Grace Ballard, MA, LPC, CST | AASECT Certified Sex Therapist | New York and Colorado

How to Keep It Casual

What if I want to keep this relationship “casual?”


We may decide we don’t want a more committed or attachment-based relationship.  How can we engage in ways that feel ethical yet also manage the level of escalation?


From Getting It: A Guide to Hot, Healthy Hookups and Shame-free Sex:


“Many people think one-night stands when they hear ‘casual sex.’ It’s the one-and-done style of hooking up. They tend to be many folks’ default unless the sex or the connection is particularly special. However, lots of people like the idea of at least keeping the option open to see a sex partner again. In fact, there are plenty of casual relationship styles, one-night stands being only one of them.”


Regardless of the form your casual arrangement takes, talk it out before the clothes come off.  “If you have a mitigating factor that requires the sex to be a one-night stand (like, say, you’re moving away soon) say so. If you’re resisting saying anything because you’re afraid it will mean the other person won’t want to sleep with you, that’s a great sign you need to say the…thing….If you know you have a deal breaker, break the…deal and move on,” writes Allison Moon.


Consider Your Boundaries

Take some time to think about how you want the relationship to evolve.  In order to set boundaries, you need to first be clear on what your boundaries are.  Are you hoping to have a serious relationship with this person in the future?  Are you hoping to keep it lighter for as long as you stay engaged?  Are there certain activities you’d like to remain off-limits? How often do you want to communicate?


Get as specific as you can. “For example, saying ‘I’m looking for a relationship that involves weekly one-on-one time and sporadic (not daily) texting in between that’ is more clear and recognizable than ‘I’m not looking for anything too serious right now,’ as ‘serious’ and ‘casual’ can mean different things to different people,” explains Yana Tallon-Hicks.  She wrote a book on the subject: Hot and Unbothered: How to think about, talk about, and have the sex you really want.


Here are some boundaries you may want to consider:


Sexual Boundaries

  • How frequently would you like to have sex?
  • What kind of birth control or barriers are we using (e.g. condoms, gloves, etc.)?
  • Where are you willing to go sexually?
  • Are there certain activities or behaviors during sex that you don’t want to engage?
  • Will we have other sexual partners? If so, how do we protect our sexual health?
  • Are you comfortable getting tested every few months and sharing our results?

Relational Boundaries

  • Can I spend the night after we have sex, or is that too intimate?
  • Do we want to go on dates together?
  • How do you feel about various forms of PDA?
  • When we do go on dates, do you want to split costs?
  • Do we want to share our relationship publicly?

Personal Boundaries

  • How often would you like to text or chat?
  • At what times of the day is it okay to call or text you?
  • Are you comfortable FaceTiming each other?
  • Are you comfortable introducing each other to our friends and family?
  • Are you comfortable attending social events together (e.g. graduations or weddings)?


We can talk more about various relationship styles in the consensual nonmonogamy group – now meeting weekly.

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