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The Daily Tar Heel

Can you really have love at first sex?

I’ll admit it. I’ve had sex on the first date.

Actually, I’ve had sex before the first date, or any dates for that matter.

Ok, I agree it’s not terribly earth-shattering. A lot of people enjoy casual, non-romantic sex, but I get the same question over and over: “Don’t you want a boyfriend?” to which I respond with a firm and decidedly non-desperate “Yeah. Sure.”

Of course I want to find love. Of course I enjoy casual sex. But are the two mutually exclusive?

Can a person really find “the one” among the one-night stands?

Well, fret not, strumpets and jezebels, science has come to save the day. Anthony Paik, sociology researcher at the University of Iowa, took on this exact question in last month’s issue of Social Science Research.

Using the responses of 642 adults in the Chicago Health and Social Life Survey, Paik assessed their relationship quality with their partners. Then he compared it with the relationship context in which they and their partners first started having sex.

Let’s start with the bad news. People who became sexually involved earlier in a non-romantic context (hookups, friends with benefits, casual dating) tended to report a lower relationship quality than those who waited.

But here’s the good news. This finding could be completely explained by selection, not causation. People who don’t want a serious relationship are more likely to hook up, and if you factored them out, there was no significant difference in relationship quality.

In other words, partners who start off hooking up can have relationships just as strong as partners who delay having sex. They just have to want it.

It sounds improbable, but not implausible. For example, a couple of years ago, I met a man we’ll call “Juan” for casual sex, but something about him drew me in. I wanted to see him again, and so I asked him out.

We ended up having a successful and loving relationship. Nevertheless, my experience feels more like an exception than the rule. Was Juan just a fluke? Not according to Paik.

Now, I’m not proposing that everyone should be having casual sex with each other, as titillating as that sounds. There are benefits to waiting, and casual intimacy simply doesn’t work for everyone.

But let’s stop assuming that casual sexual encounters can’t grow into something more. Let’s open ourselves up to the possibility that people who hook up might also want to take that next step.

As Kathleen Bogle of La Salle University observed on college campuses, a “hook up” can lead to “hook ups,” then “hanging out,” and eventually the elusive, exclusive “going out.”

As always with sex, you should be smart and stay safe. Also, you should be clear about what you want. Those same selection factors can make it seem like you don’t want a serious relationship, or attract others who don’t want one.

Finally, I should point out that the study only looked at heterosexual adults, as there weren’t enough same-gender partners in the survey. So this conclusion may not apply to LGBTQ relationships like mine.

Even so, this still gives me hope. I can find another Juan, and maybe next time he’ll be the Juan.

Perry Tsai is a Sexual Health Columnist for The Daily Tar Heel. He is a second year medical student from New Orleans, La. Contact him at

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