Susie Bright: Stop talking about so-called “casual sex”

Over at Salon, Tracy Clark Flory talks to sex writer Susie Bright about her new memoir Big Sex Little Death, the feminist sex wars, and the “soufflé of poufy female sexuality” in pop culture these days.

I especially love what Bright had to say about casual sex and coming of age in a time and place where the idea was that “sex would be friendly and kind and fun.”

“Well, first of all, I detest the term “casual sex” — since when is it actually casual, this so-called casual sex? Every time I was with someone it was intimate. It was intense. I got to know them and they got to know me on levels we certainly wouldn’t have known if we hadn’t gotten together — and I don’t just mean what their bottom looked like, I mean their personality, their feelings. You’re vulnerable with someone. I mean, some people say, “No, I’m made of steel. I just go in there and fuck.” Have I ever experienced that, at all? I just don’t find sex to be this jaded, cynical, stoic exercise. How do you manage to do that and have an orgasm? I don’t.”

Word. I think “casual sex” should be banned from public discourse. It’s a term that doesn’t mean anything. And, as I wrote the other week, drawing a dichotomy between so-called “casual” sex and committed/monogamous/married sex erases a whole lot of very valuable–and very different–kinds of sex that fall under that “casual” umbrella.

I also think that labeling–and disparaging–some sex as “casual” contributes to a culture in which sex is too often treated casually. It’s a self-fulfilling prophecy. We set up a two-tier system in which sex within a committed relationship is privileged and casual sex is considered shameful, dirty, and less-than. We tell young people that sex with someone you love is special and wonderful but casual sex is “just” sex. It’s no wonder then that some of them see sex as a conquest, instead of a partnership–a “jaded, cynical, stoic exercise,” instead of an intimate experience you share with another human being.

I suspect if we affirmed that all kinds of sexual relationships, from one-night stands to lifelong marriages, can–and should–be positive, healthy, joyful experiences, a whole lot more of them would be. So memo to all those hook-up culture hand-wringers: stop harping on so-called “casual sex.” If it’s actually casual, you’re probably just doing it wrong.

St. Paul, MN

Maya Dusenbery is executive director in charge of editorial at Feministing. She is the author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm: The Truth About How Bad Medicine and Lazy Science Leave Women Dismissed, Misdiagnosed, and Sick (HarperOne, March 2018). She has been a fellow at Mother Jones magazine and a columnist at Pacific Standard magazine. Her work has appeared in publications like,, Bitch Magazine, as well as the anthology The Feminist Utopia Project. Before become a full-time journalist, she worked at the National Institute for Reproductive Health. A Minnesota native, she received her B.A. from Carleton College in 2008. After living in Brooklyn, Oakland, and Atlanta, she is currently based in the Twin Cities.

Maya Dusenbery is an executive director of Feministing and author of the forthcoming book Doing Harm on sexism in medicine.

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