Andrew Scott AKA “The Hot Priest” from Fleabag wants us to stop using the expression “casual sex”. Speaking on Elizabeth Day’s podcast, How To Fail, the nation’s favourite fantasy said: “The idea that you can’t extract any kind of meaning from casual sex... I think that’s really dangerous because it invokes shame in people. You learn from people... It’s not about the length of time you spend with somebody.”
Scott is right about casual sex. It’s a marvellous thing. Sometimes casual sex leads to adventure, or leaves you with a great story. Other times it’s a quick fix – like eating a bag of crisps from a station vending machine when you’re starving hungry. Not exactly what you want, but unquestionably better than nothing.
Whatever the circumstances or motivation, there is nothing wrong with having casual consensual sex whenever you like, with whomever you like. As long as everyone involved is an adult, has actively chosen to be there, and makes grown-up choices about condoms and STI testing, then sex should be on the menu with as many people as you like, whether you’ve known said sexual partner for years or minutes.
There is a pervasive sense (ironically most recently represented in Fleabag) that anyone who has lots of sex with lots of different people is somehow unhappy – searching for something or trying to fill a void. Of course, that isn’t always true. Anyone who has had a really gratifying one-night stand will tell you that casual sex is often about nothing deeper or more significant than wanting to wrap your thighs around an extremely attractive demi-stranger, or feel the weight of another person’s body without having to commit to meeting their friends from university or learn their dog’s name.
But the very real stigma associated with having casual sex isn’t caused by the words we use to describe it. It’s an ancient prejudice born of societal expectations. Changing the name of casual sex won’t suddenly make it free from judgement; instead, it acts as a sticking plaster. Quicker and easier than actually dismantling the problem, we’d simply be relabelling it.
There has always been a sense that in order to neutralise something, you slap a different name on it, like calling a woman “curvy”, rather than “fat”, or putting “confirmed bachelor” in an obituary in place of gay. The tendency is worst in regard to sex and sexuality. From the outset, we cock things up (no pun intended) when we teach children to call their genitals “pee-pees” or “woo-woos” instead of penis or vulva. The fact that the language we use to talk about sex is distorted by euphemisms makes it far harder to have a clear conversation, which in turn adds to a culture of confusion around what is and isn’t normal between the sheets.
Where it is possible, reclaiming language which is steeped in shame feels far more effective than trying to remove words from our shared lexicon. A decade ago, calling another woman a slut was an insult, and a common one at that. But thanks to the work done by Slut Walk, and the general movement to reclaim the word and wear it as a badge of honour rather than being ashamed, that’s no longer the case. We might call each other sluts in jest, in celebration of our sexual prowess, but no longer as an insult.
So, while Scott does us all a favour – flying the flag for freely enjoying sex with people we’re not in love with – I’m afraid it’s not the language which needs to change, but our entire attitude towards casual sex. It’s a much bigger, harder task, admittedly. But a worthy one.
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