A close look at one-night stands and hook-up culture
Editor’s note: Names in this story have been changed to protect source’s identity
After a drunken night out, Rory Hamilton* decided to take home the girl he had just met at the bar.
He’d never spoke to her before their drunken encounter about an hour before they had sex. As things heated up, Hamilton transitioned from normal vaginal intercourse to “doing it in the booty.”
After completion, Hamilton cleaned up, went back to his house and proceeded to heroically tell every one of his housemates what just happened. As each part of the story progressed, the housemates became increasingly engaged in his sexual conquest.
“That’s what it’s all about,” Hamilton said. “Guys do it for the fun, the story, the experience. I think girls, in most cases, want it to mean something. But not always.”
Hamilton’s partner was an exception.
Rather than succumbing to the gender-based stereotype of a woman embarrassed or shameful of her one-night stand, his partner did nearly the same thing – she told all her friends about her sex-capade.
The cultural norm toward one-night stands dictates that a woman feels “slut-shamed” after having sex with a person she had just met a few hours before, while a man feels entitled to keep doing it over and over again.
But that’s not always the case.
Yes, parts of the stereotypes are true. But in a modern, sexually fueled culture, one-night stands for both men and women have become more a part of the social norm.
A one-night stand is a cultural phenomenon where two people have sex for the first time – and sometimes the last time – shortly after meeting one another. According to The Spectrum’s sex survey of more than 700 UB students, roughly 52 percent have taken part in a one-night stand.
It’s often preconceived that men are the ones looking for a one-night stand, but in reality, women feel the same way.
Dr. Katherine Smith, also known as “America’s Intimacy Expert,” said both men and women have the notion to get laid at the beginning of the night, but different factors either encourage or prevent women from going through with it.
“Both men and women can have the preconceived goal to get laid, but there are many factors that play into them being successful,” Smith said. “Alcohol and drugs aside, the venue, company and trust level are main contributors to whether someone will agree to be alone with someone they just met. This is a concern for a woman more than a man for safety reasons.”
Isabelle Logan*, a senior at SUNY Binghamton, said she will not have a one-night stand with someone she had at least not heard of before. For her own safety, she makes sure either her or her friends have heard of the person with whom she may go home.
But Logan is comfortable with the idea of a one-night stand as long as the person meets her criteria.
And in a sex-driven culture of college where one-night stands are common, it happens more than most people imagine.
“I think most college-aged women think that way,” Logan said. “Perceptions of one-night stands have changed over 20 years. I think you can definitely see that. People are more open about sex and are less shameful about it, more willing to go into anonymous sex with a person for one night.”
Even as recently as 40-50 years ago, hook-up culture was limited to a rare encounter. Married people stuck to themselves. If a married person cheated on his or her spouse, he or she would be considered a bad person, according to sex and relationship expert Reid Mihalko.
Today, a run-of-the-mill hook-up in college demographics is very common, but the same risks apply. Before considering a one-night stand, women and men have different factors to decide whether or not they want to go through with it.
And one of the biggest factors for women is slut-shaming.
“For a woman, culturally speaking, there’s a lot more stigma for the one-night stand,” Mihalko said. “They’re not lauded for having agency over their own sexuality and pleasure. It’s more of a possibility of being slut-shamed.”
Dr. TaMara Griffin, a clinical sexologist based out of Las Vegas, Nevada said women are taught to let their emotions loose while men are taught to keep their emotions contained. She also added men are taught to “celebrate and honor their sexual conquest,” while women are taught to be ashamed.
Women may become too concerned about the number of partners they have slept with and might feel embarrassed, have pre-conceived guilt or feel they have a risk of losing the “good girl” reputation.
Melissa Donahue, a certified sex therapist, said for women, cultural pressure can make a woman feel negative about sexual experiences.
But Donahue also noted every woman’s sexual experiences are different – and they don’t all “follow the script.”
Mihalko feels the same way about men.
A man’s cultural perspective of a one-night stand is to get the best experience possible. It’s normal to think a man’s sole objective during a one-night stand is to get laid. But Mihalko says, there is a culture – a scaled-down culture – of men who don’t wish to have sex during a one-night stand.
“It’s weird that no one has cuddle hook ups,” Mihalko said. “That goes for men, too. Not all men want to have sex all the time, but we feel like we have to put out because we have to.”
Even though men might feel compelled to have sex during a one-night stand, there is a social reputation risk that a man may have to consider, since a man wants his reputation to be clean, just as much as a woman would. What differs is the body count. Women are prone to being called “sluts” or “whores” if they have sex with too many people, whereas men are lauded for their body count but strive to be careful because of a possible stigma attached to the person they sleep with.
“A guy wakes up from a one night stand with a girl who’s not traditionally pretty. And then he’s worried about what his friends say,” Mihalko said. “Now, he’s worried post one-night stand. There can be worry. There can be guilt showing. There can be concern for their reputation.”
For women, there is great risk of being slut-shamed or run the risk of succumbing to a bad reputation, but that’s not always the case.
Hamilton’s roommate recently had a one-night stand with his girlfriend’s housemate. Instead of adhering to the social norm, she began to openly talk about it.
But he does see a downside in it.
“She likes to brag about it,” Hamilton said. “Some girls have the same mentality as I do. Girls are also like, ‘I was with this person last night.’ But if it happens too much to women, it may become a personal problem for them.”
But ultimately, putting aside slut-shaming, safety and reputation, spontaneous sex happens in college because many people enjoy the idea of casual sex with no strings attached.
“Some people like one night stands because it’s novelty. A new person; new genitals; new body,” Mihalko said. “Culture isn’t encouraging us to be self-expressed and to explore sexuality in ways that are empowering. Sex is fun for a lot of people. Sex and pleasure and human sexual connection can be fun and rewarding.”