As Alice opened her eyes, she felt hazy. Still drunk, perhaps. She looked down at the Venue stamp on her hand with no recollection of it being placed. She turned around to see a stranger, naked in her bed sheets, yet again.
This scenario is not an anomaly. Most features start with something dramatic. Bold. But when thinking about one-night stands, there is no unique experience to begin this article with. 70% of the British population have admitted to having casual sex, making it all too normalised to shock. However, there is a difference between having one and having thirty. I spoke to a 22-year-old University of Kent student, under the pseudonym Alice Smith about her “addiction” to one-night stands.
“I wasn’t always like this,” Alice claims. It started when Alice came to Kent. Born and bred in a small town in the Midlands, she was never much of a ‘wild girl’ or a ‘party animal’. “I grew up in a town where everyone knew each other and many of the locals have never left, they’ve just stayed put their whole lives, and it all made me very sheltered.” Alice had a boyfriend when she was at school, but she acknowledged that it never amounted to much. “Honestly, I think he left me because I wasn’t ready for sex yet,” she admits, nervously.
Soon after her breakup, it was time to move into her first-year accommodation in Canterbury. Loneliness is a growing and serious problem among millennials, and it gets worse daily. However, it is not something that Alice was particularly accustomed to, living in such a close-knit town her whole childhood. The first week at Kent was difficult, she was ‘that flat mate’ the one that no one had seen or spoken to yet. “I wasn’t particularly aware that I had social anxiety, but looking back on it, it definitely was a problem of mine. I was very shy. I still am deep down, and I really struggled to make friends, until one night I just let myself go.”
A friend she had known at school arrived late to fresher’s week. They were not very close, but as they knew each other, they decided to go out together. It was Alice’s first clubbing experience. Although she was a little overwhelmed, she told me that it was exciting to finally experience what everyone else was experiencing.
What she did not expect is to meet a boy that she really liked. She lost her virginity to him, drunk. She admits that she does not regret having that special first experience. “To be honest I’m not sure whether it exists,” Alice tells me. After he left the following afternoon, she was reeling with excitement, waiting for his message. Lonely weeks went by with broken responses. “I was heartbroken. I don’t think I understood how these things worked. I was aware of one-night stands, but I just really thought we hit it off.”
She asked her friend if she wanted to go out again. She needed validation. To feel good enough. This was the beginning of a nasty spiral into addiction.
We all know that love is a powerful drug. It is comparable to being addicted to crack cocaine. Literally. The shared, near-identical effect amounts to a rush of feel-good chemicals in your brain, also known as endorphins, that leaves you with an enhanced mood, a heightened sexual interest and a boost of self-confidence, not to mention impaired judgment that can influence you to make poor decisions in the dark of night that you come to regret in the light of day.
At first, Alice tried to make relationships out of them, but she found it too difficult. Too much potential heartbreak. “Honestly, it’s not the best place to meet a boyfriend. But where is? Tinder is for hookups and so are clubs apparently, so where does that leave a student to find a long-term relationship?” Her guard was well and truly up. Sometimes she enjoyed the sex. Most of the time she enjoyed the company, the flattery, the game. At the mention of this I asked her what game she was referring to. And it was one we all know too well. Getting dolled up, dancing suggestively with your friends, surveying your options, making eye contact with someone, dancing with them and finally catching them and taking them home. It is like the club goers mating call.
And there you have what Alice calls the “no boyfriend-boyfriend”. The company at night, pillow talk, sex, compliments but no heartbreak. Yet, there was a sadness to her that was unavoidable. She admitted to being in and out of depression for the past two years, coming to the realisation that the string of one-night stands she leaves behind is actually a string of tiny pieces of her heart slowly eating away at her. Alice has now had around 30 one-night stands.
“I don’t understand how I can’t learn. In the morning I feel disgusting, degraded, ashamed and it’s awkward. They leave and I feel shit about myself, so I do it all over again to feel better for those few hours of the night. I use the next to get over the previous and it’s an endless and vicious cycle.”
A psychologist from Durham University surveyed more than 3,300 people between the ages of 17 and 40. Over half of them reported having experienced a one-night stand. She asked them to describe their experiences and, more importantly, the emotions they experienced the morning after. Her research found that despite women claiming that they can have carefree sex, unattached, 80% of men had overall positive feelings; meanwhile, only 44% of women had positive feelings.
“The truth is, I need the comfort, the closeness,” Alice told me. “In fact most nights I’d rather just cuddle than have sex, it’s not the sex I’m addicted to, it’s the temporary closeness, it just doesn’t come with immense heartbreak.”
Another study from Brunel University proved that both sexes demonstrate a remarkable difference when it comes to being propositioned for casual sex. What it showed was that men lower their standards, whereas women raised theirs when propositioned for casual sex. Inevitably leaving the man more sexually satisfied and the woman wanting something deeper that she will rarely ever get. Instead, they felt “regret at being used”. Women responded “I felt cheap”, “horrified afterward” and “I felt degraded. Made myself look cheap and easy. Total regret”.
The morning after effects are not the only bad experiences that come with her addiction. Not all men are as simple as no strings attached intercourse. When asking Alice if she has ever run into detrimental experiences, she both nodded and shuddered.
A particularly bad experience was when she had “friend zoned” a guy who had liked her for a while. “He was nice but there was something not quite right about him and I just didn’t see him in that kind of way.” Yet, one morning, there he was. Lying next to her, naked, in her bed. “I had absolutely no memory of the night, I’m not sure if I was drugged or not but I know that drunk or not I would have never agreed the sleep with him. Annoyingly, though, it’s not out of character for me to end up in that situation.” She was left confused and disgusted with herself. She had no idea if it was consensual, and that terrified her. But there was nothing she could do about it.
Experiences like this comes with problems like reputation and safety. “It goes without saying that after a while you’re known as a ‘slut’. Which I am. I can’t defend myself on that one”. The brutal honesty and confrontation which came with this comment was enough to make her voice waver when she began again: “You know, and now I’ve sort of lost any friends that I did have. I don’t want people to feel bad for me, I’ve done it to myself, but yeah…” she trailed off.
If all of this is not worrying enough, Alice’s lifestyle also comes with the biggest risk of all: sexually transmitted diseases.
The NHS has recently conducted research into the problems surrounding sexual trends. They analysed urine samples of men and women aged 16 to 44 years, which were tested for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) such as HPV, chlamydia and gonorrhea.
Researchers found that high risk HPV is now a common STI found among the 16% of women tested and around one in 100 people aged 16-44 had chlamydia.
Also included in this report’s findings was the fact that since the 2000 survey, considerable increases in the past five years have been seen in HIV testing (from 8.7% to 27.6% in women and from 9.2% to 16.9% in men) As we begin to normalise casual sex, we, young people, are normalising STIs and spreading them like wildfire.
When informing Alice about this she winced a little. “I know, it’s awful. I’ve been tested and somehow, I’m okay. Which hasn’t been a great deterrent for me.” She also informed me she was safe as much as possible but there have been occasions where men have pretended to use a condom when they have not or simply been too drunk to remember, leading her to several trips to the campus nurse.
Alice Smith’s story is both disconcerting and sad for a multitude of reasons. What maybe the saddest part is that it is becoming so normal for many people in our generation. She still continues to have one-night stands, unable to control herself, and many people experience the same. The difference with Alice is that she has come out and said it. This, I hope, is a first step to changing our ways: acknowledgment.
As our generation grows larger, so does our tolerance and normalisation of things like ‘fuck boys’, ‘Love Island’ and of course one-night stands. The media, specifically social media, is constantly instilling the ideals of Instagram models and a life of fake happiness. Something which Alice mentioned as a huge problem whilst dealing with her addiction. In reality, all it does is guide the youth into a pit of self-loathing and loneliness. For Alice, one-night stands are a coping mechanism. For others it could be alcohol. Addiction forms in many ways, some being more surprising than others. So, I implore you, first years, Alice implores you: have fun this week, but be careful.
If you have been affected by any of the content in this feature, you can seek support and guidance by visiting the University of Kent’s Wellbeing Services (H Block, Keynes) or contacting Canterbury Nightline (01227 824848) between 8pm – 8am, Monday, Wednesday, Friday, Saturday and Sunday.