Sex with no strings attached can be really fun, but it can also get really complicated. First and foremost, don't beat yourself up for developing feelings: Women are biologically wired to feel attached to their sexual partners, so it's not only common, it's natural.
Women release oxytocin, a bonding hormone when they have sex (and particularly when they orgasm), so in many cases, it's hard not to feel at least a little attached. And of course, the more you spend any kind of physical time with someone, the more you're likely to learn about them and get to know them on a more personal level. So, yeah...chances are, if you're regularly having casual sex with the same person, you're going to start to feel the feels.
Makes sense. So I shouldn't worry that my casual-sex thing doesn't feel that casual?
Let's not pretend this isn't an issue—clearly, you're here for a reason, and my guess is that the reason is you think this person doesn't have those same feelings for you and you're not sure how to proceed. Perhaps you went into this thing with a mutual understanding that the sex wouldn't progress into a relationship and your feelings honestly took you by surprise.
But it could also be the case that, on some deeper level, you sought out a casual-sex situation because you thought it'd be emotionally safer to stick to an arrangement where they can't reject you. If you're not "putting yourself out there" in that vulnerable way, you can't get hurt, right? I know the thinking.
Here's the truth, though: If you frequently (if not always) find yourself developing feelings for someone you're having casual sex with, I urge you to consider if a non-relationship is really what you want. If you think casual sex is a way of guaranteeing you won't be disappointed by a partner because you're not even putting the idea of a relationship on the table, you're actually encouraging self-denial, not self-awareness (which as a maturing adult, isn't the way to go!).
It's kind of like overtraining at the gym and then popping a bunch of painkillers to nix the soreness: You might not feel the pain anymore, but the muscle damage is still there. Similarly, having sex with someone you like but who doesn't cherish you is painful, whether you act like you care or not (by continuing to sleep with them with no strings attached).
Cool, Dr. Chloe...but that doesn't help me now.
I'm here for ya! Regarding what to do in your current situation, the answer is simple: Be honest. You have absolutely nothing to gain by keeping your feelings to yourself or pretending that they aren't there. In most cases, feelings only grow with time, so you're doing yourself no favors by getting in deeper with someone who doesn't want what you want.
So tell them. Yes, I know it's scary, but it's worth it for the peace of mind you'll gain after! Try saying: "I thought you should know that I've started to like you-like you. I think I need to step back, because when I got into this, I didn’t plan for these feelings."
This approach lets them know how you feel but doesn't put any pressure on them to reciprocate—which you only want them to do if they truly feel the same way as you do. You don't want a potential partner to stick around just so they can keep their Nice Guy (or Nice Girl) card, so let them know that you've decided to walk away without expressing any negativity toward them. That way, if they come back and tell you they want more, you know it's because they actually want more.
Now, if they don't end up coming around with their own declaration of feelings or desire for a relationship on their own time, know this: You just did yourself a solid. The relationship you're imagining in your head is with a relationship-oriented person who feels a certain way about you, too. And if that's not them—they only want casual sex, or they just don't see you in particular as something more than that—then you can accept the reality and let go. It's much, much easier to move on from someone who isn't what you want than someone who is.
Got it. Is there any way to protect myself in the future?
Of course! If you do decide to enter into another casual-sex shindig because that's what you really, truly, deeply want, try the following to minimise the chances of getting in too deep:
- Avoid sharing or learning deep personal stories (about your family, hobbies, childhood, etc.), which forms strong connections.
- Avoid frequent or daily texting—only talk for purposes of meeting up for your rendezvous—because frequency and duration of contact is how humans build trust and grow closer.
- Avoid replaying encounters in your mind, which makes your brain grow fonder of them.
- Space out encounters or keep them to long-distance situations. Seeing someone often (and sleeping with them) pumps out all kinds of chemical hormones that can make you feel "addicted" to them.
At the end of the day, casual sex without attachment is possible, but it's tricky. As long as you stay true to yourself and your heart along the way, you'll be just fine. I promise.
This article originally appeared on Women's Health US.