Research Explains Why Hookups Mean Different Things For Men And Women
Understanding how you think about casual sex can help you have more fulfilling sexual encounters.
By Mark Travers, Ph.D. | November 15, 2023
Casual sex, a subject that has long been at the forefront of cultural discussions, is a deeply personal experience with varied reactions. For some, it's an expression of freedom and pleasure. For others, it's a source of complexity and mixed emotions. While there are several factors that can affect how you may feel after the act, science does suggest that gender could predict how positively or negatively one experiences unattached sex.
Various factors—biological, psychological and sociocultural—interact in specific ways to create a distinct emotional landscape for each gender, which points to the possibility that the full story of casual sex is not one of personal choice, but a narrative deeply entwined with our gendered existence. Here are two things about casual sex that men and women tend to process differently.
1. Women Experience More Negative Emotions After Casual Sex
While the ideal outcome of a casual hookup might be mutual enjoyment, a 2022 study published in Sexuality and Culture found that women generally reported more negative emotions post-hookup—such as regret, anxiety and depressive thoughts—than their male counterparts.
The study also found that women were more likely to experience sexual coercion and unwanted sexual contact during casual sex, which could contribute to their negative feelings. Additionally, the study showed that women faced more social stigma and judgment for engaging in casual sex while men received more social approval and praise.
Unlike women, men were found to be generally satisfied and proud after a hookup. The study suggests that this could be due to a higher likelihood of experiencing sexual pleasure and orgasm during these encounters. Societal factors seem to be at play too, with men facing less guilt and social pressure for engaging in casual sex.
The study's insights help us reflect on the inherent biases that shape our emotional reactions and the cultural scripts that guide them. The question remains: will we move away from the concept of casual sex as a reinforcement of outdated stereotypes?
2. Sexual Decision-Making Is A More Stressful Process for Women Than For Men
A 2021 study published in Personality and Individual Differences examined the effect of sexual arousal on the willingness to engage in risky sexual behaviors in men and women. The study found that being male and having higher arousal in response to erotic stimuli was associated with a greater willingness to engage in risky sex. This suggests that sexual arousal may differentially motivate men and women, with men being more likely to take risks and women being more cautious.
This difference in approach to sexual decision-making may be attributed to several factors that add layers of stress for women. For one, the potential physical and emotional consequences of casual sex, such as pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), can weigh more heavily on women. The danger of being victims of sexual coercion or violence is also greater in women.
There are also emotional and relational considerations that weigh on women's minds. Women often contemplate the future of the relationship and the feelings of both parties involved, which can create additional emotional labor. The complex interplay of these concerns can make the decision of whether or not to engage in sex a significantly more intricate and potentially stressful endeavor for women than for men.
Men often navigate the waters of casual sex with societal winds at their backs while women must often sail against them. There is nothing wrong with engaging in casual sex if it aligns with your value system and is practiced in a way that is safe for all parties involved. There's also nothing wrong with abstaining. However, acknowledging the gender differences at play is crucial in fostering a more empathetic understanding that respects individual experiences and challenges stereotypes.