Created on 13/10/2020
Updated on 14/10/2022
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Alexandra Fine, Credentialed Sexologist, M. Psych | Written by Dame

Your great-grandmother, and perhaps your grandmother as well, might have trouble recognizing today’s sexual landscape.

It’s not that people regularly have premarital sex, or that some may have sex with others of the same gender. And it’s not that “one-night stands” are common among people of all orientations and genders.

Those types of sexual encounters and relationships have existed throughout time.

What’s so different today is the openness with which they’re conducted.

Take, for instance, the modern hookup culture. You don’t need to read history or watch documentaries to know that people have had anonymous or casual sex for centuries.

But it was largely done in secret. They didn’t talk about it publicly. And they certainly didn’t have access to enormous databases filled with others looking for a hookup – or the ability to “swipe right” to find a partner for the evening.

NSA sex (probably better understood by your grandmother and great-grandmother as “no strings attached”) has become a widely-accepted outlet for human sexual desires. We all know that sexual health is a crucial component of happiness, and it’s also been shown that sex is good for your health – particularly heart health.

The question that remains, however: is NSA sex good for your emotional health?

Exactly What Is NSA Sex?

21st century social and sexual norms have led to the development of an entirely new vocabulary describing non-committed and short-term relationships. Acronyms like NSA, ONS and FWB are now in common usage, particularly among millennials and Gen Z’ers.

And veterans of the modern dating and hookup scene will tell you that while all three involve casual sex, the terms and type of relationship they define are definitely not the same.

  • ONS: A one-night stand is something that your grandmother would probably understand, even if she’s never had one would never consider one. Two people hook up for a one-time sexual encounter with no desire for a “real” relationship – in fact, neither one expects (or wants) to have sex with the other again, or even talk again.
  • FWB: Friends with benefits refers to people who are actual friends, or interact regularly because they move in the same social or work circles. It’s understood by FWB that neither person wants to have a real relationship, but that hanging out or hooking up is always a possibility – with no commitments implied or intended by a night in the sack.
  • NSA: No strings attached implies a “connection” that’s somewhere in the middle. It’s more than a one-night stand, because the option is always open to hook up again sometime – but for sex, not dinner or a movie. The two people involved aren’t friends but either person is free to contact the other to meet up again, without any expectation that the second person will agree unless they’re also horny. Either way, it’s no harm, no foul.

Sounds easy, but is it really? After all, humans aren’t purely sexual beings; emotions and feelings can’t be controlled by flipping a switch before heading out to hook up with someone you met on Tinder or Grindr.

That’s why casual sex has the potential to get messy, even for the most hedonistic among us. The best way to avoid the mess is to understand the possible obstacles before diving headfirst into NSA sex.

How to Avoid Messy NSA Sex

The mind is a funny thing. Even if the idea of no strings attached sex sounds like a fun and satisfying way to take care of your urges, that doesn’t mean your brain will see it the same way.

Here are the considerations to keep in mind before jumping in, genitals first.

  1. Make sure you’re not even a little conflicted about the idea of casual hookups. If you want (or need) sex but also have a deep desire to have someone to cuddle with, or think it would be cool to call Door Dash and just hang with someone after you’re feeling satisfied and relaxed, think twice. NSA sex means doing the deed and then moving on with life – alone.
  2. Don’t go into an NSA “relationship” with the thought that it could always turn into something more than casual sex. Sure, anything could happen, but NSA means exactly what it says. There’s very little chance that lightning will strike. Even if you’re open to the possibility of miraculously sparking a committed relationship, remember that your partner sees your hookup as a strictly sexual relationship.
  3. Talk before jumping into bed. That doesn’t mean sharing personal information, hopes or dreams; it means talking about boundaries – limits on the casual relationship that NSA sex implies, as well as what you will and won’t do sexually.
  4. Realize that no-strings attached doesn’t mean no responsibility. You’re not finding a partner to get you off without reciprocation; any type of sexual relationship – unless you’re paying someone to service you – is still a relationship and should involve equal partners receiving equal rewards from the experience. And if the other person hits you up with an invitation another time, don’t ghost them. Give them the respect of respectfully saying no, unless they start harassing you.
  5. Be ready to bail and decline any future invitations if you start feeling any emotional attachment to your NSA sex partners. You’ll end up disappointed (or even shattered) if you continue to keep hooking up with someone you’re attached to, if they have no desire for a long-term relationship. If you’re fully on board with the idea of no strings attached sex, there are a lot of people out there to choose from.
  6. Be prepared to keep your NSA sessions on the down low. You have your whole life ahead of you, and it might not be helpful to your future sex life or job prospects if you document your string of sexual partners on social media.
  7. Be ready to be responsible and use protection. Safe sex is crucial if you want to be sure a casual hookup doesn’t turn into drama just because of one mistake. Also remember that there’s no commitment on either side, so don’t trust NSA “daters” to take care of things. Always bring condoms, even if you’re on another form of birth control. Oh, and if vibrators or sex toys are a regular entree on your sexual menu, bring them too – just be sure to ask before pulling them out.

How to Find NSA Sex

A FWB relationship often just happens, since it usually develops between two people who are already friends. (It’s not usually like the sanitized Hollywood version seen in the Ashton Kutcher-Natalie Portman flick, though.)

ONS and NSA sex can be more difficult, since a partner has to be sought out.

There’s always the tried-and-true method of hanging out in bars and clubs, particularly around last call. The 21st century, however, has made hooking up a lot easier.

Craigslist used to be a popular hookup and casual dating scene, until the prevalence of ads from sex workers forced the site to remove its personals sections. Now, the action has moved to NSA dating sites and dating apps.

Huge online dating sites and apps like eHarmony and Match.com are possibilities, but the majority of daters are there looking for relationships, not hookups. Options like AdultFriendFinder are more likely to have an even split between people focused on online and down-and-dirty meetups.

The greatest chance of finding partners for NSA sex is found on dedicated hookup sites and apps. Websites like NoStringsAttached.com (not surprisingly), C-date and ULust are primarily aimed at members who are looking for NSA partners, as are apps like Tindr; Fling.com even offers a “get laid guarantee.” Alternatives like AshleyMadison and HeatedAffairs are aimed more at married people looking for casual sex or affairs.

Dedicated apps which don’t even require a full dating profile may be the best choice of all. Blendr is good but requires a lot of user information; Casualx, Pure and Yumi are more anonymous. There are even apps for “special interests” like the hookup app Her designed for LGBTQ vulva-havers; Bumble, a “feminist” app that requires vulva owners to initiate the hookup; and Whiplr, for the kink and fetish crowd.

Needless to say, staying safe is of paramount importance when using a NSA site or app. Keep your location details vague, talk on the phone before agreeing to hook up, meet first in a public place, let a trusted friend know what you’re doing and where you’ll be, and above all, trust your gut. If it feels wrong, walk away.

And with all that said – have fun!

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