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Sex Talk with CHALK: Casual sex or coping mechanism?

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In “Sex Talk with CHALK,” Emerson Karsh-Lombardo — CHALK’s sex columnist — answers your questions about sex, sexuality and the culture of sex. 

Hi Emerson,

Sometimes I want to hook up with people, but after I do I often feel dirty and regretful, even though I know that there’s nothing inherently wrong with casual sex. I’ve also heard a little about how people can use sex as an unhealthy coping mechanism. How can I tell whether or not my desire to have sex is coming from a good, healthy place?

Dear Casual Sex or Coping Mechanism, 

I am so sorry you are experiencing this. You are not dirty if you enjoy casual sex.

But you’re very right — there is nothing inherently wrong with casual sex, but that doesn’t mean your feelings or experiences are not valid. Our society is very sex-negative, and that can cause these feelings to become ingrained within us. 

There is also some psychology in how you’re feeling. When we have sex, our body releases a ton of different, fun hormones — the main one being dopamine. This hormone is the, “Go, go, go!” hormone and is one of the reasons our heart rate increases during sex. After this hormone starts to lower, another hormone, prolactin, helps the brain and body hit the brakes. Prolactin is the, “Whoa!” hormone. 

This quick exchange of hormones can cause a roller coaster of feelings and emotions, positive and negative. These hormones can cause highs and drops that can occur during sexual encounters. 

The BDSM community can teach us a lot, but one thing specifically is how to combat the dirty and regretful feeling after sex. In BDSM, there is something called aftercare where partners recover and take care of each other following play. It is focused on emotional and physical needs. 

Aftercare comes in many forms, but the most popular forms are communication, cuddling and self-care. It is essential within BDSM and kink, and I think it should be normalized in all kinds of sexual encounters. Taking care of ourselves and our partner’s needs, even when the sex is over, is extremely important — no matter the kind of relationship.

You also can engage in aftercare in a solo manner. Many people have aftercare kits easily accessible. It can include things such as candles, blankets, bath bombs, stuffed animals or even a comforting movie. 

Engaging in aftercare allows our bodies, brains and hormones to regulate and return to rest after sexual activity. 

As for your main question: sex, among other things, can definitely be an unhealthy coping mechanism. Using sex as an unhealthy coping mechanism can appear many ways. It can be a way to cope with life, stress, body issues or relationship issues. It can also be a quick fix for emotional, physical and intimate comfort. Sex can also be an unhealthy coping mechanism if it is used in a way to intentionally distract oneself.

But the main way to figure out whether your desire to have sex is coming from a good, healthy place is to ask yourself a range of questions or engage in some self-reflection.

Ask yourself or reflect on a few of these questions:

  • Are you having sex to avoid anything? (Not physical things like homework, but emotionally)
  • Are you having sex to feel something you’re missing?
  • Are you having sex to fill a void?
  • Are you having sex as a stress reliever?
  • Are you using sex to feel or experience temporary intimacy or comfort?

Casual sex can be a great tool for sexual exploration and can allow you to discover what your likes and dislikes are. It can also create skills of communication, allow you to explore sexuality, to discover kinks and fetishes, to reach sexual pleasure for the first time and to gain confidence. But it can also be used as a form of coping.

It is important to identify your own reasoning for engaging in casual sex, and it is OK if it’s a combination of things. Navigating the world of casual sex, especially in college, can be extremely hard. Sex is a tool for a lot of things, but it is important to understand if it is a positive or negative tool in your life. 

These answers may not come to you overnight or this week, but a reflection on all our actions is vital to see how things function within our life. The most important thing to remember is to be gentle with yourself and to change and grow however you personally see fit with what makes you the happiest.   



Have your own question for Emerson? Ask here

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