What Does No Strings Attached Mean

Men's Dating

Defining NSA (No Strings Attached): What It Really Means

Jules Chen

Written by: Jules Chen

Jules Chen

Jules is a Texas-based writer who graduated from Emory University. She has served as the managing editor of Lithium Magazine where she worked with a talented team of writers covering lifestyle and pop culture. Her lifestyle writing has been published at Betches, Adolescent Content, and Niche, Inc. When not writing, she likes to head to her local bookstore to pick up a new read.

Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Reviewed by: Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks is the Editor-in-Chief at DatingAdvice.com. When she was growing up, her family teased her for being "boy crazy," but she preferred to think of herself as a budding dating and relationship expert. As an English major at the University of Florida, Amber honed her communication skills to write clearly, knowledgeably, and passionately about a variety of subjects. Now with over 1,800 lifestyle articles to her name, Amber brings her tireless wit and relatable experiences to DatingAdvice.com.

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If you’ve spent any time at all on a dating app, you’ll notice the prevalence of no-strings-attached (NSA) dating and relationships. The language users share on their profiles might vary — from “seeking something casual” to “short-term fun”– but the idea remains the same: People want to have fun without pressure. 

NSA relationships offer casual sex and intimacy without forcing partners to commit to a label or a more serious, long-term relationship. But as fun as NSA relationships may be, they’re not for everyone. 

We’re here to help you learn about NSA relationships and how to navigate them, whether you’re looking to have your hot girl summer or simply can’t understand why anyone would want to be in one. 

Characteristics | Advantages | Challenges | Tips

Characteristics of NSA Relationships

NSA relationships may also be popularly referred to as “friends with benefits,” “situationships,” or “flings.” Above all else, these connections are characterized by a focus on casualness.

You probably won’t be discussing marriage, future children, or your five-year plan in your NSA relationship because they are meant to be enjoyed in the present for their physical benefits. 

Absence of Commitment

In a traditional monogamous relationship, partners commit to each other by promising emotional and physical exclusivity, and cheating is scorned. However, NSA relationships don’t require this level of commitment. 

Low commitment

With no labels of boyfriend, girlfriend, or partner to commit to, you will likely be free to see others and enjoy sex with multiple partners. If you’re open to it, that could mean you see your no-strings partner on a Thursday, meet someone new on Friday, and go on another date Saturday!

A Focus on Physical Intimacy

At the end of the day, NSA relationships are all about sex – and it can be great! The focus on physical intimacy offers a freedom that means you and your partner can text each other to hook up whenever you want.

Think of it as a standing booty call — you can be there for each other in times of, well, need. Just know that, afterward, there’s no obligation to take your partner out for a nice dinner. 

Limited Emotional Involvement

Without the pressure to commit to a more serious connection and the conversations that accompany it, the focus remains on having fun. That doesn’t mean that you and your NSA partner can’t be friendly.

In fact, if you get along well with your “friend with benefits,” there’s nothing wrong with enjoying some lunch and great conversation, then heading home to hook up. 

Limited emotion

It just means that there will be far less expectation to provide emotional support. Your NSA partner probably shouldn’t be texting you to pick them up from the airport the way a long-term partner would.

And you shouldn’t rely on this person to be your shoulder to cry on after a rough day at work.

Mutual Understanding of the Relationship’s Casual Nature

People in traditional relationships often make plans with each other that can range from what to have for dinner to where to settle down. Serious romantic partners make sacrifices to support their partners.

But when you and your NSA partner are on the same page, your love life will require less of this type of investment. 

You should both assume that your connection is casual and that each person may be seeing other people. You should also mutually understand that you lead your own lives, and your NSA partner may not be constantly available to you and only you.

Advantages of NSA Relationships

If you’ve been expending energy looking for a serious relationship, an NSA relationship may give you the opportunity to turn that effort inward and focus on yourself instead.

You’ll get to have your fun while enjoying time on your own, without the drama and emotional turbulence that commitment often requires.

Freedom to Do as You Please

Casual daters enjoy the freedom to go where they want, when they want, with whomever they want. NSA dating means nothing is out of bounds when it comes to romantic activities and socializing.

Freedom

Relationships are often associated with a loss of freedom: You can’t go out on Fridays anymore because your partner decided it was date night. You can’t spend as long as you used to hanging with your friends because now you have plans with your partner’s friends.

None of this is expected in an NSA relationship. With the focus on hooking up, you’re free to keep your plans intact!

No Jealousy or Emotional Ties

NSA relationships are sex-based to allow the fun of physical intimacy without the pain of emotional attachment. If you’re doing it right, you and your NSA partner can’t cheat on each other because you won’t be in a truly committed relationship. 

There won’t be potential infidelities to fight over, and since you’re both allowed to see others at will, there ideally will be no jealousy, either. If they’ve got someone new, so do you.

Opportunity & Self-Discovery

You and your NSA partner are allowed to try anything in the bedroom without the fear of its impact on your romantic life. Plus, you’ll try things with the other partners you meet if you decide to take advantage of that. 

Exploration

New partners can open your mind to a variety of likes and dislikes, allowing you to get to know yourself better and enjoy sex more each time.

With the free time you retain from being technically single, you’ll also have plenty more space to engage in personal self-discovery outside of the bedroom.

Common Challenges & Misconceptions

No-strings dating sounds great, right? Not always. The reality is that navigating NSA relationships can be difficult for single people.

It’s easy to say that there will be no jealousy, but as humans, it’s inevitable that our relationships don’t always go the way we intend them to go. Confusion is common, as are double standards that can tarnish the experience for some people.

Potential for Misunderstandings & Hurt Feelings

Even if you enter into an NSA situation swearing up and down not to get attached, sex is an intimate act that is bound to draw you closer to one another. 

Misunderstandings happen

A common NSA misunderstanding involves one partner feeling used because the relationship focuses too much on sex. I know I’ve been in situations before where I started to wish that we’d go on actual dates, even though that wasn’t the nature of our casual relationship. 

Other common situations that evoke hurt feelings include a partner not offering sexual aftercare for fear that it will be too emotional. Their withholding causes the other person to feel neglected.

It can also be awkward when a romantic partner speaks about other hookup buddies they’re currently seeing.

These instances are likely to make daters uncomfortable, even if they’re technically allowed.

Confusion About the Rules

Confusion usually arises when the partners have different parameters in mind for the relationship. Since NSA relationships aren’t as serious, you and your partner may have never sat down to discuss the rules of engagement in depth. 

But you may wish you had discussed some rules once the relationship is underway, and that feeling alone can be confusing and isolating.

For example, you’re both allowed to casually date other people, but what happens if your partner “catches feelings” for someone else and is speaking to you about taking her on dates? We’ll dive deeper into how to handle these tricky conversations below.

Gendered Double Standards

Unfortunately, our society applauds male promiscuity while shaming similarly sexually active women. Women in NSA relationships may find that male partners are quick to call them clingy or obsessed when conflict arises.

Women can be players

Societal norms deter women from engaging in sexual acts or reveling in sexual pleasure without emotional attachment. Women are often labeled slutty for participating in an NSA relationship at all. 

Regardless of gender, we encourage you to remain vigilant of how you speak to and about your partner. Don’t make assumptions.

If you begin to feel as if the romantic connection is no longer serving you due to double standards, feel free to take a break and return at any time. 

3 Tips for Communication & Consent

You can only reap the rewards of an NSA relationship if you communicate openly and remain open to feedback throughout. Consent is prerequisite at all times. Both parties must be on the same page, inside and outside of the bedroom, for this relationship to work.

1. Establish Boundaries & Expectations Upfront

Although the terms and conditions are often left up in the air or implied, it’s best to address issues early on. Let each other know exactly what you’re looking for:

  • Nothing serious, just sex
  • Casual sex and romantic dates but not a relationship
  • Some friendly hangouts along with sexual encounters
  • Polyamorous or open relationships

Check in on these expectations often if behaviors begin to change.

Boundaries can come into play with activities and behaviors beyond sex, too – if you don’t want to know about the other people your partner hooks up with, let them know!

2. Respect Each Other’s Autonomy

As adults, you and your partner both possess the agency to express your desires and speak up for what you want. Not being in a committed relationship is not a reason to disregard consent.

Respect isn't optional.

The noncommittal nature of an NSA relationship should emphasize each partner’s autonomy and right to withdraw at any point from interactions that don’t feel good. 

3. Don’t Try to Turn a Hookup Into a Love Story

Chances are, you both knew what this was when you started seeing each other. While it is natural and normal to develop romantic feelings for a partner, try to end the relationship as it began if you don’t foresee your partner returning your affections. 

You can take it from me, it’s easier to cut the relationship off than to wait and watch it drag out! There’s no pain greater than letting go at first, but sticking around just to remain connected in some form is far worse in the long run.

No Strings Doesn’t Mean No Respect

If you enter into a new connection with an open mind and the ability to treat your partner as a whole person with multifaceted desires – not just a piece of meat – an NSA relationship can be incredibly rewarding. 

NSA relationships offer endless opportunities for fun via personal and sexual exploration. Without the strings of commitment, the possibilities of connection are endless. 

But open communication and an honest discussion of boundaries in the relationship are crucial to achieving this success. When you check in with your partner and respect the relationship that you’ve agreed upon, you’ll unlock unique pleasure in the dating world.