Maria Konnikova's New Yorker profile takes a scientific look at something that feels very unscientific: casual sex.
The subject is sex researcher Zhana Vrangalova and her website, The Casual Sex Project. The site has over 22,000 submissions that tell us who exactly is enjoying casual sex—and more interestingly, why and how.
Users, from teens to those in their 70s—from all walks of life, education levels, races, religions and tax brackets—submit stories on the site. "Anyone can submit a story," explains The New Yorker.
Vrangalova started the site because she was sick of the narratives about casual sex prevalent in both media and science. "One thing that was bothering me is the lack of diversity in discussions of casual sex," she told The New Yorker. "It’s always portrayed as something college students do. And it’s almost always seen in a negative light, as something that harms women."
Vrangalova wants the site to capture a broader view of sexual habits. The New Yorker calls it "the largest-ever repository of information about casual-sex habits in the world".
While the data is still new, some interesting facts are already emerging about the site's users:
1. The majority of them aren't especially religious. Surprising? Maybe not, but food for thought.
2. Initially, contributions came mainly from women, but the balance has now shifted to men: 70 percent of contributors.
3. Not all stories are positive, even among a group that is volunteering to share. Some negative perspectives come from objectively unpleasant experiences, but others are influenced by social pressures.
4. Vranglova observes that the site might become almost therapeutic in this way—a place for people to process and explore their experiences (even if, as Konnikova points out, a lot of them are there to show off).
5. The site, which is color-coded by category, is "a colorful mosaic of squares" that show how broad the range of stories are when it comes to casual sex—everything from "group sex," to "first of many," to the all-encompassing "other".
The result is the perfect mix of science and voyeurism. It's an important reminder that people of all types engage in casual sex—which could mean a few things, The New Yorker suggests.
Firstly, "Perhaps what we see as the rise of a culture of hooking up isn’t actually new," writes Konnikova. "When norms related to dating and free love shifted in the sixties, they never fully shifted back. Seventy-year-olds are engaging in casual encounters because that attitude is part of their culture, too."
Secondly, that casual sex isn't and has never been the norm. "There are simply always individuals, in any generation, who seek sexual satisfaction in nontraditional confines."
Or, lastly, that people have casual sex for different reasons. That there is no one reason.
Vrangalova leans toward the third option. Which is why the The Casual Sex Project is so important—it offers a place where a nonjudgemental conversation about casual sex is possible.
Konnikova sums it up nicely: "The dirty little secret of casual sex today is not that we’re having it but that we’re not sharing our experiences of it in the best way."