A classic story of casual sex gone wrong is that one person involved in the relationship develops unreciprocated romantic feelings, leading to distress and disappointment. In contrast, pop culture tells us that the best ending to a casual sexual relationship is for it to blossom into a loving, committed partnership. Take, for example, three movies that hit theaters in 2011: No Strings Attached, Friends with Benefits, and Crazy, Stupid Love. Each of these movies follows two attractive young adults who discover that their uncommitted sexual encounters give rise to romantic feelings, ultimately resulting in a happily committed romantic relationship. These movies suggest that, for all of the fuss we make about keeping it casual and not looking for anything serious, what people really want is love, and having casual sex is a common way of finding love.
Although we receive plenty of messages telling us that casual sex can turn into happy, committed romantic relationships, and that this outcome is preferable to maintaining or ending a casual relationship, these messages are guided by what sells, not what works. What does research say about transitioning from a casual sexual relationship to a committed relationship? Is it common to want a committed relationship from a casual relationship? Is it common for hookups, one-night stands and friends with benefits to turn into romantic relationships? Are romantic relationships that started out as casual sex as healthy and emotionally fulfilling as relationships that were romantic from the start?
I am a developmental researcher focusing on relationships and health in adolescence and young adulthood. My goal is to enable people to have healthy, fulfilling sexual relationships.