Getting Some Strange: Why is Stranger Sex Such a Popular Fantasy?

The used panty marketplace

What sort of person would have sex with a complete and utter stranger?

This sounds a lot like a loaded question - because it kind of is - but it’s still something worth some consideration. What sort of person do you picture?

A prostitute? A womanizer? A cheater? A sex addict?

I’ll bet that one of these at least crossed your mind, and if not - then I’ll also bet that is was something equally as negative.

When we think of people who enjoy sex with strangers, we automatically apply prejudices. Stranger sex, in practice, is viewed as something of a taboo. It’s frowned upon at best and outright condemned as being dangerous, irresponsible and harmful at worst.

So why, then, is it one of the most popular kinks out there?

Why is having sex with a stranger such a popular fantasy?

Before we delve into the world of real stranger sex - lets take a look at the fantasy element. It’s true, lots of people out there fantasize about having sex with someone they’ve never met before - and most of the time it is likely to remain just a fantasy. But, it does sometimes spill out into reality - whereupon people act on these fantasies, but we’ll talk about that a bit later.

First, let's consider why the mere idea of getting some strange is such a turn on. What, indeed., is so appealing about climbing into bed with someone you’ve never met before?

There are a number of ideas behind this phenomenon

Stranger sex is without judgment

One idea that keeps popping up when you read about stranger sex, is the fact that it is essentially a sexual encounter in which you are less likely to be judged negatively by your sexual partner. Or, even if you were to be judged negatively, it would be without consequence because let’s face it, you’ll never see the person ever again, so why should you give a damn?

Sex with a stranger is sort of like having sex in secret; you’re completely anonymous, and you’re free to act in a way that maybe you wouldn’t act with someone you know intimately. 

Anonymity makes for more adventurous sex

Closely linked with the idea of there being a lack of judgment, is the idea that stranger sex can be more adventurous because you’re not bound by the usual trappings of fear of judgment, ridicule, and remorse. The fact that there is anonymity (presumably on both sides) means that there is more chance to explore and expand your sexual horizons.

Now, it must be pointed out that anonymity often gets a bad rap, and not without good reason. You only need to take a look at the behavior of anonymous internet trolls to see how the shield of being anonymous can bring out the worst in people. But if that’s not enough, there’s even science to back up this idea. In 1969, APS Fellow Philip Zimbardo of Stanford University dressed female students in lab coats, some plain with identity-concealing hoods, and some with name tags and no hoods. He told the students to give an electric shock to a confederate. 

The hooded participants were twice as likely to comply!

But does this mean that, once anonymous, we all turn into monsters? Not likely. In fact, it is believed that “people in anonymous settings tend to act on their natural disposition. Everyone can feel a sense of anonymity in a crowd, they say, but research suggests the aggressive individuals are the ones most likely to escalate violence” (as outlined in a 2011 Perspectives on Psychological Science article)

So it’s therefore, more likely that the appeal of anonymity comes from the ability to ‘act on your natural disposition’. If, deep down, you know you’re a sexual freak - then being able to explore your darker side and get freaky is obviously a major part of the turn-on.

Sex with a stranger is taboo - and a taboo is a turn-on!

Another reason for the popularity of this particular fantasy stems from the fact that having sex with a stranger is widely regarded as a bit of a taboo. Women, in particular, are harshly judged for exhibiting any kind of behavior that could be described as being ‘promiscuous’ so giving it up to a complete stranger is something that would likely result in judgment and scorn.

This might be why it’s such a popular fantasy for women. The idea of doing something naughty, dirty or forbidden is a real turn-on and plays into the secret, saucy notion that ‘I’m a bad, bad girl’ which many women internalize.  

With this in mind, it seems totally natural to crave the kind of release that having sex with a complete stranger could give. It’s an act that provides pleasure and gratification, while at the same time doing something totally taboo that one’s parents and peers would disapprove of. After all, being bad often feels good, right?

Sex with a stranger seems to empower

Another reason that the whole stranger sex fantasy has wide appeal is the fact that it does seem somewhat empowering, particularly for women. Throwing caution to the wind, and not being constrained by social taboos, or the fear of judgment does seem somewhat freeing!

Dr. Hernando Chaves, a Beverly Hills psychotherapist, and clinical sexologist touches on this idea in an interview with AfterDarkLA. Chaves suggests that there are more aspects to the stranger sex fantasy than meet the eye, including a sense of danger, empowerment and letting go of control.

“For most, the rush of dopamine and other neurotransmitters can be an intoxicating rush, for some even compulsive. It's an accessible fantasy that is within reach and able to be lived out. For many people, taboo sexual desires are sexually charging and can amplify the erotic mind's desire for increased pleasure and sexual fulfillment.”

The science behind the appeal

Several studies have shown that men are usually more willing to have sex with strangers than women. Anecdotal evidence would suggest that this is especially true when it comes to wanting to have sex with as many different partners as possible within a short time. 

But it’s important to note that, while sex with a stranger consistently appears on lists of the most ‘popular sexual fantasies for women’, it is not always something that women readily admit to. 

A 1989 study found that 75% of randomly selected men would agree to have sex with a complete stranger, while 0% of women agreed. Another similar study conducted 20 years later found that 18% of men in relationships were willing to have sex with a stranger, while only 4% of women agreed. 

These studies also showed that physically attractive men were more successful at pursuing short-term sexual desires than average-looking men, although that should have been a no-brainer.

There have been several attempts at explaining why more men are open to stranger sex (in reality - not fantasy) than women: 

Women tend to want to have sex with strangers much less than men due to worries of safety, pregnancy, stigma, or disease. When these worries are addressed, their numbers go up slightly, although it is still lower than the percentage of willing men. 

When examined across different sexual orientations, lesbians still tended to have the same attitudes as heterosexual women, and gay men the same as heterosexual men. Generally speaking, no matter their sexual orientation, it would appear that more men are open to casual sex than women. 

Men have a greater natural tendency to succumb to sexual temptation than women. A 2013 study found that this was not the case, instead finding that the difference emerged because men felt stronger impulses, not because they had less self-control. 

This seems logical, right?

But then - yet another study threw a spanner in the works! David Schmitt - of Brunel University London - conducted a cross-cultural study in 58 countries, looking at the differences between the ways men and women view and respond to stranger sex across different nations. It appears that the whole attitude to this fantasy can’t be boiled down to ‘men vs women’ but rather - a whole host of social and cultural factors come into play.

Who’d have thought it? 

One key finding, however, was that men have more positive attitudes towards casual sex than women do, they have more unrestricted sexuality socially, and have not-so-strict preferences when it comes to short term hook-ups. Women tend to be more selective, especially when it comes to physical attractiveness. 

What about sex with multiple strangers?

This difference even extends to mixed threesomes. Men are more open to them even if all parties are complete strangers. Interestingly, fewer men are open to MMF threesomes than FFM ones, while more women prefer MMF threesomes than FFM ones. 

Additionally, 24% of men are willing to have non-monogamous relationships while only 8% of women are open to it. An article from Psychology Today picks out some very interesting statistics on the matter:

More men than women have sexual fantasies involving hookups and multiple opposite-sex partners. Men are also less likely to regret short-term sex than women - and, interestingly

62.5% of men would want to continue a sexual relationship with a casual hookup, compared to only 11.3% of women. However, 60% of women would want a romantic relationship, compared to only 12.5% of men. 

In short, sex with strangers is a fantasy for women (who may or may not admit to it), but can result in a real scenario for men, and the stats from the aforementioned Psychology Today article prove it:

  • More men are willing to pay for casual sex than women. An average of 20% of men in the US have paid for sex with a prostitute, compared to 0% of women. 
  • Men enjoy more sexual magazines and videos than women do.
  • Men are more likely to be sexually unfaithful in relationships multiple times with different partners than women
  • Men are quicker to consent to sex after knowing a person for a very brief period of time

Is ‘stranger sex’ a dangerous fantasy?

While it’s clear that this particular fantasy is popular, the reasons for it’s popularity could lead a person to believe that the whole ‘stranger sex’ thing is dangerous. Safety is paramount, no matter what sexual kink you’re into - so it’s definitely important to highlight that - if fantasy were to become a reality - there are unavoidable safety concerns that need to be addressed.

There is no way to suggest that anonymous sex with total strangers is completely and utterly safe one hundred percent of the time. While there is plenty of advice out there (particularly for women) about how to stay safe during casual hookups, this type of interaction involves at least a degree of familiarity between the two (or more) people who are hooking up.

Casual conversation, or even just a degree of communication to confirm the place and time of the meeting, would all count as some form of interaction that could then make the ‘stranger’ aspect a little less potent. This type of interaction does not often fit into the category if ‘stranger sex’ -at least, not if you ask someone who has this particular fantasy.

But, there are indeed some safety considerations that must be taken into account surrounding this particular sexual fantasy.

Stranger sex is often spontaneous

It’s more likely that a stranger sex fantasy will begin with a chance encounter between two people, and so there is an element of spontaneity involved. This in and of itself means there’s an element of ‘danger’ to the whole thing - but also means that it is less likely to make its way into the realms of reality.

Arranging a hookup on a dating app is easy, and relatively safe. Spontaneously having consensual sex with someone you meet in an elevator is an entirely different thing!

But you would be forgiven for confusing casual sex with ‘stranger sex’ - as the two do seem very similar. Technology has paved the way for a casual sex revolution.

Thanks to the internet, sex has become a mere text away, and thus casual flings have become easier than ever to engage in.

If you choose to engage in casual sex (not stranger sex - but more on that later) here are a few things to keep in mind (particularly if you are female): 

  • Initiating it can lead to less regret. Studies show that women who initiate causal sex are less likely to experience feelings of regret about the encounter. 
  • Depending on your sociosexual orientation, casual sex can give you a self-esteem boost. People with restricted sociosexual orientations tend to prefer love, commitment, and emotional intimacy over sex. People with unrestricted sociosexual orientations tend to be more comfortable with casual sex can even get a self-esteem boost from it. So,- know your limits, boundaries, and sociosexual orientation before you choose to engage in that casual hookup. 
  • For women, orgasms are less likely to happen in casual sexual encounters than in relationships; so try not to be too disappointed!

Another thing to keep in mind is that your reasons for choosing to have casual sex will impact how much you’ll enjoy it (especially if you are female). Researchers have found two types of behavior when it comes to casual sex: autonomous and non-autonomous. 

Autonomous behavior includes physical attraction and the desire for sexual experimentation. Non-autonomous behavior includes being drunk and revenge sex. Not surprisingly, people with non-autonomous intentions tend to experience a greater decrease in psychological well-being after a hookup. 

So - be sure it’s really what you want before you go ahead. Casual sex should be just that; casual.

True stranger sex is difficult in practice

We’ve established that casual sex and stranger sex are actually two different things.

So, building on the points above,  you could say that the fantasy element is what makes stranger sex safer than it would seem. The mere fact that true stranger sex (not casual hookups) is kind of impractical, means that it is less probable to occur in its purest form. The best most of us can probably do is arrange to meet up for drinks, and take it from there - and this is just fine!

This just serves to illustrate how, for women, this fantasy rarely becomes a reality. A quick internet search on ‘most popular sexual fantasies for women’ will bring up scenarios in which women are able to fuck complete strangers - often mixed in with elements of other sexual fantasies too (like kidnapping, domination or voyeurism). 

“I've fantasized about having sex with a hot stranger in the eye-line of my male friends (I'd pretend that I wasn't aware that they were watching me)." one Reddit user said, while Cosmo reported one woman confessing “My wildest fantasy would be anything rough, tied up, maybe a break-in role-play”.

While these types of fantasies obviously do exist, it must be pointed out that these types of things are fine when they are make-believe, but the reality of them would be quite a different story. 

Further safety considerations

So in answer to the question ‘is stranger sex dangerous’ - the answer depends on which elements of the fantasy you are enacting, and who with. Any sexual encounter with consenting adults comes with its own inherent risk - which is why many of us opt to keep our fantasies as just that - a fantasy.

If the fantasy does cross over into the realm of reality, then there are other considerations to keep in mind:

Physical safety

Casual sex has a darker side. Because you barely know this person, anything can happen. Going back to someone’s house, whether they are a man or a woman, poses a series of dangers because you are placing yourself at their mercy. It is the perfect recipe for sexual harassment and assault. 

Health risks

There are also the obvious health risks that come with having sex with a stranger. This is why it is so important to always use protection during such encounters. Newsflash: condoms are a great invention - so use them!

Potential for  addiction

While people do tend to laugh and/or roll their eyes at the idea of sex addiction, it really is a legitimate issue. Social media has made casual sex and even true stranger sex easier than ever - so if you are a person who is predisposed to addictions, this could be a cause for concern. You really can have too much of a good thing - and the ability to essentially get sex ‘on tap’ can lead to unhealthy behaviors. 

This was highlighted quite powerfully by The Sun newspaper, in an article featuring a sex-addicted woman who confessed to sleeping with between 100 and 200 people:

“At my worst, I was obsessed with the thrill of sleeping with strangers. And social media made it scarily easy to do. Forget going to a bar or bothering with pricey dating apps, Instagram would help me hook up in minutes for free from the comfort of home.”

What about real stranger sex?

We can’t talk about stranger sex without taking a dive into the realm of the real. We’ve looked at the fantasy, so what about the reality?

This is not as easy to investigate as it might seem. Sure, men’s and women’s magazines often have ‘confessionals’ in which bored housewives spin tales about the time the plumber ‘bent them over the kitchen sink’, but again, we can assume that these are fantasies.

As a result, it does seem like anonymous sex stories are often inflated and sensationalized - nor true. But that’s not to say that there aren’t real practices involving sex with strangers. You just have to know where to look, and what slang to use:


The term ‘dogging’ might not be very well recognized outside of the British isles. It is a slang term that refers to a form of public exhibitionism common in the UK (but completely unheard of in the United States). This may be one of the closest scenarios to true stranger sex - because rather than arranging to meet with a specific person (or people) dogging can be spontaneous, in that it can involve simply turning up to a known ‘dogging spot’ for a chance sexual encounter.

So, explained very basically, dogging involves congregating at a predetermined location to meet up with other people for sex - which can be anonymous, and can also involve group sex. 

‘Glory holes’

Like Dogging, ‘glory holes’ relate to a specific physical location where people can meet to experience illicit sexual encounters. A glory hole, by definition, is:

“a hole in a wall, or other partition, often between public lavatory cubicles or adult video arcade booths and lounges, for people to engage in sexual activity or observe the person in the next cubicle while one or both parties masturbate.”

This, like dogging, offers the possibility of faceless sex with a stranger. But, unlike dogging - which is not associated with one sexual orientation over another, glory holes are especially associated with gay male culture. 

The reason that glory holes are a part of the whole stranger sex fantasy is because of the partition. Almost total anonymity is maintained as no other attributes are taken into consideration - there’s just a hole, a penis, a mouth and possibly a hand. There are different schools of thought when it comes to the motivations for this - but anonymity and ‘shamelessness’ as a result of that anonymity are though to be a driving force.

Huffpost contributor and journalist Mark Simpson wrote all about seeing his first glory hole in Northern England in the 1960s, and echoes this sentiment;

 “The glory hole itself is the ultimate symbol of anonymous ‘no-strings’ sex: an erect, disembodied cock sticking through a wall. Even bricks and mortar can’t hold it back. Nameless, shameless desire. As a horny teenager in the early 1980s, when sex with another male was still completely illegal for me — not being over 21, and not in a position to have sex ‘in private’ — I was very, very interested in what went on in public toilets.”

So, if there’s ever a chance of getting some true 'strange’, then dogging and glory holes could hold the key!

Is sex with strangers ever a good idea?

We’ve covered some of the legitimate safety concerns around stranger sex and casual sex alike, but the question still remains as to whether or not it’s really a good idea. As we’ve established - men and women think differently about stranger sex; women like the fantasy, men prefer the reality.

This begins to explain why it is such a popular genre of erotica (which is mostly consumed by women), storytelling, and confessionals. It is taboo and prohibited, and that makes it that much more desirable. 

But when all is said and done - it is down to the individual to decide whether getting some strange is truly a good idea. No fantasy is off-limits as long as it is between consenting adults. After all, who is to say that sex with strangers is any more radical than, say, sniffing used panties or engaging in some good old-fashioned electrostimulation?

As usual, it’s up to the individuals to decide. Whomever they may be!