One morning in college, a friend slapped down her cafeteria tray and looked around at the rest of us—all girls. “Do you guys have orgasms?” she asked. One by one, we blushingly recounted the rapturous pleasure we’d experienced at the tender, skillful hands of drunk guys we’d met at parties. Then we all started to make out, Froot Loop milk dripping into our heaving bosoms.
What really happened is that for a very long moment, nobody said a word. “I had them with my high school boyfriend, but not really since,” one friend said. “Yeah, not really,” another girl echoed. I’d recently hooked up with a guy in a fraternity who wore basketball shorts and flip-flops to parties “for easy access.” No orgasm. We were all having a lot of sex, but most of it was terrible. I thought of that conversation almost a decade later when the blog Babe published that long, detailed account of one woman’s date with comedian Aziz Ansari. After the date, when Ansari texted the woman to say that he’d had fun, she texted back to say the encounter had made her uneasy. “You had to have noticed I was uncomfortable,” she wrote.
It’s a generalization to say that men enjoy casual sex more than women do.
I’d had variations of the same thought during and after many disappointing Tinder dates. My entire sexual career suddenly played before my eyes—a movie montage of discomfort and miscommunication set to “Don’t Stand So Close to Me.” That the woman’s experience with Ansari felt universal to me was less an absolution of Ansari than it was a sign that the ways men and women think about hookups are fundamentally at odds. With all the stories that have poured out in the #MeToo era, in the news and over drinks between friends, it’s become impossible to ignore the reality that more often than not—whether or not alcohol was involved—men usually emerge from hookups feeling satisfied while women often emerge feeling scammed.
It’s a generalization to say that men enjoy casual sex more than women do. Just as there are women out there who have orgasms without foreplay—witches, all!—there are probably women who genuinely enjoy one-night stands. Still, I think the generalization is a fair one. While for men hooking up is a positive outcome (“We boned!”), women often talk about it as a means to an end (“I thought that if we hooked up long enough, he’d want to date me”) or as a regret (“I got drunk and hooked up with a man in a Santa costume”). Even the language reflects the skewed dynamic: Young men have always been told to go out and hook up with as many women as possible—to “sow their wild oats.” In that analogy, women are the dirt.
It’s still possible to hook up and have no-strings- attached sex without disappointing anyone. You just have to follow the rules.
Don’t lead your hookup on.
One problem with hookups is that they often look a lot like dates. Two people match on a dating app, then meet at a bar. If they both resemble their pictures and nobody says anything racist, they might go home together. Sometimes they go on a few more dates, or date-type adventures. He tells her that his strong working mother taught him to respect women and that he loves summers in Nantucket. “Maybe we’ll go sometime,” he says coyly. The woman knows she should assume that they’re just hooking up, at least until they verbally establish that they’re trending toward a relationship. But she’s already imagining herself in a linen muumuu and a straw hat, strolling around Nantucket. (He’s wearing a seersucker suit and doing Leonardo DiCaprio’s moneyed accent from The Great Gatsby.) When he tells her, one date later, that he’s “not really looking to date anyone right now,” she has no choice but to curse him and all his descendants.
Don’t wait until she’s emotionally invested in you to tell her that you’re just in it for a hookup.
If you know you don’t want to date date a woman—and let’s be honest, you typically know by the end of your first conversation—don’t wait until she’s emotionally invested in you to tell her that you’re just in it for a hookup. (I usually start to feel emotionally invested four dates in. Or two dates in, if a guy has really sexy arms or a nose that is still a little busted-looking from a fight he got in while he was defending a woman’s honor.) As a clinical people-pleaser, I understand how tempting it can be to tell someone what she wants to hear, but don’t kind of invite someone to Nantucket on the third date if you only want to hook up with her. Women get angry when a man says he isn’t looking for something serious not because we feel rejected; we get angry because we feel like we’ve been tricked.
Okay, you can lead her on a little bit.
There’s a happy medium between lying about what you want and flaying yourself on the altar of decency. If I interrupt a man who is flirting with me at a bar to tell him what I’m thinking, which is how cute it would be if the song that’s playing were the song we danced to at our wedding, the conversation will stop. And if I meet a man at a party and he tells me, right off the bat, “I’m not really looking to date anyone; I just want to hook up,” I will definitely appreciate his honesty, but I will definitely not go home with him. Instead, steal a line a guy said to me once: “I’m not really looking to date anyone right now, but I’m open to the possibility down the line.” I think I actually whispered “Nice” when he said it: I didn’t feel rejected, but I had no expectations.
Embrace a sober hookup.
Another big problem with hookups is that frequently, in college and beyond, both parties are drunk. Besides larger issues involving consent, drunk sex is so often . . . bad. Whiskey dick isn’t fun for anyone. If you’re hooking up with someone regularly, don’t fall into a pattern of texting that person to hook up at 2:00 a.m. when you’re drunk. Even if you’ve both said you’re cool with casual sex, it’s still insulting when you hear from someone only when they’re their sloppiest self.
Make the hookup good.
A few years ago, a guy I was dating told me he was too busy with work and just wanted to hook up. I was young and impressionable, so I said, “Cool, me too.” The sex had been great until then, but as soon as we were hooking up instead of dating, the foreplay stopped and the sex itself got precipitously worse—it was like when two people are walking toward each other in a hallway and nobody can figure out who should go left and who should go right. The problem was, in part, that I wasn’t as emotionally invested in the situation. For most women, sex is as much emotional as it is physical, and if a woman doesn’t feel totally comfortable with the person sowing his oats in her dirt, there is zero chance of an orgasm. My partner was also a problem. Once he wasn’t trying to date me, he became way less considerate in bed. Our friends-with-benefits situation didn’t last very long. Hooking up isn’t an excuse to try out all the porny stuff that you’re too shy to attempt with someone you’re dating, and it isn’t an excuse to be self-serving.
Women want to sow their wild oats, too. We want to sow them again and again, all night long. Ideally with multiple oatgasms.
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