The week before I started college, I had a sexual awakening. While I was on vacation with my family, I met an older man on the beach, who went down on me that night and then again the next. Eager to explore this new world of sexuality when I got to school, I had several casual hookups that I really enjoyed. 

Then, they started to feel a bit empty. The sex was great, but what would be even greater was sex with love. Someone I could try out new bedroom moves with and debate philosophy with. Someone I could kiss in a cozy bed and in a quaint cafe. Someone I valued for their body and mind. Someone who would show me their inner and outer beauty. Someone who would show me all of them. Someone I could show all of myself to. 


So, I’m a romantic. Clearly.

But I’m not alone. Many of my friends, men included, seemed to agree that the combination of sex and love was preferable to sex without love. Research shows that people of all genders — even stereotypically noncommittal college men — take this view. One study found that 67 percent of college women and 71 percent of men wanted more opportunities for long-term relationships. 

I represent myself- not my entire gender 

Yet when I told people about my decision to date instead of having casual sex, they often characterized my motives in a one-dimensional way. “I hear lots of girls say they need an emotional connection to enjoy sex,” one male friend said. Another explained that “women get attached after sex” for biological reasons. (FYI, there are hormones released during sex that can sometimes lead to feelings of attachment, but they’re present in all genders, men included.)

But I don’t need an emotional connection to enjoy sex. I enjoyed it a lot when it was just physical. Women are sexual beings, and we can experience sexual pleasure regardless of the nature of the relationship. We don’t need to be wooed with love songs and flowers in order to feel desire. The nerve endings in the clitoris are not going anywhere just because we’re not in a relationship. If we really needed an emotional connection to experience sexual pleasure, we wouldn’t be able to masturbate, since we don’t typically have emotional connections with our vibrators (though I suppose that’s possible).

And I didn’t get attached to anyone just because I had sex with them. When I did get attached to sexual partners, it was because I already was smitten with them for other reasons. When we just hooked up and didn’t even really talk, I rarely experienced any emotional attachment. And when I did, I was smart enough to distinguish between this sense of intimacy and actual compatibility.

Men vs. women 

If a man decides he doesn’t want to have casual sex, we don’t use that as proof of how emotionally delicate men are, how easily they fall apart and get their hearts broken, or how naive they were to have casual sex. We usually commend them for resisting the temptation to have casual sex in order to pursue something with more depth (which isn’t the right reaction either, BTW, because for some people in some phases of their lives, casual sex is the best choice).  

People’s reactions to my decision not to have casual sex illustrate a larger problem: Very often when women do something in accordance with a gender stereotype, they’re used as proof of that stereotype. If we like babies, we’re “proof” of maternal instinct. If we’re bad at math, we’re “proof” of women’s inferior mathematical abilities. And if we don’t have casual sex, we’re “proof” that men want sex while women want love. 

This puts enormous pressure on women to avoid doing anything that could be interpreted as “feminine.” But statistically, it’s just not possible for anyone of any gender to have no “feminine” traits. And so, we end up resenting ourselves and other women just for being themselves. 

So what do we do? 

The solution, of course, is not for us to avoid any and all “feminine” behavior. It’s for people to stop interpreting our behavior as “feminine” no matter what we do — and to instead ask themselves why another human being like them might behave that way. People’s motives for big decisions like foregoing casual sex are complex and usually well-thought-out. It’s time we stop treating women like walking stereotypes and actually listen to their reasons — because, contrary to popular belief, we’re capable of reasoning. 

Cover image source: Catherine Kim