The One Night Stand

According to Kate Bollick, the Mosuo people of southwest China never get married.  One night stands are perfectly acceptable, brothers assume paternal responsibility for their sisters’ children and everyone is totally okay with this.

In All the Single Ladies, Bollick explains,

Sexual relations are kept separate from family. At night, a Mosuo woman invites her lover to visit her babahuago (flower room); the assignation is called sese (walking). If she’d prefer he not sleep over, he’ll retire to an outer building (never home to his sisters). She can take another lover that night, or a different one the next, or sleep every single night with the same man for the rest of her life—there are no expectations or rules. As Cai Hua, a Chinese anthropologist, explains, these relationships, which are known as açia, are founded on each individual’s autonomy, and last only as long as each person is in the other’s company. Every goodbye is taken to be the end of the açia relationship, even if it resumes the following night. “There is no concept of açia that applies to the future,” Hua says.

Before I continue with today’s post, would somebody please give me a research grant to go to there?  Because frankly I’m not convinced.  I’d like to conduct a few interviews of my own (and no, by that I don’t mean I want to go sleep with a bunch of Mosuo men; I’d want to talk to the women because there’s got to be more to it than that.)

Is it really possible to go through life having one night stands (or series of “one night stands” with the same person) without getting emotionally attached?

I wouldn’t know.  You see, I’ve never actually had a one night stand.  I came pretty close when I was in Scotland several years ago (there’s something about being on vacation when you’re already living abroad that makes reality and its more unfortunate consequences seem even further away that usual) but the moment my sweet-talking Scotsman pulled a condom from his nightstand, I realized that we were quickly approaching the point of no return and I got a grip.

Or wimpled out.

Interpret it as you will (judging by his physique and his general agility on the dance floor, I’m pretty sure the sex would have been f-a-b-u-l-o-u-s) but the point is we didn’t go through with it, and that was the closest I’ve ever come to sex of the “sese” variety.

During my last few months in London, I shared a flat with a trio of British undergraduates.  They were a good deal of fun but they were always (or so it seemed to me as I sat at the kitchen table wishing they would shut up so I could finish writing my dissertation) either drunk or hung over.  For weeks on end, they ricocheted from one extreme to the other with frighteningly little recovery time in between.  One night I came downstairs to find a note tacked to the fridge:

To the gorgeous blond in the blue dress: call xxx for a night of no string sex.  Xx

It had been given to one of my flat mates the night before and she was, judging by its position on the refrigerator door, quite proud of her little proposition.

(Admittedly, if I’d receiving a similar communiqué, I’m sure I would have displayed it in a position of prominence as well.  Of course, being that I’m currently renting from my parents, the refrigerator door probably wouldn’t be the best place.  My mother’s rather fussy about what she allows onto the refrigerator and even if I my parents were the type to display photographs cards and childhood drawings from their now-adult children, I doubt they want a proposal for “no strings sex” rubbing elbows with my old report cards.)

At any rate, I was amused, and appalled, and not altogether surprised to learn, upon my return to London several months later, that the flat mate in question was pregnant and dropping out of school.

(To her credit, she’s since launched a little side business as a “party organizer” for Ann Summers, which is essentially the British version of… actually we don’t have an American equivalent, but she seems to be doing perfectly well for herself and her son and frankly, I’m not surprised by this either.  She always was the most financially savvy of the flat mates.)

So my question is this: for those of you who have had one night stands (or who haven’t, for reasons of personal, moral or religious convictions) would modern society be better off if we were to simply borrow a page from the Musuo and get ourselves some “flower rooms?”

19 Responses to “The One Night Stand”

  1. Jenny Rebecca Winters

    I say no way. Having been there, everything is 95% wholly unsatisfying because it doesn’t have emotional meaning or true intimacy. Of course, there IS that 5%… 😉

    Reply
    • Zak

      I agree w/Jenny.

      Even with the Cupcake Queen, while there was no assumed relationship, and she didn’t want anything exclusive or lasting, I think there were definitely feelings involved. I think she just moderated them better.

      Some people can do it. Some people convince themselves they can do it. Fact is, most people want that bond sooner or later.

      Reply
  2. amanda

    The problem with one night stands or “friends with benefits” isn’t the lack of intimacy. For some people, they’re able to handle them. The issue is that our society is so frickin’ prudish when it comes to sex and sensuality, we have a tendency to judge anyone who chooses, willingly, to engage in casual sex. There’s NOTHING WRONG with it, as long as you’re safe.

    By the way, Kat, I think it was either Marie Claire or Glamour that did an article recently on a tribe (may have been the Mosou, but I think it was actually a tribe in Thailand) that had the same practices. It was pretty interesting.

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Hmmm… I’ll have to take a look for that article. This sort of thing fascinates me, but I’m always curious if we (Americans) are just seeing what we want to see when it comes to alternative sexual practices/views on sex and relationships. Good food for thought!

      Reply
  3. Nick from Late Round

    ** Long Comment Warning **

    Today’s definition of monogamy is truly a religious (mostly Christian) based idea and contrary to most interactions between Mammals in the animal kingdom. Monogamy is not necessary, and is not necessarily beneficial in most instances within the animal kingdom.

    The main theme of those who preach monogamy is for some type of emotional bond or intimacy (both things espoused in the comments above mine), which is more of a learned/societal trait, than it is an inner/natural feeling/trait. Think about it, why do most women want/expect to be married by the age of 30, and starting a family? Is it because there is a gene in their body that tells them this, or is it because society revolves around these concepts for successful family constructs?

    The key to understanding how societal thinking effects behavior is in noticing trends of those who are in the generations that bookend ours. Previous generations didn’t freely allow for things as dating multiple partners, until you find the one that suits you best. However today our generation does this, and sees it as wholly acceptable, if not normal. Contrary to our beliefs, and the generation before us, children (the generation below us) have grown up in a society in which promiscuity and sexual experimentation is not only accepted, but applauded and flaunted in their face on a daily basis. The societal acceptance of these factors has allowed children to grow into a promiscuous genus, vice a monogamy based culture.

    I could speak upon this all day and most likely bore everyone but let’s make this more simple:
    In the past month or so Kat, you have “dated” or been in some type of relationship/contact with three different men. Take away the fact that there was no sexual interactions between you and these men, there was in fact some sort of emotional discharge/transference/connection, which in turn makes you NOT monogamous, and in fact polygamous in your dating life (emotional polygamy vice sexual polygamy which is arguably more intense/in depth that sexual intercourse). If this act of dating multiple persons is acceptable, why is the act of having intercourse with multiple persons unacceptable? Because we have been trained to equate sex with marriage and sanctity and turned away from the fact that it is a natural act with consequences extended beyond marriage.

    Reply
    • Jenny Rebecca Winters

      Nick,

      I agree with a lot of what you said. The teens of this decade seem to be much more loosely bound to “convention”. Perceptive for you as well, is that Kat was emotionally polygamous (sorry to use you in the 3rd person, Kat!), although not sexually.

      However I still maintain that sexual intercourse with many people is different. Speaking as a woman who (I need to admit, gulp) has had many sexual relationships simultaneously, there is no one who I’ve “admitted into my body” who has offered the kind of fulfillment I’ve experienced with emotional intimacy, polygamous or not.

      In other words, sex just isn’t “all that”. 😛

      Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Haha, no worries– I’m a fan of long comments. But emotional polygamy? Can’t say that that’s a term I’ve ever used to describe my dating habits before. Nor am I sure I like it all that much, but definitely good food for thought!

      Reply
  4. Dennis Hong

    ** Pedantic comment warning **

    Nick, you need to brush up on your knowledge of human behavior and mating systems. Lots of misinformation you doled out there.

    Reply
  5. Philly Tap Teaser

    There were 2 movies released on this topic this year (one, ironically with Ashton Kutcher, who seems to have a thing for one-night stands lately), and I think both had the same ending–with both sex-crazed people falling madly in love. Cute rom-com endings that make our prudish society feel better about movies with lots of casual sex. Personally, I know I’d never be able to handle a random hookup. I don’t have the personality for it. Seeing as I’ve been with the same person for almost 12 years and I met him when I was 19, I never had much chance to engage in indiscriminate college hookups, so my one-night stand meter is very low (as in zero). Lol

    Reply
    • Kat Richter

      Yeah, it took me until my third year of college to fully grasp the random hook-up culture. I had a huge crush on this guy I met in Oxford and spent several weeks contriving to “accidentally” run into him. Towards the end of the semester, we ended up at a dinner together; he bought me a drink and we finally kissed. I remember going to bed (after he took me home) thinking, “Yes! Finally! He’s totally going to be my boyfriend now!” Boy, was I wrong…

      Reply
  6. Katie

    I’m just gonna say it — I think the main reason for monogamy is that we get jealous when someone we’re sleeping with wants to sleep with someone else. And vice versa. 😉

    Reply

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