Imagine, as an adult, having a cool, street-wise sister who knows a ton about sex and gives the best, judgment-free, well-informed advice about love, dating, and hooking up. For me, that's Karley Sciortino. The 33-year-old New York–based sex writer is the creator and host of Viceland's hit show Slutever. The series, which launched its second season on February 10, reclaims the word slut by exploring non-normative sex communities, from play parties to polyamory. Sciortino also authors an online sex-and-relationship column for Vogue called Breathless and is a writer and executive producer on the provocative new comedy series Now Apocalypse, coming to Starz in March.
I recently got the chance to have a totally chill, unfiltered chat with Sciortino about casual sex—as in, how to have the best non-committal hookup experiences possible while navigating the modern dating landscape of apps, non-monogamy, rising STI rates, and more. Keep scrolling to read her advice for how to be a "safe slut" in 2019.
I read recently on Cosmo.com that 65% of 18- to 34-year-olds reported not using a condom the last time they had sex. It seems like condoms are sort of going out of style, even among casual sex partners. Do you think that's really bad, or not that big of a deal?
Sex is super vulnerable, especially casual sex where there are a lot of factors that you can't predict. So unless you are someone who has literally zero anxiety about STIs (which, I don't know who that person is), you should be using condoms. Because if not, you're just adding a whole layer of fear or anxiety for yourself, whether that's during sex itself or after. And regarding the whole idea that condoms don't feel that good, of course, there's the popular opinion that we prefer not to use them. But honestly, are condoms that bad? Are they worse than HPV and herpes and other STIs? You can get a good lube if it's irritating. If latex isn't good for you, there are other options. If you put literally less than two minutes of effort in, it'll be fine and worth it.
Do you have favorite condom and lube brands?
Definitely. My favorite condom brand by far is Skyn. You can find it at CVS, Target, Amazon. I love it because it's non-latex and non-irritating. My favorite lube is by Überlube. It's a silicone lube though, so it's not great with most condoms, because you have to use water-based lubes with most condoms.
Oh, my favorite water-based lube is by Lola!
Casual sex can be empowering and fun, but it can also be confusing and depressing, depending on what sort of headspace you're in. What would you say are some good mental conditions under which to hook up casually, and what are some situations in which you probably shouldn't?
We know from sex and psychology research that people report more positive outcomes from casual sex and a higher number of outcomes where they felt like they had autonomy and were having sex for "positive reasons" (whatever that meant to them) when they weren't drunk. In other words, people who had sex really drunk reported negative mental health afterward. At the risk of sounding like a mom, you can't make a clear decision about what kind of sex you have and with whom if you're wasted. Obviously, it's fun to get drunk, but if you need to be drunk in order to be having sex with someone, then that probably means that you don't really want to be having sex with them. I'm not saying don't have a couple drinks. That's fine. But if in order to get yourself to the point where you feel confident enough or anxiety-free enough to fuck someone, you have to be drunk, that's a red flag.
Other examples of a lack of autonomy come from people who felt pressured to have sex with someone, like if you're having sex with someone because you feel bad for them or because maybe you actually like someone else, but you can't be with that person or are mad at them, so then you go have sex with a random person to make yourself feel better. Essentially, if you're using casual sex as a Band-Aid for feeling bad about something else, we know from research that those people are far more likely to report negative feelings about themselves and the experience—more depressed, more anxious—afterward.
So what's a healthy reason to hook up with someone casually?
I feel like the good way to approach it is to ask yourself, okay, I'm going to have sex with this person, but how come? Why do I want to? Is it because I think this person is super hot, and it will be fun, and I'm really horny, and I feel sober enough to make a decision that daylight me feels comfortable with? Those are amazing reasons to have sex with someone. Because with casual sex, there's no known outcome. I think it's important to understand when you're casually sleeping with people that it isn't necessarily going to lead to something more, and you have to be okay with that.
Right, like it's kind of about living in the moment. Just doing what feels good for now.
Right. Unless you have explicitly discussed with another person that you are moving toward a relationship or that once you have sex, then you'll be exclusive, then you have to be okay with the fact that you might only have sex with this person once. So sometimes we delude ourselves that we're okay with a casual potentially one-off hookup when actually we're looking for a relationship. Mismanaging expectations can lead to disappointment after because you can feel used. But you're not being used, especially if you're both upfront and transparent about the fact that this interaction is casual.
What if you want to be transparent, but you're not exactly sure what you're looking for?
The whole thing with casual sex is you don't have to have all the answers about where you want the relationship to go. You just have to go in not actively deceiving people. You don't have to know your exact plan for the relationship—that you're only going to have sex once or that you'd like to be in a relationship for 10 years. But I think if you have an idea that you don't want to be in a relationship and are not looking for something serious at all, that should be said up front. And if you're meeting someone in a bar, that might be implied. But if you're meeting someone on Tinder and you know you're only looking for a one-night stand, that's ethically something you should say, probably ahead of time, like in the chat. So that gives them the chance to make a personal decision about what they want.
I once heard the writer Roxane Gay say that we should all look to kink communities for how to have better casual sex because kink is entirely based in consent. As in, kinky sex can't even exist without consent. Do you have any thoughts on that concept?
I totally agree with Roxane Gay there because in order to have positive casual experiences, you have to be able to communicate your boundaries, desires, and needs and then find somebody who also can. Being able to instigate those conversations is a huge first step. Definitely from all my work spending time in kink communities, in dungeons, and also in poly or non-monogamous communities, I've learned that even if you have no desire to be non-monogamous or aren't into BDSM, there's so much you can learn from people in those sexual communities. Because in order to do any of those things, you really have to learn to communicate. It's integral. Because you just can't be like, "Here's the whip! I'm just going to let you tie me up and give you control of my body!" That's super dangerous unless you are very good at communicating your exact boundaries, desires, and limits. Same with being in an open relationship: You have to be able to tell someone what your boundaries are or when something's hurting you. If you don't, that's just masochistic. We're all masochists if we're not communicating what we want and what's hurting us. I also really do feel like fetish communities are so much more welcoming and less scary than people think because really what those people are are nerds. They're sex nerds. Any community that congregates around a thing they love and are obsessed with are nerds. Kink is just the sex version of that.
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