Think twice before having a one-night stand with a stranger

Research shows most women regret one-night stands. Apart from not enjoying the experience, there is a host of other health and safety risks associated with having sex with a stranger, says Áilín Quinlan.

WHEN it broadcasts next week, the new series about the disastrous consequences for a young teacher of a one-night stand with a sexy but dangerous stranger is expected to attract large audiences.

Paula, which is Olivier and Tony-award winning Conor McPherson’s first original television series, focuses on how one instant spark of attraction can take a terrifying toll.

The three-part series, which focuses on the fallout from a young Dublin chemistry teacher’s decision to have casual sex with a man she doesn’t know, offers a fascinating look at just what can go wrong when we allow desire to get the better of good judgement and have sex with a complete stranger.

To begin with, we often regret the experience. Research shows that many women do regret it, according to clinical psychologist Dr Malie Coyne.

In fact, she says, research shows that only one in three women expressed satisfaction after a one-night stand. 

The study, which was carried out on 263 people between the ages of 19 and 37 in liberal Norway in 2014, found, however, that 50% of men were happy after a one-night stand. 

Researchers discovered that 80% of women who had turned down the opportunity to have a one-night stand were quite glad they had done so — but just over 40% of men were glad they had refused an opportunity for casual sex.

UNDER PRESSURE: ‘Paula’ (Denise Gough) in Conor McPherson’s BBC2 drama. The upcoming three-part series focuses on the fallout from a young Dublin chemistry teacher’s decision to have casual sex with a man she doesn’t know.

It’s all down to gender differences and evolution, Coyne believes. Women who had engaged in one-night stands, the study found, felt they hadn’t thought it through and were worried about doing something that put them either at risk of becoming pregnant, contracting a sexually transmitted infection, or damaging their reputation.

“It goes back to evolution — women value quality in a sexual partner, whereas men value the quantity of sex,” says Dr Coyne.

For the woman, she explains, the quality of a mate is more important than quantity of mates with whom she has sex — that’s because women need to secure a committed partner willing to invest in their children.

“A woman is primed by evolution to be careful about selecting a mate,” says Coyne.

Even women who are sexually liberated and wouldn’t view sex simply as a way of having babies, have acknowledged that following a one-night-stand their enjoyment of the event was less than they would have expected — women think about it afterwards in a negative way, according to the survey, whereas men got more enjoyment overall.

This came as a surprise to the researchers who had presumed that because Norway was such a liberated community both men and women would enjoy casual sex equally, says Coyne.

“But they found that was not the case at all — and it shows that no matter where you live, evolution will come into the situation.”

Factors which encourage one-night stands include peer pressure and the use of alcohol or drugs, which reduce inhibitions, she points out.

However, studies also found a correlation between poor mental health and casual sex: “A study in Ohio found that people who reported feeling very depressed were more likely to engage in casual sex.

“Poor mental health and casual sex reinforced each other,” she warns. 

If you are in a situation where you find yourself regretting a one-night stand seek support, she counsels, either confide in somebody close to you or talk to a professional.

However, while we may end up simply regretting our decision, one-night stands can result in much deeper problems. 

They can be fraught with all sorts of risk, warns Maeve Douglas, a psychotherapist who says that along with the increased risk of unplanned pregnancy or a sexually transmitted infection, going to a stranger’s house to have sex can put your personal safety at increased risk, while negative emotional consequences can seriously undermine self-esteem.

The more sexual partners you have the more likely you are to come into contact with somebody who has an STI, says Deirdre Seery of the Sexual Health Centre, Cork.

“People often have one-night stands when they have had a lot of alcohol or are under the influence of drugs. The sex is often less enjoyable, and can be more risky,” she warns, adding that people who engage in sexual activity with lots of partners can put the potential consequences of this risky behaviour at the back of their mind.

There has been a significant rise in the number of STI’s in Ireland according to recent statistics from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre. 

Last autumn a new report showed the number of sexually transmitted infections being detected has jumped by nearly 14% on the previous year. 

Figures showed that syphilis, which had been reduced to negligible levels in the 1980s and 1990s was now beginning to re-appear, while HIV infections had risen an alarming 75%.

“Often one-night stands can be an act of spontaneity and alcohol can be involved, which reduced our inhibitions,” says Douglas.

“Somebody ends up going back to a stranger’s house after a couple of hours, to have sex, and they have not thought it through.”

It’s not just that he or she may not know the area, and may not have worked out a way to get home, but sometimes they are putting themselves at serious personal risk, she points out.

“There are also subtle emotional side effects —there may be shame, guilt or remorse the morning after, and if one-night stands and casual sex become a regular thing it can erode your self-esteem,” she says.

In most cases, there is no follow-up after a one-night stand. 

“If that’s happening, and you’re having one-night stands regularly, you are not getting a good message — that you’re wanted or that a person would like to see you,” she says.

This is very damaging for your self-esteem, she says. Some people engage in one-night-stands because they have a fear of commitment – they’re not ready for the next stage, which involves going deeper into the relationship.

Ironically, while a person may want to meet someone special, their behaviour is not reinforcing their chances of achieving this dream, she warns.

“Some people mix up sex with love. Love can lead to sex but sex does not necessarily lead to love.”

‘Paula’, RTÉ One, Wednesday May 24, 9.35pm

Take control of your sex life

Tips from Deirdre Seery of the Sexual Health Centre, Cork:

* Before making a decision, ask yourself if this will constitute what you think is an enjoyable sexual relationship.

“If people keep that in their heads they might be less likely to have sex when full of drink after a nightclub,” she says.

* Ask yourself: What are you looking for on a night out? Is this sexual encounter going to be pleasurable for you? Are you simply doing it because you feel you ought to rather than that you actually want to?

“I would put a big emphasis on pleasurable sex,” says Seery. “You don’t want to wake up the next day and think: ‘Oh God, what have I just done?’”

* If you have a one-night-stand it should be your choice. If you decide you want to have sex, be prepared. Whether you’re male or female carry condoms and make sure to use them. Protect yourself against STIs and unplanned pregnancy.

* It is okay to change your mind and decide you don’t want sex, after starting to have sex.

* Somebody who is very drunk is not competent to give consent to sex, says Seery.

“If you’re too drunk to talk about sex, you’re too drunk to give consent. That goes for males or females,” she says. .

* Understand that you don’t have to have casual sex just because your friends are.

* Just because someone is dressed in a fashionable or revealing way is not an invitation to have sex.

“A lot of young women like to dress in very revealing ways and this can be interpreted that they are up for casual sex or a one-night stand and that is not necessarily the case,” warns Seery.

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