Casual Relationships: Types, Benefits, and Risks

Casual Relationships: Types, Benefits and Risks

Casual Relationships: Types, Benefits, and Risks

The term “casual relationship” is one that has garnered a lot of attention among millennials and even older people. But what does “casual relationship” truly mean? How does a casual relationship differ from a romantic relationship, a sexual relationship, a friendship?

Good questions! In fact, a casual relationship can mean different things to different people, and in particular, the people having the casual relationship themselves.

What is a casual relationship?

The answer is not a precise one, because a casual relationship can take many different forms. In general, when we think of a casual relationship, we think of a relationship that differs from the traditional romantic, committed, monogamous relationship.

A casual relationship is a relationship where you have sex with your partner, maintaining a lightly-intimate relationship without needing to commit long term to them.

However, a casual relationship can include a sense of romance, and it may be monogamous. What it isn’t is committed in the long term sense. Casual relationships are relationships without a desire for commitment.

Why to have a casual relationship?

There are several reasons that two people might voluntarily prefer to be in a casual relationship instead of a traditional, fulltime, emotionally and romantically committed relationship.

Many couples in casual relationships cite that keeping a relationship casual is exactly what they need at certain points in their lives. 

 People recently reentering the dating pool, for example, after having been in a serious, committed relationship for many years, may want to start a casual relationship because they do not want to invest the emotion, time and energy that they put into their previous serious relationship. 

Another reason for entering into a casual relationship?

It allows the participants to fulfill their need for touch, sexual intimacy, and light emotional connection without the full-on time commitment that a classic romantic relationship requires.

Types of casual relationships

Just as there are endless types of formal, traditional relationships, casual relationships can take a multitude of forms. There is no one-size-fits-all description for a casual relationship.

This leaves a lot of room for the two people involved to invent their own rules, set the boundaries and create the limits to define what their version of the casual relationship will look .

Here are some different types of casual relationships:

This might be suited to two people who wish to have a not serious relationship while on vacation, or over the summer, or, for college students, for the semester. They are clear with each other that they are just casually dating, enjoying each other’s physical intimacy, but there is an end date to the casual relationship.

Also known as A Situationship, because often, these casual relationships are situationally-promoted, such as finding yourself at a vacation resort and seeing that stunning person over there by the pool.

Often, a casual dating relationship will be open, that is to say the participants are free to have sex with other people.

The benefits to this are twofold: they each have a dependable sexual partner, one on whom they can count for sexual intimacy, and they also have the opportunity to explore their sexual needs with other people outside of their casual relationship.

A friendship where sex is prioritized. The two people involved have sex when they feel the need, with no romantic commitment to each other.

This type of casual relationship usually starts out with a real friendship. At some point the two friends discover they are sexually attracted to each other but prefer not to take the friendship to a deeper, formal romantic relationship.

Even after the sexual part of this casual relationship is over (because one or both of the partners finds a love interest with whom they wish to move forward), the friendship remains intact.

The difference between a Friends With Benefits relationship and Sex Friends are the levels of friendship: with the FWB, the friendship comes first. With Sex Friends, the sexual aspect comes first.

A booty call is depicted in the media as a phone call one person makes to another, usually late at night and often under the influence, asking if they want to come over. Sex is implied.

There are no set days when the participants see each other, no pre-established boundaries. It is very much consensual sex on demand.

The One Night Stand is by definition casual sex, as the two people involved have no friendship or social connection. It is a one-time hookup, expressly done to sexually satisfy each other. There are no expectations of a repeat performance or seeing each other again.

The One Night Stand can also be referred to as A Fling. As in “I met this guy at a bar last night, went home with him and had a fling!”

Characteristics influencing each type of casual relationship

The limited timeframe casual relationship has a specific end date.

The non-monogamous casual relationship allows both partners the freedom to date and sleep with other people.

Sex friends are hookups with a friend, but the level of friendship is lower than that of Friends With Benefits.

Friends With Benefits are hookups with a friend with whom one has an already-established friendship

A booty call is a text or phone call made asking the sexual partner to come over right away to have sex.

A One Night Stand is a one-off hookup with no expectation of seeing the person again.

Casual relationship rules

There is no predetermined list of set casual relationship rules. It is preferable that the two people involved in the casual relationship define their own rules and boundaries.

Here are some suggestions:

  • Define what each of you expects from the casual relationship. Make sure you are both transparent about what you are seeking to gain the arrangement.
  • Maintain respect. Even though your casual relationship is informal, respect for each other is paramount. This means treating each other with kindness and genuinity.
  • Will this be an open relationship, where we can date other people?
  • Keep jealousy and possessiveness in check. Remember, this is a casual relationship. If your partner is seeing other people, and you have agreed to have an open relationship, that is fine. No need to address this with them.
  • Define the frequency of contact. What works for the two of you? Once a week? Twice a week? What should be the lead time when setting up your next encounter? 

How long do casual relationships last?

There is no set calendar guiding the duration of a casual relationship. There are some FWB situations that last until one or the other partner finds romance.

Some casual relationships can persist for months, because they suit both partners. But in general, data shows that these relationships can be as short as two weeks to as long as three or more months.

How to maintain a casual relationship?

As with a serious relationship, communication is vital to the dynamic and health of your casual relationship.

Early on in the relationship, establishing the rules, boundaries and limits will allow you to build a framework within which the relationship can operate. Part of those rules might be the exit strategy, for example, what your expectations are for the eventual ending of the casual relationship. (Preferable not through “ghosting”, or just disappearing.)

Having a playbook will be helpful to maintain the casual relationship.

Casual relationship psychology

Because we are humans with feelings, there is a casual relationship psychology. Depending on your personality type, there will be negative or positive effects brought into your life through a casual relationship.

Prior to entering into a casual relationship, be honest with yourself. Are you the type of person who can have no-strings-attached sex? Dr. Robert Weiss has this to say about casual relationship psychology:

“If casual sexual activity doesn’t violate your moral code, your sense of integrity, or the commitments you have made to yourself and/or others, then it’s probably not going to be a problem for you in terms of your psychological well being.

That said, you may face related issues STDs, unwanted pregnancy, partners who see your relationship as more than just casual, etc.

And you should understand that these related factors could adversely affect your psychological wellbeing even if the sex itself does not.”

Benefits of a casual relationship

Are you looking for a casual relationship? Let us examine some of the benefits people experience when having a casual relationship.

People having a casual relationship often cite “I don’t have time for a full-fledged, heavy romantic relationship” as one of the reasons they seek a casual relationship. They get the benefit of sexual connection, light intimacy, a sense that someone is there for them (at least sexually) without the time investment a serious relationship demands.

For someone just a long romantic relationship where they needed to be accountable to their partner, they may find a not serious relationship a welcome option. No need to account for where you were or who you were with. Just fun and pleasurable moments with your casual partner.

Preserve your emotional bandwidth. The casual relationship, with its lack of emotional demands, suits people who just cannot invest emotionally in a relationship at certain life moments.

Your time is your time, and you spend it how you ! No need to deal with all the commitments that come along with a serious relationship.

For people who have gone through a devastating breakup, entering into a casual relationship, or several casual relationships, can be a true confidence-booster. 

Try out different types of partners. Casual relationships allow one to date a diverse group of people, allowing one to figure out what type of personality and lifestyle they are ultimately looking for.

No emotional attachments. Casual relationships are all about instant pleasure and fun. The good times of a relationship without the heavy lifting. If you have just gone through a bad divorce or breakup, it can be quite appealing to start a casual relationship with no emotional attachment.

Disadvantages of casual relationships

While many people enjoy and embrace casual relationships, we would be remiss if we did not explore the disadvantages of these types of arrangements. Let us have a look at some of the downsides.

If you are hooking up with a lot of different people, there will be more of an element of risk in terms of sexually-transmitted diseases than with a fixed partner. So a discussion needs to be focused on sexual safety.

Protection, testing, which practices might be off limits…statistically you are more ly to get an STD from casual hookups than from a partner with whom you are both monogamous and faithful.

You might enter a casual relationship thinking you can handle the light nature of the arrangement, only to fall in love with the other person. If this love is unrequited, and your feelings go unreciprocated, you end up feeling hurt.

If you opt for a Friends With Benefits casual relationship, there is a risk of ruining a great friendship.

It would be important to have crystal-clear honesty, and ask yourself if, by having a sexual relationship with your friend, you can keep the friendship intact and unaffected, once the sexual part ends.

Because casual relationships allow the partners to see other people, if you know you are the jealous type, a casual relationship might not be healthy for you.

Casual relationships are fun, sex, and a light connection. If you look to a partner to be there to meet your emotional needs, casual relationships may not be for you. You would end up resenting the person, through no fault of their own.

In the video below, Alan Robarge talks about what happens when emotional needs are not being made in the relationship. Find out:

A casual partner is not one you can call in the middle of the night if you should fall ill. They are not one you can call upon to help you with your moving boxes. Again, this might breed resentment should your expectations be too high.


At the end of the day, everyone considering a casual relationship needs to decide if this arrangement is appropriate for them.

If you feel comfortable with it, and nobody’s getting hurt by it, and you find this will enrich your life and make you feel good, a casual relationship may be a great, temporary way to bring touch, connection, sexual energy, and friendship into your life.


What Does

Casual Relationships: Types, Benefits, and Risks

Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor By Kelly Gonsalves Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

many relationship labels people use these days, the term «casual dating» often gets thrown around a little…well, casually. So let's get the facts straight here for a second. What exactly does it mean to be casually dating someone?

Casual dating is a type of relationship between people who go on dates and spend time together in an ongoing way without the expectation of entering into a long-term, committed relationship.

Casually dating someone usually means you them enough to want to hang out with them regularly but are either not ready for a serious relationship or just don't want one, whether that's in general or just with this person in particular.

«There is no commitment and possibly a lack of interest in establishing a serious, meaningful relationship,» couples' therapist Racine Henry, Ph.D., LMFT, tells mbg. «The bottom line is a hard-and-fast boundary around the depth of emotional intimacy and attachment.»

People might be casually dating each other exclusively, meaning they are not dating other people, though usually the term «casual dating» implies that it isn't exclusive.

What is the point of casual dating?

Casual dating can sometimes lead to a serious relationship and can be one of the early stages of a relationship. But in other situations, people choose to keep things casual because they specifically don't want further emotional attachment with the other person.

«There are a lot of reasons people date casually, ranging from wanting to gain more interpersonal experience with people to whom you're attracted avoiding the emotional attachment that comes with deeper levels of commitment to just wanting to have fun,» sex and dating coach Myisha Battle, M.S., tells mbg. «A lot of my clients are casually dating until someone presents themselves as a viable long-term partner, so sometimes it's a stopgap between relationships.»

Casual dating vs. hooking up vs. friends with benefits.

Casual dating, hooking up, and friends with benefits are all related concepts but distinct in certain ways. Casual dating may or may not involve having sex, Battle notes, though some people use the terms «casual dating» and «casual sex» interchangeably. But «hooking up» and «friends with benefits» both definitively involve some form of physical intimacy.

Being friends with benefits usually involves hanging out regularly in a nonromantic way with sex as a main feature of your get-togethers, whereas «hooking up» is a more general term to describe any two people who are engaging in any form of physical intimacy.

Benefits of casual dating:

  1. You get to have romance and touch in your life without the commitments of a serious or long-term relationship.
  2. You have someone to hang out with in your downtime.
  3. You have someone to do «couple» and «relationship» things with, without the commitment.
  4. You can get to know someone in a laid-back, pressure-free way.
  5. You can potentially date multiple people at the same time.
  6. You can have sex with a regular partner.
  7. You get to spend time with someone you who s you back.
  8. You can get to know someone in a casual way while deciding whether you want to pursue a serious relationship with them.
  9. You can determine if someone isn't a good fit for a long-term relationship with you before actually entering into a long-term relationship with them.
  10. You can enjoy spending time with someone you even though you know you two wouldn't make a great couple in the long. term.
  11. You can enjoy dating someone without having to share your whole life with them.
  12. You can enjoy the fun parts of dating without a lot of the more mundane or difficult parts of maintaining a long-term partnership.
  13. Things aren't purely sexual usually—you and the other person genuinely spending time with each other, even when you're not having sex.
  14. You have more independence and flexibility since you don't need to totally sync your life up with the other person's life.
  15. You don't need to find the «perfect» partner—you can enjoy spending time with anyone whom you find fun to be around, even if they're not the «perfect» fit for you.
  16. You might find out you really each other and decide to enter into a more serious relationship.
  1. One person may start to form real romantic feelings or emotional attachment to the other person, and the other person may not feel the same way.
  2. If you develop feelings for the other person and they don't feel the same, you can end up getting hurt.
  3. If the other person develops feelings for you and you don't feel the same way, you may end up feeling guilty about hurting that person.
  4. Some people may not communicate clearly about what they want from casual dating, causing misunderstandings and hurt feelings.
  5. Some people may use casual dating as an excuse to avoid communicating about needs and boundaries.
  6. Some people may use casual dating as an excuse to be careless, selfish, or dismissive of the other person's needs.
  7. Some people may use casual dating as an excuse to lie to the other person.
  8. Some people may say they want to casually date, when in reality they are hoping for a serious relationship.
  9. If your relationship isn't exclusive, there may be a higher risk of acquiring sexually transmitted infections.
  10. There's a possibility for jealousy if one or both parties is also dating other people.

1. Know what you want and why you want it.

«It's a good idea to think about what you want from your dating experiences so you can communicate that with casual partners,» Battle says.

«Not everyone you meet will be down with your vision, so if you are clear, you will save everyone some time and energy.

Plus, putting what you're really looking for out there first is the best way to attract people who are on a similar path.»

2. Tell your partners exactly what you want from the relationship.

Just because you're keeping things casual doesn't mean you don't need to define the relationship. On the contrary, both Battle and Henry stress the importance of communicating very clearly about what you want from your casual relationships.

«Be as explicit in your communication as possible,» Henry recommends. «What are the boundaries? What actions or expectations would be crossing the line? What kind of veto power is allowed?»

3. Be honest with yourself.

People sometimes the idea of a casual relationship but don't actually enjoy it once they're in it.

Or you might agree to casually dating someone just because you them, they used the term, and you just went along with it.

To avoid getting hurt or any other kinds of misunderstandings, it's important to be real with yourself about whether casual dating really meets your needs. It's OK if the answer is no.

«Be honest with yourself about why you're pursuing this kind of relationship, especially if you're a serial monogamist or serious dater,» Henry says. «Check in with yourself often about whether this relationship is meeting your needs. If not, speak up and let your partner know.»

After you establish a casual dating relationship with someone, it's helpful to periodically check in and make sure everyone's feeling good about the dynamic. It can be as simple as asking over dinner or in bed while cuddling: Hey, how are you feeling about the time we're spending together? I'm enjoying it, and I keeping things casual. How about you?

Give each other space to voice any needs, any discomfort, or any suggested changes to the dynamic. Just because things are casual doesn't mean you shouldn't care about each other's feelings and needs.

5. Communicate if things aren't going as planned.

If you realize you're not getting what you want from a casual dating experience, you can say something.

Maybe you've actually developed more serious romantic feelings, or maybe you just feel your casual partner is being a little too flaky and disrespectful of your time.

Or perhaps your casual partner is asking for too much of your time and attention than you're able to give.

«Initiate a conversation about what you're feeling and where you stand,» Henry says. «It doesn't have to mean you want something serious, but just because the relationship is casual doesn't mean you should be unsatisfied.»

6. Stay true to yourself.

«There is still a stigma against casual dating, so be prepared for that,» Battle warns. «Whatever your reasons for keeping it casual, you may run across people who judge you for not wanting to take things to the next level. That's why being super clear on your 'why' and communicating it can be really helpful.»

Not everyone may align with your definition of casual dating, and that's OK. Find the people who are down to have the type of casual relationship you're looking for, and be OK with saying goodbye to the people who aren't on the same page.

Is a casual relationship worth it?

«Any relationship experience is 'worth it' as long as it reflects what a person really wants and is a comfortable and safe space. Dating doesn't have to lead to a long-term relationship or marriage,» Henry says. «A person can be a serial casual dater in a very healthy and positive way.»

A casual relationship is totally worth it if what you want is something noncommittal and short-term. It may not be worth it for someone who really is holding out hope for something more serious or for someone who tends to want a lot of commitment and exclusivity in a relationship.

How to know if casual dating is right for you.

If the benefits described above sound worth the risks, casual dating might be a good fit for you. In general, casual dating requires someone who can enjoy an open-ended, nonexclusive relationship.

«You have to be really honest with yourself about what you want and what your motivation for a particular kind of relationship is,» Henry says. «If you truly believe you can handle the lack of commitment and openness of casual dating, it might be for you.»

Henry recommends exercising caution around casual dating if you:

  • have been hurt in past relationships and are just trying something different to protect yourself.
  • have to keep convincing yourself that it's «fine.»
  • feel bothered or hurt by the idea of your casual partner being casual with someone else.

In such cases, Henry says, «You probably want a more serious, committed arrangement, and you deserve that. Just be patient enough to find it with the right person who wants the same thing.»


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