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One-Night Stands In College: Are We Having Them?

None of the emotional commitment, all of the physical fun. That’s how college students do sex, right? While the idea that “everybody’s doing it” has been around for a long time, is it true? At Her Campus, we conducted a survey with 95 collegiettes nationwide and consulted Lisa Wade, associate professor and chair of sociology at Occidental College, and Paula England, professor of sociology at New York University, to see how prevalent one-night stands in college really are.

How prevalent are one-night stands in college?

Despite what society might believe, college students are not having as many one-night stands as we think, according to Wade. “Everyone thinks that everyone is having more sex, and better sex and liking it more than they really are,” says Wade, whose work includes research on the sexual behavior of college students, specifically hook-up culture.

She explains that pluralistic ignorance applies to this situation. Pluralistic ignorance is when people believe that their private beliefs and attitudes are different from the general public’s beliefs and attitudes. In this case, college students are overestimating how much casual sex people are having on campus.

“So really, what you see is young people coming to campus, trying to enact this vision of sex in college that they’ve learned from the media,” says Wade. Soon after, college students discover that sex is not as glamorous as it is on TV. The typical freshman will hook up more in her first few weeks on campus than she does in her first year in general. From then on, she will hook up less and less every following year, according to Wade.

According to England, who conducted research on hook-ups in colleges across the country, a hook-up can include any kind of sexual behavior including, but not limited to, kissing, touching, oral sex or intercourse. According to the data she collected, the average number of hook-ups that a graduating senior has participated in is seven, which comes to an average of less than one per semester. Of those seven hook-ups, only 40 percent of them include intercourse.

In a survey done by Her Campus, we asked you how many one-night stands you’ve had, leaving the term “one-night stand” up to your interpretation

  • 42.1 percent said they have never had a one-night stand.
  • 18.9 percent said they have had 1 one-night stand.
  • 14.7 percent said they have had 2 one-night stands.
  • 6.3 percent said they have had 3 one-night stands.
  • 17.9 percent said they have had 4 or more one-night stands.

And when asked if one-night stands are common for your group of friends, 32.6 percent said yes while 67.4 percent said no. About 42 percent of collegiettes who responded said that they have never had a one-night stand. When asked for the main reason why they haven’t, this is what they said:

  • 7.5 percent said they never had the opportunity, but if they did, they would.
  • 35 percent cited religious beliefs as the reason they abstain from one-night stands.
  • 7.5 percent said they are scared of getting hurt, emotionally.
  • 7.5 percent are scared of contracting an STI or getting pregnant.
  • 42.5 percent said it was just not their thing (not interested).

Chrissy*, a sophomore at Carroll University, said that it would be out of character for her to have a one-night stand. “I believe a physical relationship can only carry some kind of meaning if it follows an emotional relationship.”

Another reason she avoids one-night stands is because of the potential awkwardness that can arise. “Getting physical with my boyfriend was awkward enough the first few times and we knew we trusted each other. I can’t imagine being that vulnerable with a stranger. I think I’d be too mortified to even enjoy it.”


What are the benefits?

For many college women who are academically-driven, one-night stands are a way to have fun and participate in sex without worrying about or making the time for a relationship, says Wade.

Brianna*, a senior at Kwantlen Polytechnic University likes having one-night stands because there are no requirements for emotional commitment. “Sometimes there just isn’t someone in your life on a permanent basis to fill your needs,” Brianna* says. “With one-night stands, you can get your physical needs met without having to navigate something as confusing as a serious relationship.”

Alcohol and the party culture on college campuses also play a part. When we asked how many sober and drunk one-night stands you’ve had, 76.4 percent of collegiettes said that they have had a drunken one-night stand.

What are the risks?

The majority of collegiettes (67.2 percent) who responded to Her Campus’s survey reported regretting at least one one-night stand they had in the past.

Wade says that this regret is not usually regretting being sexual, but regretting that the sexual experience was not as great or as rewarding as expected. “There’s a lot of unsatisfying sex on college campuses. There are a lot of people having sexual experiences that they don’t really enjoy.”

With all kinds of sex, there is the risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections or getting pregnant. In Her Campus’s survey, when asked whether you’ve ever had a one-night stand without protection, 38.2 percent said yes. Sure, it’s not the sexiest thing to bring up mid-hook-up, but don’t be afraid to ask your partner about their sexual history and if they have been tested for any STIs. Also, if you’re using condoms for intercourse, don’t forgo using them during oral sex.

What do collegiettes want out of a one-night stand?

When we asked you what you expect out of a one-night stand:

  • 62.9 percent said they expect nothing.
  • 4.8 percent said they expect a friendship.
  • 21 percent said they expect a friend with benefits.
  • 11.3 percent expect casual dating as a result.

While the general perception is that men enjoy one-night stands more and women enjoy being in a relationship more, Wade says that both genders prefer to be in a relationship. Many college men will gladly accept a one-night stand but would much prefer to be in a relationship. “Both college men and women would like to have relationships but instead they’re stuck in this culture that forces them to not admit that, otherwise they [think they] sound pathetic,” says Wade.

Be honest with yourself. If you don’t like the idea of a one-night stand, don’t feel pressured into putting it on your college bucket list. But if you do want to participate, or continue participating in, one-night stands, make sure you’re being as safe as possible. One night of spontaneous fun is not worth an infection or unwanted pregnancy. And if your one-night stand doesn’t turn out to be as good as you expected, don’t blame yourself. You’re still in college. Once you know what you want, there will be more opportunities in the future to participate (or not) in a one-night stand that you will enjoy.

*Names have been changed.


Sarah Casimong is a graduate of Kwantlen Polytechnic University, with a bachelor's degree in journalism. She has written for the Vancouver Observer, Cave Magazine and Urban Pie. She is also the scriptwriter for Beautiful Minds Radio on Vancouver Co-op Radio 100.5 FM, and occasionally conducts interviews for the "personal story" segment of the show. In her spare time she enjoys British music and television, playing the Mass Effect and Dragon Age video games and getting lost in really good chick lits. You can follow her on twitter: @sarahcasimong