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NSA Relationship: What It Is and What You Should Know

A couple in a NSA relationship in bed together looking out the window.

It’s a movie starring Ashton Kutcher and Natalie Portman as well as one of the most important album titles in ‘NSYNC’s musical career—but what does it actually mean to be in an NSA relationship? You’ve probably stumbled across the acronym “NSA” while looking for someone on a dating app or while chatting with friend, and found out it stands for “no string attached.” But if you’re a little confused as to what it means in terms of an actual dating relationship, here’s a definition:

As you can imagine, the arrangement comes with a fair amount of pros and cons— and it’s not right for everyone.

Here’s what you should know before getting into an NSA relationship:

If you’re the jealous type, this arrangement won’t work for you.
Be honest with yourself. Nobody wants to admit that they can get a little jealous on occasion, but if it’s become somewhat of a pattern in past relationships, this is the last situation you’ll want to get yourself into. With NSA, you’re giving permission to your partner to meet, and have sexual encounters with, other people. If there’s something inside of you that feels uneasy about it (and that’s totally normal) you’ll want to avoid NSA situations since you’ll probably end up with hurt feelings.

Remember, you can’t get someone to change.
Change happens within relationships, but you’re fooling yourself if you’re banking on your NSA partner settling down with you. Sure, it’s possible for him or her to realize that you’re the one while maintaining a sexual relationship—but when you initially agree that there’ll be no strings, you should take that at face value. Psychology Today reports that about 60% of college students have an NSA relationship at some time, but only about 10 to 20% of them turn into long-term romantic relationships. So, while it’s possible, the odds aren’t really on your side.

Condoms are a must.
Some people don’t like having sex with a condom, and that’s typically fine if they’re in a long-term, monogamous relationship. While there are plenty of birth control methods that can help prevent pregnancy, the only method right now to avoid the spread of sexually transmitted diseases are condoms. If you’re comfortable entering an NSA relationship, you should be proactive about your sexual health and make sure you’re both on board with using condoms to avoid an infection or disease that could stick with you for the rest of your life.

An NSA relationship is a good way to educate yourself on your own sexuality.
Sex is a natural part of life, and it’s nothing anyone should be ashamed of. If you’re open to exploring your own sexuality and care more about the physical aspects of a relationship than the emotional, an NSA relationship might be good for you. Every sexual partner is a little different. Sometimes, you can love someone but not be a sexually compatible match, which is a tough situation to navigate. By having an NSA relationship or two before settling down, you can learn about your particular turn-ons, and educate yourself on your sexual drive—which is a key part of your personality.

With NSA, you need to keep track of your emotions.
Just because you’ve agreed to an NSA relationship doesn’t mean you don’t have a voice. If you enter a relationship and don’t feel safe, or start experimenting with NSA and realize you don’t like it, you’re not obliged to continue on. You need to check up on yourself on occasion to make sure the arrangement is still working for you. And, it’s okay if you’ve soured on the idea.

Some people in NSA relationships realize they’re a lot happier with something a little steadier. A lot of people associate sex with love and find that it’s much harder to separate the two than they initially thought. If those types of feelings creep up, you need to be honest with yourself and your partner.

NSA relationships might be right if you’re a naturally busy person.
It’s unfortunate that there are only 24 hours in a day. If you’re career-oriented, you might not have a lot of time to invest yourself emotionally in another person. But that doesn’t mean your love life should suffer. With NSA, you can get all the benefits of a physically intimate relationship without worrying too much about dating, or meeting the parents, or whether or not kids will be in your future. It’s also a lot easier to break off an arrangement if you feel the need to, since everyone involved in a no strings attached relationship knows it’s possible that it’ll end with little notice.

If you try an NSA relationship with a friend, you might risk the friendship.
A lot of people’s very first NSA relationship is with a friend who they want to test the waters with. With a friend, there’s already some trust and knowledge formed as opposed to someone they might have met online. That’s probably why friends with benefits is often a synonymous term with no strings attached.

It’s normal and healthy to hook up with a friend, but you have to be prepared for the relationship to officially change. Even if you promise the sexual stuff will have no effect on your friendship, it’ll make your interactions with each other just a little different. Some people can remain friends after participating in an NSA relationship, but a majority might find it a little weird to switch back to the way things were before.

Sometimes, you just don’t know if an NSA relationship will work for you until you’re actually in one. They can be incredibly empowering for people who view sex recreationally, but have the potential to bring on some heartache to people who feel like love is a major aspect of a sexual relationship. Whether or not an NSA relationship is right for you is something you’ll be able to answer best.

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