Today, we’re talking about hookup culture in college. In Ask An Editor, Her Campus Editors answer readers’ questions about how to be a human. This month, Her Campus’s Deputy Editor, Iman Hariri-Kia, hosts office hours.
How can you feel safe hooking up with someone you don’t know well?
For One Night & One Night Only
Dear For One Night & One Night Only,
First of all, thank you for this excellent question! I wish more people acknowledged the amount of vulnerability that hookup culture requires. There’s something inherently scary about letting your guard down long enough to let a stranger into your heart, let alone your bed. And there’s a certain level of intimacy that comes hand-in-hand with sex, even casual one-night stands. How can you possibly feel safe when all of the above lingers like the elephant in the room? Hooking up can start weighing you down.
When I was in college, I avoided casual sex for the sole purpose that it felt high-risk to me, both physically and emotionally. How could you trust someone you barely knew with both your body and your heart? I was so impressed with my friends that were able to lay all their cards on the table and just enjoy the experience of hooking up with a stranger. But as I’ve gotten older and begun working in the sex and relationships space (I was an S&R editor for many years), I realized that the ability to feel safe while hooking up with someone you don’t know well all boils down to one word: Communication.
I know, I know. Shut up, Iman. Sorry, Reader — I know it’s beyond lame, but it’s so true: Open and honest communication truly is the cornerstone of any healthy relationship, even one that’s purely sexual in nature starts and ends between the hours of 1:00 and 3:00 a.m. Establishing intentions and boundaries with all of your sexual partners will ensure your emotional and physical safety, so you can lie back, relax, and enjoy your sexual exploits. Isn’t that what casual hookups are all about?
Discuss Active Consent
First and foremost, the key to feeling safe and sexy during any type of hookup is giving and receiving active consent. What’s the difference between consent and active consent? Constantly checking in verbally and non-verbally throughout every stage of the hookup to ensure the comfort and enthusiasm of everyone involved. Remember: Anyone can say “no” at any time, consent can be revoked at any point during sex, and no one can give active consent while under the influence. And just allow me to do a bit of mythbusting here: Asking for consent can be so, so sexy, especially since verbal communication during sex can make the experience 10x more erotic. Rumors that discussing consent will “take you out” of the moment are simply that: rumors.
Talk About Contraception
When it comes to your physical safety, open up a discussion about contraception and protection before engaging in any kind of sexual activity, including oral sex. Ask your partner the last time they were tested for STIs, and if you’re comfortable, share the kind of birth control you take, whether that be the oral pill, an IUD, a diaphragm, or any other type of contraceptive device. Finally, if you’re having penetrative sex, insist on using a condom in addition to any long-term contraceptives — while the latter will help prevent unintended pregnancies, the former will provide protection from any sexually transmitted diseases or infections. To feel doubly safe, prioritize carrying condoms in your purse whenever you go out.
Start A Dialogue About Boundaries & intentions
Here comes the hard part: In order to ensure your emotional safety, have a conversation with your partner(s) before engaging in any sort of sexual activity about your sexual boundaries and romantic intentions. Communicate any sexual acts, positions, fantasies, or kinks that turn you on or make you uncomfortable. For extra assurance, establish a safe word. Then talk about what you both want to get out of the hookup. A night of casual sex? A sexual relationship? A romantic relationship? If your intentions don’t align, be prepared to walk away. It might sting in the moment, but you’ll thank yourself in the long run.
Of course, there are also precautions you can take in order to feel safe going home with someone you barely know. Tell your friends where you’re going, including your partner’s name and address. Stay alert and vigilant, ready to leave at the earliest sign of discomfort. Above all else, besties — listen to your gut, as well as your heart. If something doesn’t feel right, don’t force it. Your safety takes priority over your libido any day.
Plus, that’s what great vibrators are for.