Yep, the rumors are true—life after college isn’t as carefree as your life as a student. One thing we really can’t be carefree about? Our safety and health when hooking up with people in the real world. Gone are dorm room booty calls or sloppy make outs in frat houses (hey, it happens). The real world hookup scene comes down to trusting someone enough to go home with them, sometimes right after you’ve met. Flirting and flings are going to happen—we are young, after all—but being a pro at keeping it safe during a night out is essential. Get started actively protecting your body and mind when hooking up with these tips.
Do: Have a good time, but know your limits
It’s the weekend, and you deserve to have a good time. Hit the dance floor with your friends at a club and talk to a group of hotties by the bar. Just set your own drinking limits before your night of fun and stick to it. Having too many shots isn’t fun and you might be more prone to making decisions you might not make otherwise. Of course, being overly intoxicated absolutely isn’t license for anybody to take advantage of you—drunk or not, your body is your body. So if you do find yourself a little more drunk than you’re comfortable with, don’t be afraid to give a firm “no” when the cutie at the bar asks you to go home. If you’re interested, give your number instead; you can always see each other another time.
Don’t: Let anybody pressure you into doing something you’re not comfortable with
If your gut is telling you to go home, whether you’re tired or the person you’ve been talking to all night is just not for you, listen to your instincts. Hooking up should be fun, not stressful. “I think you should only hook up with someone you’re truly comfortable with…I’m all for girls hooking up when they want. No one should tell them what is right. I’m all about doing what feels right [for] you and you alone. Other people’s opinions don’t matter,” says Andrea*. Hooking up with someone, especially if you are going home with them for the first time, is your decision. You’re a grown woman who can make these choices for yourself, and don’t let someone tell you otherwise. If you feel bad rejecting someone, try a simple, yet to-the-point response: “I had a good time talking to you, but I have to go now.”
Related: 18 College Women Get Real About Sex On the First ‘Date’
Do: Have a buddy system
Always have a game plan for the night. Knowing what time you’re going to leave and what friend you’re going to leave with ahead of time prepares you with a reasonable excuse if someone asks you to go home with them and you’re not feeling it. But if you or someone you are with decides to go back to a hook-up’s place, avoid going alone if this is the first time you two have met. “Do so with a friend. If things check out and it feels safe, then perhaps your friend can exit,” says Dr. Ramani Durvasula, a licensed clinical psychologist and author of Should I Stay or Should I Go: Surviving a Relationship with a Narcissist. Sure, your hook-up might not love the fact that someone’s third-wheeling, but if that’s what makes you feel comfortable, don’t make any exceptions.
Don’t: Leave with someone without knowing any information
Get as many details as you can. Everything from their name and address, to if they have roommates or what their hobbies are, could reveal safety information you need to know. “Google him right then and there if you have to,” says Durvasula. After all, you’re entering a private residence with someone you don’t know—which, regardless of what time of day it is, whether or not you’ve been drinking and what you’re there for, can be a risk. “If I’m meeting someone from a site like Tinder, I always tell a few friends that I’m meeting someone just in case something were to happen. I also always meet a new person in a public place,” says Andrea.
If you’re flying solo, “get the address ahead of time… double check it when you enter, and let a trusted person know [where you are],” says Durvasula. Better yet, fill multiple friends in on exactly where you’re going and who you’re going with. Give them a time when you’ll be checking in with them and even consider not spending the night so a friend or roommate can expect you to be home at a certain time.
Do: Brush up on your Sex 101 knowledge
There’s no doubt asking someone if they’ve been tested for an STD is awkward, but it’s necessary. “Ask them if they have been tested. Believe it or not, most people are honest,” says Durvasula. “If they say they haven’t been tested or don’t know, then treat that as though they could have an STI and cover up.” We all had Sex Ed in high school but it’s easy to throw the rules out when we’re caught up in the moment.
“Knowledge is power!” reminds Dr. Theresa Woodruff, Vice Chair for Research in the Department of Obstetrics and Gynecology at Northwestern University. It’s nice to think someone who knows they have an STD wouldn’t be putting other people at risk by hooking up with them, but that isn’t always true. “Scientific terminology can be difficult to comprehend, especially when covering topics that are so rarely discussed openly, such as reproductive health,” says Woodruff. Especially when you’re hooking up with someone you just met, make sure you’re taking extra precautions, too.
Don’t: Be afraid to step back and say “no” for any reason
Whether you actually see signs of an infection or just have a bad feeling, say no. “This may sound a bit icky, but look and pay attention. If you notice obvious sores on their penis or labia or vagina it may be time to step back and say ‘not now,’” advises Durvasula. Her best tip? “[Condoms] are the best line of defense.” Be sure to carry your own, just in case! Remember: you don’t have to have a “real” reason for not wanting to go home with someone. Sometimes if you get a sketchy feeling, it’s best to not commit to anything. “I really only hook up with people I’ve gotten to know a little bit, and usually I can tell a weird/unsafe vibe from a guy right off the bat. So if I did get that vibe, I wouldn’t spend time with him again,” says Gabby*. Ultimately, trust your gut—if something feels off, say no.
Do: Ask for what you want in bed
Just because it’s not a relationship doesn’t mean you shouldn’t benefit as much out of the night as your hook-up does. “If you do end up having sex with a guy, you should be firm about what you’re into and what you’re not, so that he doesn’t get rough or put you in a position that hurts,” says Gabby. “Girls have to be extremely clear with sex because it could easily go wrong.” Don’t just go along with what the other person wants to do. Speak up and voice your needs as well. Hooking up is a mutual thing and not just about satisfying one person.
Don’t: Hesitate to set boundaries
The other person won’t know your boundaries unless you tell them. This includes what you’re comfortable doing in the moment and what you’re comfortable experimenting with in the future. Be open and honest about what you’re not okay with doing. If all of a sudden the person you are with does something you don’t like or don’t recognize, always let them know you’re not into it. As Woodruff says, understanding and knowing your body is key to making educated health choices. Her most vital sexual health tip for all women? “[You] are in control of [your] body,” she says. And don’t forget it!
Ultimately, you’re young and hooking up should be fun. Thankfully, the days of awkward encounters on campus with your hook-up are over. There are so many people to meet in the real world! As long as you play it safe, hooking up can, and should, be satisfying, liberating, and confidence-boosting (who couldn’t use some more of that?). You’re your best, and sometimes only, ally—always do what’s best for you.
*Names have been changed.