Love & Sex

This Woman Is Collecting Thousands of Casual Sex Stories to Learn More about How We Hook Up

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The Casual Sex Project wants to know your business.

Your friends might be sick of hearing about last weekend's hook up, but there's a scientist who wants to know all about it.

The Casual Sex Project, an online experiment dedicated to gathering the most diverse, engaging, and enlightening hook up sex stories, is run by Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, a NYC-based sex researcher, educator, and NYU instructor. It's a place to collect everyone's wacky, exciting, poignant, hilarious stories about one-night-stands, flings, friends-with-benefits, and fuck buddies in a way that feels authentic and inclusive. There are stories about every kind of hook up — Craigslist connections, vacation flings, and subway exchanges.

Dr. Zhana started the Casual Sex Project partially because of the science of hook ups. She recently looked at a number of hook up studies from over the past decade on Psychology Today and found that while many hook ups are followed by some regret (72 percent of men and 78 percent of women who have had a one-night stand have felt a degree of remorse), most studies indicate regret isn't actually a huge factor in sleeping with someone new – the pleasure offsets the guilt. While many outdated studies have made it easy to make the connection that casual sex is less fulfilling than romantic, partnered sex, the feeling that people have "done something wrong" actually isn't that strong. Hook ups are fascinating because they're so risky: unknown limbs, new skills, untested partners, and — if you're lucky — some exciting and possibly orgasmic sex. Nerve spoke with Dr. Zhara about her ambitious new project, what she learned about one-night stands, and the truth about this so-called crazy hook up generation

What gave you the idea for the Casual Sex Project?
Couple of things. Most importantly, I wanted to provide an online space for people to be able to share their hookup stories. To my knowledge, there is no such place out there on the internet [Ed note: Nerve publishes first time stories and sex lists]. There are certainly places to post erotic stories, and places for certain demographics of people to share stories (e.g., swingers, or LGBT), but no place focused specifically on casual sex where everyone can post and every story (bad, good, erotic, boring) is welcome.

I also wanted to make that space somewhat structured, by asking people the same set of questions about their hookups. That way, it's both easier for the people posting, and more consistent for the readers in the kind of information they get. Given that I've been studying hookups for the past seven years, I pulled many of these questions from prior studies.

Finally, most research and media coverage of casual sex is on college students, as if only college students hook up.

That's absolutely true. College students are just so accessible for studies, but it leaves a lot of demographics out of the hook up conversation.
I wanted to hear — and let the world hear — the stories of people other than college students — those who never went to college, those who are recently out of college, those who can barely remember their college years. We know so little about their experiences with hooking up. I'm very happy that many of the people posting to the Casual Sex Project are in their 30s, 40s, and even 50s.

We know for sure that as move from our late teens to our late 20s and early 30s, we learn a lot more about ourselves, we get better at giving ourselves and our partners pleasure.

Do you feel like the media and culture at large are disseminating false impressions of what hook ups are really like?
To some extent. The media loves sensationalist stories and so the image they portray is often exaggerated and biased, though not always in the same direction. It's very whimsical and inconsistent. If one day a study (or a poignant story) comes out finding a link between depression and hookups, you'll see a huge discussion and coverage of how bad hookups are. The next week, a study finds that most people stay friends with their FWBs after the benefits end, the media is all over how hookups are not so bad after all. But I do feel like there is an overall bias in our culture toward being weary of hookups, treating them as "guilty until proven innocent," rather than the other way around.

Like you said, there is this huge focus on the college student when it comes to talking about casual sex. Would you say, from your research and your own experience, that hooking up is so much more than the college experience? What do we learn after?
I think they are different. College campuses are very unique environments, typically very insular and isolated from the rest of the world, populated by young and inexperienced people on their own for the first time in their lives, discovering themselves. The sex (including casual sex) those people have in that environment has to be different from sex people have as they get older and more experienced.

We know for sure that as move from our late teens to our late 20s and early 30s, we learn a lot more about ourselves, what we like and don't like, what we approve and disapprove of, we get better at giving ourselves and our partners pleasure, men become less sexist, and less likely to hold a double sexual standard; women who want to be more sexual get better at shedding the repressive sexual norms they were brought up with. Also, for many older people, casual sex happens in a different context — cheating on a spouse, swinging with a spouse, first sexplorations after years of monogamous or sexless marriages that ended. I think all of these differences tremendously influence the meaning that casual sex has for people across the lifespan.

What's been the most surprising story you've heard?
That's a tough one. The most heartbreaking one so far has been "Lost Youth," a story by a man who has never had a hookup, has been entirely faithful to his first girlfriend-then-wife even though their sex life is entirely unsatisfactory, and seems to be deeply frustrated and torn about all the missed opportunities and excitement.

Any fun ones?
The most unusual and kinky one was the "Bisexual Bonobo Birthday Party," about, well, you can imagine what that one was about.

Has this project changed the way you think of casual sex at all?
Somewhat. It has made me question the definitions — is online sex casual sex? How about paid sex? How about group sex with multiple long-term partners? It's also got me thinking about those multiple roles that casual sex can play in people's lives depending on their life stage and circumstances. But the project is still very young, has only been around for six to seven weeks, so I hope to learn much more in the months to come.

It feels like society's deep, dark secret that no one wants to talk about.

Do most people regret hookups?
Hookups are indeed more likely to be regretted than romantic encounters, and those who hook up are more likely to have more sexual regrets overall than those who do not, but this regret is usually pretty mild, and in the vast majority of cases, the enjoyment of the hookups outweighs the regret. On the Casual Sex Project so far, most people have shared hookup stories they don't regret at all.

You also hope to launch a documentary or book about people who have had over 1,000. What do you hope to learn from talking to people that are contemporary Casanovas, if you will?
Haha, I like that, contemporary Casanovas. Though I'm not sure it applies to women? There are so many stereotypes, fears, myths about promiscuity. It feels like society's deep, dark secret that no one wants to talk about. We know so little about it, especially such extreme promiscuity as 1,000+ partners (which makes up less than .01 percent of the population).

I want to know who these people are? What is driving them, sexually and otherwise? How do they see themselves and their life stories? How have they managed to have that many partners (the logistics of it, if you will)? Is this something that has been a positive and life-affirming force in their lives, a negative and destructive one, a bit of both? I feel there could be a great diversity in the answers to these questions behind the 1,000+ number. I'd like to capture it and share it with the world.

Image via Flickr.