Is it bad that I want sex but not a romantic relationship?
Heather Corinna replies:I've been talking on and off with many guys. A lot of them are sexually and romantically interested in me. I am sexually interested in them but have no romantic interest in them. I have no interest in being in a relationship but do want to be sexually active. Is that bad? Should I have to be both romantically and sexually interested in a guy to have sex with them?
No, you should not have to be romantically and sexually interested in a guy to have sex with them. And no, what you want isn’t bad. It is absolutely okay to have an interest in being sexual with others but not romantic; to want sexual interactions or relationships but not romantic ones.
You sound clear about your own feelings and wants right now: you make clear that you're not feeling or wanting romance right now, and that right now what you are interested in are sexual interactions or relationships without romance. There isn't anything wrong with that: those are things people get to want and not want, in general or in more specific ways, some of the time or all of the time. Those are also things people besides you want and don’t want. I promise, you’re not the only person with these preferences and desires.
There's not some kind of romance requirement for people to have sex unless anyone involved in the equation themselves has that requirement. If and when someone you want to be sexual with does want romance to be part of the picture, you two probably won’t be a fit. So, ideally, you’ll just each head off your merry way to find others that do fit with the different thingsyou both want. No biggie. No matter what kind of interaction or relationship any of us want, everybody isn’t going to be a good fit with everybody. Would that it were so easy (though it would probably also be a lot less interesting)!
Of course, for some people, feeling — or having mutual feelings or intentions of — what they identify as romantic feelings, or feelings of love for someone is essential or preferred if they're going to have sex with someone. For others, that doesn't matter, or might even be something that person, like you right now, expressly doesn't want. Neither of these poles — or anything else between or around them — are universally right or wrong for everyone, nor are they ways of going about sex that are always all good or all bad for everyone. Just like how and what people like to eat, or what kinds of families people want to make for themselves, what people want in all the ways when it comes to sexual interactions and relationships varies.
It wouldn't be surprising if you'd gotten the message that it's not okay, though, especially for women. And goodness knows, especially for young women, who are often expected to somehow be both the soft romantic doyenne and a demon in the sack (talk about some impossible multitasking).
On the whole, in a lot of culture, media, and community, people are also often disapproving of sex without romance. Even when people are a little more tolerant, it often skews to what benefits men: men are "excused" a bit more for casual, or non-romantic, sex than women are. Women can sometimes be afforded some cultural okay for sex without romance, but most often only are when that, too, fits what men want. Women are still so barely, when they are at all, generally accepted and embraced when it comes to wanting and choosing sex on their own terms, most certainly if that involves eschewing romance.
Sex, all by itself, isn’t bad or problematic by default: it’s not something that can be or has to be neutralized with other things in order to be good, or even just acceptable. We don’t need to add romance to make having sex okay: having sex is okay already so long as we're not jerks about it. But sex with others is something where we are vulnerable, and where we can have some big feelings and deep experiences, including when it’s casual, so many people will often want some other kind of relationship to tether it to, and often the kind of relationship they want is romantic. Sometimes someone starts out not wanting romance or having those feelings, but later develops those feelings and finds their wants change: what we or others want can be pretty fluid sometimes. It might even be that what you find some people want is somewhere in the middle of all this — maybe they don’t want romance either, but maybe they (or you!) do want someone to really be their friend in addition to a sexual partner.
I suggest just candidly and clearly checking in with people you’re considering as sexual partners with that first. You can open with something as simple as a, “I don’t want to assume, but just so you know, I am not looking for and don’t want any kind of romance in my life right now. Is that okay with you?” If you already know someone has a romantic interest in you, I'd personally suggest just taking them out of your consideration as a sexual partner: you already know you don't want the same things.
If what you’re after isn’t what someone else wants — and you may have to go by your gut here, not just their words, since if it’s guys you’re talking to, some won’t feel comfortable being honest if they want something romantic — you’ll both want to move on. And if when you talk about what you want, anyone sounds super flippant about it, or maybe even a little too gung-ho, you might want to give that a second thought, too. It takes some extra maturity to be relaxed enough about sex to have it outside the kinds of relationships that make it more culturally acceptable to a lot of people, and it also takes extra maturity to be a young dude involved with a young woman who’s more sexually outside the box in any way. Oh, how I wish someone had told me that when I was younger. At least I can tell you.
If anyone gets angry with you or tries to shame you about not wanting romance? Run. Seriously. Honestly, romance is a very useful framework for abusive people, so sometimes people who get angry when you don’t want it are actually angry because they were hoping to control you that way. Thus, my advice about sprinting in the very-much-away direction.
I obviously don't think what you want is bad. But even if I did, that shouldn't matter much to you, because this is all about what you think and feel and want and what is going to wind up working for you, not me or anyone else. I certainly hope you won't do things sexually you don’t really want to, which includes engaging in or pursuing sex in a relationship context you don’t want. Doing what we really don’t want or taking any part in getting someone else to do what they don’t want when it comes to sex? Both those things are pretty universally bad for everyone.
If what you’re after — and I hope it is, always — is a satisfying sexual life that you feel good about, that you experience as something that adds good things to your life and that really feels like your own, it’s really important to make sure you put yourself at the center of it. If what you want are sexual interactions or relationships but — either so far, or period — not romantic relationships or interactions, then that’s what you should seek out and honor for yourself. You don’t have to worry about that being bad for someone else so long as you make clear this is what YOU want, and choose people who are on the same page, and who would be good people to be intimate with in any kind of relationship, whether that was about being close friends, boyfriends or girlfriends, or sex buddies. People can be good people who care for one another and do good things in sexual interactions and relationships without being romantic (and people can also be bad news alone or together in sexual interactions and relationships, romantic interactions and relationships or both: romance doesn’t magic people decent).
Here’s a big guide to casual sex on the site to help get you started with some basics in navigating all of this: Casual...Cool? Making Choices About Casual Sex. I’d also suggest having a look at this piece about how to create relationship models, whatever kind it is you want, including what it sounds like you’re after: Supermodel: Creating & Nurturing Your Own Best Relationship Models.
It can really feel like the only way of being sexual with other people where you basically have the world’s blessing -- the only way that makes sex okay -- is within a romantic relationship. I get it. And it can feel confusing, just plain awful sometimes, and even unsafe, to be on the outside of what's culturally sanctioned sexually. The why of the cultural norms and ideals we have in this department are vast, but generally have a whole lot more to do with social power and control of certain groups to primarily benefit other groups than it does with healthy, happy and enjoyable sex and sexuality for everyone. But even when we intellectually know better about the fallacy of norms and cultural ideals, we still might second-guess ourselves or doubt our own wants are valid and okay. Heck, these ideas are so sticky, that even when you have life experiences to validate that what you wanted is actually what's right for you, and have seen it turn out to be great for you and other people, without some big message that what we are doing is okay, the way people having sex in romance tend to get it, you still might feel like your wants aren't okay.
So, before I send you off into your pursuit of exactly the kind of sexual life you want, I figure the least I can do is give you my blessing. There really should be some sort of torch passed down from one of us to another in this arena, like when people pass wedding dresses down from one married person to another about to marry… except exactly the opposite of that. Like knighting, maybe. Or something some highly dedicated renegade aunt or another might even cross-stitch on a throw pillow.
May your sex life be as footloose and free as you want it to be;
May your sexual choices provide you and others with joy and a feeling of rightness for years to come;
May all of the sexual experiences you pursue and are part of be centered in you;
And may you do a happy wiggle dance just at the thought, because sex is, after all, supposed to be fun.