You can call it casual dating, having casual relationships or, more directly, casual sex—it’s yours for the taking in this sex-positive world, woman. Whether you’re talking one-night stands, friends with benefits (FWB) or NSA sex (no-strings attached, ahem, not the National Security Agency), if you’re in your 40s, there are some unique considerations to take into account. We polled a handful of 40-plus people who are experienced casual sex-havers. And we consulted a sexologist for an offish perspective on the 12 rules to follow if you’re having casual sex in your 40s.
The 12 Rules for Casual Sex in Your 40s
Meet the Expert
Kiana Reeves is an AASECT-certified somatic sex educator, certified sexological bodyworker, pelvic health practitioner, certified doula and Foria Chief Content Officer. With a lifelong passion for sexual wellness and plant-based medicine, Reeves has been practicing in the field of sexual wellness and female reproductive health for over ten years. Her background in pleasure, intimacy and sexuality is informed by work as a certified somatic sex educator, offering her clients hands-on experiences to connect with their bodies and their pleasure. As chief content officer for Foria, a sexual wellness brand, she uses her certifications and qualifications to help drive content and brand education.
1. Keep It Light
Casual sex means chemistry without complications or bummers. This might sound brusque, but casual sex does not include emotional support. That is what family, friends, therapists and yes, boyfriends and girlfriends are for, not f*ck buddies. One 40-something woman we spoke with said she realized she’d “been at the party too long” with one repeat partner who wanted to discuss their parent’s illness: “I felt for this person, and we’d had a fun time in previous times together, but I really had no more bandwidth for their emotional needs because of really heavy things going on in my own life at the time.”
2. The Campsite Rule
One respondent opined that, by the time you’re in your 40s, there’s a good chance you’ll be romantic with someone younger or less experienced than yourself. In which case, the 50-year-old cited sex columnist Dan Savage’s campsite rule, which says that, post-relationship, you should leave the person in at least as good a state, emotionally and physically, as they were when you met them, i.e. without STDs, unwanted pregnancies or without exposure to emotional, physical or sexual trauma.
3. Don’t Let Them Meet the Kids
“Things get tricky when kids are involved,” says sexologist Reeves, “and the last thing you want to do is start building impactful connections with kids when you’re not planning on exploring a long-term relationship. Instead, try to enjoy the time you have together away from the demands of family life, and revel in the freedom and sense of adventure that comes with less responsibility and attachment.”
4. Be Clear on Socials That You’re Not Husband Hunting
If you are on a traditional dating app, Reeves suggests saying, “I’m not looking for something serious or long-term,” or “I’m looking for adventure and new experiences, but not for a long-term relationship right now,” followed up by a statement about your need regarding emotional intimacy, such as “I love connection and emotional intimacy and am looking to explore new experiences without traditional relationship expectations.” Additionally, she suggests checking out the app Feeld, where you are more likely to encounter others who are also looking for sexual connection instead of a relationship.
5. Safety First
Safety shout-out, part A: Several single moms agreed: Meet in public first, then bring them to your home (as long as it’s a week you don’t have the kids). Safety shout-out, part B: Use condoms all the time and every time, even if everyone says they aren’t sleeping with anyone else. As Planned Parenthood puts it: “It doesn’t matter how long you’ve been dating or exactly how you define your relationship, you should always discuss your boundaries and comfort levels with your partner before engaging in sexual activity.” And insisting on using a condom, to protect yourself from pregnancy and sexually transmitted infection, is a great way to show you have self-respect, as well as respect for your partner.
6. Pace Yourself
“Frequency has a lot to do with it,” says one 50-year-old. “If you’re seeing them more than once a week then it’s natural they are going to get the message you want it to go somewhere.” While one or both partners might want to see each other every day in the heat of new lust, you might be inadvertently (and mistakenly) signaling a desire for a sexually exclusive or emotionally intimate connection. (Also, after 40, a person needs their rest.)
7. Spending the Night Is OK
Surprisingly, people we spoke with didn’t think that having to leave right after the act was necessary to keep healthy emotional boundaries. (Potentially because we don’t have the energy of marauding teens any longer?) Sex therapist Reeves agrees that sleeping over is fine. “It’s a great idea to spend the night together if you are someone who needs more aftercare and connection after a sexual experience,” she says. “This can allow for extended time to hold each other and be held, and leaves room for the completion of the experience to happen in the morning, with a fresh start.”
8. Keep It Private
No Instagram posts or meeting each other’s friends, since those imply relationships. Additionally, be super-clear with each other that this is on the down-low, for example if one of you is in a complicated marriage/separation/getting divorced situation. Not that you need any excuse to keep your sex bidness to yourself—if you find yourself having to defend/overexplain your boundaries with your casual sex partner, consider that they might not be a great match.
9. Be Respectful If One of You Catch Feelings
“If you sense they are into you, stop seeing them unless you’re into them also.” That’s the report from one woman, who rekindled a former summer fling, only to discover that he liked her as more than a sex pal. “I regret not ending things sooner, since I found myself resenting him for doting on me, which made me be mean to him, which wasn’t great.”
10. Get Busy on Vacation
Beautiful scenery, lack of professional responsibilities, stimulating new cultural experiences and a place where no one knows you—vacations are stage sets for hooking up without strings. “And if you’re traveling with a friend, don’t let them cock block you just because they didn’t get lucky,” says one respondent. “I still regret letting my friend guilt me into not getting busy with this guy I met because ‘this was supposed to be girl time’ when really it was just a few hours in a long week.” And while vacay is a time to cut loose, don’t forget practicing safe sex and letting someone know where you are and who you’re with.
11. Know That Consent Is Ongoing
Casual sex means you don’t know your sex partner that well, if at all, so there’s lots of room for miscommunication. In other words, you can’t count on them to notice you’re cooling on the sex, so you need to be able to say stop in the moment. Sex therapist Reeves spells it out: “In all sexual instances make sure you are a full-body ‘yes’ to the experience. That means your mind, your heart and your body are all aligned in their consent.”
12. Make a Classy and Clear Exit
“I’ve said before, genuinely, that I felt that by staying in a situation I was keeping my partner from being in a relationship they wanted to be in,” says one 40-something. “And I’ve had said to me—this has been really fun, but this isn’t going progress and I can’t see you this way anymore.” Overall, they continue, “the current vogue of a mutual ghosting is pretty bad and pretty hurtful, but alternatively I think saying ‘you’re great, but I’m done’ is not a whole lot better,” they said. Reeves says a better way to ends things is to let them know “you are no longer available to connect in this way and send them thanks for the time you shared together.”
Dana Dickey is a PureWow Senior Editor, and during more than a decade in digital media, she has scoped out and tested top products and services across the lifestyle space. Suitcases to sex toys, she's got an opinion on what's best. Dana is based in Los Angeles; her work has also appeared in Condé Nast Traveler, Vogue and The New York Times. Check her out on Instagram and LinkedIn.