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U of O researcher examines sexual relationships among youth

ACCORDING TO JOCELYN Wentland, a PhD student at the University of Ottawa in experimental psychology, casual sexual relationships can be placed into one of four categories: The one-night stand, the booty call, the friend with benefits, and the fuck buddy.

Her study,  “Taking Casual Sex Not Too Casually,” was published on Dec. 1 in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality.

Wentland examined a group of 23 individuals, between 18 and 24 years old, by separating them into four focus groups comprised separately of males, females, sex educators, and a mixed-gender group. Despite the diversity of participants, Wentland said the idea of the four relationship types remained the same throughout all groups.

“Participants could easily identify the ‘rules’ that govern these various casual sexual relationships,” she said in an email to the Fulcrum. “And often these are rules that are not always explicitly stated between individuals. They can be implicit rules that people just seem to know somehow.

“For example, it’s OK to sleep over after a one-night stand, but you don’t stick around for breakfast in the morning. You do your walk of shame and get out of there.”

Wentland found participants inherently knew the rules of the relationships without having to talk about them or setting up the terms.

“Each of these four relationships have a specific code of conduct that is basically like a terms of reference that either party just knows about and then uses as a guide throughout the relationship, no matter how short they last,” she said.

The study looked at the existing relationships between the different types of casual sexual relationships through social media websites like Facebook. Friends with benefits would most likely have been friends on Facebook before entering the relationship, while fuck buddies and regular booty calls were only added as friends occasionally. One-night stands were not added to Facebook—they were often anonymous.

“With the exception of friends with benefits, whom individuals would most likely speak with on the telephone, participants said that text messaging is the most common method of contact for booty calls and fuck buddies because fears of rejection are minimized,” read the study. “If texting is not used, another form of instant communication is used to make arrangements.

A booty caller, on the other hand, will actually make a call if he or she is too intoxicated or wants to wake the individual up.

Wentland found there were two ways of ending the relationship—either one of the parties begins another, more committed relationship, or one of the partners develops feelings for the other.

“Interestingly, participants were steadfast in their belief that either partner is responsible for ending any relationship if one of the partners becomes too attached—either the individual who becomes too attached or the individual who observes the other individual becoming too attached,” said the study.

Wentland said one of the reasons she was motivated to do the research was to examine the subtle differences between these relationships and to help define them in the youth’s own terms.

“From the geeky researcher side of things, it’s important that the definitions we use to measure these relationships are based on young adults’ conceptualizations of these relationships themselves, so that we ensure we are accurately measuring these relationships,” said Wentland.

She explained the findings are important when it comes to educating youth about sex, as the period of adolescence may be extending. As more students enter college or university instead of the job market, they are increasingly likely to enter in a casual sexual relationship rather than a serious “adult” one.

“Past researchers have found that roughly 50 per cent of undergraduate students have engaged in at least one friends-with-benefits relationship, and other researchers have found that 75 per cent of students have engaged in at least some type of casual sexual activity, which suggests that casual sexual activity is widespread and common among young adults,” said Wentland.

“It’s important that researchers or clinicians or school counsellors know what these relationships are so that they can provide useful feedback for individuals who may be engaging in these relationships.”

—Andrew Ikeman