Hooking up takes skills, and not in the way you’re thinking. Joanne Davila, PhD, and relationship expert Kaycee Lashman have identified some skills women (and men) should have in their repertoire in order to hookup without regrets or emotional ramifications. These skills give you the power to get the relationships you want. They begin with the premise that healthy relationships, whether long-term or short-term, begin with knowing yourself: insight into your goals, your needs and your limits. Since it’s not all about you, mutuality is equally important. Finally, emotional regulation will help you respond to experiences healthily and make decisions successfully.
Welcome, Joanne and Kaycee.
Three skills for a healthy hookup
Hookups are pretty prevalent these days. Although some research shows they don’t have a negative impact on most people, for some, hookups can be stressful, unsatisfying, or confusing. Are we going to see each other again? What will the person think of me? How do I feel about myself for doing it? Did I get what I wanted out of it? Why do I feel like it was all about the other person? These are just some of the questions we’ve heard from real girls, and these questions can lead to uncertainty and disappointment.
If you’re interested in hooking up, there are three skills you need to use to increase the likelihood that you’ll have the experience you want and that you won’t end up confused and feeling bad.
Skill 1: Insight
This is about knowing what you want, and it’s the first thing you need to do in order to have a healthy hookup. Ask yourself these questions: What do I want sexually? What am I willing to do and not do? What are my limits? And know the answers so that when the time comes you will be prepared and you can communicate effectively about what you want and don’t want. For example, if having an orgasm is important to you and you can only reach it during oral sex, then be prepared to let your partner know. If you don’t like it rough and that’s a limit, then be ready to stop when things go past your comfort zone.
It’s also important to have insight about what you’re looking to get out of a hookup. What are your motives and goals? Is it just about the sex? Are you fine with it being just a one-time thing? Are you actually hoping it will turn into a relationship? You need to know because your expectations and hopes can determine how you’ll react to whatever happens – we talk more about this when we get to the third skill, emotion regulation, later in this article. You also need to know to be able to figure out whether you and the other person are looking for the same thing. If you’re not, then you might end up not feeling so great. One key to a healthy hookup is when both people are on the same page, which leads to the next skill.
Skill 2: Mutuality
A healthy hookup is about it being good for both people. Not just you. Not just the other person. Both of you.
Often people go into a hookup with the goal of getting sexual pleasure for themselves. Makes sense. So they judge the success of the hookup by whether it was pleasurable for them. But there are two people involved who both want sexual pleasure, and they both deserve to get it. If you’re in it just for your own pleasure and you’re not interested in really pleasing your partner, then stay home with your porn and/or your vibrator and enjoy yourself.
On the flip side of that are people who judge the success of a hookup solely by whether they pleased their partner and they completely disregard their own pleasure. This is just as bad as focusing only on yourself. If you’re only focused on giving the other person what they want it may be an indicator that you’re afraid of being yourself, you’re afraid of what the other person might think of you, you’re trying to get the other person to like you – or, most likely, all of the above. If you see yourself in this scenario, then you need to shift your focus from trying to be what the other person wants (or what you think they want) – a situation that leads to people-pleasing – to being yourself and seeing if they like what you have to offer. And in a healthy hookup, part of that is communicating your needs and seeing if the other person is willing to meet them. If not, this is not the hookup for you. Bottom line, a healthy hookup is one where both people get their needs met and both people actually care about meeting the other’s needs.
Skill 3: Emotion Regulation
This skill is about keeping your emotions in check. Post-hookup, you may start to feel those warm twinges of love and images of a beautiful life together. You may start to get anxious about whether you’ll get another text or call. You may get sad or angry if that text or call doesn’t come. You may get excited when it comes late one Saturday night, suggesting a spontaneous rendezvous. All of these feelings can happen. But remember, there’s a reason it’s called a hookup – it’s not a relationship. And it was not intended to be from the beginning. The best thing you can do for yourself is to go into a hookup assuming that’s exactly what it will be. A fun (hopefully!) encounter between two consenting individuals that is not meant to happen again or to turn into anything else. Then, when it doesn’t, you won’t have to be sad, angry or disappointed. You can view the experience fondly, rather than yearning for more. You can remind your developing feelings of love that they are better placed elsewhere, when the right relationship person comes along. And you won’t have to be anxiously checking your phone for a text. Should that text come, you can decide whether you want to pursue it, rather than feeling dependent upon it for a sense of self-worth. And, should your hookup start to turn into a relationship, then you can be pleasantly surprised and see where it goes.
For those of you who are on the receiving end of someone wanting a hookup to go further than you want it to go, you need to keep your anxiety or annoyance about this in check also. Be clear and direct with the person about where you are and what they can expect, both up front and afterwards. And be kind in all of your communications. You had sex with this person. You just shared nakedness, bodily fluids, and perhaps lots of other things. It’s an intimate exchange no matter how you look at it. And the people involved deserve to be respected. Don’t let your fears or frustration get in the way of treating a person with respect.
If you use these skills to approach and deal with hookups it’s more likely to be a rewarding experience for both people, and that’s what a healthy hookup is about.
Dr. Davila and Ms. Lashman are the authors of The Thinking Girl’s Guide to the Right Guy: How Knowing Yourself Can Help You Navigate Dating, Hookups, and Love.
Joanne Davila, PhD, is Professor of Psychology at Stony Brook University, a clinical psychologist in private practice, and an internationally known expert on young women’s romantic relationships. She lives in Stony Brook, New York, with her partner.
Kaycee Lashman is an organizational change specialist who focuses on relationship dynamics within companies. Married with two children, she lives in Vancouver, Canada.