When ‘Hooking Up’ Leaves Something to Be Desired

two fishing hooksI see this all the time. A woman tells me that she went out on a first date with a man and then tells me that they slept together. In the same sentence, she tells me, “I probably shouldn’t have done that.” 

I also see this all the time. A woman comes to my office five years after engaging in casual hook-up behavior (defined as brief, uncommitted sexual encounters among individuals who are not romantic partners) and wonders why she is having so much difficulty connecting in her current relationship. She says, “I love him, but I don’t have any sexual desire.”

I work with twenty-somethings, and I see how casual sexual relations can have negative impacts on women’s minds and bodies. Of course, not everyone who engages in this type of behavior will have difficulties later in life. Some people can navigate this terrain without any problem whatsoever, and may even find it empowering. However, enough women struggle with this that I can make a full-time practice out of helping them.

A typical scenario I encounter in my practice: A woman finds it difficult to find a man who is interested in a relationship. It’s hard to find someone who wants a commitment, even if she isn’t interested in marriage. Typically, a woman may tell me that there’s part of her that is lonely and wants to feel the warmth of someone close to her. She may long for the emotional and physical sensation of intimacy. She may want to feel wanted. She may want to feel loved. She may want to feel connected.

We all have a longing for intimacy—it’s part of what makes us human.

We all want to have connection. That’s what social media are about. We want to connect with old friends though Facebook, famous people through Twitter, and colleagues and contacts through LinkedIn. But all this “connecting” doesn’t really do it for us. We want something more, something deeper, something more satisfying. So, in many cases, we turn to sex.

In one study of 832 college students, 26% of women and 50% of men reported positive feelings after a hook-up (Owen et al., 2010). Other than feelings of regret, many report feeling anxious about the state of the relationship or their physical health. In another study of 140 (109 female, 31 male) first-semester undergraduates, women, but not men, who had engaged in a hook-up with intercourse showed higher rates of mental distress (Fielder and Carey, 2010b).

Something I see all the time in my private practice is women diving straight into a physical relationship while the emotional relationship is not yet mature. The woman may give fully of herself physically while still “protecting her heart” by remaining guarded emotionally. This is a type of dissociation.

Five years later, when she is engaged or married, this may catch up with her. She may be so adept at disconnecting mind from body that she has a hard time unifying or connecting the two. This can manifest as genital pain or low sexual desire.

So what can you do with this information?

Some things to ask yourself and to keep in mind:

  • How do you feel after hooking up? Do you feel regretful? Do you experience feelings of sadness or depression? Do you feel anxious about the state of the relationship or your physical health?
  • What are you getting out of this relationship? Are you feeling connected and satisfied?
  • What is it that you really want right now? Are you looking for a husband?
  • If you are experiencing genital pain or low sexual desire in a committed relationship, your body may (but not necessarily) be telling you to slow down. I would recommend speaking with a medical practitioner to rule out physical causes.
  • Practice being completely in the moment and being mindful with your actions.
  • If you feel any anxiety, take it slower and set some boundaries. Back up the physical relationship to match your emotional comfort. Engage only in sexual activities that make you comfortable and not anxious.
  • Remember that just because you had intercourse with someone does not mean you cannot back up your boundaries. Speak to your partner and explain that you need some time and that you went too fast.

Sexual relations are the most intimate act between two individuals. Establish an emotionally intimate and emotionally safe relationship to match the depth of your actions. This will create a more connected and happier relationship with yourself and others. 


  1. Fielder, R. L., and Carey, M. P. (2010b). Predictors and Consequences of Sexual “Hook-Ups” among College Students: A Short-Term Prospective Study. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 1105–1119. doi:10.1007/ s10508-008-9448-4
  2. Garcia, Justin R. (2013). Sexual Hook-Up Culture. American Psychological Association, Vol 44, No 2.
  3. Owen, J. J., Rhoades, G. K., Stanley, S. M., and Fincham, F. D. (2010). “Hooking Up” among College Students: Demographic and Psychosocial Correlates. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 39, 653–663. doi:10.1007/ s10508-008-9414-1

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The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Dana

    February 26th, 2014 at 12:08 PM

    I have been in both types of relationships, the ones where I dove right in and immediately began to have sex with the guy, and then the ones where I held out for a little longer and gave things more time to grow. They can both serve their purposes if you know what I eman depending on what stage of your life you are in at the moment. I wouldn’t advocate this for everyone because you do have to have a sense of stregth to endure some of the pitfalls of the too much too soon hook ups, but if this is what you are looking for at that point in time and you KNOW that then I think that they can be relevant and fulfilling in many ways. Again this isn’t the right choice for everyone but I have to say that there have been times when this was exactly what I needed, all that I needed and I don’t think that I have been scarred as a result.

  • jacob

    February 26th, 2014 at 3:38 PM

    And ladies, no matter what a guy might tell you, if we are young in all likelihood we aren’t looking for a relationship so we are just looking to hook up too. No strings attached is what most of us want up until a certain age, so if you don’t wanna get heartbroken, might I suggest a no “hookup” clause in the contract, because no matter what you might be thinking if we think we can get away with a one night stand then most of us are going to take that.

  • Heathley

    February 27th, 2014 at 3:41 AM

    I know that this is such a young person thing, something that my generation wouldn’t have necessarily done on such a regular basis, and I have to tell you, the thought of my own daughter getting into this sort of pattern with men frightens me.

    You try to teach our daughters and sons that this sort of behavior is dangerous, not just physically but also on an emotional level, and yet they still insist that everyone is doing it, that this is how they date and meet people now.

    I am over that line. There is something missing in your life if this is how you feel like you need to relate to other people, people to whom you are attracted.

    I want the very best for pretty much everyone, and I am so afraid that we are going to have a generation of young people with rampant STDs as well as no real idea of what a meaningful relationship actually is if this trend isn’t halted.

  • lucille

    February 27th, 2014 at 11:46 AM

    we have a hard time remembering just how much our past can come back to haunt us… but we see from these examples that even when we have outgrown certain behavioral patterns that doesn’t mean that the ramifications of those will ever go away… they are always going to be a part of you

  • Marla

    February 28th, 2014 at 3:46 AM

    I agree that this is not the best set up for a relationship that will be strong and end well. However, you have to understand that you are fighting a battle here that has been going on within someone for a long time. I don’t necessarily think that this is all a sociaetal shift although I am sure that contributes to this some. I see this as a way for people to act out when they have been set up from a very young age to always feel as if they have to seek out love and affection, and it grows into that they don’t really care where this comes from as long as they can get it. It may mean hooking up and trying to achieve that love that way, although this is rarely going to be a success for them. But there is always going to be someone willing to comply and give them what they need for the moment but until they resolve some of their issues form childhood it usually isn’t going to stick and will just be one more person in a long line of regrets.

  • avery t

    March 1st, 2014 at 5:46 AM

    These kinds of hookups in the past left me feeling so empty. I wamted to find a guy anywhere I turned and really thought very little of the impact that this could have on me. I guess I was constantly looking for love, for someone to love me, but always in all the arong places. I am older now and see that my actions never benefitted anyone except the guy who ultimately knew that I would have sex with him but that I wasn’t the one he was going to hang around with and build something with. I know now that those weren’t the guys I would have wanted that with anyway, but then, when you are going throungh the motions, it really does hurt to be left and abandoned time and again.

  • Steve Horvath

    March 1st, 2014 at 5:30 PM

    I have met some women who were interested in a one night stand or a hook-up as it is called now days. Mind you, when these happened, I was in my late 30’s and 40’s. Naturally I was looking for a committed relationship and not a fling. After many years of singles’ Ads and I still was not able to find a steady relationship. So I gave it up. The few women with whom I’ve met and had a short term relationships also were negative in their outcomes due to my losses of belongings and moneys due to theft and outright trickeries. Finally I decided NO More! If a woman doesn’t want me for my caring and loving relationship with strong emotional bonds, than I don’t want anymore, period. I’d live alone as a hermit than to be exposed to hurt emotions and its consequences on my health and mental well being. Steve, now 54 years of age from Chicago, Illinois.

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