College Hook-Ups, Satisfaction, and Gender: The Cold, Hard Facts

There are countless articles detailing essentially the same generic advice about casual sex. I have compiled a mixture of research and advice that you probably will not find on any old clickbait site. Advice can only go so far, as each person is different, but I hope that this will challenge your pre-existing beliefs and supply you with new nuggets of wisdom.

There is a widespread myth that women will become romantically entangled after a casual sexual encounter, while men are able to associate sex purely with desire. This argument is not only cissexist, as it excludes trans, intersex, and gender nonconforming folks from the study, but also serves as a way to control women’s sexuality. Dr. Zhana Vranglova, sex researcher and professor at New York University, explores the connection between casual sex and happiness in her brilliant TED Talk. In 2014, she wrote an article for Psychology Today, discussing the four common reactions after hookups.   


In an article published on Psychology Today, Zhana Vranglova describes her findings:

        The Happy Hopefuls, who made up 32% of the sample, had very strong positive emotions (their happiness and excitement were almost at the maximum) and fairly low negative emotions (between 1.5 and 2 on the 5-point scale).

        The Content Realists, who made up 30% of the sample, had pretty strong positive reactions (not as strong as the Happy Hopefuls, but well above the mid-point of the scale) and even lower levels of negative emotions (their emptiness, confusion, and sense of being used were at the very minimum). Another difference between these two groups was in their hope for a future committed relationship—46% of Happy Hopefuls, but only 19% of Content Realists, held such hopes.

        The third cluster (24%) was labeled Used & Confused, because these students had the strongest feelings of emptiness, confusion, and being used of all groups (almost at the scale mid-point), and only medium amounts of happiness (slightly above the scale mid-point). This was the most ambivalent group, as they experienced both positive and negative reactions with some intensity (though the positives still outweighed the negatives by about one scale point). Similar to the Happy Hopefuls, many Used & Confused students (37%) reported hopes for a committed relationship.

        Finally, the Disappointed & Disengaged (18%) displayed the least amount of positive emotions (well below the mid-point of the scale) among the clusters, and high amounts of negative emotions (especially awkwardness and disappointment). They were the only ones whose negative reactions outweighed the positive, yet they exhibited less confusion, emptiness, and used feelings than the Used & Confused cohort.

She came to the conclusion that while men were more likely to be Happy Hopefuls and women were more likely to be Disappointed & Disengaged. The good news is that both genders had mostly positive post-hook up reaction. Her research dispels the myth that women are at mercy to their own emotions when engaging in casual sex.

In addition to Dr. Vranglova’s research, I would also like to share some hard won wisdom:

Falling asleep next to someone can be quite difficult. Every time they adjust their arm or snore loudly enough to wake themselves up can cause the person next to them to lay awake for the next six hours planning an essay in their head (totally not speaking from personal experience or anything). Next-day sluggishness can be easily solved by popping some Melatonin in your pocket before you go out.

Clear communication goes hand-in-hand with strong relationships, whether or not it is a committed monogamous relationship or a one night stand.

Be honest with yourself about how you feel. If a hook-up causes you to realize strong feelings for the other person, it is vital for you to communicate this. Post-coital conversation can be difficult to decipher and if the other person is “unsure” about how they feel, they are most likely lying because they are too afraid to say how they feel. Through my own experiences and the stories of friends, I have noticed that people hear what they want to hear despite what is actually being said. It is much easier to interpret a “I’m not really sure what I want right now” as a cue to wait for the other person to come to their senses. In reality, they are likely wasting your time, as someone who wants to be with you will be direct.

Make sure that you are doing it for the right reasons. If you are using sex to escape emotions, get revenge on someone, or bring someone closer to you, it will likely make you feel worse. You are absolutely free to do whatever you want with your sexuality, but a bit of introspection can be enormously helpful in the long run.