Singletude: A Positive Blog for Singles

Singletude is a positive, supportive singles blog about life choices for the new single majority. It's about dating and relationships, yes, but it's also about the other 90% of your life--family, friends, career, hobbies--and flying solo and sane in this crazy, coupled world. Singletude isn't about denying loneliness. It's about realizing that whether you're single by choice or by circumstance, this single life is your life to live.

Sunday, March 16, 2008

Friends With Benefits and the Lowdown on Hook Ups, Part I

Unless you've been married for the past decade (in which case, you shouldn't be here on Singletude :P), you may have noticed that the landscape of dating has changed, especially for "kids these days," and now more closely resembles an auto body shop than a fast food joint, a movie theatre, or even a bar. Yes, I'm talking about the practice of hooking up, the flavor du jour of dating among trendy young singles, and its older, more dependable cousin, the friends with benefits (FWB) relationship, both of which are descendants of the granddaddy of casual sex, the one-night stand. One of my regular readers, Victoria Gothic, suggested that Singletude cover this topic, and I'm happy to oblige.

Let's start by defining a "hook up." Unlike a one-night stand, which implies a one-time encounter that ends in sex, a hook up can occur between two people who may or may not know each other, and it can happen more than once. A recent survey of college students indicates that hook ups are confined to foreplay about 25% of the time, proceed to intercourse in 35-40% of cases, and presumably conclude with another form of sex in the remaining 35-40% of make-out sessions. "Friends with benefits" may also hook up but are distinguished by their preexisting closeness and an ongoing commitment to the friendship, as well as by the more consistent nature of their sexual escapades.

Whatever form they take, hook ups are on the rise, with 76% of college seniors reporting at least one hook up during their college careers and nearly seven hook ups on average. In another study, 60% of students said they had had at least one friend with benefits. Considering the prevalence of these kinds of relationships, it seems wise to weigh their pros and cons before jumping into the sack with both feet only to discover that you're in over your head.

It doesn't take a Harvard graduate to calculate the advantages of a casual physical relationship. If you don't want or can't find someone to commit to, it's a way to release sexual energy with no strings attached. In the case of an FWB arrangement, it also promises consistent sex with some degree of safety; presumably, you can trust your friend to be disease-free and to have some consideration for you as a person, neither of which you could expect from a virtual stranger in a hook up.

But casual encounters have a downside, too, one that sometimes gets lost in the fast-paced, pleasure-driven hook-up culture. If you want to live life in the fast lane, here are some less than sexy outcomes you should prepare for, two today and two tomorrow:

1. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)

One in five Americans has an STD, and one in four will have one at some point in their lives.1 (By some estimates, the infection rate is as high as 50%.)2 Two-thirds of STD infections occur in people under 25,1 precisely the population in which casual sex is the most prevalent. Every sexual partner you have increases your risk of contracting an STD, and you can multiply that risk by the number of partners your partner has had.3

Unfortunately, condoms aren't foolproof against infection, either. A number of STDs are passed by skin-to-skin contact rather than through bodily fluids, and thus condoms offer little to no protection. These diseases include Herpes, Syphilis, and Human Papillomavirus (HPV), strains of which can cause genital warts or cervical cancer.4 Lots of young people assume they'll be safe if they restrict their hook ups to oral sex. Not so. Some of the nastiest viruses, such as Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, and Syphilis, are contagious through oral sex as well.5

The widespread nature of STDs and the ease of transmission of some of the more threatening varieties make casual sex a risky business, even when you're careful. Of course, if you're going to hook up anyway, protection is a must, no matter what your partner tells you, as is regular STD testing. Some singles will lie through their teeth to get laid, and lots of others aren't even aware they're infected.

2. Pregnancy

Not illogically, women and adolescent girls who have multiple partners are at increased risk of pregnancy.6,7 An unwanted pregnancy is difficult enough when two people care about each other but aren't ready for parenthood. Imagine, then, what a conundrum it is for two people who don't even know each other's last names!

When used effectively, condoms are very good at protecting against pregnancy.8 But, now and then, they brake, tear, or fail for other reasons, not to mention that they aren't worn correctly about 15% of the time. In other words, every time you have sex, there's a possibility of pregnancy, no matter how safe you are. And an embryo doesn't care if its parents have slept together for years or just one time.

If you're going to have casual sex, Planned Parenthood recommends you use two methods of protection, so bring on the reinforcements.

Join Singletude next time for two more reasons to exercise caution with the casual hook up!

In your opinion, is the hook-up culture a positive development, or is it outweighed by the dangers of casual sex? In your circle of acquaintance, are most unscathed by the physical dangers of hook ups, or have you known people (no names, of course!) whose lives have been touched by unintended pregnancy or an STD?

1. Cool Nurse
2. American Social Health Association
3. Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs)
4. Talk Sex with Sue Johanson
5. San Francisco City Clinic
6. Physicians For Life
7. Alcoholism ("Multiple Sex Partners Indicates Trouble for Teens")
8. Advocates For Youth


Wizardry said...

Well, thanks for your take on this, and I’ll go ahead and mention that I see that this is “Part I,” so I’m only going to comment on what you’ve laid out here, not on what will be coming later. First, I would like to corroborate Elsie’s facts; as anyone can see, she’s done her homework, and the sources of her facts are all here, but I’ll just point out I’m a witness for this too. While Elsie accurately cites sources talking about college students, I’ll also add that the next up and coming (I’m just full of puns tonight) generation has even less qualms with hooking up than what I’m seeing with some of these stats. Granted, a number of people exaggerate their claims, although there are quite a few facts I’m sure of.

So, this is just my personal philosophy; unlike Elsie who is objective, this is what I personally adhere to. To be truthful, I don’t hook up nearly at all, and defiantly not as much as some people I know. I suppose I fall more often to the, as Elsie so aptly stated, “its older, more dependable cousin, the friends with benefits” category. Does anyone else remember that post Elsie had some time ago titled, well; I can’t seem to find it at the moment. Some part of me wants to say it was called, “Why Women Like Dating Jerks.” Perhaps it was “When is a single girl or guy too nice?” Anyways, I fall into the category of someone who is passive. I rarely make actions without thinking on them for adequate periods of time in order to form an adequate answer. Unlike some of my other friends whom I lovingly describe as ‘manly and impulsive.’ Its quite useful for them to be this way when we need to do something on a tight schedule, but for the most part, I prefer my thoughtful ways. But another thing I’ve come across in relation to this fact; These friends are more likely to hook up. I would venture to say, hooking up requires both parties to be more impulsive, independent, and confident; While friends with benefits is simpler for someone who prefers less direct action to thoughtful acclimation, such as myself.

Now then, there’s some psychology for you, (I’ve been reading Freud lately. Soon I’ll be interpreting dreams), and here’s some info relating to Elsie’s facts. Reason number one is a big one, but also a fact that I inevitably discern being the passive thinker I am; so while it is a major concern, I don’t worry about it nearly as much as someone who hooks up with people they don’t know very well, or know at all. Reason number two is one of the major reasons that I let control what I do. While I may not have a specific goal in life (like the 5 year olds who all chose between firemen, police officers, and doctors; I think its because of my passive thinking) I do know that whatever I plan to do later on in my life, an unforeseen child is quite possibly the greatest hindrance I can see aside from being drafted into a pointless war and dying in a nameless country. (If such a thing ever happens).

Well then, that about sums up my thoughts and feeling on the subject. I’m looking forward to part two!


(Funny thing about that, and I suppose I’ll explain. It was one of those days where I over thought things. A friend of mine was having a party, and I over-planed, reducing it to total havoc. They claimed I was ‘such a woman’ because of my ‘thinking actionless’ methods. They then called me Victoria, in honor of the Queen of England, for the duration of the day. Thus, although my given name is by what I am most often called, I still answer to the name Victoria they’ve used it on me so much.)

Clever Elsie said...

Victoria: You've quite naturally hit on something (by observation) that's been proven in research, which is that there's an association between impulsive behavior and what is classified as "sexual risk-taking" or, more colloquially, hooking up. Interesting, isn't it?

Here's another fact I stumbled across while researching this post: More intelligent people tend to have fewer overall sexual partners. There are lots of reasons posited for this, but one of the most salient is that intelligent people are more cautious and analytical. This certainly doesn't hold up in every case, as there will always be smart people who manage to sleep with the entire office or campus, but as a trend, it seems to hold true.

Freud, huh? That's quite a leap for someone who didn't even want to crack a psychology text a month or so ago. ;) I'm glad you're giving it another chance. :)

As usual, I think you show good judgment. Your friends may be "getting some" more frequently, but you've correctly discerned that the actions you take now can have a big (even permanent) impact on you later. Good for you for thinking before you act! (Despite your friends' teasing, it's better than the alternative.)

P.S. My apologies for making invalid gender-related assumptions based on your name and picture. That actually says something to me about my own gender stereotypes, something which bothers me deeply, as a matter of fact. Thank you for indirectly opening my eyes to it.

Anonymous said...

Hmmmm, Without the slightest trace of irony I would like to say that I admire those people who can deploy a pragmatic and assertive adult approach to sex.

I would say that "hooking up" with friends may be awkward later on and may cost you a friendship. In an ideal world, I would love to have a "work life" a "social life" and a "romantic life" with 3 totally unacquainted sets of people, alas the laws of attraction and the fickle nature of people do not permit this, although I believe some people may be strict enough with themselves to carry this out. Let's just say I aspire to this! Also imagine indiscretion on the part of an ex "hook-up" partner regarding bedroom secrets amongst your circle of friends or worse, colleagues!

STD's: Well, I would say people are much more likely to contract them under the influence of drink, so not only could you go home with Pam Anderson and wake up with ET you could also end up walking like John Wayne for some weeks afterwards. So word of advice kids, if you are gonna have a one-nighter, do it sober and use protection!

To summarise: I think it is healthy to have an adult attitude to sex and to dispense with sweet lies. I think it is unhealthy to get legless, go home with the creature from the black lagoon and be about as cautious as an italian driver on his lunch break. Also, don't bonk your workmates or friends if you can help it, particularly if you are a man and like to wear a gingham dress, army boots and like to be called "Mr Flibble"

I think it is ok for friends to have sex, as long as the cards are well and truly on the table and as long as they are both confident about maintaining their friendship afterwards. I also think it is paramount to stay in a monogamous timeframe, ie: do not have more than one partner at the same time.

The dangers here are for one person to fall in love with the other and then have their heart broken because they attached more meaning to a physical thing.

I suppose the upside is a possible lasting and deeply loving relationship.

Well, that's my Two Penneth, take it away Elsie!

Clever Elsie said...

Peace: As usual, you bring a refreshing combo of insight and dry wit to these comments. :)

not only could you go home with Pam Anderson and wake up with ET you could also end up walking like John Wayne for some weeks afterwards.

Hah! That's a beauty of a quote! You're absolutely right that alcohol and/or drugs can skew our judgment with detrimental consequences. A topic I haven't seen any research on but would be interested to learn about would be what percentage of hook-ups occur while under the influence. I'll bet it's high (er, no pun intended).

You hit on the emotional consequences of hook ups and FWB relationships, some of which I discussed in the follow-up to this post, Friends With Benefits and the Lowdown on Hook Ups, Part II. As you observed, despite the partners' best intentions, things can get messy when one person develops feelings and the other doesn't. Then there's the danger of losing a good friendship over the fallout. Even if the FWB arrangement ends without hostility, sexual intimacy can permanently alter how friends relate to each other and not always in a healthy way.

You also pointed out a hazard that I didn't think of, the aftermath of a casual sexual relationship with a coworker. This is a volatile situation that is, perhaps, worse than the outcome for a friendship because one's source of income hangs in the balance. At best, it's awkward. At worst, you could be the target of a vicious campaign to ruin your career. It's been known to happen.

Anyway, thanks again for your provocative comments! :)

Anonymous said...

Hiya, sorry to do this here but I emailed a friend a few days ago and they never received it, I have also emailed your good self a few times over the last two weeks with no reply. Considering the promptness with which you respond to my comments, I am wondering if you are receiving my emails at all. Let me know!

C xx