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One night stands – a good idea or should you be keeping your knickers on?

April 30th, 2007

Dr Petra

New research from a book called ‘The Rough Guide to the Brain’ claims that having sex early on in a relationship releases hormones that could lead to increased trust and intimacy. Which has been interpreted by some areas of the media as a green light for one night stands.

Unfortunately we can’t tell from just being told about hormone production whether this theory holds water. In order to truly test this we’d need to follow up in a long term study a group of people who don’t have sex on the first date and those who do and see who’s still together some time later.

That’s not really stopped journalists though who’ve run with the ‘hormones in your brain means we should all have one night stands’ angle.

In one story from The Sun (which I took part in) the focus switched from whether one night stands are good for long term relationships, to whether they’re good for you at all. It led to a curious report where rather than a general issue of one night stands were discussed it became a ‘battle of the experts’ piece where one of us was in favour of one night stands (me, apparently) and one was against.

So what do we know about one night stands?

Well, we know that many people have them without using condoms – and that is a big worry. We also know that use of drugs and alcohol can increase one-off sexual encounters which can lead to people sleeping with someone they perhaps usually wouldn’t fancy (and again not using condoms).

Although the mainstream women’s media is quite keen on presenting the idea of empowered women having fuck buddies all over the place in fact many people who have one night stands do so in the hope it’ll turn into a relationship. For many straight young men peer pressure leads to pushing for sex on a first date, whilst many straight young women feel they have to have sex in order to keep someone happy (or ensure a relationship happens).

We also still have problems with double standards so lads may well pressure for sex, but then negatively judge a girl who sleeps with them. Often we advise girls to avoid sex for this reason – and you still see sex educators maintaining sexist double standards that encourage girls to keep hold of their reputations. Which is fine, but if your boyfriend’s the kind of arse who thinks if you sleep with him straight away you go from girlfriend material to slapper perhaps it’s best to flush out these kinds of attitudes sooner rather than later. After all he’s not going to change his mind if you don’t sleep with him for a while – he’ll still be sid the sexist at heart.

There are some schools of thought that the longer you delay sex the better you get to know someone. This is important for young people who may be less confident about sex. It is also good if you’re new to dating or back on the dating scene after a long term relationship. However, it shouldn’t be an absolute rule since we need to allow people to make their own decisions – and mistakes.

Most of the avoiding one night stands advice is aimed at straight women as a means of maintaining an old fashioned view of virtue. I’ve even seen some ‘sexperts’ claiming the longer you leave it the better sex is – but that’s not held up by any existing evidence. In fact if you’re not confident and you delay sex chances are it’ll be dismal whether you wait 24 hours or 24 weeks.

So the advice when it comes to one night stands is that if you want one, take precautions – use condoms and avoid having sex with someone you don’t know when drunk or on drugs. Always tell someone where you’re going and if in doubt leave. Don’t have a one night stand just because your mates will think you’re great, because you don’t want to lose someone, or because you read some dodgy science or media coverage that made you think everyone’s at it. If you have a one night stand and are worried about getting pregnant or an STI go and visit your GP or condomessentialwear to sort out your sexual health.

Communicate your desires. If you want the one night stand to go further make this clear at the outset and if your partner doesn’t seem as interested then you can decide if you want to go further. Also keep an open mind since some one night stands can continue into relationships.

I went through all this with The Sun reporter and some of it ended up in the main piece – although I was concerned to see my safer sex tips all excluded (including a link to a support safer sex website). But I guess that’s still the way we explain women, sex and one night stands in the media. If you’re in the floozy camp that endorses one night stands you obviously can’t be sexually responsible. The truth is you can – if you want to have a one night stand and do so knowingly and feeling safe (which includes using a condom) you’ve every right – regardless of your sexuality and gender. But if one night stands are not for you then that’s fine too.

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