbye on the subway, and then met up the next night at my apartment.

It’s possible to have a pure one-night-stand that is dignified and kind, but those magical encounters are the result of hard work and quite a good deal of luck. Being a generous and responsible sexual partner takes practiced empathy, which not every hot barfly has mastered yet. 

Another big advantage of fucking people you like is that it’s easier to have an actual conversation about what you’re doing together. Even as you set expectations about what you can and cannot offer, your personal enthusiasm for this person carries through. Honestly communicating your boundaries is its own type of care. 

Are you short for words? Give this a try: “Hey, I like you, and while I’m not looking for a relationship right now, I would like to jump your bones. Is that amenable to you?” 

Or, as I once texted a study buddy, “You should come over so I can fuck you.” 

Look, I know that this all sounds like a lot of effort. Maybe it even sounds sex-negative, like I’m discouraging random hookups and forgettable one-night-stands. That’s definitely not my point, and I know first-hand that what I’m describing is hard.

But good sex requires selflessness and vulnerability, which is a lot easier to muster when you like the person you’re fucking. And if sex is only good for you, and not for your partner, why would we consider it “good” at all? Enjoying yourself at someone else’s expense isn’t a victory, it’s a grave failure of character. 

For a good time, try harder. 

For a good time, care. 

Hey there! My name is Ella and I’m a sex and culture critic. If you enjoyed this essay, you’ll be right at home in my Patreon community.

Patrons get access to exclusive essays about casual sex, intimacy, mental health and shame, monthly discussion threads, and other fun perks. My community makes it possible for me to write full-time and invest in my voice as a creator. Plus Patreon lets me get to know my readers — that’s you! — even better.

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Photo by Mahrael Boutros on Unsplash.

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Ella Dawson is a sex and culture critic and a digital strategist. She drinks too much Diet Coke.

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