Your Official Guide To Hooking Up

We’re always hearing that we could be having better sex, a better orgasm, or a better relationship. But how often do we actually hear the nitty-gritty details of how we might actually achieve those things? Bustle has enlisted Vanessa Marin, a licensed sex psychotherapist based in San Francisco, to help us out with the specifics. This week’s topic: How to hook up with someone without all the guilt.

Q: I like sex. I’m happiest having sex when I’m in a relationship, but I’m fine with having casual sex to fulfill my needs when I’m single. Most of the time my hook-ups are fun, but every once in a while I wake up the next morning feeling a little ... gross. I can’t even pinpoint what the guilt is about, I just feel bad about it. How can I get over that?

A: Sex can be a tremendous amount of fun, but having a healthy relationship with your sexuality takes a lot of care and consideration. There can be so many conflicting feelings to wade through when trying to make sexual decisions.

To try to simplify the process and give you some important questions to mull over, here are 10 steps for staying satisfied, safe, and sane while having casual sex.

Know that you’re in control

There are tons of articles out there about the rules for hooking up, and everyone has an opinion on whether or not women are capable of keeping things casual. I think it’s an important part of every adult woman’s sexual development to acknowledge that she is in control of her own body. Forget what everyone else thinks you should or shouldn’t be doing — you get to make your own rules.

Get clear on your intentions

It’s important to get a sense of your own personal standards. This includes the types of situations in which you feel comfortable having casual sex, the people with whom you want to have sex, and the acts that you do and don’t desire.

It’s impossible to predict the “right” and “wrong” choice for all of the potential scenarios that you might find yourself in, but having a good sense of your boundaries beforehand will help inform your choices. Are you OK sleeping with a guy the first day you meet him? Are you looking for a friends with benefits, or a one-night stand? Is oral sex on or off the table during a first hook-up?

Know yourself

Part of setting your own sexual moral compass is knowing some of your potential weak spots. Do you have the tendency to go further than you want when you’ve been drinking? Do you worry that you use hook-ups as a way to try to lure guys into relationships? The more you know yourself, the better you’ll able to prepare and protect yourself.

Keep the emphasis on what you want

Once you’re mid hook-up and the hormones are raging, it can be difficult not to get swept up in the moment. Your original intentions can go right out the window. That’s why I try to encourage women to stay present with themselves and their own desires.

Don’t let yourself just be led through a hook-up. Each time things escalate to the next step, take a second to check in with yourself and make sure you actually want to keep going. You can say something like, “hold on, just kiss me for a few seconds” to give yourself a few moments to think. You can even excuse yourself to the bathroom to give yourself a chance to cool down. You don’t have to keep going just because you “started it." You can stop at any point you want.

There’s a term called “enthusiastic consent” that I teach to many of my clients. Enthusiastic consent means that you happily and actively desire something. You’re not just letting something happen, or being OK with it happening. Think about enthusiastic consent as things escalate. You want to be saying “hell yeah!” to each step you take.

Give feedback

The whole point of having casual sex is to enjoy yourself, right? You might strike jackpot and get a partner with whom you’re insanely compatible, but most of the time, you’re going to need to talk to your hook-up buddy about what you do and don’t want.

A lot of women get embarrassed about having to be communicative with someone new, but this is a very important skills to learn. Who better to practice with than someone with whom the stakes are relatively low? If this hook-up is just about feeling good and not having to worry about all of the complicated relationship stuff, why not try to get as much pleasure out of it as you can?

Get comfortable expressing your boundaries confidently and firmly. Practice saying things like, “I don’t want to do that tonight” or “let’s just stick with making out, OK?” You can also work on giving feedback about sexual technique, like, “let me show you how I want you to touch me.”

Be respectful of your partner

This should go without saying, but it’s important to treat your partner with the same care and courtesy you would want. Be a generous and giving sexual partner (within your boundaries, of course). Thank him or her for the fun evening. Don’t gossip about their sexual performance.

Our society likes to pretend that guys especially are emotionless sex fiends, but the truth is that a lot of men have the same insecurities and worries about sex that women have. He’ll appreciate being treated like a human being.

Exercise precaution

If you’re meeting a stranger from a dating site, arrange to suss each other out in a well-lit, public place first. If you and a potential hook-up partner have mutual friends, ask them about him. Consider inviting guys back to your place if you have roommates (the embarrassment of a roommate overhearing you might be outweighed by the safety of having someone around should you need help). Call or text a friend to tell them who you’re with, how you met, and where you’re going.

Above all else, trust your instincts. If you have a bad feeling, don’t try to rationalize it or question it. Your intuition knows way more than you think.

Practice safe sex

I shouldn’t need to rattle off a bunch of statistics to make it clear that STIs are rampant. I’ll give you just one: studies estimate that one in every three to four people has an STI.

Condoms are incredibly important, but keep in mind that they aren’t foolproof. You can still get STIs from skin-to-skin contact of the parts of your bodies that aren’t covered in latex, or if the condom breaks or slips off.

People get into trouble when they’re intoxicated and not thinking too seriously about safety. Horniness takes over, and a little game of “let’s just see how it feels” sounds like a good idea. If you know you’re prone to taking greater risks when you’ve been drinking or doing drugs, you may want to consider a “sober hook-ups only” policy.

Sort out guilty feelings

Post hook-up regret is incredibly common. I think a lot of these feelings are products of our society’s anti-sex attitudes. It’s important to take the time to consider whether you’re feeling bad because of society’s beliefs or because of your own. Do you feel guilty for letting that guy go down on you because you’re worried about your friends thinking you’re slutty? Or because you genuinely didn’t feel comfortable enough with that particular dude to let him get between your legs?

If you realize you made a decision that you truly do regret, it may take a little bit of time to forgive yourself. As uncomfortable as it may feel, try to figure out if there’s a lesson to learn there. Is there a way for you to adjust your sexual boundaries moving forward? Maybe you learned that one night stands actually don’t make you feel great, or that you need to be more vigilant about condom usage. Make a commitment to yourself that you’ll honor your new knowledge about yourself.

Keep in mind that knowing your boundaries takes a little trial and error sometimes. As responsible as you may be about trying to make good decisions about hooking up, you can’t always know what will and won’t feel right after the fact. Forgive yourself and try to move on.

Support an atmosphere of better hook-ups for everyone

We can all do our part to create a more sex-positive society. Be kind and respectful towards your sexual partners. Don’t slut shame people who make different sexual decisions than you do. Teach your friends about enthusiastic consent. And have fun!

Images: Handsomecharlie Films, Giphy