Feeling empty after hookup? Here's what you need to know
Hooking up is a term that's been thrown around more and more in the past few years. With so many people participating in "hookup culture", people with different definitions of intimacy, different wants, and different boundaries, the term has become somewhat ambiguous.
What is a hookup?
Essentially, a hookup is a meet up between people with the intent of sexual intimacy. It doesn't necessarily mean meeting up for sex, intimacy can cover anything from kissing to intercourse, to any sexual activity in between. Hooking up can be a one-time thing or a regular occurrence between people and doesn't always imply monogamy or a serious relationship. Hookups can occur between complete strangers or close friends!
Why do people hook up?
People hookup for a ton of different reasons, but the most common would be for sexual gratification. People also hookup to explore their sexuality, to experience a physical connection, or to start a new relationship.
Prevalence and psychological correlates show that women and men may want to hookup for different reasons and want different outcomes after casual sex. Hooking up can also be a coping mechanism for some individuals. So as you can see, there are tons of different reasons for hooking up, and not all of them have to do with sex.
Where do people find hookups?
Living in the digital age means that a lot of hookup partners are found online. Social media is a great way to connect with new people in your area. Chat sites are frequented by people wanting to find a new partner. There are apps for dating, hooking up, and even apps to meet people with the same kinks and fantasies.
This doesn't necessarily mean that hookup partners can't be found offline. Hookup culture is big in the party scene, lots of singles frequent bars and clubs to find someone to spend the night with.
Emotions and hookups
While they may be new and exciting, hookups do end up costing you more emotional energy than a relationship. It can be hard for some people to separate emotional intimacy and sexual acts, just like some people have a harder time connecting the two things. This might be part of the reason that hookup culture has gained such a negative connotation. It's become almost more taboo to become emotionally invested in a casual partner than it is to have casual sex.
Hooking up with a partner can fulfill a need for emotional and physical closeness for a night but can leave you feeling lonely afterwards. Often times, lead to feelings for the other person because not only do you connect with them on a physical level but you spend time getting to know them as a person leading up to the sex.
When the connection to that person forms, it can lead to hurt feelings pretty easily without the established boundaries of a relationship. The fact that one partner might also be sleeping with others can cause some hurt and frustration if the other partner does happen to develop feelings.
Mental Effects of hookups
Especially amidst a generational mental health crisis, hookups have the potential to be emotionally catastrophic. Of course, there's always the anxiety of contracting an STI or unwanted pregnancies. Sexual abuse and rape are also extremely traumatic events that can horrendously impact an individual. However, a hookup doesn't have to turn violent to negatively impact your mental health.
Peer reviewed studies do show that people who engage in hookups statistically experience a greater amount negative emotional response in both men and women. People who engage in hookups are also more likely to experience anxiety and depression.
It's important to note that this isn't the case for everyone. Some people may be happier engaging in casual sex, which is great! With a relationship out of the picture, this may allow some people to explore their sexual identity and have fun while working on themselves, their hobbies, careers, etc.
The most important thing you can do is be aware of your feelings and acknowledge them. Whether you think that casual sex is beneficial to you or not, never talk yourself into doing something that you know that you don't want to do.
The science behind sex
The emotions that we experience after sex, and the impact that it might have on your mental health happens for a biological reason. Oxytocin is a neurotransmitter in the brain, its job is to send messages between nerve cells. Oxytocin release is triggered by physical touch and stimulation, leading to that happy "high" feeling we get when we're having sex with a partner for the first time.
Oxytocin, dubbed the "love hormone", decreases in production after frequent casual sex. This can explain why after a while, it starts to feel less exciting. Humans are social creatures and thrive when meaningful connections are made and maintained. When human connections no longer bring us happiness, it can negatively impact our mental health. Combined with the reduction of oxytocin production, it can manifest in the form of feeling depressed or experiencing body issues.
Dopamine is another neurotransmitter associated with pleasure and reward. Like oxytocin, dopamine production peaks during orgasm, which can train your brain to associate that dopamine release to your sense of pleasure and reward. With the repeated dopamine peak that happens during sexual encounters, it can make it easier to associate sex with physical pleasure rather than emotional connection leading to a dependency on sexual experiences for happiness. It can also require the use of sexual medicine to be able to have sex.
Do you get that empty feeling after a hookup?
You can find yourself feeling empty after a hookup for a number of reasons. The post sex blues actually have a name: post-coital dysphoria (PCD). PCD can start within moments after sex and can last anywhere from a few minutes to several hours to even days.
PCD is the intense feeling of sadness, regret or depression after engaging in sexual activities. It’s completely normal, and can experienced by both men and women.
Why do people get PCD?
One of the biggest reasons that PCD happens is the intense rush of dopamine, oxytocin, and other "happy" neurotransmitters and hormones that occurs when you have sex. Once those chemicals disperse, it leads to that feeling of sleepiness afterwards.
It also contributes to the sad, empty feeling you might experience once your partner leaves. These chemicals are part of the reason we get attached to our partners even for a little while, whether they may be one-night stands, a FWB, or a long-term romantic partner.
Another reason you may be leaving with negative feelings is because while casual sex may fill your need for sexual gratification, it might leave something missing in terms of emotional needs. Whether you catch feelings or not, sometimes an inner desire for love or stability may cause that empty feeling after a hookup.
It's easy to confuse sex with intimacy. Sex is an intimate act but cannot fill our emotional needs. Think of intimacy like a component of your diet, like protein. It can be great for you, but only if you eat it along with other foods like fruits and vegetables. You can't have a healthy diet by just eating one kind of food. You need a variety to fill your nutritional needs, just like you need a variety of emotional and physical stimulation to fill your intimacy needs.
How to feel less empty after a hookup?
Just like there are many things that can cause you to feel incomplete after a hookup, there are also many things that you can do to help make that feeling go away. The biggest thing you can do is be aware of your needs and put those first.
In order to form a healthy emotional connection in intimate relationships, both partners need to communicate and understand each other's intentions. If you're looking for something serious, it's important to let your partner know beforehand to avoid any hurt feelings. The same goes for partners looking for something more casual. From there, you know where both parties want the hookup to lead, and you can decide whether or not their intention is a dealbreaker for you.
It's also important to focus on your life outside of the bedroom! There's more to your life and happiness than having casual sex. It's an enjoyable, physical way to connect with another person. Completely relying on casual sex for happiness isn't sustainable for your health mentally, feelings are bound to get hurt at one point or another.
Keep yourself busy outside of your sex life. Work on building your career, finding a new hobby, or anything else that you find fulfilling. If you keep yourself as your top priority, it's easier to find hookups an enjoyable side activity, not an emotional rollercoaster.
Hookups aren’t for everyone
Although stated earlier, it's important to emphasize self-awareness in terms of your emotional needs and mental state. Hooking up can be enjoyable, but it's not for everyone. It's totally normal for people to not have an interest in casual sex just as much as it is for those that enjoy it.
People have many reasons to not want to have casual sex. Some people don’t like sex or have experienced sexual abuse in the past. Even consensual sex can trigger anyone who has experienced trauma or past abuse.
There are other ways that you can build a physically and emotionally fulfilling relationship outside of the hookup scene. Don't feel pressured to engage in a sexual experience that doesn't excite you. If you're pressured by a partner to have sex, it's a good indicator that you shouldn't have sex with them anyways, your partner should respect your boundaries and only act if enthusiastic consent is given.
Tips for your next hookup
One vital hookup mistake is going in without clear intentions. Recognize what you want out of a potential hookup and ask you could-be partner where they're at too. Talking about feelings isn't something that everyone enjoys doing, but it's a good idea to get it out of the way so that no one ends up with a broken heart.
Remember that hookups are supposed to be enjoyable! Don't go into it worrying about being "good" at sex, you're there to have fun and feel good. Ask your partner what they like and don't like and communicate along the way when something feels nice!
It's also vital to communicate if you're wanting to stop or if something doesn't feel right. It can be hard to say "no" in the moment, but a good partner will care about you feeling safe. If you're not having a good time, don't be afraid to let your partner know that you want to stop.
If you are concerned, you can also talk to your physician if you’re worried about anything medically related such as pregnancy tests and STD treatment. Sex therapists are also a great resource to learn more about your body and sexual preferences.
Casual sex is a great way to get physical and get off at the same time. Connecting with new people on a physical level can feel great, but it can also cause some negative emotions and a feeling of emptiness after the deed is done. This can be for a number of reasons, from unresolved feelings for the unconscious craving for emotional connection. Before you hookup, it's vital to take a look at your needs and really think about if this hookup is going to be a thrilling fling, or a Band-Aid solution to a deeper issue.
Mental health is a hot topic right now among our society, and for good reason. Its importance is a more recent acknowledgment, but an important one, nonetheless. We need to take care of our minds just as much as we do our bodies, and hookups do have the potential to wreak havoc. You want to feel safe in these situations; if you don't feel comfortable it is a sign something is wrong. If you feel depressed/feel lonely/feel sad after hook ups with or without an intimate relationship, you may consider visiting a sex therapist or going to marital therapy to deal with the affect of your sexual revolution. Mental health effects including postcoital dysphoria (pcd) can also make you feel bad. If you experience pcd seek out professional help.
Whether you're looking for a one-night stand or your soulmate, the take home should be to put yourself first, but don't be afraid to enjoy yourself!