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The psychology of a one-night stand

Can both men and women have a one-night stand and both walk away unscathed?

Image: Shutterstock/conrado

IT’S THAT TIME of year again when couples are holding hands and booking up all the hotel rooms in town.

Valentine’s Day is about love, but let’s face it, it’s also about sex.

Not everyone is in a relationship – and like all human beings, they have needs too.

Sex is an important part of any relationship, but also a part of life. (It’s also officially good for your health).

While couples have the luxury of betting on when their next sexual experience will be, single people don’t necessarily have that option. Opportunities arise, and perhaps that is where the one-night stand comes in.

The Oxford Dictionary definition of a one-night stand is:

A sexual relationship lasting only one night.

There’s that word ‘relationship’ again. However, it does seem rare a one-night stand results in a relationship.

The stereotype

The stereotype idea commonly displayed on TV and in the movies is that a one-night stand involves a man, out for his own fulfilment, and a woman, who is left ashamed and full of regret, longing for love.


That’s not often the case at all. Is the thought that a woman could want to fulfil her own selfish needs too much to fathom, or is there really a different sort of psychology going on for men and women.

Think about how the movies portray it. Even when they are trying to breakdown the concept of casual sex, it always ends with a happy ending.

In the movie ‘Friends with Benefits’, starring Justin Timberlake and Mila Kunis, they ultimately end up falling in love, as is often the case in Hollywood movies.


Women are often portrayed trying to detach, but they just can’t hack the no strings sex. So, is that the case in real-life?

We asked some experts.

Tony Moore, a counseller for Relationships Ireland, a not-for-profit organisation that offers confidential relationship counselling services and Nuala Deering a psychotherapist and sex therapist.

Moore said the stereotype is men pray on innocent women for that sort of thing.

“I have been doing this job for over 23 years, I can only speak from experience, but while yes, that can be true at times, I have seen it from both sides, both men and women.”

Having counselled couples for many years, he said one-night stands is something that comes up a lot. While these are not single people, it is clear one-night stands involve married people too, more often the men.

“The question always asked in session, is ‘why, why, why’. Why did they partner feel the need to do this. And the partner always attempts to give some bullshit answer.”

Moore said one thing that does come out again and again is something either their partner doesn’t agree with or doesn’t want to believe is true.

The crux of it is that they are bored. They want to be let off and in order to do this, they go over the top and cross the line. The fact that they are in a relationship goes completely out of their head.

Satisfying their needs

Moore said the same can be said for those who are single or in a casual relationship.

One-night stands are very common. Looking at it from the male point of view, it is often the once off act of intercourse the man wants, with someone anonymous. They don’t take it seriously, they think of it as a quick thing.

He said one-night stands can be a bit of fun for people, both men and women, but said it is important to know what you are going in to.

It can be degrading to women involved. Men often don’t see the women they are having the one-night stand with as a person, with feelings. They are there to satisfy their gratification.

However, Moore said there is two people involved in this. “We can’t solely blame the guys.”


Females often say to me that they have sexual desires and they want a good time too. They often have someone in mind, perhaps someone they know at work, or from around, who they say is ‘high on their ride metre’. For women it is about asserting their right as a sexual being, that they too have the right and power to do as they wish.

Hurt feelings 

However, while he said men can often walk away from the experience, without a care in the world (which he admitted is not always the case) women do carry it with them, he said.

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“Not always, but some women have a lot of guilt, be it they don’t feel good about themselves or regret why they did it. This doesn’t happen as much for men, who anonymise the women.”

Moore said the men he has in session often can’t recall much about the woman they had a one-night stand with, either what she did for a living, or much detail about her at all.

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“They can look at me quite blankly when I ask these questions,” said Moore.

Deering said one-night stands do seem more common now, but perhaps more people are just more open about talking about them.

Double standards 

“I still think men have the attitude that they wouldn’t end up with the women who they had a one-night stand with. Men still have those double standards,” said Deering.

One-night stands are often featured on TV (Sex and the City etc), but Deering said she would worry younger people are getting the wrong message about what is expected from them.

They wonder when is the ‘right’ time to sleep with someone, after the first, second or third date. There is a lot of pressure out there.

She added that people could be avoiding intimacy with one-night stands.

“It is easier to be physical with another human being than actually getting to know the person. I think people often don’t give themselves the chance to get to know a person by going to bed with them too soon. It can often block a more intimate, deeper relationship.”

Women also tend to put their needs before men, sexually, she said.

Worry about your own needs 

“I hear a lot from women who are worried about their partners because they have no sexual desire, before they worry about their own needs.”

“I think women need to consider themselves and their needs before others.”

If two people decide to have a one-night stand, Moore said it should be on the right terms.

“I am afraid to say that alcohol and drugs often plays a part in these encounters. People need to be grown up about it, be responsible and safe. There are dangers.”

What do you think? Do men and women have different attitudes towards one-night stands? Can both men and women have fun, or do they both expect different things? Tell us your thoughts in the comments section below.

Tony Moore is a counsellor for Relationships Ireland. Relationships Ireland is a not-for-profit organisation that offers confidential relationship counselling services based on ability to pay and is running a ‘Seven Steps’ social media campaign for happy relationships ahead of Valentine’s Day. Keep an eye on www.relationshipsireland.com orhttps://www.facebook.com/relationshipsie for daily updates.

To contact Nuala check out mindwise.ie.

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