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Casual Sexual Relationships and Experiences in

Emerging Adulthood
DOI: 10.1177/2167696813487181





Shannon E Claxton

Manfred H M van Dulmen

Kent State University

Kent State University




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Casual Sexual Relationships and Experiences in Emerging Adulthood

Shannon E. Claxton and Manfred H. M. van Dulmen
Emerging Adulthood 2013 1: 138
DOI: 10.1177/2167696813487181
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State of the Field

Casual Sexual Relationships and

Experiences in Emerging Adulthood

Emerging Adulthood
1(2) 138-150
2013 Society for the
Study of Emerging Adulthood
and SAGE Publications
Reprints and permission:
DOI: 10.1177/2167696813487181

Shannon E. Claxton1 and Manfred H. M. van Dulmen1

Casual sexual relationships and experiences (CSREs) such as hookups, one-night stands, friends with benefits relationships, and
booty calls have received increasing attention in the past decade. This review examines the role of CSREs during emerging adulthood, as well as similarities and differences among the different types of CSREs. Furthermore, we examine the predictors and
positive and negative consequences of engaging in CSREs. While research in the area of CSREs has provided important information about the development and course of these relationships/experiences, future research should focus on exploring these
relationships/experiences using an integrated theoretical perspective and longitudinal methods, in diverse, noncollege samples.
casual sex, sexual behavior, emerging adulthood

While casual sexual relationships and experiences (CSREs) are

not an entirely new phenomenon (see Fisher & Byrne, 1978;
Sonenschein, 1968), investigations in recent decades have established that most young adults experienceat some pointintimacy and/or sexuality outside of committed romantic
relationships (e.g., Garcia, Reiber, Massey, & Merriwether,
2012; Heldman & Wade, 2010). These uncommitted relationships/experiences are often defined specifically in contrast to
committed relationships. For example, Furman and Collins
(2009) define romantic relationships as mutually acknowledged,
ongoing voluntary interactions; in comparison to most other peer
relationships, romantic ones typically have a distinctive intensity
that is usually marked by expressions of affection and current or
anticipated sexual behavior (pp. 341342). They define anything outside of the context of romantic relationships, including
dates, crushes, and hookups, as romantic experiences. Other
researchers have termed these noncommitted relationships casual
relationships, casual sex (Grello, Welsh, & Harper, 2006; Hatfield, Hutchison, Bensman, Young, & Rapson, 2012), and hookups (see Garcia et al., 2012; Heldman & Wade, 2010; Stinson,
2010 for reviews). We use the term casual sexual relationships
and experiences to comprehensively reflect the nature of these
relationships/experiences. Specifically, these relationships/
experiences are casual in that they occur outside of ongoing
dating relationships (i.e., committed romantic relationships) and
marital relationships. Notably, the word casual does not refer
to the salience or importance of these relationships/experiences,
but rather it denotes that these relationships/experiences occur
outside of the context of formal romantic relationships. Second,
CSREs are sexual because they involve sexual overtones and/or
behavior. Finally, CSREs include experiences (e.g., Furman &
Collins, 2009), but are not limited to experiences because

individuals in a CSRE mutually affect each other and are interdependent. In other words, some types of CSREs meet the definition
of a relationship (Berscheid & Peplau, 1983). Therefore, the term
CSREs reflects the wide variety of sexual relationships/experiences in which emerging adults engage.
Recently, there has been a shift from studying solely the number of casual or uncommitted sexual partners an individual has to
trying to understand the different forms these CSREs can take.
While previous reviews have focused specifically on hookups
(Garcia et al., 2012; Heldman & Wade, 2010; Stinson, 2010), the
current article examines CSREs broadly, including other
conceptualizations of relationships and experiences such as
friends with benefits (FWB), booty calls, and one-night stands.
Understanding these various CSREs is important, given that the
different types of CSREs increase in prevalence during late adolescence and early adulthood. For example, Fortunato, Young,
Boyd, and Fons (2010) found that 28% of 7th to 12th graders
reported having a hookup. In college populations, the lifetime
prevalence rates for CSREs are greater than 50%, ranging from
60 to 64% for FWB relationships and booty calls (Bisson &
Levine, 2009; Jonason, Li, & Cason, 2009) and between 53 and
84% for hookups and one-night stands (Gute & Eshbaugh, 2008;
Lambert, Kahn, & Apple, 2003; Paul, McManus, & Hayes,
2000). While some studies find gender differences in rates of
CSREs with men reporting engaging in a greater number of

Department of Psychology, Kent State University, Kent, OH, USA

Corresponding Author:
Shannon E. Claxton, MA, Department of Psychology, Kent State University,
P.O. Box 5190, Kent, OH 44240, USA.

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Claxton and van Dulmen


CSREs than women (e.g., Grello et al., 2006; Owen & Fincham,
2011a), many studies suggest that rates of CSREs do not significantly differ between men and women (e.g., Bisson & Levine,
2009; Paul & Hayes, 2002). Overall, these findings suggest that
not only do CSREs occur (especially within a college environment), but that a majority of emerging adults, both men and
women, will experience one or more of these CSREs.
Given the high prevalence rates of CSREs, fully understanding these different relationships/experiences and their precursors is crucial. This is especially important considering that
CSREs have been associated with a multitude of potential negative outcomes during emerging adulthood, including lowered
psychological well-being, physical dangers, and negative relationship outcomes (e.g., Fielder & Carey, 2010a). In other
words, CSREs are importantly linked to risky behavior, mental
health, and key developmental tasks of emerging adulthood
(including the successful navigation and establishment of positive romantic relationships).

Role of CSREs in Emerging Adulthood

The age period of 1829, known as emerging adulthood, is an
important period for the successful development of romantic
relationships (Arnett, 2004; Arnett & Tanner, 2006). However,
there has been a shift in dating and relationships in the past several decades such that individuals are marrying at later ages
(see Bogle, 2007, 2008; Garcia & Reiber, 2008). In the United
States, the average age of first marriage has risen to 28.2 for
men and 26.5 for women, which represents a peak for the last
century (U.S. Census Bureau, 2010). Furthermore, placing less
importance on being married (marital importance) and the
desire to delay marriage (marital timing) has been linked to
sexual permissiveness in emerging adulthood (Carroll et al.,
2007). This delay in marriage means that for many individuals
emerging adulthood is no longer a time of settling down with a
long-term committed relationship as suggested by romantic
stage theories. Shulman and Connolly (2013) argue for Coordinating Romance and Life Plans as a transitional romantic
stage during emerging adulthood. In this stage, emerging adults
work through a variety of new relationship skills that were not
relevant during adolescence before moving toward more longterm relationships. Specifically, emerging adults must navigate
their own life tasks (such as work/education and the development of financial resources) and coordinate these decisions
with their partner. Because social and economic circumstances
in todays world are highly unstable, working through these
tasks has become difficult, leading emerging adults to postpone
long-term commitments in favor of less restricting short-term
involvements (Shulman & Connolly, 2013).
Instead, many emerging adults use this age period of
increased freedom to experiment with different forms of
romantic relationships and experiences (Cohen, Kasen, Chen,
Hartmark, & Gordon, 2003). Arnett (2004) argues that emerging adulthood is a developmentally unique period where individuals feel like they are no longer adolescents but are not quite
yet adults. Emerging adulthood, then, includes a time of

exploration in which individuals may try out different sexual

relationships and experiences in an effort to examine their own
identity. This time period is also more unstable in terms of
plans for the future and place of residence than other stages
of life, resulting in diverse and fluctuating partners and experiences (Arnett, 2004). CSREs during emerging adulthood, then,
may provide individuals with the opportunity to develop their
sexuality without the added component of an adult-like
commitment (Hamilton & Armstrong, 2009).
Before going into further details regarding the outcomes and
predictors of CSREs during emerging adulthood, it is important
to understand the various manifestations of CSREs. Indeed,
these CSREs differ in terms of who participates (i.e., friends
vs. strangers) as well as how long the relationship/experience
lasts (e.g., Jonason, Luevano, & Adams, 2012; Wentland &
Reissing, 2011). The first section of this article provides an overview of the major CSREs (hookups, one-night stands, FWB, and
booty calls). We primarily focus on how these CSREs have been
conceptually operationalized and what evidence there isif
anythat each of these CSREs is unique.

Forms of CSREs
A hookup is one of the most commonly used terms to describe
uncommitted sexual encounters, but it is also one of the least
consistently defined terms in the area of sexuality research. Qualitative research has shown that while male college students
share a vague general understanding of what a hookup is, interpretations of the emotional ties and sexual behavior implied vary
across individuals (Epstein, Calzo, Smiler, & Ward, 2009).
Emerging adults may be drawn to the ambiguity of the term,
which allows a single word to describe a variety of sexual
encounters and sexual behaviors (Epstein et al., 2009; Glenn
& Marquardt, 2001). However, this imprecision creates issues
in conceptualization for researchers.
Specifically, the hookup varies in regard to the types of sexual behaviors it encompasses, the length of relationship, who it
involves, and if it includes or is separate from other CSREs.
Definitions of hookups generally incorporate a great breadth
of sexual activity from kissing to intercourse (Bogle, 2007,
2008; Hamilton & Armstrong, 2009; Stinson, 2010), although
some researchers focus specifically on hookups involving sexual
intercourse or oral sex (e.g., Gute & Eshbaugh, 2008). Many
researchers have either explicitly limited the hookup to a onenight encounter (e.g., Paul et al., 2000) or implied that these relationships do not need to involve interaction past one night (e.g.,
Burdette, Ellison, Hill, & Glenn, 2009). More recent definitions
have moved toward a broader understanding that does not limit
hookups to one-time encounters (see Heldman & Wade, 2010).
Current research remains inconsistent regarding if hookups
occur only with relatively unknown individuals or if hookups
also occur among friends. Some researchers limit hookup definitions to strangers or acquaintances (e.g., Barriger & VelezBlasini, 2011; Paul et al., 2000), others specifically include

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Emerging Adulthood 1(2)

friends in the definition (e.g., Fortunato, Young, Boyd, & Fons,

2010), and many leave this distinction open to interpretation by
defining a hookup as any sexual activity outside of a committed
relationship (e.g., Fielder & Carey, 2010a, 2010b; Garcia & Reiber, 2008; Owen, Rhoades, Stanley, & Fincham, 2010). Qualitative studies suggest that participants themselves may use these
definitions interchangeably, describing an FWB relationship as
a booty call or hookup (Weaver, MacKeigan, & MacDonald,
The wide range of definitions leads to inconsistency in measurement and confusion regarding whether hookups are an
overarching category of CSRE or if they represent a separate
type of CSRE. For example, Garcia, Reiber, Massey, and Merriwether (2012) specifically consider a hookup to differ from
FWB relationships, whereas other researchers suggest hookups
are synonymous with FWB (Glenn & Marquardt, 2001) and
one-night stands (Owen & Fincham, 2011b). Based on the definitions in the literature, Heldman and Wade (2010) concluded
that FWB relationships, one-night stands, and booty calls are
all forms of hookups: Hook ups include one-time sexual
encounters (a random); multiple encounters, generally on the
weekends, often without any regular contact during the week (a
regular); infrequent sexual encounters with an acquaintance
or friend late at night, generally after an unsuccessful night
of hooking up (a booty call); and repeat hookups with friends
that do not involve a dating relationship (friends with benefits
or fuck buddies) (p. 324). We agree with Heldman and
Wade that hookups represent an overarching category of
CSREs because hookups cannot be easily differentiated from
other CSREs (i.e., one-night stands and FWB) by the definitions currently in use. That is to say, the term hookup exists
as a broad category; other CSREs (e.g., one-night stands, booty
calls, and FWB) represent differing forms of hookups that vary
in terms of the emotional connectedness of the individuals and
if they include implicit repeated encounters.

One-Night Stands
From a historical perspective, the one-night stand is not new.
However, it is just within the past 50 years that one-night stands
have been recognized as an important topic of study in the scientific literature. For example, the one-night stand was recognized as a prominent relationship among homosexual men in
the late 1960s, lasting only a brief period of time (a few minutes
or hours to a full day or weekend) and occurring between individuals who did not know each other, or knew little about each
other (e.g., Sonenschein, 1968). The specific study of a onenight stand became more common over time, appearing in qualitative accounts of sexual behavior (e.g., Townsend, 1987) and
with a high percentage of individuals reporting having had a
one-night stand by the late 1980s (e.g., Snyder, Simpson, &
Gangestad, 1986). In more recent decades, the one-night stand
has become both a common lay term and scientific topic of
investigation (e.g., Wentland & Reissing, 2011).
Because one-night stands are, according to some researchers,
synonymous with hookups (e.g., Owen & Fincham, 2011b),

there is a large deal of overlap between these experiences and

hookups. One-night stands are primarily sexual relationships that
occur one time only (Cubbins & Tanfer, 2000; Jonason et al.,
2012). Because of the brief nature of the experience, one-night
stands generally take place with strangers or brief acquaintances
(Wentland & Reissing, 2011). Not surprisingly, as these experiences last only one night, one-night stands include fewer emotional acts than booty calls or committed romantic
relationships (Jonason, Li, & Richardson, 2011). Emotional acts
are more common than sexual acts within one-night stands, suggesting that emotional acts (e.g., hand holding, kissing) may be
used to bring the encounter quickly to sex (Jonason et al., 2011).

Friends With Benefits (FWB) Relationships

Definitions of FWB relationships are fairly consistent within the
literature and generally include the idea of sexual activity that
occurs between friends who do not consider their relationship
to be romantic (see, e.g., Bisson & Levine, 2009; Owen & Fincham, 2011a). Researchers have found that in general FWB relationships do stem from preexisting relationships including
friendships, romantic relationships, and sexual partners (VanderDrift, Lehmiller, & Kelly, 2012). However, Mongeau, Knight,
Williams, Eden, and Shaw (2011) argue for seven types of FWB
relationships: true friends, just sex, network opportunism
(friends/acquaintances who share network ties), successful transition into a romantic relationship, failed transition into a romantic relationship, unintentional transition into a romantic
relationship, and transition out of a relationship. These different
types of FWB relationships were qualitatively identified from
descriptions of FWB relationships from a sample of 279 college
students. The seven types were then validated in terms of friendship strength, nonsexual interaction, and romantic history in a
subsequent study of 258 undergraduates who had experienced
an FWB relationship. This study suggested that true friends was
the most frequent type of FWB relationship individuals reported
having, but it only represented one fourth of the total FWB relationships reported. Because FWB relationships can differ with
regard to who participates, some researchers allow individuals
to use their own definition of FWB relationships (Furman &
Shaffer, 2011).
FWB relationships differ from other CSREs in a number of
ways. FWB relationships allow an individual to engage in sexual
activity with someone in an ongoing friendship relationship
while avoiding commitment associated with romantic relationships (Bisson & Levine, 2009). As such, FWB relationships are
more stable and include an aspect of respect and emotional
involvement not found in other CSREs (Lehmiller, VanderDrift,
& Kelly, 2011; Wentland & Reissing, 2011). Furthermore, individuals participating in FWB relationships share a friendship on
top of the sexual aspect of their relationship, making FWB relationships particularly difficult to navigate. For example, Bisson
and Levine (2009) found that about 48.9% of college students
who had experienced FWB relationships expressed uncertainty
about the relationship. Specifically, individuals felt unclear
about what to call the relationship, how to maintain the

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Claxton and van Dulmen



Friends with

Booty calls




One time

Figure 1. Booty calls, friends with benefits, and one-night stands positioned based on the closeness of the individuals (x-axis) and the frequency
of the sexual contact (y-axis).

relationship, and the future of the relationship. Individuals also

expressed concerns about remaining friends after having
engaged in sexual activity (Bisson & Levine, 2009).
FWB relationships may be more likely than other CSREs to
include communication regarding sexual monogamy and discussion regarding how to approach the sexual component of the relationship (Weaver et al., 2011; Wentland & Reissing, 2011).
Although a majority of individuals in FWB relationships report
being exclusive, approximately 2540% of them are not (Lehmiller et al., 2011; Vanderdrift et al., 2012; Weaver et al., 2011). Of
those who had additional partners, about 40% had made their
FWB aware that they were sexually involved with other individuals (Weaver et al., 2011), suggesting that communication about
monogamy is fairly common in FWB relationships.
Although communication about monogamy is a part of
FWB relationships, communication about other aspects of the
relationship may be lacking. Research has shown that the
majority of individuals (84%) who have had an FWB relationship did not discuss their relationship even if they have reservations about how to negotiate the relationship (Bisson & Levine,
2009). Furthermore, only 27% of these relationships involved a
discussion of relationship ground rules. However, effective
communication can make an FWB relationship more successful (Goodboy & Myers, 2008). Hughes, Morrison, and Asada
(2005) found that emotional rules (e.g., not becoming too
emotionally attached), communication rules (i.e., guidelines
for honesty and talking with each other), and sex rules (e.g.,
condoms and monogamy) were the most frequently reported
rules needed for the maintenance of FWB relationships.

Booty Calls
The literature on booty calls is relatively new, emerging in the
last 5 years. A booty call has been defined as a communication
initiated towards a non-long-term relationship partner with the

urgent intent, either stated or implied, of having sexual activity

and\or intercourse (Jonason et al., 2009, p. 462). This term can
function as both a noun to describe a person contacted for the
purpose of sex or a verb used to describe arranging a sexual
meeting (Nelson, Morrison-Beedy, Kearny, & Dozier, 2011).
These relationships acknowledge the influence of social
media on the way individuals engage in CSREs and have the
unique factor of involving the use of cell phones and other technology to initiate sexual activity (Jonason et al., 2009). While
these relationships are recurring, qualitative accounts suggest
that they tend to be less positive in nature than an FWB
relationship (e.g., Wentland & Reissing, 2011). They are often
a last resort or are initiated when other hookup attempts
have failed (Heldman & Wade, 2010; Wentland & Reissing,
2011). Jonason, Li, and Cason (2009) argue that booty calls
involve both short-term and long-term relationship factors and
are therefore appealing to men and women for different reasons. Specifically, they include features of long-term relationships (some emotional intimacy) that are appealing to women,
but they also include less commitment than committed romantic relationships which is appealing to men (Jonason et al.,
2009, 2011). Qualitative data suggest that individuals in
booty-call relationships have little affection for each other and
do not engage in mutual activities outside of sexual behavior
(Wentland & Reissing, 2011).

Fuck Buddies and Other CSREs

While hookups, FWB, one-night stands, and booty calls have
received the most attention in the scientific literature, emerging
adults use a variety of other terms to describe CSREs. For
example, fuck buddies have received little attention in empirical research thus far, which may be because of the potential
overlap with FWB relationships. However, these relationships
were identified by participants in a qualitative study by Wentland and Reissing (2011) as separate from FWB relationships.
These relationships, participants suggested, are more derogatory than an FWB relationship but imply more recurring contact than a booty call. Further research is needed to tease
apart the nature of fuck buddies, as well as other CSREs mentioned by emerging adults such as play buddy, bang buddies, hit it and quit it, and last calls (e.g., Weaver
et al., 2011; Wentland & Reissing, 2011).

Dimensions of CSREs
While terms and definitions for the various CSREs may vary,
there are at least two dimensions on which CSREs differ. Specifically, relationships/experiences vary on the number of times
the encounter occurs (i.e., one-night stands happen once,
whereas booty calls and FWB relationships reoccur) and how
close the individuals are before the event occurs (strangers/
acquaintances vs. friends). FWB relationships, booty calls, and
one-night stands can be placed in distinct categories based on
these two dimensions (see Figure 1). This also suggests that
researchers may need to examine the possibility of a new

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Emerging Adulthood 1(2)

relationship category that may be specifically a one-time only

sexual encounter with a friend.
In order to advance research in this field, it is important to
develop conceptual and operational definitions that are distinctive and mutually exclusive. As it stands, hookup definitions
overlap with booty calls when they include only strangers and
acquaintances and overlap with FWB when they include friends.
Given this overlap, we recommend that hookups be considered
an overarching category of CSREs (see also Heldman & Wade,
2010). Furthermore, research needs to utilize consistent definitions if we want to truly understand the potential differences and
similarities between the CSREs. Despite these limitations, current research has discovered a number of common predictors and
outcomes of these different CSREs.

Researchers have unearthed a number of predictors of engagement in CSREs. With few exceptions (see Fielder & Carey,
2010a; Owen, Fincham, & Moore, 2011), research on predictors of CSREs has, however, been cross-sectional. This
research has primarily focused on closeness and intimacy, personality, personal and religious values, alcohol use, situational
triggers, and partner characteristics.

Closeness and Intimacy

Having high levels of intimacy goals (desire for self-disclosure
and mutual dependence within a relationship) has been linked
with lower levels of sexual activity in casual sexual contexts for
adolescents (Sanderson & Cantor, 1995). Adult attachment
styles have also been implicated in involvement in CSREs.
Securely attached individuals, who tend to have trusting, lasting relationships, have been found to report fewer one-night
stands and hookups as well as fewer total numbers of partners
(Cooper, Shaver, & Collins, 1998; Paul et al., 2000).
Individuals with avoidant attachment styles may follow one
of the two patterns: They may avoid sexual intercourse all
together (Cooper et al., 1998; Kalichman et al., 1994) or they
may engage in casual sex, which has an absence of emotional
involvement (Brennan & Shaver, 1995; Feeney, Noller, &
Patty, 1993; Simpson & Gangestad, 1991). Those with anxious
attachment crave closeness but have difficulty maintaining this
closeness. In general, these individuals are not accepting of
casual sex (Brennan & Shaver, 1995). Their desire for intimacy, however, can make them prone to risky sexual experiences because they may have sex out of a fear of losing their
partner (Tracy, Shaver, Albino, & Cooper, 2003). These individuals have been found to have unwanted but consensual sex
(Gentzler & Kerns, 2004). Gender differences have also been
found, such that the link between anxious attachment and
casual sex is stronger for females than males and the link
between avoidant attachment and sexual risk taking is stronger
for males than females (Bogaert & Sadava, 2002; Kalichman
et al., 1994). Overall, individuals who have secure attachment
styles, characterized by low levels of anxiety and avoidance,

and individuals who have high levels of intimacy goals appear

to have low levels of CSRE engagement.

Personality characteristics have also been found to be related to
CSRE involvement. Gute and Eshbaugh (2008) found that neuroticism and extroversion were positively associated with hooking up, whereas agreeableness and conscientiousness had a
negative relationship to hooking up behaviors. Other personality
traits such as impulsivity and sensation seeking have also been
positively related to engagement in casual sex (see Hoyle, Fejfar,
& Miller, 2000 for a review). While the relationship between
impulsivity and sexual risk taking has a somewhat weak effect
size, sensation seeking has been associated with engaging in
unprotected sex, having multiple partners, high-risk sexual behaviors (including casual sex), and the overall number of sexual
partners an individual has had (see Hoyle et al., 2000). It appears
that high sensation seekers evaluate these high-risk sexual activities as less perilous than individuals who are lower on sensation
seeking (Hoyle et al., 2000). Finally, narcissism and psychopathy have also been linked to greater CSRE involvement (Jonason
et al., 2012). While research is still needed to fully understand
the mechanisms that drive the relationships between personality
and engagement in CSREs, it appears that both specific traits
such as sensation seeking and impulsivity as well as broader personality dimensions (i.e., openness to experience, conscientiousness, extroversion, agreeableness, neuroticism) are associated
with involvement in CSREs.

Personal and Religious Values

Personal values, especially regarding casual sex, also predict
engagement in CSREs. For example, Puentes, Knox, and Zusman (2008) found that individuals who valued hedonism (the
idea that if it feels good, do it) were more likely to have
an FWB relationship than those who thought that sex was
acceptable within a loving relationship (relativism) or those
who believed that intercourse was never acceptable before marriage (absolutism).
Similarly, religious values have also been related to CSRE
involvement. Burdette, Ellison, Hill, and Glenn (2009) found that
women with higher church attendance were less likely to hook up.
Penhollow, Young, and Bailey (2007) found that frequency of
religious service attendance and degree of religious feelings were
negatively related to hookup behavior and could predict if an individual had ever hooked up and if the hookups included sexual
intercourse. Owen, Rhoades, Stanley, and Fincham (2010) found
that religiosity was related to lower hooking up for women but not
men. In general, having personal values that admonish premarital
sex as well as having strong religious values may lower an individuals proclivity toward engaging in CSREs.

Alcohol Use
Alcohol use (both frequency and quantity) has been consistently associated with higher numbers of sexual partners and

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Claxton and van Dulmen


risky sexual experiences (e.g., Cooper, 2006; Desiderato &

Crawford, 1995; Grello, et al., 2006; Halpern-Felsher, Millstein, & Ellen, 1996). Alcohol use has been implicated in
participation in several CSREs, including FWB relationships,
hookups, and one-night stands (Grello et al., 2006; Owen
et al., 2011; Owen & Fincham, 2011a, 2011b) and is associated
with feeling regret after engaging in CSREs (e.g., Fisher,
Worth, Garcia, & Meredith, 2012). In fact, alcohol use is the
most highly cited reason that college students give for engaging
in CSREs. Although alcohol is an important precursor for
CSRE engagement, this does not mean that alcohol is always
involved. There is evidence that alcohol use may only be associated with the first sexual encounter within FWB relationships
(Wentland & Reissing, 2011) and many individuals report
engaging in CSREs while sober (Fisher et al., 2012).

Situational Triggers and Partner Characteristics

In addition, several situational triggers and partner characteristics are implicated in CSRE engagement. In a short-term prospective study of 140 first-semester college students, Fielder
and Carey (2010a) identified two consistent predictors of
hookup partners in addition to peak intoxication levels: prior
hookup behavior/number of hookups and the effect of situational triggers on an individuals willingness to hookup (e.g.,
when it seems like everyone else is hooking up). In addition
to these predictors, participants have stated a variety of other
reasons that individuals engage in CSREs. For example, men
often cite social environmental reasons such as increased status
and popularity, whereas women cite interpersonal reasons such
as hoping their casual relationship/experience might evolve
into a more committed romantic relationship (Regan & Dreyer,
1999). Other common reasons endorsed by participants include
having sex while avoiding commitment (Bisson & Levine,
2009), sexual desire, spontaneous urges, the attractiveness of
ones partner, wanting to feel attractive/desirable (Fielder &
Carey, 2010b), emotional gratification, and because other
people are doing it (Garcia & Reiber, 2008). These findings
suggest that a number of situational triggers including desire,
peer pressure, and the attractiveness of ones partner might
make CSRE engagement more likely.

Consequences of CSREs
Negative Psychological Outcomes
Research on CSREs thus far has primarily focused on the
potential negative outcomes of these relationships/experiences.
Research findings demonstrate that there are a number of negative emotional effects associated with engaging in CSREs
including feeling used, regret, guilt, shame, and anger (Eshbaugh & Gute, 2008; Fisher et al., 2012; Glenn & Marquardt,
2001; Paul & Hayes, 2002; Paul et al., 2000). Individuals who
engage in CSREs are also at risk for depression (Grello et al.,
2006). Furthermore, there is evidence that these effects may
persist across time. Fielder and Carey (2010a) found evidence
in a prospective study of first-semester college students that

penetrative sex outside of a committed relationship led to

increased psychological distress (measured by the CES-D) in
women 2 months later.
CSREs may also have negative effects on self-esteem. Paul,
McManus, and Hayes (2000) found that college students with
a history of involvement in casual sex (sex outside of committed
relationships) reported lower self-esteem than students who had
been involved in only committed sexual relationships and individuals who did not engage in sexual behaviors. The causal
direction of the relationship between self-esteem and participation in casual sex, however, is not entirely clear. It may be that
individuals with low self-esteem are drawn to CSREs. Some
research does support a causal relationship between hooking
up and lower levels of self-esteem. In their short-term prospective study, Fielder and Carey (2010a) found that females who
began hooking up did not have lower self-esteem than those who
did not engage in hookups. Follow-up analyses, however, indicated that the group of females who hooked up but did not
engage in sexual intercourse had higher self-esteem at a later
time point than females who engaged in sexual intercourse in
a hookup context. Thus, it could be that self-esteem is linked not
simply to engaging in a CSRE but more importantly choices
regarding sexual behavior within the CSRE context. While findings are not conclusive (see Eisenberg, Ackard, Resnick, &
Neumark-Sztainer, 2009 for null findings) and more longitudinal
work is needed to fully understand the effects of engaging in
CSREs, research does suggest that CSREs may be associated
with negative emotional consequences.

Gender Differences in Psychological Outcomes

It is also important to note that gender plays a role in the manifestation of these potential negative psychological outcomes.
Importantly, these negative psychological effects may be more
pronounced for women than for men (e.g., Campbell, 2008;
Townsend & Wasserman, 2011). Men tend to report more pleasure and less guilt and regret after engaging in CSREs (e.g.,
Fisher et al., 2012; Paul & Hayes, 2002), and in general there
are more social and physical gratification benefits of engaging
in CSREs for men than women (see Heldman & Wade, 2010).
Furthermore, studies have found that men who did not engage
in hookups actually had higher psychological distress than
those who did engage in hookups (Fielder & Carey, 2010a).
Researchers have argued that the double standard regarding
sexuality for men and women makes CSRE engagement more
damaging for women and gives men power in CSREs (Manning, Giordano, & Longmore, 2006; Stinson, 2010). As such,
CSREs may enable sexual assault victimization, especially for
women (Flack et al., 2007; Heldman & Wade, 2010). Sexual
assault victimization is potentially facilitated in CSREs
because both men and women overestimate how comfortable
same-sex as well as opposite-sex individuals are with uncommitted sex while men are in general more comfortable with
uncommitted sex than women (Lambert et al., 2003; Reiber
& Garcia, 2010). Researchers suggest that this combination
puts women in a position of engaging in CSREs despite

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discomfort because they believe it is normative and men in a

position of inadvertently pressuring women to engage in casual
sex because they feel at ease with the behavior and overestimate a womens comfort level (Lambert et al., 2003; Reiber
& Garcia, 2010). Lambert, Kahn, and Apple (2003) suggest
that therefore sexual assault may occur within the context of
CSREs but go unrecognized by some women. Furthermore,
even if CSREs do not lead to sexual assault, women are less
likely than men to be sexually satisfied during a casual sexual
encounter (Armstrong, England, & Fogarty, 2009).

Physical Dangers

romantic relationships (Glenn & Marquardt, 2001; Manning

et al., 2006). Emerging adults who have engaged in FWB relationships, for example, appear to have less thoughtful relationship decision-making processes than those who have not
(Owen & Fincham, 2011a). However, Owen and Fincham
(2012) found only slight differences in relationship satisfaction
between couples who began their current relationship as an
FWB relationship before transforming it into a committed
romantic relationship and those who did not start out as an
FWB relationship.

Positive Outcomes

In addition to negative psychological outcomes, engaging in

CSREs has been equated with sexual risk taking and may have
implications for the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unplanned pregnancies (Manning et al., 2006).
While many individuals do report using condoms within these
relationships/experiences (e.g., Weaver et al., 2011), CSREs
are often unplanned and therefore likely involve unprotected
sexual behavior (Downing-Matibag & Geisinger, 2009; MacDonald & Hynie, 2008). For example, most individuals report
using condoms during sexual intercourse within FWB relationships (Vanderdrift et al., 2012), but few use condoms or other
protection for oral sex (Weaver et al., 2011). This is particularly problematic given that unprotected oral and anal sex may
have contributed to rising rates of STIs (see Leichliter, Chandra, Liddon, Fenton, & Aral, 2007). Furthermore, these relationships/experiences lack the communication of traditional
committed relationships, which may mean that individuals feel
uncomfortable bringing up the subject of condom use with their
partner/partners (Bisson & Levine, 2009). Finally, CSREs are
less likely to be monogamous than traditional committed
romantic relationships, and more importantly, often (except for
FWB relationships) do not include a conversation about monogamy (Wentland & Reissing, 2011), which may be another reason for concern regarding STI transmission.

Romantic Relationship Outcomes

Research has also examined how CSRE engagement is related
to expectations for the CSRE itself as well as for future relationships. CSREs often lack communication about future
expectations about the relationship/experience. Although equal
numbers of men and women report that they hookup with the
goal of beginning a romantic relationship (Garcia & Reiber,
2008), women are more likely than men to express desire to
have an FWB relationship or a hookup morph into a romantic
relationship (Garcia & Reiber, 2008; Lehmiller et al., 2011;
Owen & Fincham, 2011a, 2011b). This may vary across the different CSREs, however. For example, Campbell (2008) found
evidence that women did not have disappointment that onenight stands did not develop into anything more.
While individuals may not always hope that a CSRE will
become a romantic relationship, researchers have argued that
engaging in CSREs harms an individuals potential to develop
the necessary skills for successfully navigating committed

While empirical research has pointed to a number of potential

negative effects of CSREs, very little is known about the potential positive implications of these relationships/experiences. A
small amount of research has focused on the short-term positive
emotional reactions individuals have to CSREs. Both men and
women report that their emotional reactions to hookups and
FWB relationships are more positive than negative, although
again men tend to have more positive and less negative emotional reactions than women (Owen & Fincham, 2011a,
2011b). These positive emotional reactions include feeling
happy, desirable, pleased, and excited. Furthermore, research
has found that many individuals do not regret their CSREs
(Fielder & Carey, 2010b).
It seems likely that just as there is variation in satisfaction
with romantic relationships, individuals may find some CSREs
to be more pleasurable than others. For example, Paul and
Hayes (2002) found that hookups were most enjoyable when
they involved interest and attraction, an attractive partner, and
were physically pleasurable. The worst hookups, on the other
hand, were quickies in a car, club, or bar (Paul & Hayes,
2002). CSREs may also be easier and less time consuming than
traditional romantic relationships and, according to college students, have the potential to be less emotionally damaging than a
bad romantic relationship (Armstrong, Hamilton, & England,
2010; Hamilton & Armstrong, 2009). For example, FWB relationships may allow individuals to become closer to a friend
and feel positive emotions while avoiding the pressure of commitment (Bisson & Levine, 2009).
In general, most CSREs likely include both positive and negative aspects. For example, Campbell (2008) examined individual accounts of positive and negative feelings the morning after
their last one-night stand (defined as having sex with an individual without the relationship going further). Positive items
included private feelings such as feeling sexually satisfied and
confident, as well public esteem factors such as hoping a
friend would hear about the encounter or feeling successful
because the partner was desirable. Negative items focused on
interpersonal relationships (e.g., regret about feeling used),
private concerns (e.g., scared about possible pregnancy), and
public reputation (e.g., worried about loss of reputation if
other people found out). Although they found an overall bias for
positivity, women had lower positive scores than men and the
net benefit (negative subtracted from positive sores) scores were

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Claxton and van Dulmen


low, indicating that individuals experienced a mixture of positive

and negative feelings after one-night stand encounters.

Conceptual and Methodological Limitations

of Previous Research
While research has made a number of advances in our understanding of CSREs, there still remain several questions about
the nature of these relationships/experiences. Because much
of the research on CSREs has been descriptive in nature, we
still know very little about nondescriptive differences in
CSREs. There are also questions about how these relationships/experiences vary in different cultures, across sexual
orientations, and in noncollege populations.

Distinctiveness of CSREs
While researchers treat CSREs as distinct categories, there
remains a lack of research scientifically testing this assumption. This is problematic considering that the boundaries
between these different relationships/experiences are not
always clear and because one CSRE can morph into another,
with a one-night stand transitioning into a booty call or FWB
relationship, or, occasionally, a committed relationship (Bogle,
2007). Indeed, evidence from qualitative and quantitative studies suggests that the different CSREs may be more similar than
they are different (Epstein et al., 2009; Jonason et al., 2011).
Very few studies have collected information about multiple
CSREs in a single-study design, so we know little about if these
CSREs have any differential outcomes and predictors.
The few researchers who have examined multiple relationships/experiences at a time have found limited evidence for
differences in associated constructs. For example, Jonason, Luevano, and Adams (2012) found evidence that narcissism was
associated with preferences for one-night stands and FWB relationships, whereas psychopathology was associated with bootycall relationships. Jonason, Li, and Richardson (2011) also found
differences in terms of the types of sexual and emotional acts
found in booty calls, one-night stands, and committed romantic
relationships. Bay-Cheng, Robinson, and Zucker (2008) found
that for women, FWB relationships were associated with higher
ratings of desire, wanting, and pleasure than hookups.
Qualitative research has also suggested that there are both
similarities and differences between CSREs. For example, a
qualitative research study of 19 college-age males conducted
by Epstein, Calzo, Smiler, and Ward (2009) found that while
men provided separate scripts for hookups and FWB relationships, their real-life experiences involved alterations that
blurred the boundaries between the two types of experiences.
Wentland and Reissing (2011) found that when describing
CSREs, individuals reported some clear differences between
one-night stands, booty calls, fuck buddies, and FWB relationships in regard to the frequency of contact, the type of contact
(sexual or sexual and social), personal disclosure, discussion of
relationship, and existence of a friendship between individuals.
However, future research is needed to fully understand these

differences and similarities. For example, initial work from our

research lab has suggested that there may be two typologies of
relationship/experience involvement: those who engage only in
committed relationships and those who have a high probability
of engaging in committed relationships as well as all forms of
CSREs (Claxton & van Dulmen, 2011). These findings are consistent with earlier conceptualizations of the nature of sexual
involvement. For example, Dhariwal, Connolly, Paciello, and
Caprara (2009) and Simpson and Gangstad (1991) propose distinctions between individuals who engage in CSREs and those
who only engage in committed relationships.

We know little about the presentation of different CSREs
across ethnic, sexual orientation, and educational backgrounds.
Limited research in the area of cultural and ethnic differences
has suggested that the rates of CSRE engagement may vary
by ethnicity. For example, Owen et al. (2010) found that Caucasian students were significantly more likely to have hooked
up in the past year than students from other ethnicities (except
multiethnic). However, they did not find ethnic differences in
emotional reactions to hooking up. Eisenberg, Ackard,
Resnick, and Neumark-Sztainer (2009) found in a sample of
1,311 emerging adults that the percentage of individuals reporting that their last sexual partner was casual varied by ethnicity.
Specifically, 42.9% of Black and 26.4% of Hispanic males
(compared to 28.5% of White males) reported that their last
sexual partner was casual. For females, 36.4% of Native American females and 18.5% of Hispanic females (compared to
15.7% of White females) reported that their last partner was
casual. Thus, findings on ethnicity and CSREs seem to be
inconsistent depending on if the research is examining an individuals last partner or CSRE partners over a longer time
period. While it appears that there may be differences in the
rates of CSREs among different ethnic groups, research has not
yet examined differences in the presentation, predictors, and
outcomes of CSREs in these different subgroups.
Furthermore, most of this research has occurred within the
United States and Canada, leaving questions regarding how
CSREs vary across countries. Cultures differ regarding their
acceptance and representations of sexuality (e.g., Higgins,
Zheng, Liu, & Sun, 2002; Sprecher & Hatfield, 1996). Therefore, the implications and outcomes of engaging in CSREs may
vary based on cultural values regarding sexual behavior outside
of marriage (see Christensen, 1969). Specifically, engaging in
CSREs may have more negative outcomes (e.g., guilt) within
sexually restrictive cultures than in sexually permissive
Similarly, we know very little about CSREs within nonheterosexual individuals. While research has focused on casual
sex in gay menespecially in relation to the spread of HIV
(e.g., Prestage et al., 2001; van den Boom, Stolte, Stanfort, &
Davidovich, 2012) and use of the Internet for solicitation of
casual sex (e.g., Brown, Maycock, & Burns, 2005)this
research has not been integrated with the literature on CSREs.

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Currently, few studies on CSREs include homosexual participants or have examined differences between heterosexual and
homosexual individuals in the practice of CSREs. As such, our
understanding of CSREs across various sexual orientations is
limited. Furthermore, emerging adulthood is a time when individuals are often exploring their sexual identity, and this may
have important implications for their relationships/experiences
(see Morgan, 2013 for a review).
Likewise, most of the research on CSREs has been conducted
using convenience samples of college students. Given that overall romantic relationship patterns vary between individuals who
do and do not attend college (Goldstein & Kenney, 2001), CSRE
involvement may also differ depending on educational status.
Marriage tends to occur earlier among individuals who do not
attend college and who are from a lower socioeconomic status
(Uecker & Stokes, 2008), so these individuals may not spend
as much time exploring different relationships and experiences
(or conversely, may explore a variety of relationships/experiences earlier in life). Furthermore, college students cannot truly
represent the population of single, emerging adults because
many aspects of the college setting are atypical (Bogle, 2007,
2008). For example, college campuses tend to offer a great deal
of freedom, without the same restrictions faced by individuals in
a more traditional workforce. As such, it is not clear whether
CSREs manifest in the same way in noncollege populations.

relationships/experience at the same time that social roles and

sexual scripts influence how hookups exist in a sociocultural
context. Fielder and Carey (2010a) suggest that the theory of
interpersonal behavior, evolutionary theories, and socialcognitive theory can be used to guide understanding of engagement in CSREs. The theory of interpersonal behavior has
also been implicated in several studies examining casual sexual
behavior around vacation times (see Maticka-Tyndale, Herold,
& Mewhinney, 1998; Maticka-Tyndale, Herold, & Oppermann, 2003). Others have also acknowledged the importance
of social norms and evolutionary theories (see Garcia et al.,
2012; Stinson, 2010). Nevertheless, current empirical research
has been largely atheoretical and exploratory. An important
next step, therefore, is to ensure the integration of theory and
research in order to examine CSREs in a more comprehensive
manner. Empirical research that is guided by carefully evaluated theoretical frameworks will also foster research endeavors
that aim to better understand the dynamic and multifaceted processes underlying CSREs. Researchers should also continue
this work by testing conceptual models that incorporate known
risk factors for negative outcomes in order to determine
whether CSRE engagement provides additional information
in predicting these outcomes.

Future Directions

While there exist exceptions (see Fielder & Carey, 2010a;

Hamilton & Armstrong, 2009; Owen et al., 2011), the overwhelming majority of studies on CSREs have used crosssectional designs. While these studies have provided important
clues about the correlates of CSRE engagement, they can provide little insight into (a) the predictors of CSRE engagement
or (b) the short- and long-term consequences of engaging in
CSREs. As such, future research needs to focus on implementing innovative designs that include longitudinal components,
allowing us to more fully understand the causal direction of the
constructs that have been associated with CSREs. Longitudinal
designs could also provide insight regarding the relationship
between engaging in CSREs and later relationship functioning
as well as marital satisfaction. Furthermore, almost all of the
research in this area has focused on relatively homogenous college samples, limiting the generalizability of the findings.
Logical avenues for future research include examining these
relationships and experiences in different subpopulations
(including varying sexual orientations) in the United States as
well as in other countries.

Given the nature of the unanswered questions about engagement in CSREs, there are several clear avenues for future
research. First, we recommend that scholars come together and
develop consistent definitions of the different CSREs. Second,
studies need to be employed that include multiple forms of
CSREs in the same study, so that we can empirically examine
the differences and similarities between the various CSREs.
Incorporating multiple CSREs will also allow researchers to
investigate if it is the types of CSREs, or simply the dimensions
among which CSREs vary, that are associated with differential
outcomes. In addition to these two core recommendations,
there is a need for studies that (a) are theoretically informed,
(b) extend knowledge beyond cross-sectional samples of college students, (c) understand CSREs as they relate to key
aspects of emerging adulthood, and (d) investigate how media
exposure affects engagement in CSREs.

The Need for Theoretically Driven Programs of Research

A major limitation of research on CSREs is a lack of theoretical
guidance. The large majority of studies on CSREs do not use an
explicit theory or report on any guiding theoretical perspective.
This is not to suggest that potential theoretical rationales for
research in CSREs do not exist. For example, Garcia and colleagues (2012) argue for an interdisciplinary biopsychosocial
model to provide an understanding of the hookup culture. They
suggest that evolutionary biology influences why individuals
engage in hookups and the reactions they have to these

Extending Study Designs Beyond Cross-Sectional Studies

of College Students

What, if Anything, Is Unique About CSRE Engagement

During Emerging Adulthood
The large majority of CSRE studies have focused on CSREs
during emerging adulthood. What is not clear, however, is to
what degree CSREs are unique to this age period. CSREs occur
during adolescence (e.g., Fortunato et al., 2010) and for some
individuals they may also extend beyond the emerging

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adulthood years. CSREs may be somewhat developmentally

normative during emerging adulthood because they reflect
many of the main features (i.e., identity exploration and
instability) of emerging adulthood (Arnett, 2004). Thus, involvement in some CSREs during emerging adulthood may have a
less negative impact on individual functioning than involvement in CSREs during other age periods. CSRE involvement
during adolescence, for example, has been associated with
especially negative consequences including school suspensions, truancy, and problem behavior (e.g., Fortunato et al.,
2010). As such, it is important to examine the consequences
of engaging in these relationships/experiences at different
developmental periods, from the teens into the early to mid30s. Examining the developmental distinctiveness of the different CSREs is an important next step in fully understanding
these relationships/experiences across the life span.

CSREs as well as a move toward more innovative study designs

and a greater use of theoretical guidance. Further examination of
these CSREs using diverse samples and innovative methodology
will help clarify predictors of engaging in these behaviors as well
help identify the distinctions and similarities between the various
CSREs, which have been associated with a number of negative
outcomes during emerging adulthood.

CSREs and Media Exposure

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Emerging adults spend the majority of their day in contact with

(social) media (Coyne, Padilla-Walker, & Howard, in press).
Despite the prevalence of media in emerging adults daily lives,
relatively little is known about how media affects an individuals understanding of and acceptance of CSREs during emerging adulthood. Short-term CSREs have been portrayed in a
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research suggests that exposure to sexual content is associated
with earlier sexual intercourse (e.g., Brown & LEngle, 2009),
and booty calls specifically involve the use of social media
(cell phones) for initiating sexual behavior (Jonason et al.,
2009), relatively little research has empirically examined the
link between media use and engagement in CSREs. As such,
further research is needed to better understand the relationship
between media exposure and involvement in CSREs.

CSREs, including FWB relationships, booty calls, and one-night
stands, are highly prevalent during emerging adulthood, especially within college populations. Research has revealed that
these relationships/experiences vary on several aspects, including how well two individuals know each other before engaging
in casual sexual activities and whether or not the sexual activity
reoccurs. However, the current research on CSREs remains in
many ways disjointed, especially regarding conceptualization
and operational definitions of these different CSREs. The current
article calls for a more comprehensive and consistent study of

Declaration of Conflicting Interests

The authors declared no potential conflicts of interest with respect to
the research, authorship, and/or publication of this article.

The authors received no financial support for the research, authorship,
and/or publication of this article.


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Author Biographies
Shannon E. Claxton is an experimental social psychology
graduate student in the Department of Psychology at Kent State
University. Her research interests include adolescent and
young adult romantic relationships, casual sexual relationships
and experiences, and quantitative methodology.
Manfred H. M. van Dulmen is an associate professor in the
Department of Psychology at Kent State University. His
research interests include interpersonal relationships, developmental psychopathology, and methodology/measurement.

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