What Is A One Night Stand

Men's Dating

What Is a One-Night Stand?

Amber Brooks

Written by: Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks

Amber Brooks is the Editor-in-Chief at DatingAdvice.com. When she was growing up, her family teased her for being "boy crazy," but she preferred to think of herself as a budding dating and relationship expert. As an English major at the University of Florida, Amber honed her communication skills to write clearly, knowledgeably, and passionately about a variety of subjects. Now with over 1,800 lifestyle articles to her name, Amber brings her tireless wit and relatable experiences to DatingAdvice.com. She has been quoted by the Washington Times, Cosmopolitan, The New York Post, and AskMen.

See full bio »

Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Lillian Guevara-Castro brings more than 30 years of journalism experience to ensure DatingAdvice articles have been edited for overall clarity, accuracy, and reader engagement. She has worked at The Atlanta Journal and Constitution, The Gwinnett Daily News, and The Gainesville Sun covering lifestyle topics.

Reviewed by: Jon McCallister

Jon McCallister

Jon came to DatingAdvice in 2016 with more than 15 years of editorial experience behind him. He has experience editing, writing, and designing at numerous publications, including the Gainesville Sun. Jon enjoys researching emerging trends and seeking out the companies, organizations, and individuals making an impact in the modern world of dating. He excels at working closely with writers and editors to improve the quality of online content.

Discuss This! Discuss This!

Many flashy headlines claim that Gen Z is having less sex than previous generations and that 20-somethings are “rejecting hookup culture” en masse, but that’s not true for everyone. Plenty of single people still want to have sex without making things serious. One-night stands are a staple of single life. These intimate nights offer the option to satisfy physical needs without having to deal with the messiness of a relationship.

It’s a good idea to know what you’re getting into and what to expect before you plunge into the deep end of the casual sex pool. So what is a one-night stand? Let’s talk about it!

Definition | Motivations | Risks | Gender Dynamics

Defining One-Night Stands

Before we dive into the nitty-gritty of why people enjoy one-night stands, how they engage in them, and what the risks and benefits are, we need to be precise about what a one-night stand actually is. There are a lot of styles, methods, and formats for casual encounters — so much so that people can mix up definitions and terms. 

Although there are technically two definitions for the term one-night stand in the dictionary, the dating-related definition is straightforward enough: A sexual encounter limited to one occasion. The term can also refer to the partner in a one-time sexual encounter, but we’ll stick with the definition of the act. 

Screenshot of the dictionary entry for one-night stand
A one-night stand is a type of sexual encounter limited to one occurence.

The two primary factors that define a one-night stand are the sexual nature and the fact that it’s a single meeting. The sexual nature of the encounter sets it apart from a date, which doesn’t have the explicit goal of sex. And the fact that a one-night stand is a single event sets it apart from other types of casual encounters that all fall under the umbrella of hookups.

People can satisfy their physical needs without getting emotionally involved by setting up a “friends with benefits” arrangement, establishing a go-to hookup partner, or getting into a situationship. These are all casual sexual encounters where both partners understand that there’s no emotional relationship—although friends with benefits usually have some level of interaction outside of just sex—but they aren’t the same thing as a one-night stand.

While you don’t have to hook up with a stranger for your encounter to be a one-night stand, most one-night stands happen between people who don’t know each other very well and have no interest in pursuing a deeper emotional connection. 

If you’re hooking up on a one-time basis with someone you have no interest in pursuing romantically or even seeing again after your encounter is over, that’s a one-night stand.

Motivations and Expectations

There are as many motivations for one-night stands as there are people who participate in them. Understanding the reasons why people engage in one-night stands is important for setting healthy expectations and making sure everyone involved has a good time and stays safe.

Psychological Factors

Why do people engage in one-night stands? Lots of reasons! The psychology of casual sex goes surprisingly deep, although many people like to stick with the shallowest possible motivation: Sex is pleasurable, and relationships are complicated.

But there’s more to one-night stands than just sexual gratification. Some typical factors include social pressures, the need for intimacy, and biological sex drives.

One group of psychologists studied attitudes about casual sex among men and women via an anonymous survey. The survey found interesting results regarding the reasons that men and women tend to have one-night stands. “In terms of why men and women sought hook-ups, there was a fairly big gender difference overall, with predictable gender differences on items you would probably expect such as ‘I had a hookup because I was feeling miserable’ and ‘…because I felt pressured’ (more agreement from women); and ‘For sexual satisfaction/gratification’ (more agreement for men).”

“Not surprisingly, there was a huge gender difference, with men reporting nearly twice as many hook-ups on average.”Ryan Anderson Ph.D.

The survey found a strong amount of overlap in motivations. Both men and women agreed equally that they hooked up because they wanted affection for another person, to increase their self-confidence, and for personal enjoyment or fun. 

Author and self-help guru John Herald Lee suggests that one reason that heterosexual men might especially prefer one-night stands and other casual sexual encounters is that they’re touch-starved. Physical touch is a core need for humans, and single, straight men can miss out on physical touch due to the way Western culture stigmatizes hugging and other physical affection between men.

One-night stands are useful for women as well. A study conducted by two universities in New Zealand found that women tend to seek one-night stands to feel desirable, gain confidence, and experience sexual freedom in a way that committed relationships don’t allow.

Communication and Consent

Even though the whole point of a one-night stand is that it isn’t a formal, serious relationship, communication and consent are key to having a good time. Setting expectations and boundaries, understanding what you and your partner are looking for, and making sure everyone is on the same page can make the difference between a great encounter and a big regret.

Even if you’re never going to see your partner again after your encounter, communication is key to having a good time. 

“Not everyone will be into doing the precise things you’re into, of course, but you have very little to lose with a one-night fling, since they won’t know it’s ‘out of character,’ so you might as well indulge your wild side.” –Anna Pulley in Salon

You don’t have to get into your whole life story or romantic and sexual background, but you should be explicit about what you’re looking for before you even get to the bedroom (or living room couch, as the case may sometimes be). Your honesty will help you not only have the exact type of encounter you’re looking for, but also make sure you’re not unwittingly signing up for something you don’t want.

Hookup apps like Pure encourage honest communication by giving users a safe, kink-friendly space to post ads detailing exactly what they desire in their sexual encounters.

When engaging in any sexual activity, consent is vital. Make sure that your partner knows what they’re signing up for and that they agree enthusiastically. That makes for better sex. As this article from VICE points out, you can’t just ask once and be done — you should check in periodically and make sure your partner is still having fun.

Societal Stigmas

The sexual revolution of the 1960s championed free love and embraced casual sex as a norm, but conservative Christian values still hold sway in much of the U.S. There is still a lot of stigma around one-night stands, especially for women. Although women bear the brunt of social disapproval for engaging in risky sexual behaviors like hookups, men also have to contend with stigmas around hooking up.

Barney Stinson quote
Gender stereotypes ignore the complexity of human emotions.

Characters like Barney Stinson in “How I Met Your Mother” play with the idea of the man who sleeps around too much, turning the pickup artist and player stereotype into a clown who overcompensates for his own insecurities. On the flip side, however, men have to face a lot of stigma if they don’t have much sexual experience or don’t seek out at least some casual encounters.

For women, seeking casual sexual encounters can bring about disapproval. The term “slut shaming” became popular in 2004 to describe the social scorn that women tend to receive — from men as well as from other women — for perceived promiscuous behavior, including engaging in one-night stands. 

While women continue to fight against the stigma associated with enjoying casual encounters, there’s no question of the potential social cost. Despite their popularity, one-night stands have spawned several terms to describe the experience of post-one-night-stand regret, such as “the walk of shame.” 

People shouldn’t feel shame at fulfilling their needs. Sadly, the stigmas and social perceptions around casual sex, and especially around one-night stands, continue to be prevalent in the dating world.

Risks and Precautions

A one-night stand can be a fun and exciting way to satisfy your needs, but that doesn’t mean it’s risk-free. Casual encounters do present some risks to physical and mental health, and that’s something to keep in mind when you consider seeking a hookup. Fortunately, some excellent tools and tactics can help mitigate those risks, and a little knowledge can go a long way.

Sexual Health & STIs

The most obvious risks when it comes to casual sex are sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and other sexual health concerns. There’s a risk of contracting an STI with any sexual partner, and that risk goes up with the number of sex partners you have. Since one-night stands tend to be between strangers, you’re not usually vetting them as thoroughly as you would a romantic partner. 

The World Health organization raises awareness about the prevalence of hepatitis and other STIs

Unprotected sex can transmit a variety of bacteria, viruses, parasites, and other disease-causing agents between one person and another, and the consequences of those pathogens can last a lifetime. 

Sexually transmitted viruses like herpes, HPV, and hepatitis can be especially devastating because while medicines can treat them, there are no cures. Of course, human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) is potentially even more frightening — even though medicines exist to keep the virus in check, it’s difficult to live with HIV. 

Bacterial infections transmitted by sexual activity tend to get less attention, but they can still cause health issues. While chlamydia, gonorrhea, trichomoniasis, and syphilis are all curable, they can wreak havoc if you don’t catch them early. Syphilis in particular can cause major, long-term health issues if it goes untreated for a long time, and the early symptoms aren’t always noticeable. 

Other sexual health issues that can arise from unprotected sex include unintended pregnancy,  bacterial vaginosis, urethritis, yeast infections, as well as more mundane infections. Specific activities could cause tearing or abrasions in the delicate skin in and around the genitals. 

Whether they’re specifically sexually transmitted or more mundane, these infections often go undetected in their early stages. That’s because the early symptoms may be mild or even nonexistent. If you find yourself experiencing any of the hallmark symptoms of a sexually transmitted infection, get tested immediately. The key symptoms include:

  • Painful urination
  • Bad-smelling discharge from the genitals
  • Cloudy, bloody, or strange-colored discharge
  • Genital pain
  • Swollen lymph nodes, especially in the groin
  • Ulcers, sores, or warts on or around the genitals
  • Fever
  • Swelling or irritation of the genital area

Even if you don’t have symptoms of any particular STI, it’s a good idea to get tested regularly. We recommend testing after each new sexual partner. At minimum, you should get tested twice a year if you are sexually active.

Emotional Fallout

Although a lot of cautionary tales about one-night stands focus on the risk of physical health problems, emotional fallout is another risk to take into consideration. Studies find that casual sex can have a strong impact on mental and emotional health, especially among college-aged singles. 

While it’s worth noting that the correlation between depression and casual sex could go in either direction, there are definitely some reasons to make sure you’re in a good mental state before embarking on a new sexual adventure. 

It’s actually fairly common to find yourself getting emotionally attached after a one-night stand, and that goes just as much for men as for women. Sex releases oxytocin, a bonding chemical in the brain, which encourages feelings of contentment and reduces feelings of distress and anxiety. 

Some people even go so far as to seek ways to turn a one-night stand into something more serious. According to Psychology Today, about 27% of casual partners are successful at building a real relationship. 

Coming out of the oxytocin-induced haze can trigger a sudden rebound effect of anxiety and distress, leading to morning-after guilt, especially if you don’t have solid expectations before you take the plunge on hooking up. 

Paired with the social stigmas around promiscuity and casual sex, these regrets can be hard for some people to reconcile. Another pitfall for women is that they risk slut-shaming and other social disapproval and may not even achieve the sexual gratification they seek. Research into the orgasm gap delves deeper into this issue. It seems that a lot of straight women avoid casual sex not simply due to the social stigmas, but because they’re less likely to get the satisfaction they want for the risks they’re taking.

Setting your own expectations appropriately, approaching your one-night stand with the right mindset, and communicating effectively with your partner are all important for tackling the emotional risks involved in hookups.

Technology Can Mitigate Risks

The good news is a lot of tools and technological advances can help pleasure-seekers navigate the risks associated with one-night stands. With the right tools, it’s pretty easy to keep yourself safe and have a good time.

In addition to condoms, dental dams, and other barrier-based methods of preventing STI transmission, vaccines against viruses like hepatitis and HPV help prevent long-term health risks associated with those diseases. Regular STD testing is vitally important, but can also be a little embarrassing, so platforms like HerpesHub and LetsGetChecked let users get tested easily and anonymously. Results are sent straight to your device.

HerpesHub offers dating advice and supportive resources for singles with herpes.

Because meeting up with strangers carries physical risks, it’s important to do a little vetting of your potential one-night stand partner before you go home with them. Fortunately, many dating sites and apps offer tools like background checks as an added service or built into the profile creation process. 

You can get proactive with your own screening process, especially if you’re meeting people through hookup apps and sites. A true background check generally costs money, but a little bit of digging into your potential partner can go a long way, even if you’re not ready to shell out the money for a service.

Of course, you should also take the usual precautions when meeting someone new. Have your first meeting in a public place, try a voice or video chat before you commit to meeting someone new, and make sure you have a trusted friend on standby in case you need help making a quick, strategic exit.

Gender Dynamics in Casual Dating

It shouldn’t be a surprise that women and men have different experiences with casual dating and hookups. After all, the gender-based expectations are very different, and that is apparent in the studies on people who engage in casual sex. Men are more likely to inflate their number of sexual partners, while women are more likely to report lower numbers of sexual partners. 

Gender dynamics around casual relationships can make finding a satisfying one-night stand more difficult, and sexual orientation plays a role as well.

Male Satisfaction & Female Shame

As mentioned before, men are more encouraged to engage in casual sex than women, and that expectation plays out strongly in how each gender seeks sex and how they experience the outcomes.

The shame and stigma women experience from engaging in casual encounters often make it hard for them to feel comfortable during a one-night stand or hookup. This stigma also increases the risk that women will experience negative sexual encounters, including coercion and violation of their physical boundaries. 

While men tend to report higher rates of satisfaction and enjoyment from their casual encounters, one-night stands aren’t without risks for them. Many men report performance anxiety when it comes to actually following through on a one-night stand, especially if they drink beforehand.

The double standards and the stigma around female sexuality can translate to a lack of supportive care. Many people avoid seeking help to deal with their negative feelings and experiences after a one-night stand. This can compound in a downward spiral, making life harder all around. 

If you aren’t sure whether a one-night stand is really what you want, you should probably hold back from setting up a hookup.

LGBTQ+ Hookup Culture

Gendered expectations around sex likely contribute toward some of the stereotypes about the LGBTQ+ community. The idea that gay men are always promiscuous and actively seeking hookups certainly has a lot to do with the notion that all men are hypersexual. 

Hookup apps like Grindr and SCRUFF make it even easier and safer for queer men to hook up, offering a space where men meet for sex and community without having to out themselves. 

The Grindr logo
The Grindr app helps gay men find dates who are close by and DTF.

Queer women also face a lot of stereotypes and stigmas around their sexuality, especially bisexual and pansexual women. Dating life involves some double standards around how women seek casual sex versus how men go about the same process. 

The LGBTQ+ community is more welcoming of people seeking new sexual experiences and satisfying their needs with one-night stands, but there are still a lot of minefields to navigate, whether you’re a gay man or a pansexual woman. 

One-Night Stands Are a Hallmark of Sexual Freedom

If you want to satisfy your physical needs without the complications of a relationship, a one-night stand might be the perfect fit. One-night stands offer the opportunity to get your rocks off and say goodbye. While there is still a great deal of stigma attached to one-time hookups, especially for women, it remains a popular option for attaining physical intimacy and avoiding emotional complications.

If you want to have crazy fun without commitment or the need to spend time getting to know your partner more deeply, finding a one-night stand could be just your speed!