How to Have One-Night Stands in Your Twenties
It's probably not going to be 100 percent dignified, but there are steps you can take to avoid it being incredibly awkward.
Photo by Bruno Bayley
A version of this article originally appeared on VICE UK.
There needs to be a guide to one-night stands because one-night stands are impossibly complicated. The challenges involved are also totally different to those you'll encounter in a loving relationship. Figuring out what to do with your spooning arm, "learning to say sorry" and creating iCals for oral sex almost make settling down seem like a good idea when you consider the risks of one-night stands—whether that's fucking over a friend, being forced to confront your self-esteem issues head-on, or catching an exotic disease that ends up making someone's penis look like a sea anemone.
Here's an A–Z guide for any of love's true soldiers who find themselves caught up in the sturm und drang that is one-night stand living.
Hooking up with someone while blacked out is an actual nightmare, of course, and going home with someone who is sloppy sloppy makes you an official Bad Person and you will one day answer for that shit. But can you imagine negotiating the steps from yelling "I'm Jane!" in someone's ear over a deafening club throb to touching their genitals in some unfamiliar room while stone-cold Steve Austin sober? With 100 percent of your senses, including your sense of shame, fully operational? It's called social lubricant for a reason, people.
Unless you meet your temporary partner in some sort of sex dungeon or leather cave or, I dunno, fuck marquee, chances are you're not gonna be down for some strap-me-into-this-chair-and-shock-my-junk-with-batteries kink-off when you get back to theirs—instead, you're both planning some straightforward, if dizzier than usual, S-E-X.
And thus you both enter into the invisible laser maze that is "unspoken sexual boundaries." Together, you have to navigate this sexual etiquette labyrinth and slay the mutual orgasm Minotaur using little more than "no thank you"–grunts and nervous laughter as navigation. But tread softly, sexy Theseus: You don't want to slip between the sheets and feel their fingers trying to board the midnight train to Brown Town when that's quite literally Rule Number 1 of Nope, do you?
"Do you want to come upstairs for coffee?" Eight little words that—thank Christ—no real human has ever actually used to usher in coitus, at least not outside of George Clooney Nespresso ads or romcoms for no-sex moms. The only people who conflate coffee with sex are people who appreciate neither coffee nor sex. Fuck those people, and not in a sexual way.
While we're at it, let's run through a quick tick-list of other shit you should avoid saying before, during, and after a one-night stand: "I'm going to split you in half"; "Sorry I didn't shave"; "I like you"; "Brown Town"; "usher"; "coitus"; "daddy" and fucking hell, unless the situation very much demands it, please don't say "cum." You just met. Don't say "cum."
Grindr, Tinder, Happn... let's be frank, this is probably where most of you are hoping to score these days. How do you know if a guy is down for a one-time thing? Easy: iCloud sent you a notification telling you to upgrade your dickpic storage. How do you know if a girl is down for a one-time thing? We're not. At least not until we've had one subsequent night of Pizza Express dough balls and joyless, sub-orgasmic sex. For girls, one-night stands almost always happen in retrospect.
Chemicals are fucked up. When you're going down on someone you just met, your brain will trick you into thinking the person you just met in the puke queue at Walkabout is your soulmate. Couple this with something like MDMA and you're in a pickle—your mouth might be otherwise engaged, but your mind is imagining clinking champagne glasses and wedding cake. So, remember: This person is not your soulmate. Sex is sex. Sex is wonderful. Attachment is for emails.
There will be a moment in most one-night stands where you give yourself a little reality check—often in a club toilet, often while smirking at yourself in the mirror like an idiot—and get hit by a sonic boom of dread. Here is the most important advice: At any point during this silly singleton dance you are perfectly within your rights to change your mind.
Some tricks to get out of there smoothly: Say, "Sorry, I forgot about my dog's chemo" and order a taxi; ask, "Actually, do you fancy a threesome?" then point to the worst-looking bouncer; growl, "Here's to our new lives!" just as you're about to do a shot together. Or, you know, you could just say you're not feeling it.
GLAM, GRACEFUL, AND GROWN UP
Basically, G is for all the things you will not be during this encounter. Fact: You will probably period the bed. Or shit on it a bit. Or at least get the bed moist in some gruesome way. Coming out of this looking or feeling in any way sophisticated is going to be a challenge, but here are some basic don'ts:
–DON'T make someone wait outside your room when you get back to yours. The thought of what you're hiding is so much worse than the actual sight of it ever could be. Equally: it's better to survey a collection of wank cloths, excessive dildos, and severed human heads than make small talk on the landing with your going-for-a-piss flatmate as they say, "Well, if you do do it, please be quiet, I'm up for work at six";
–And finally, at least try to pretend you DON'T do this often. No one wants to know they're going home with a serial shagger. Talking about the last time this happened is the only move that's worse than hitting on someone, then, when they reject you, hitting on the friend standing next to them. But if you're reading this you're probably the kind of awful sex bandit who does that anyway, aren't you?
Don't drink their Baileys, don't wake them up to ponce drugs/condoms, don't use their razor to emergency shave anyone's pubes, and don't bring back an absolute lunatic who steals your keys and get themselves a copy cut while you're still sleeping, breaks in at a later date and then cuts off all your dog's paws one by one. Because it's inevitably your touchiest housemate who gets up first and finds the leftover fries arranged in the shape of a heart on the front lawn.
Two days after, your pee stings. A week later, you can't walk without the help of an ice pack. Congratulations: You've got an infection. You have become what every pamphlet you were forced to read during PHSE lessons at school warned you about. You should have used a fucking condom, you idiot.
The first thing you need to do is be chill and go to clinic. Often there are places where you can get tested for free—here, for instance, are a bunch of them in New York City.
Come on: You don't need an article on a website to tell you to use protection and to get your junk checked out, do you? Because the only thing more awkward than bumping into the person you slept with at the STI clinic is getting an angry text saying, "THANKS FOR THE GENITAL WARTS, THEY MADE IT EVEN MORE UNPLEASANT WHEN I FOUND YOUR PESTILENT UNDERPANTS DOWN THE SIDE OF MY RADIATOR."
No jokes during sex on a one-night stand. This cannot be stressed enough. Jokes should be retained entirely for the Before and After periods—moments when you're either trying to woo them in or kick them out. Even the next day, don't think you've got the all clear to make fun of the situation: You have no idea how well this stranger deals with a hangover. Definitely don't try to squeeze some humor out of the Saturday morning morning-after pill run to Planned Parenthood, past the inevitable protester with the dead baby sign. Don't try saying to the pharmacist, "She'll need two after that," before nudging your latest fuck-buddy in the ribs.
Obviously do try to see the funny side if she actually gets pregnant though, because at that point, laughter is probably all you will have left.
Every one-night stand will leave behind something unfathomably weird, some gewgaw or trinket, some bra pad or H Samuels earring, some flattened trilby, some Happy Meal toy donkey. If you buy some No More Nails, you could stick all of these keepsakes together into one giant shrine to your own libido, which—when crowned with some joss sticks and rosary beads—would allow you to summon a booty call at any wicked hour of the night. Alternatively, give them to a charity shop. Everything in a charity shop is there because of dead people and dead shags.
You know that John Waters quote about how you shouldn't sleep with someone who hasn't got any books in their house? Well you also shouldn't sleep with someone if they've got a UV light, a reptile, or a popular vlog, either. Or a balaclava. Or hundreds upon hundreds of delicately painted airfix models.
If this sounds like you, or you still live at home with your parents, you're going to need to come up with a plan B location for your one-night stand. Just make sure you do it carefully. Here's a cautionary tale from an unnamed VICE UK editorial staffer:
Once I was giving someone a blowjob behind a Surrey branch of Waitrose. Midway through the act, I felt the warm glow of a flashlight on my bulging cheek. It was the flashlight of a police officer, and he was shining that light right on me. The worst part of this incident was not when the cop chuckled to himself and said, "I'd arrest you for public indecency, but I remember what I was like at your age." No: It was the part when he addressed the stranger by their first name, because they were KNOWN TO THE POLICE ALREADY.
Learn from our mistakes.
Through history, man has developed a number of nuanced, sophisticated mating rituals: the four-base system, worked through in breathless order; the candlelit slow-sex experience; having a shower together and doing some hand stuff then getting the mattress all fucked up by damply clumsily fucking on it. That all goes out the absolute window on a one-night stand, though. One-night stands are peeling your clothes off and getting stuck in your jeans but with your underpants still somehow down, until you are hopping backwards into a loud door, until you are clattering to the floor over a big lamp.
It's fun, but just be aware that when you're high kicking your pants off in some drunk-erotic fervor that this is how they get lost. If you want to walk home with your junk tucked in tomorrow, check the arc and see where they landed before you go and put your mouth on something.
You have to remember their name. You have to remember their name. Only... hold on, is it John or James? Always confusing, the mediocre J names. Jamie? Jack? Fucking hell. Best to just say a sort of quiet J sound and hope for the best. "Right there, Jhmm. Up there a little, juh-[quietly]-heems." If all else fails you can wait till they piss and root through their pockets for an ID, or ask them if they have any nicknames, or just get their attention by clicking at them loudly.
What everyone on a one-night stand is desperate for until it actually happens.
PISSING WHERE YOU EAT
Workmates are fine fuck buddies, right? No. The point of a one-night stand is in the name: one. In, out, like a covert-ops mission held at dawn before the bombs hit. You don't really want to see a one-night stand again, is the point. You especially don't want to see them for eight hours, every single day.
Plus, it's incredibly hard to explain away. Office workers are always in sexual detective mode anyway, and it doesn't help that you did a drunk Facebook post at 1 AM moaning about the budget and accidentally left Location on, so it immediately checked you in to "Derek from Accounts' Fuck Palace." It doesn't help that you both have the smudgy stamps from the same nightclub on your inner wrist and it doesn't help that you both walked in awkwardly at the same time this morning. Just whatever you do, don't let Sandra from HR figure out that you two got it on last night. And the best way to do that is not to fuck your coworkers.
Eerie, eerie silence. This is like F for Freak Out but infinitely bleaker: the moment when the residual buzz of last night's speakers become audible in your head, the substances wear off, and you realize there's absolutely no chemistry between you and the person with their hands wrapped around your neck.
Now the passion under the club lights seems a lifetime away and the reality is you don't know this person. There isn't really any advice we can give you if this is happening, because that probably means it's too late. But if you are struck with this vapid feeling relatively often, it's probably time to start looking for other confidence boosters, like regular fresh air or getting a pet.
On the plus side, one-night-stand nights let you be whoever you wanna be. Usually a top? Try being a bottom for a change—apart from maybe a bit of blood and screaming, nobody is going to know. Usually a prude? Don't go home until your breath smells like Anusol. Use the person's slipper as a paddle. Your new friend has absolutely no pre-formed opinions and will probably never encounter you again. Peg them hard and call them a bitch boy.
The kind of people who have one-night stands fall into two categories: There's the folks who think, If we're only going to do this once, let's make the most of it. I'm not going to be able to sleep next to this stranger anyway, they could smother me in my sleep, before going again, and again, and again. Then there's the other camp of people, who will drop multiple hints about how much they love their sleep, how they have work to do tomorrow, how their mom is coming over in the morning, but still you keep squeezing their butt and dinging the bell for another round. This is fine enough at night but pro-tip: Don't try and initiate sex again in the morning. Your sex window is between the hours of 11 PM and 6 AM. This is not an all-you-can-eat sex buffet. Do not try and grab a plate of chow mein for breakfast.
At some point, usually dawn, you will reach a point where you have to actually speak to your one-night stand. Sober. You don't know the importance of being selective with conversation until you have lain in bed with a stranger, post-morning sex, traced your fingers around their tattoo and jokingly persisted that they tell you what it means, only for them to yell, "IT'S MY DEAD BROTHER'S NAME, OK?" Your words are the glue that hold the vibe together: Do not come unstuck.
U / V
UBER / VANISHING ACT
These go together because they are the same thing. You can be out of this weirdo's house in four to six minutes, depending on the traffic. Unlock the handcuffs, wriggle out of the sex swing, and just say, "Thank you. I had a lot of fun." Then give them a tight smile and a pat-hug and they'll know not to call you.
Remember, whoever leaves the one-night stand first wins. Relationships are, after all, just extended games of chicken where the goal is to charge into someone else until you're entwined in the twisted metal of emotional codependency. Leaving before daylight is seedy, but aim to make a quick exit the next morning instead of sitting about re-lacing your shoes in the hope the other party wants to eat eggs Benedict.
WALK OF SHAME
Too broke to pay for an Uber? Then we are sorry but you are just going to have to walk or get public transport. lol at all the times we left the person's house prematurely, realized we left our wallet there, quietly accepted it was swallowed into the sands of time—and, instead of going back to get it and facing our post-fuck shower—just soldiered a four-mile walk home.
Listen, it's really hard to find things that begin with X, right, but: Xenophilia is when you fancy something alien to you. So it sort of applies here, for those of you who've ever clambered off a Yates's bartender you never spoke to previously beyond demanding the right change, or those who've ever woken up in a tangle of dicks when you swore you were a vagina-only kind of person. That is the beautiful thing about one-night stands: They connect you with the people that lie outside the peripheries of your social sphere, they allow you to transcend and surf an entirely different sexual plane without the guilt or the shame or the involvement. You know how sometimes you blag a day pass to a gym, and it's really cool and you feel quite good and everything, but you wouldn't really want to make it a lifestyle choice, would you? You wouldn't want to pay $80 a month for it? That's you, only with a stranger's foot in your mouth.
The only mitigating thing about a terrible one-night stand is that it makes for great pub fodder with your mates. Your horror stories about coming on a stranger's face 48 hours ago and having no idea what that face looks like now are the only thing keeping your boring, coupled friends up-to-date with modern sexual mores. Essentially: They don't want to be you. They like their safe little lives of sharing a Netflix account and having a holiday to the Italian Riviera to look forward to. They like jokily calling their girlfriend's dad "Pops." But they also really want to live vicariously through your genitals. So give them some titbits—not the entire roast dinner; you don't need to tell them about the Happy Meal toy donkey getting lost inside you and you having to dig it out with your fingernails over a garbage bin—give them some crumbs to keep them ticking over on their way down the path marked: WEDDING... KIDS... DEATH.
The sun is rising and your pants are back on and your one night-stand has now made it into the party of misspelt names dotted through your iPhone address book for bootycalling in the twilight hours. This is the casual sex Z-list: the people who you will end up reaching out to at the loneliest moments possible—Christmas Eve, the tail end of someone's engagement party, the cold and dreadful hours following a Tinder date with someone who looked a little bit like your mom.
If you're organized, you'll have a glyph-like language unique only to you, where you mark each name with an emoji. Umbrella emoji means "perspired too much," for instance, while shady moon means they cheerfully eat ass. But yeah, you're not this organized, are you? You've got a comb stuck in your hair and your phone is too out of battery to call a U for Uber. Somehow there is a sanitary pad stuck to the inside of your trainer. Forget saving their number, you need a shower and a little look at yourself in the mirror. You need a good breakfast and a decent night's sleep.
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