Sex is an essential part of life rather than a mere component of any relationship. A typical movie or series involves a man out for his own fulfillment and a woman longing for love who is left with a feeling of regret and shame in a one-night stand. There has been a growth in the study of casual sex by social psychologists in recent years. A decade ago any research on relationships had two forms: serious and one-night stand according to Li and Kenrick, 2006. Casual sex includes a spectrum of casual encounters such as no strings attached, friends with benefits, hookups, and many more.
The research related to one-night stands is limited because from a societal perspective, any occurrence of sex implicit or explicit, that is not backed by a committed relationship is problematic. In a study conducted on college student samples a “faithful marriage to one partner” is considered an ideal arrangement. Marriages or committed relationships are the most acceptable venues of sex as it is encouraged by religious, historical, and cultural prejudices. However, in recent scenarios, even dating applications also give an option of casual sex along with dating. There is a myth that one-night stands are associated with teenagers or young adults. However, unlike what earlier research studies had revealed, more current studies have shown that it is age-neutral.
What is a one-night stand?
One-night stands are often perceived as the opposite of a serious love relationship. The term specifies it to be an event that takes place once with the purpose of sexual gratification. It is a brief, superficial, and novel experience, having an unsure future. In other words, it excludes the emotional and commitment aspects of sex and simply involves physical intimacy. However, a study by Helen Fisher in 2014 uncovered that 27% of individuals discovered one-night stand turned into a long-term romantic relationship. The quality of experience the two people had will probably have a greater impact on the future. As the individuals participating do not intend to meet again they feel free to express themselves without getting impacted by the norms and stereotypes.
Although it is believed that the individuals are not emotionally involved, research surprisingly indicates that there are many individuals who are as emotionally involved as they would be in a serious relationship. Thus, one-night stands can sometimes lead to a meaningful positive relationship. But it might not be the case with everyone. Therefore, one-night stands are characterized by a high level of sexual and emotional intimacy wherein the primary purpose is sexual fulfillment (Jonason 2013) free from any restriction, expectation of commitment and pressure of a traditional romantic relationship.
Why do people engage in one-night stands?
There could be many reasons an individual is motivated to engage in a one-night stand. The research has curled out the following one –
- Fear of commitment.
- Dissatisfaction within a committed relationship
- Might be a coping mechanism
Associated Risk and Consequences
One night stand comes with potential risks and consequences which are:
- Unwanted pregnancy
- Sexually transmitted infections (STIs)
- Sexual assault
- A feeling of guilt and shame might lead to emotional dysregulation
- Damage committed relationships or even break them for life.
- Can harm a person’s social standing.
Consequences on relationship
The impact of a one-night stand varies from one person to another as every relationship is unique. Some may be able to work through and rebuild their trust while others may find it preferable to break relationships. Emotional impact includes the feeling of regret, guilt, or emotional distance from your partner. Learning your partner engages in one-night stands can trigger feelings of insecurity, inadequacy, and jealousy. It requires open communication as it is difficult to navigate these feelings.
From a gendered perspective
In a qualitative research conducted in two universities in Auckland. The study concluded three main aspects on one night stand where men and women have different perspectives:
- The idea of sex: it’s thrilling for both men and women. For men it was a sexual variety and for women a sexual freedom.
- Boosts Ego: Men receive outside validation for their sexual activities which is often disclosed in front of friends. However, women celebrate in private as they feel desirable.
- Awkwardness and uncomfortability: These are the feelings felt by both men and women. Specifically, waking up in the morning makes them feel strange.
Li and Kenrick in 2006 conducted research which found that men and women have distinct perspectives on one-night stands as they are in conflict over investment in a potential offspring according to evolutionary theory. Research says that men are likely to engage in one-night stands more as compared to women. And women are more likely to regret and feel ashamed due to stigma and negative consequences compared to men.
Should one engage in a one-night stand?
It is necessary to understand that the ultimate decision-maker is you. However, it is critical to be aware of any risk and their implications. If you are in a committed relationship it has to be conveyed to your partner, if not, then it is considered cheating in a relationship. The feeling of betrayal and trust-breaking are triggered and then later rebuilding trust can be challenging.
One needs to understand that a one-night stand does not have a negative connotative attached naturally but by society. Thus, assessing how you feel about the idea and if there are any expectations in terms of experience. You can ask yourself the following questions:
- How does it make you feel good about yourself? Does it make you feel guilty and empty? Or you feel more confident, at peace, and fulfilled.
- How it fits or doesn’t fit with respect to your values, goals, and sexual journey.
- Why do you want to engage to get over an ex, improve social status, reduce stress etc.
There is “No right or wrong answer”, it is how you want your sexual life to be.
Impact on Relationships
A sexual act between two people without any formal commitment and having no intention to develop a long-term relationship. One engage in one-night stands can have a variety of motivating factors from curiosity to unfulfilled relationships. It carries a range of emotions from happiness and pleasure to regret and shame. One-night stands can result in a feeling of betrayal, break of trust, emotional distress, and a possibility of a relationship getting dissolved. It is associated with risks and consequences of unwanted pregnancies, sexual assault, and sexually transmitted diseases. There is a color of gender as always wherein men are more likely to engage in one-night stands compared to women. Ultimately the decision is on the individual however one must be aware of the risks it involves and if in a committed relationship it needs to be shared with the partner.