Sex is like pizza: Even when it's bad, it's not really that bad, right? Maybe not.
A recent piece in Psychology Today by Aaron Ben-Zeév, Ph.D., explores the concept of "junk sex." Using intimacy as the "nutritional value" of healthy sex, he suggests that junk sex includes no intimacy, is reliant on "wild, intense desires," and can be addictive. Much like junk food, he reasons, it offers no nutritional value and too much of it can easily become detrimental to one's health.
However, like the occasional "cheat day," indulging in junk sex once in a while won't derail your entire healthy lifestyle. The key is to recognize when it's becoming an unhealthy habit.
"Junk sex is sex that leaves you feeling guilty or unsatisfied," says clinical psychologist and author Belisa Vranich. "It's a lot like junk food—you get to that end and you're like, 'Uh, I wish I hadn't done that.' Both with junk food and junk sex, you figure you'll learn each time, but somehow you get pulled back in."
When it comes to junk food, it's not where or how you eat or prepare it that makes it bad, it's the food itself. The same goes for junk sex: It's not where or how you do it, but more about the nature of the sex itself that makes it unhealthy.
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"Hookup sex isn't necessarily junk sex," she says. "Casual hookups can include amazing sex. It's more about how you feel when you're done: Do you keep going back to the same crappy sex with the same crappy guy, hoping for a different result?"
A healthy sex life will look different to everyone, but it goes beyond just having intercourse, according to Vranich. "It's a mixture of both planning and anticipation, of spontaneity and control. It can include quickies or slow sex, but it includes a sense of mystery and excitement."
Ben-Zeév argues that healthy sex doesn't have to include your spouse or even another person, but that it should include appreciation for everybody involved.
"When you are with another person in intimate circumstances, some intimacy is required," he writes. "It does not have to be profound love, but it should have some level of intimacy."