Sophie Cullinane | Features Editor | Tuesday, 20 October 2015

Why Do One Night Stands Leave Me Feeling Guilty?

Why Do One Night Stands Leave Me Feeling Guilty?

The Debrief: Casual one night stands can be shit, mediocre or completely brilliant - but why do they sometimes leave us feeling feeling a bit guilty afterwards?

I may be kind of letting the side down as a sexually liberated young women in my twenties but, the thing is, I’m not a fan of the one night stand. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve had one or two that have been truly wonderful – amazing sex with someone who I really liked but didn’t want to pursue something more emotionally enduring with – but they have very much been the exception to the rule.

The truth is, despite us living with some of the most laid-back attitudes towards sex in history, that doesn’t seem to have translated into women having a particularly good time during a casual encounter. If you’re not understanding what I’m getting at, it’s that one night stands don’t really get me off. Because I have failed to have an orgasm. Just wanted to make that clear. 

Couple that with the aftermath and the whole thing seems like more trouble than its worth. It’s that awkward moment when they get up to leave, give you a noncommittal kiss, perhaps on the forehead, and mumble something unintelligible about giving you a call that you both know full well won’t arrive.

It’s humiliating. Why bother insulting my intelligence with a lie? It’s made even worse by the fact you probably didn’t even want to hear back from this person who’s so blatantly rejecting you anyway.

As for the ones you really wish weren’t getting up to leave at all, not hearing back from someone who I’d like to have a second and third and fourth night stand with is a fast-track way to making me feel a bit grim and miserable. Try as I might to bury feelings I know to be unfair and totally based on outmoded and sexist attitudes, I can’t help asking myself if things might have progressed more if I had just held out on ‘giving it up’ a little longer. 

The guilty feeling I get is palpable and not improved by the fact that a lot of the women I know – all intelligent, wonderful, sexually liberating things – feel the same way

What we’re dealing with here is the inherent guilt a lot of us feel after we’ve had a one night stand. It isn’t just a hang-up from my Catholic primary school education, the guilty feeling I get is palpable and not improved by the fact that a lot of the women I know – all intelligent, wonderful, sexually liberating things – feel the same way.

If you weren’t feeling a bit odd about your one night stand as it was, hearing one of your mates say, ‘I really haven’t had any one night stands’ as a source of pride will sure as hell encourage the guilt to creep in. But where has this collective guilt actually come from? Why do one night stands leave so many of us feeling guilty? 

‘There’s a reason why the French call an orgasm “a little death”,’ GP Dr Lonsdale explains to The Debrief. ‘You have a huge surge of hormones and endorphins when you have sex and some people actually feel a “crash” afterwards. Some studies show that edorphins –also known as the ‘cuddle’ hormone – are released while kissing and caressing post-sex, which some believe can help ease this “crash” doom feeling some people get, but with one night stands this can be an important bonding stage that’s left out.

‘There’s also a study by researchers at California State University which found a link between casual sex and higher levels of depression and anxiety in both men and women.’

So there seems to be some biology to it, but surely that can’t be the whole story? Plus, not every one night stand ends with parting ways in the middle of the night – some of my best spoons have been with people I hardly know. What else is going on here?

‘Despite equality, there’s still a stigma about casual sex on the part of women,’ Jo Coker, national professional standards manager at the College of Sex and Relationship Therapists, explains. ‘But, beyond that, guilt might come down to the fact that we believe we’ve engaged in some risky behaviour.

‘We may have acted under the influence of drink or drugs and acted in a way we wish we had not, coupled with an inevitable hangover. We may also be acting under peer pressure and their belief system may not be congruent with the behaviour. Furthermore, the sex might just have been awful.’

While male masturbation and sexual desire is joked about, female sexual desire is something hidden and shameful, and hardly discussed at school

For feminist writer and author Rhiannon Lucy Coslett, a lot of the problem is less about our own psychology and more to do with the way society treats women who have casual sex.

‘I think it's instilled in lots of women to feel guilty about casual sexual encounters. As usual the virgin-whore dichotomy is at play here,’ she says. ‘As a young girl, you receive messages about purity and virginity loss that teach you to walk a tightrope between these two archetypes – either you’re a slag or frigid and as a teenager you try desperately to stay something in-between.

‘While male masturbation and sexual desire is joked about, female sexual desire is something hidden and shameful, and hardly discussed at school (how many readers were taught about the clitoris?) At the same time, you’re receiving messages from pornography that women are submissive to men.

‘As long as it’s implied – or directly stated even – that a certain number of shags is too many (for a woman! The same standards are not applied to men, obviously), women are going to feel conflicted about one night stands. There’s a great scene at the start of Trainwreck where Amy Schumer has gone home with a guy and is ripping off her clothes while saying, “I never do this.” It’s that in a nutshell – feeling that your sexual desire has to come with a disclaimer.’ 

That sums up the whole mess really, doesn’t it?

Like this? Then you might also be interested in...

My Parents Read About My Sex Life In The Papers’ 

In Defence Of Being The Rebound Girlfriend 

Why Foreskin Freaks Me Out

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Picture: Francesca Allen

Tags: Sex Ed