SparkNotes Blog

Real Talk: On One Night Stands

I basically didn’t date in high school. I mean, occasionally, but never for more than a couple of weeks, nothing turned serious. I was a nerd. I was focused on my schoolwork. I did manage, however, to get rid of my virginity before graduating—and that, in my eyes, freed me up to do pretty much whatever I wanted sexually. Sex had always fascinated me—not just for the obvious hormonal reasons though I’m sure those played a part, too—but also for the power structures, and struggle, wrapped in it. Women could use sex to manipulate men à la Lysistrata and, well, men had been conflating sex and force, horrifically, basically since forever.

And, as for me, well, I found that sex made me feel powerful—to be able to bring someone to the point of such physical vulnerability—naked, moaning, squirming, barely lucid—while you, while I, are as clearheaded as ever—as was usually the case, given the limited knowledge most adolescent boys have of female pleasure and anatomy—well, you could say it turned me on. Aside from the in-the-moment power rush, I also delighted in collecting hook-ups. Being able to hook-up without any emotional commitment made me feel masculine and—hello, the powers of gender-normative socialization!—powerful.

When I got to college, where everything was tabula rasa (and everyone was a nerd), I could start over. I didn’t need to be that intense, undateable girl. I went out almost every night at first and, overwhelmed and flattered by the amount of male attention I attracted, I started collecting hook-ups. But, since we were in college, hook-ups now meant, for the most part, one night stands. There was the huge red-head, a rower from England, who I didn’t text back the next day. There was the guy down my hall whose virginity I unknowingly took and then awkwardly avoided for fear he’d try to date me. There was the cut blonde South African who I couldn’t remember hooking up with because I’d been black-out drunk. There was the preppy brunette who didn’t tell me his roommate was sleeping on the top bunk until we were in a very compromising position. There were a few more.

Did I have fun? Um. Well. Sort of. What was most fun was relating whatever had happened the night before to my best friends over brunch, was being embarrassed, was laughing about it. The thing about one night stands, especially with college boys, is that they are rarely very pleasurable—for women at least. Bodies respond differently to different things and it takes time to build up that knowledge, alongside the trust required to fully reveal oneself, physically, to another.

Now I often look back at that time and wince. I was often drunk when going home with these men. Something really awful could’ve happened to me—pregnancy, STIs, rape. And all for the sake of a good story.

When I had one-night stands occasionally, post-college, they were different. The men were older, more respectful, more knowledgable, more mature. And then, well, I guess most of them didn’t even end up being one night—or, even if they did, there’d be a follow-up text or email or whatever. And I, too, was different. At that point, I was no longer an insecure girl who needed the attentions of men to prove to herself that she could be desirable. I no longer wanted the story. I had realized that, in having one night stands, as frequently, as mindlessly as the stereotypical man, I’d been trying to find power as a woman by becoming like a man, rather than trying to find an alternative. I’d been a frat boy in a feminist girl’s body. That was the most embarrassing story of them all.

 How do you feel about one night stands?