Random Security Research

Everyone does it. Research on casual sex. What motivates us to have casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it bring us benefit or, on the contrary, cause harm? And who are "we" in this case?

Zhana Vrangalova encountered a problem. On a noisy spring day in a small cafe near the New York University campus where she works as a freelance teacher, she could not open the site on her laptop to discuss which we met with her. And it was not a technical malfunction on her part, no, it was just that the site was blocked. Vrangalova, 34, with a lively face framed by thick-rimmed glasses, has spent the past ten years studying human sexuality, in particular intimate casual relationships outside of relationships with obligations. Casualsexproject.com was launched in 2014, initially as a small venture filled with personal testimonials, but has since grown to reach about five thousand visitors a day, most of whom reach the site through web searches or through links in articles and articles. in social networks. To date, the site hosted approximately 23,000 publications about different habits, which may well turn on Internet filters. The site aims to enable discussions about one-night stands and other not-so-traditional sexual behavior. What motivates us to have casual sex? Do we enjoy it? Does it bring us benefit or, on the contrary, cause harm? And who are "we" in this case?

Up to 80% of college students say they have casual sexual relationships other than commitment relationships. This high number is usually attributed to extremely weak public morals, the popularity of parties with alcohol and a rather rough student culture. Critics consider casual sex an "epidemic" that affects society as a whole. The casual relationship culture, we are told, demeans women and undermines our ability to forge stable, fulfilling relationships.

The alarm on this topic has been sounded before. In 1957, the writer Nora Johnson criticized the abundance of casual sex in colleges, pointing out that "sleeping with everyone is risky from an emotional, psychological and moral point of view." Since then, the number of critics of casual sex has only increased, although, at first glance, society has become much more liberal in its attitude towards sexual intercourse. Last year, anthropologist Peter Wood went so far as to call casual sex "a blow to human nature." He published an article in the conservative Weekly Standard noting that even the most minor casual sex creates a problematic power imbalance.

Others called the routine of casual sex the sin of social progress. In a widely acclaimed article titled "Boys on the Side" in Atlantic magazine in 2012, Hanna Rosin advised women to avoid serious fans so they could focus on their own needs and careers. However, despite her belief that casual sex is a tool for research and feminist thinking, Rosin also comes to the conclusion that casual sex cannot be the ultimate goal. “In the end, in men and women, the desire to enter into deep human relationships wins,” she wrote.

The Casual Sex project was born out of Vrangalova's frustration with this and other mainstream opinions. “I’m tired, among other things, of the lack of diversity of opinion in the discussion about casual sex,” Vrangalova told me in a cafe. “It has always been described as something that only college students do. And always only negatively, as something that harms women.”

This is not the first time Vrangalova has tried to push the boundaries of a limited conversation. As a student in Macedonia, she defied cultural taboos by writing her thesis on the development of the sexual mentality of gays and lesbians. In the late 2000s, she began researching casual sex as part of the developmental psychology program at Cornell University. As part of her work, she followed a group of 666 freshmen over the course of a year, studying how different behaviors in casual sexual relationships affected markers of mental health, namely depression, nervousness, life satisfaction and self-esteem. The second study tested 800 college students to find out if those who practice casual sex feel victimized or if they are more socially isolated (the answer was yes in the first case and no in the second). The research turned out to be interesting enough that Vrangalova was offered a position at New York University, where she remains to this day, researching various issues related to the impact of non-traditional sexual relations on those who practice them.

Over time, Vrangalova realized that there was a gap in her knowledge and in the field of study in general. Casual sex has been explored in the psychological literature, but most of the material her team found and dealt with by other experimental researchers involved college students (this is a common problem in psychology, students are the most convenient audience for research). A nationwide representative study was conducted, but still information on other groups was extremely insufficient. Even in the largest national study of sexual behavior in the United States, when six thousand men and women aged 14 to 44 were interviewed, they were not asked how many intimate relationships they would call casual.

From the very beginning, the study of sexuality was limited by social prejudices. Field research pioneer Alfred Kinsey has spent decades asking people about their sex lives. His books sold, but he himself was criticized for his biased approach. Like Freud before him, Kinsey believed that repressed sexuality was the cause of social behavior, and often made judgments to support this view without having a sufficiently representative sample. He only interacted with certain convenient groups, such as prisoners and volunteers, who were willing to discuss the subject.

In the 1950s, William Masters and Virginia Johnson went further. They openly explored sexual habits and even observed people in the process of sexual intercourse. But their data were also questioned: could a person who agreed to voluntarily have sex on a table in a laboratory serve as an example for conclusions about the average American?

Indeed, when looking at the data collected in casual sex studies, you will quickly notice that for information about anyone other than students, you should look for studies conducted outside of academic walls. After reviewing their database, OkCupid found that between 10.3% and 15.5% of their respondents are looking for casual sex rather than long-term relationships. In 2014, The Guardian's British Sex Survey found that half of the respondents reported having experienced casual relationships (55% of men and 43% of women). Among gays, the percentage was higher (66%) than among heterosexuals (48%). Approximately one-fifth of those surveyed reported that they had sex with a person whose name they did not remember.

At The Random Sex Project, Wranglova is trying to assemble a database of stories that she hopes will one day be the basis for academic research. For now, she's just listening, letting people go to her site, ask questions, and leave answers. Ritch Savin-Williams, who taught Wranglova at Cornell, told me that he was impressed by her commitment to "challenging traditional concepts and research frameworks and taking an objective approach that allows people to give honest, thoughtful answers."

The result is probably the world's largest repository of data on casual sex habits. Not that he had many competitors. Among those who share their stories are people of all ages, from teenagers to pensioners (Vrangalova's oldest respondents are over 70), residents of cities and suburbs, well-educated professionals (a quarter of respondents) and those who could not finish school (more one quarter). Most of them are not very religious, although just under a third of those surveyed identify themselves as "somewhat" religious people. Most of the respondents = white, but there are also blacks, Hispanics and representatives of other racial and ethnic groups. At first, 60% of the respondents were women; today, 70% are men. This is considered normal, as men are supposedly more fond of showing off their sex lives than women. Anyone can publish their story by providing demographics, emotions, personality traits, place in society, and habits, such as alcohol. There is a standard data collection system, with drop-down menus and a rating scale.

However, the site does not look like something medical. The home page consists of colored squares, where the color determines the category (blue for "one night stand", purple for "group sex", gray for the mysterious-sounding "first of many" and so on). Quotes are highlighted in each category (“Ladies, if you haven't had a hot, young Hispanic stallion, then you should find one!”) Many answers seem to be bluster, provocation, or exaggeration for rhetorical purposes. Reading them, I felt like not a participant in the study, but a member of a society of hedonists.

Vrangalova is the first to admit that her website is not an example of objective, scientific data collection. There is no random selection, control, compliance with the conditions of the experiment. The collected data do not reflect the characteristics of the entire population. Participants select themselves, which inevitably affects the results: if you decide to write something, you will probably write about positive experiences. And you are most likely one of those who are ready to share their adventures with the general public. There is another problem with the Random Sex Project that is common to much social research: it lacks external validation of behavior. How do we know that the respondents are telling the truth and not what they think we want to hear?

But despite all these shortcomings, the Casual Sex Project is a wonderful opportunity to look at the sexual behavior of a certain population. It may not be enough to draw new conclusions, but it can show us some nuances to suggest, for example, who is involved in casual sex and what effect it has on them. Reading the responses after meeting Vrangalova, I found an entry from a man who learned something new about his own sexuality through a casual relationship that he had after 70 years: “I used to always say that no one can finish me only orally, now I I know I was wrong." Given the age and social groups represented, the Project helps dispel the popular misconception that casual sex is only a product of youth change. If this were the case, we would be faced with a reluctance to engage in casual relationships among an older population that grew up before the age of casual sex. There is no such reluctance.

Considering that people of all ages tend to engage in casual relationships, this can lead us to three possible assumptions. First, it may be that what we think of as the rise of casual bonding culture is not really a new phenomenon. When the dating and free love norms shifted in the 1960s, they didn't go back. People in their seventies have casual connections because it's part of their culture too.

The second assumption completely contradicts the first: casual sex has not become the norm today and never has been. But there have always been and will be people who want to achieve sexual satisfaction in an unconventional way.

The third assumption is consistent with the notion that casual sex culture begins in college. It says that people engage in casual sex for a variety of reasons. Some young people engage in casual sex because they feel they can't do otherwise, or because the whole environment tells them they should. Preliminary analysis by Vrangalova suggests that alcohol plays a larger role in casual sex among young people than among older people. Older people, on the contrary, do not care about the opinion of society. This understanding comes to someone at the age of 30, to someone - at 40, to someone it does not come at all or does not come completely.

The last theory concerns one of Vrangalova's discoveries, which, according to her, came as a surprise to her. Not all of the casual sex stories featured on the site were positive, despite a very biased selection initially. Women and younger people are more likely to write that they were ashamed (“At some point I was on top, that is, he obviously did not force me, I must have agreed myself... I’m not sure,” wrote the 18-year-old girl who described casual sex as unsatisfactory and added that the next day she was depressed, nervous, guilty and disgusted). There is a whole block of stories labeled "no orgasm" dedicated to other unpleasant and exciting cases.“Over time, my approach has become more balanced,” says Vrangalova. “I come from a sex-positive environment where people benefit from exploration and sexual experimentation. As I studied, I realized that the coin has two sides.

Some of the negative attitude is justified: casual sex is more risky in terms of the likelihood of getting pregnant, getting sick, and more often than in long-term relationships, it includes an element of physical coercion. But many of the negative instances of such connections are social conventions. “We see that people of both sexes often feel discriminated against because of sex,” says Vrangalova. Men feel that other men judge them if they haven't had casual sex, and social expectations can dampen the enjoyment of their experience. Women, on the other hand, are condemned for sexual intercourse, and for this reason they find it less pleasant.

Most likely - and this should not surprise us - the very fact that Vrangalova and others are studying and looking for an explanation for casual sex means that our society at least considers it worthy of attention and evaluates this phenomenon as a deviation, and not as commonplace. No one is doing research on how people feel when they want to drink water or go to the bathroom, about why it's fun to have dinner with friends, and hobby groups are becoming fashionable.

Vrangalova hopes that her project will help deal with this sense of shame. As one respondent pointed out in a questionnaire she sent out, “it helped me stop worrying about wanting casual sex and not seeing what I do as shameful or abnormal.” Psychologist James Pennebaker, after decades of observation, has found that a person expressing emotional experiences in writing is like undergoing therapy, although speaking about it verbally does not always have such an effect (I do not think that the site provides any benefits to those who use it to brag about their adventures). “Sometimes you often have nowhere to turn until you start your blog,” says Vrangalova. “I wanted to give people a place where they can share experiences.”

Perhaps the real benefit of the Random Sex Project is this: not to tell us what we didn't know, or what we only guessed, but to make it possible to have an intimate conversation without judgment. The dirty little secret of casual sex isn't that we do it, it's that we don't share our experiences in the best possible way. Author: Maria Konnikova