What is a one-night stand good for? (And what is it not?)

Toni Sicola|2022.03.31

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Sex is a lot of things—it can mean something different to everyone. Sure, that's a generic way to start a conversation about one-night stands, but it's the truth.

For some, a sexual encounter can't happen without deep trust and intimacy, and for others, the sex comes before the deep trust stuff—or is completely independent of it. Having a one-night stand may not be a great idea for the first type of person, but for others, it can be a safe, fun, and liberating sexual experience.

Figuring out where you are emotionally and sexually is important before pretty much all sexual activity. And so is knowing how to talk about it with your potential partner.

You might find that you're in exactly the right place for a one-off sexcapade with a hottie you met on Tinder. Or you might find that a no-strings-attached approach doesn't fit into your sex life.

So when is the right time for a one-night stand, and what are the rules of engagement? What is a one-night stand good for, and what is it not so good for? Let's dive in.

What is a one-night stand?

According to the free dictionary, Wiktionary, the definition of one-night stand is: "A single sexual encounter between two individuals, where at least one of the partners has no immediate intention or expectation of establishing a longer-term sexual or romantic relationship. As the phrase implies, the relationship lasts for only one night."

Intellectually, it's a pretty simple concept to grasp. It's a single-night hookup in which there are no expectations of further relations beyond the events of the evening.

But can you have a one-night stand with a friend? A friend of a friend? What if you will see this person regularly after the one-nighter because of a job or overlapping social circles? What then?

Establishing a few rules ahead of time can help you avoid a potentially awkward encounter after the one-night stand you have with your roommate's cousin or your friend's sister's coworker.

The rules of engagement

Rules for one-night stands may not be universally established across all sexually active humans, but there are rules to consider. This is especially true in a society that's attempting to become more sex-positive across all genders.

There are practical rules about safety, like always using protection—physical barrier protection like condoms, not just birth control. But there are also rules about how to be respectful. You're connecting with a whole human being, even if it's just for the night.

Here are some rules to live by in the world of one-night stands:

1. Bring condoms

Bring condoms if there will be a penis or sex toy involved. Even if you're not the one with the penis or sex toy, always be prepared so that you don't have to make a difficult decision in the heat of the moment that could risk your health and leave you without protection against an STI or unwanted pregnancy.

2. Be clear about your intentions

If all you're looking for is a hookup, state that clearly right off the bat. Don't wait until the car windows start steaming up to broach the topic.

Something as simple as, "I'm not looking for anything more than one night of fun. Is that OK with you?," will do the trick. In these modern days of dating apps, it's nice to include that info right on your profile if that's your motivation.

3. Don't get wasted

The growing acceptance of casual sex has liberated young women from the social stigma of promiscuity. But the seemingly ubiquitous involvement of alcohol in a lot of hookups can change the nature of the night for both parties. It can leave a dangerous amount of room for ambiguity around consent and plausible deniability if someone wakes up feeling like they’ve been violated or done something they wish they hadn’t.

A small 2007 study in The Journal of Interpersonal Violence showed that 78% of "unwanted vaginal, anal, and oral incidents took place while hooking up,” and the most frequently reported reason for unwanted sexual activity was alcohol.

Getting hammered without a buddy or plan in place can not only be dangerous, it’s also likely to lead to a less-than-stellar sexual performance by all parties involved. And honestly, why bother hooking up if you’re not going to enjoy it, remember it, or give clear consent for it?

4. Establish consent

Speaking of consent, get it and give it—clearly. Make it fun and sexy to ask if you can touch this or that, kiss this or that.

Or flip the script and turn consent into a conversation. Make requests. Ask questions. "I want you to touch me here." "It seems like you're ready for my pants to come off. Should I take off my pants now?" "I want to unbuckle your belt, can I?" You get the idea.

5. Don't get too personal (during or after)

If you're on a date with a person you're meeting for the first time and you have no intention of going on a second date, try not to pry too deeply into their innermost thoughts. Keep it light and easy. There's plenty to talk about without diving into the details of their lives and giving the wrong impression about your intentions.

And don't follow the person on social media after the night is over. If you met them on a dating app, that's the only social profile you should see. If you don't want to be a fixture in their life, don't make things confusing by liking pictures of their dog.

What is a one-night stand good for?

In short, a one-night stand is good for a quick sexual release when you're not ready, able, or desirous to commit to more than that. In some cases—but definitely not all—a hookup with a friend can work as a one-night stand.

As long as you're clear and open, and everyone is down for a good time, turning a friendship into a sexual relationship for one night can be pretty fun. And depending on the dynamics of your friendship, it may be a great way to experience a sexual release in a safe environment.

Then there's the good old-fashioned rebound. This may or may not be good for you in particular (only you can answer that question), but for some, rebound sex after a breakup can help solidify the end of something that needed to end. As long as you're clear about your motives with your new potential partner, rebound sex is a perfectly acceptable way to start moving on.

Maybe a one-night stand is a fun vacation goal. You join a pick-up volleyball game on the beach in Hawaii, and you keep making eyes with someone on the other side of the net, for example. Or you have to travel to a different city for work, so you check out people on Tinder in that particular place to see if someone wants to meet you at the hotel bar.

Or maybe you're focused on personal or professional goals that don't leave room for a committed relationship at this point in time, but you still have needs. A one-night stand can scratch a sexual itch with no strings attached in a time when you can't offer more than that.

If you go into your one-night stand with eyes wide open, it can be a positive experience. Honesty with yourself and your hookup buddy is essential. If everyone is on the same page, then a one-night stand can be good for everyone involved.

If you're into it, you're into it

One-night stands can fulfill a need for some people. If you’re able to keep your expectations in check and have a rockin’, no-strings-attached night of sexual pleasure with another consenting adult, by all means, have at it—while using physical barrier protection.

A one-night stand can be great if you’re in a sexual drought and just need some easy lovin’. It can work wonders as a healthy rebound activity. It can even be a fun way to entertain yourself on vacation or a work trip. But one-night stands aren’t for everybody.

Some people truly aren't cut out for one-night stands. It's not a good or bad thing—it's just a fact of life. Whether you catch feelings easily, believe that sex should be meaningful and not casual, or find yourself feeling kinda bad after a casual encounter, it's all good. One-night stands aren't for you, and that's totally fine.

If you find that you feel worse after a one-night stand (or more than one), you might want to try other forms of sexual release when you're single and not looking for a partner. For some augmented solo fun, check out the Dipsea app. There's a whole section dedicated to solo sex and self-touch.

If you're curious about one-night stands and want to dip your toe in without committing to the real deal, there's a set of hookup stories to explore too. Have fun with it—in whatever way you're most comfortable—and don't force yourself into a hookup or one-night stand if that's not your jam.

And if it is your jam, go get it. Just be smart about it.

Listen, light yourself up.

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