No doubt about it, collegiettes everywhere are embracing the hook-up culture and have gotten familiar with the rules on how to participate in it the “right” way. Do hook up for pleasure and excitement, to explore your sexuality and because you want to. Don’t hook up to feel better about yourself, to try to make your partner like you or because you feel like you should. Easy enough, right? Place the emphasis on pleasure and empowerment, and collegiettes everywhere should be having positive hook-up after positive hook-up.
Unfortunately, that attitude isn’t so simple when study after study shows that more often than not, hooking up can leave women saddled with negative mental side effects, like feeling insecure, used or unwanted. But even though the odds might be stacked against women when it comes to happy hook-ups, that doesn’t mean we’re doomed.
Knowing and embracing why hook-ups can leave women feeling crappy is the first step to reversing the curse. Satisfying hook-ups are totally possible; they just take more than the right motivation and a sex-positive attitude, so read on to find out the things you need to keep in mind in order to have hook-ups you can feel great about.
Think Before You Do
The biggest key to ensuring a hook-up that will leave you feeling good is to self-assess. That may sound boring – who wants to do homework before getting down and dirty? – but there are important factors that can make or break a hook-up before even, well, hooking up.
According to Dr. Zhana Vrangalova, sex researcher and creator of The Casual Sex Project, knowing yourself is key. Your well-being prospers when your behavior is consistent with your true desires, attitudes, values and beliefs. The same, she says, holds true for casual sex.
“When people had casual sex for the right reasons—because they really wanted it—and with full approval of it, their well-being was unchanged or actually improved compared to not having casual sex,” Dr. Vrangalova says. “But when people had casual sex for the wrong reasons—like peer pressure, hoping it was more than casual sex or getting drunk—or when it went against their morals [or] views, their well-being suffered.”
Dr. Vrangalova says there are also several personal things to consider before determining if hooking up is right for you. She suggests evaluating yourself before setting out to hook up, taking into consideration your motivations for hooking up, how easily you get and stay aroused, how easily you get attached to sexual partners and how good you are at communicating your desires.
Hook-Up Sex Doesn’t Have to Equal Unsatisfying Sex
Plain and simple, a reason why a hook-up might leave you feeling mentally poor is because a hook-up left you feeling physically poor. How can a girl expect to feel happy after a hook-up if it wasn’t any good during, either? And unfortunately, dissatisfaction from hook-ups is all too common for women.
In a study presented at the 2013 International Academy of Sex Research, researchers found that out of 600 college students, women were twice as likely to orgasm during sex in serious relationships as they were during casual hook-ups.
One possible explanation for this is that orgasms are the result of communication, and it is much easier to tell a long-term partner exactly how to please you than it is to tell a stranger. Not to mention, alcohol is often a factor in college hook-ups, and drunk sex can be sloppy sex (not exactly an equation for pleasure).
But that doesn’t mean you should resign yourself to feeling dissatisfied just because it’s a casual encounter. Speaking up for your pleasure has its place in hook-ups, not just long-term relationships. Go into your hook-ups planning to communicate. Ask for what feels good and speak up about what doesn’t—and don’t forget that you’re never too far into a hook-up to change your mind if you decide it’s not working for you.
Learn to Spot a Good Hook-Up Buddy
We get it—a lot of the time, the point of a hook-up is to have a random, one-time fling, but not all hook-up candidates are created equal. You should seek out a partner who will leave you feeling appreciated and secure. No one says your one-night stand has to be dating material, but according to Dr. Vrangalova, there are certain boys who are more likely to make you feel insecure or used after a hook-up, and those are the ones to avoid.
How do you spot them? While seeking casual encounters, you’re most likely to run into what Dr. Vrangalova calls “unrestricted men”—men who are very interested in casual sex. Unrestricted men aren’t necessarily the men you should be avoiding, though; it is unrestricted men who also happen to be narcissistic, manipulative, coercive and sexist.
“Detecting these [men] is not that difficult,” Dr. Vrangalova says. “First, stay away from the frat boys and varsity athletes. Sexist and slut-shaming men congregate in these environments more than any other college environment. Second, talk to them for a bit and see what their values about gender roles are. Do they love and respect all women, or do they only respect the virginal ones they are going to marry, but not the wild ones they only want to have sex with?”
Doesn’t sound like good foreplay conversation? It’s easier than it sounds. Just pay attention to how he discusses other girls around you. If he’s not respectful now, he’s not going to be in bed, either.
Remember the Risk of Attachment
Sure, the myth that women get clingy after sex might feel old and tired – just watch any romantic comedy — but unfortunately, it’s also backed by science. During sexual intercourse, the female brain releases a hormone called oxytocin. Sometimes known as the attachment hormone, oxytocin can induce feelings of love and closeness, so even if you had no romantic interest in your hook-up, your body might trick you into thinking that you do. Unwanted feelings of attachment could lead to feeling rejected if a hook-up doesn’t lead to anything more, one reason why you might mistake your hook-up as a negative experience.
Katie*, a senior at Vassar College who hooks up frequently, says that college girls should keep this biological reaction in mind and not let it color their perceptions.
“I had to learn to give myself a few days after hooking up to cool it,” she says. “After a good experience, I’d have to remind myself what it was I really wanted from the hook-up, and that wasn’t for the guy to call me the next day.”
Dr. Vrangalova says other ways to curb your body’s instinct to attach is to avoid contacting your hook-up or talking about him with your friends for a few days — and don’t even think about Facebook-stalking him. If resisting that urge is difficult, she also suggests listing the red flags you see in him that would make him a less-than-ideal long-term partner to remind yourself why he’s much better as a hook-up.
Safeguard Yourself Against Stigma
Unfortunately, your hook-ups – no matter how appropriately motivated or awesomely executed – don’t exist in a vacuum. Society might be moving in the right direction, but there is still very much a stigma surrounding women who enjoy active sex lives.
As much as sex-positive collegiettes want to dismiss these ignorant attitudes, there’s no denying that facing insult and judgment from others can totally put a damper on an otherwise positive experience. So how can you fight the stigma?
There’s no shortcut for changing society, but you can surround yourself with the right people who will support your right to do what you want with your body.
“If you're a girl who likes to hook up with some regularity, I have three pieces of advice,” says Dr. Vrangalova. “One, make sure you have at least some friends who are not judgmental of your behavior. Two, try to hook up with guys who will be respectful about your interest in casual sex and won't slut-shame you. Three, be as discreet about your exploits as you need to be given your social environment.”
Hooking up happily and healthily isn’t just about you, your partner or the society you’re a part of, but rather, finding harmony between all three. Assessing your needs and motivations, communicating with your partner and being aware of problems that still exist in society is the perfect formula for feeling great about your hook-ups, both during and after.
Now, who says hooking up isn’t for women?
*Name has been changed.