Navigating One-Night Stands

Practices and anxieties related to casual sexual encounters

By Alesandra Woolley

Jun 14th, 2022

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There’s something liberating about a fun night out turning into a fun night in. Whether it’s an instant connection at the bar or a swipe-right meetup, some flings only last from sundown to sunup. One-night stands are notoriously connected to drunken nights and walks of shame, but this stigma is slowly changing. As one-night stands become more about sexual expression and independence, talking about proper precautions becomes more and more important.

To get a better look at one-night stands, we asked 990 people who had a one-night stand in the past year how often they had them, who they had them with, and what concerns they had about them. To find out more on how to take the risk out of risqué, keep reading.

Partner for the Night

In the past year, the men surveyed had an average of 3.5 one-night stands, and women had an average of 2.7. While men only had a slightly higher average in the past year, the difference between genders was greater when looking at the average number of lifetime one-night stands. On average, women reported having 10.8 one-nighters, compared to an average of 14.6 for men.

So whom are people choosing to spend the night with? The majority took to the sheets with someone they met online or through a dating app. This makes sense considering online dating has become the standard, with most finding their spouses through technology. Despite Tinder being known as the “hookup” app, people are still meeting their sexual partners in the real world, even if it’s just for the night. Almost 53 percent of people had one-night stands with someone they just met in person, and 52 percent even hooked up with a friend.

Casual Comfort

For some, one-night stands are fun and lighthearted, but other people may not be as comfortable with them. Most respondents were at least slightly comfortable with one-night stands, with only 2.7 percent of women and 1.6 percent of men reporting they were not at all comfortable with the idea.

The majority of respondents were moderately comfortable with one-night stands. The biggest difference between men and women was those rating their comfort level as “extremely comfortable.” Twenty-eight percent of men had no doubts about casual sex, but only 16.2 percent of women felt the same.  

With a long history of being shamed for sex, women began to mute their sexuality and fit the mold society saw fit. But as time progressed, women have begun to find their voice and express themselves through the #MeToo movement and the Women’s March, letting the world know there is nothing wrong with their sexuality or being a woman – and that the two are not mutually exclusive. As women continue to come together and reclaim their independence and agency, the gap between comfort felt by men and women regarding casual sex may begin to close.

Hookup Hang-ups

Stigmas aren’t only where discomfort about casual sex comes from. After all, sex with a stranger can be extremely awkward during the act or waking up the next morning. Almost 70 percent of both men and women said the risk of STDs or STIs was their biggest concern regarding casual sex. While this was the main concern for most men, women had far more varying concerns, including personal safety.

In fact, women were more likely to worry about their personal safety than the risk of unintended pregnancy. Fifty-four percent of women feared their personal safety would be at risk due to casual sex, while that was only a concern for 34 percent of men. Women were also more likely to be concerned about body insecurities, fear of regret, and being labeled promiscuous. Casual sex brought up fear of being labeled promiscuous for just 11 percent of men, but this stigma was a fear for 27 percent of women.

Coming Prepared

It’s difficult to prevent judgment, labels, or anxiety from creeping in during one-night stands. Luckily, taking precautions can minimize certain concerns associated with one-night stands. What steps are people taking to relieve the worries they have surrounding one-nighters? Both men and women practiced carrying extra condoms or contraceptives with them at 55.7 percent and 55.5 percent, respectively. The two genders were also just as likely to ask their casual partner about his or her STI status before getting it on.

However, the genders differed greatly when it came to other precautions. Fifty-five percent of women said they told a friend where they would be, while only 23 percent of men did the same. Letting a friend know your whereabouts matches the sentiment of “text me when you get home,” and it goes much deeper than just personal safety. The fear women feel when alone in certain situations is shared among the gender, so leaning on girlfriends may be the best bet – especially since they can empathize with those worries.

Women were also more than twice as likely to carry self-defense items with them. Thirty-two percent of women worried about personal safety enough to bring protection, while only 11 percent of men entered a one-night stand carrying self-defense protection.

Stranger Danger

Having a one-night stand doesn’t always mean going home with a stranger, so who are people most concerned about spending the night with? For men, 30 percent were wary of having a one-nighter with a co-worker, and 25 percent were most worried about sleeping with a friend. Only 12 percent of men thought going home with someone they just met in person was worrisome, while almost 24 percent of women felt the same.

Women were also more concerned about having a one-night stand with someone they met online or through a dating app – nearly 24 percent of women were leery of those situations. This difference between genders can likely be traced back to the fears each has regarding one-night stands. Men’s wariness of co-workers and friends may be tied to the awkwardness that can ensue post-hookup. Women, on the other hand, were more concerned about strangers, likely due, in part, to the potential risk to their safety.

Walk of Shame

Casual sex and one-night stands are often linked to shame, usually more so for women than men. While this shame can come from oneself, it also stems from the judgment of others. Regardless of its origin, shame plays a major role in how people approach, participate, and feel about one-night stands.

Both men and women who had low shame according to the Shame-Negative-Self-Evaluation sub-scale of the Guilt and Shame Proneness Scale had more one-night stands, on average, compared to those with high shame. Each gender with low shame had about 16 one-night stands in their lifetime on average.

For those with high shame, however, the genders differ slightly. Men with high shame had an average of about 11 one-night stands over their lifetime, while women with high shame had an average of 8.4. The smaller difference in the number of one-night stands between the genders when shame was less of a factor suggests the feeling plays a slightly bigger role for women than men when it comes to hookups.

Get Comfortable

One-night stands can range from nerve-wracking and awkward to fun and liberating, but even the most comfortable encounters come with risk. The possibility of STDs, the threat to personal safety, and resulting judgment from others (or yourself) are all part of the package. Lying down with strangers was the most worrisome for women, but co-workers and friends raised alarm bells for men. The key to a successful one-night stand is being aware of the risks, taking precautions, and, most importantly, following your gut. Do what makes you feel the most comfortable, even if that means going home alone.

There’s more to comfort than the partner you’re with, though. Whether you’re in your own bed or someone else’s, the night can be completely ruined by a bad mattress. To keep your level of comfort up all night long, Mattress Advisor is here to help. Picking out the right mattress can be a long and confusing process, but all of the stress is taken away by our Mattress Finder Quiz. Take the quiz, and let the experts find the perfect mattress for you. You can also check out some of our top recommendations on the best mattress for sex and best mattress for couples guides.


We surveyed 990 people. Respondents had to report having a one-night stand within the past year to qualify for the survey. In the survey, “one-night stand” was defined as “engaging in sexual activity with someone with the intention of it being a one-time occurrence.” 58.7 percent of respondents were men, and 41.3 percent were women. The average age was 32.6 with a standard deviation of 9.6.

This project focuses on the differences between genders. Two respondents reported gender identities other than male or female. They were excluded from our final visualization of the data due to the low sample size.

Parts of this project include averages. All averages have been calculated to exclude outliers who might have skewed the data. This was done by calculating the initial average of the data and the standard deviation. The standard deviation was then multiplied by three and added to the initial average. Any data point above that number was then excluded.

Questions about who people have had one-night stands with, worries about one-night stands, and steps taken to relieve one-night stand worries were check-all-that-apply questions, so respondents could select multiple answers.

When looking at how comfortable people were with one-night stands and what they worried about, we weighed the genders to equalize the sample size between the two.

Part of this project looks at the frequency with which people have one-night stands based on their scores on a guilt- and shame-proneness scale. Specifically, we looked at the Shame-Negative-Self-Evaluation. Each respondent received a score based on his or her answers to four questions. We then normalized the data. In our visualization, we compared those in the 20th percentile of the scale (low shame proneness) and the 80th percentile (high shame proneness).

“Other” was listed as an answer option for questions about whom people have had a one-night stand with and with which type of person people would be most worried about having a one-night stand. These were excluded from our final visualization of the data. Additionally, the following answer options were given when asking about precautions taken to relieve worries related to a one-night stand but were excluded from the final visual:

  • Other
  • I do not have any worries about one-night stands
  • I do not take any steps to relieve the worries I have about one-night stands

Respondents had to report having a one-night stand within the past year to take the survey. Therefore, our findings are limited to this group. The average number of one-night stands for the general population in a lifetime could be markedly different.

Fair Use Statement

One-night stands can be liberating experiences, but there are still precautions to consider. Send this study to your group chat as a friendly reminder for them to shoot you a text when they’re home safe after spending the night with that cutie from the bar. Just be sure to link back to this article so they have all the details right.