11 Rules for Smart, Safe and Sexy Hookups

Published: MAY 26, 2014 | Updated: DECEMBER 22, 2023
Get the most out of casual sex: why being safe and smart is sexy.

Hooking up isn't for everyone. As I wrote recently, depending on your personality you may be more or less likely to benefit from casual sex. But regardless of where you stand on that continuum, there are certain things you can do to maximize your chances of benefiting from your hookup experiences and minimize your chances of being harmed by them. If you're having casual sex, here are some things that help make it a positive experience - rather than one you'll regret.


Read: Thousands of Dating App Users Share Their Hookup Tips

1. Do It for the Right Reasons

Hooking up for the right reasons, such as being attracted to the person(s), feeling horny, and wanting a pleasurable, new sexual experience, can improve your overall health and happiness. Research shows, however, that when you have casual sex for the wrong reasons, your well-being suffers. Some of the wrong reasons for having casual sex include needing to feel better about yourself, being peer- or partner-pressured into it, believing the hookup was more than just casual, or doing it because you're too drunk to think clearly. So before you hookup, ask yourself why you’re doing it and what you’re trying to get out of it. If you're doing it for the right reasons, you're more likely to have a great time.

2. Say an Enthusiastic "Yes" to the Things You Want

The good news: Getting sexual pleasure out of your hookup is key for your well-being. The bad news: Your partner will not be psychic about your needs and desires - especially if they don’t know you very well. What that means is that if you want to enjoy your casual encounter, you shouldn't expect your partner to know your body and what makes it tick. Sometimes they may be lucky enough to guess what you like or pick up on the faintest of signs, but most of the time they won’t. If you want a good experience, tell your partners what you want by explicitly asking for it, verbally or non-verbally. Whisper in their ear how you want them to touch you, lead their hand to where you want to be touched, get them in the position that works for you. A lot can go wrong when you're jumping in the sack with someone you hardly know. This is not the time to be shy.


3. Say a Firm "No" to the Things You Don’t Want

Just as your partner can't know for sure what will make you moan, they probably also won't have a clue about what makes your cringe. Casual hookups are often ambiguous situations and the lines of consent are easily blurred. Subtle pressure or unwanted (yet consensual) sex is common in hookups, and this uncertainty is often the main culprit for feelings of regret and distress in the days that follow. The bottom line: Don’t get pressured into something you’re going to regret the next day. Know your limits and express them as clearly, loudly and forcefully as is necessary. (For more on the importance of consent, check out Yes! Why Consent is Totally Sexy.)

4. Communicate Your Expectations

People often get hurt after casual sex when they aren't aware that it was casual. Sometimes people misrepresent their intentions on purpose to get others into bed, but more often, it’s a simple misunderstanding resulting from an ambiguous situation in which both partners project their own intentions onto the other person. Don’t leave things to chance. If you’re certain that you want nothing more than casual sex, let your partner know and make sure they’re on the same page. On the other hand, if you're looking for something more than just casual sex, voice your concerns and give your partner a chance to share their expectations.

5. Be Safe

In casual sex, a condom is the only thing that keeps you truly safe. When you don’t know your partner, you can’t trust them to tell you the truth, and you shouldn’t assume they’ll try to keep you from harm. Carry condoms and lube on you at all times. And use them. Properly.


6. Avoid the Jerks

At least when it comes to men, research suggests that those who are into casual sex may also be more likely to be manipulative, aggressive, narcissistic, arrogant and sexist. While they may have excellent seduction skills, they are often not particularly good at caring about your pleasure, safety, consent, reputation or well-being. So if you are someone who likes hooking up with men, do yourself a favor and try to stay away from these kinds of guys. There are plenty of nice, respectful men out there to hook up with. (Similar advice may apply when it comes to hooking up with other genders, although statistical evidence is lacking).

7. Adore Your Partners

Casual sex may be not be built on a deep emotional attachment, but that doesn’t mean you shouldn’t care about your partner while you are with them. Even if your hookup consists of a few short minutes in a bathroom stall, giving your partner all you’ve got will make for a much more pleasurable, fulfilling, and memorable experience for everyone involved. Be genuinely passionate, caring, attentive and respectful of your partner at all times.

8. Control Your Infatuation and Commitment

Infatuation with new partners is often an involuntary, neurochemical process. The more you have sex with them, the more your commitment will grow. If this is someone with whom, for whatever reason, you wish to maintain a purely casual relationship, you might have to fight your infatuation with reason and be cognizant of the involuntary nature of the neurochemical process. Keep yourself occupied and resist the need to text them 20 times a day, arrange to meet them five days a week, or talk about them and nothing else with all your friends. If you're really trying to keep things casual, you might also consider keeping a rotation of other partners.


9. Surround Yourself with People Who Won’t Judge You

Many people will reject you for having casual sex, especially if you do it often. If possible, make sure you surround yourself with friends and partners who accept your sexual lifestyle, even if they don’t share it. Move to a more liberal social circle if you have to. And if you must be surrounded by people who will judge you if they know that you partake in casual sex, keep your sexual exploits on the down low. Being judged and criticized won't make for a positive experience, so be as discreet as you need to be.

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10. Do NOT Get Wasted

Getting super drunk or high is probably the single worst thing you can do before/during casual sex. A little buzz to get you in the mood is probably OK, but anything beyond that will likely inhibit your ability to evaluate your motives, give and get pleasure or consent, be safe and even to remember the experience. If you need to be wasted in order to hookup, you’re probably doing it for the wrong reasons.

11. Don’t Be Too Hard on Yourself

Mistakes happens. Even if you do everything right, sometimes hookups don’t turn out well. Maybe the condom broke, your partner ended up being a jerk, the sex was horrible, the wrong people found out, or you ended up drinking too much. It’s not the end of the world. It's just proof that you're human, and one bad hookup probably won't have serious long-term consequences. So, go easy on yourself. earn from your mistakes, try not to repeat them in the future, and move on with your life.


Sex should be fun, right? Unfortunately, there is no one, fool-proof way to ensure casual sex will always be fun, pleasurable, safe, and enriching. That said, these 11 rules will help ensure that your hookups are more fun and more fulfilling more often. Here's to safe, smart and sexy hookups! (For further reading, here's another article on Casual Sex Rules.)

Zhana Vrangalova

Zhana Vrangalova, PhD, is a NYC-based sex researcher who studies casual sex, nonmonogamy, and sexual orientation. She teaches Human Sexuality at New York University, blogs about the science of hookups for Psychology Today, and tweets daily about new sex research. She is also the creator ofThe Casual Sex Project, a place for people to share their hookup stories. Stay in touch by signing up for Dr....

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