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One Night Only

So, there’s Your Humble Blogger reading about Sociosexuality from Argentina to Zimbabwe, via a bunch of links from one place to another to another, and I came across a quirk of English that I wanted to check with y’all.

Here’s the thing: what exactly is a one-night stand?

One of the phrasings of the survey (not in the paper itself, but in discussion of its results and methodology) asked how many one-night stands have you had, and YHB was unable to respond. Yes, partly because I am old, and my memory has gone, and I can no longer be sure whether the dim memory-like things in my skull are actual memories of things that happened in college or if that was actually something that happened to Andrew McCarthy and Jacqueline Bisset. But also because I discovered I am not sure what a one-night stand is.

Well, at least, I know something of it—if two people meet for the first time and have sex that night (or afternoon or whatever) and then part, never to meet again, that is clearly a one-night stand. That’s the canonical example, the no-question-about-it one-night stand. Fine. But the actual article (linked above) asks in its survey “With how many different partners have you had sex on one and only one occasion?” This got paraphrased, or translated I suppose, as how many one-night-stands. And these seem to be overlapping but different categories. What about sex with a hooker? I would never, in conversation, refer to that as a one-night-stand. And I know that many such incidents are not unrepeated combinations of participants, but surely many are. To me, the one-night-stand can’t be an entirely commercial matter.

On the other side, I wouldn’t have used the phrase to describe any of the myriad ways in which people with an ongoing social relationship have once-and-only-once: the room-mate’s girlfriend, the stockboy, the one-time-at-band-camp, any of those great and not always aprocryphal stories that abound in pornographic literature. And I’m not sure that other people would not include those in the category, or at least some of those. The drunken-party story, for instance, seems to fit the one-night-stand category, but what about the office-Xmas-party story? I don’t know.

In fact, I have become convinced that I don’t really know what a one-night stand is. Do any of you?

Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,


I definitely agree that once-and-only-once is not the same as "one night stand"; among other things, the LDR that goes on for a year before you finally get around to having sex, and then lasts another year before you finally break up, is clearly not a one night stand.

I think to me, the main implication is that the Relationship is contained entirely within that night. So I think that the room-mate’s girlfriend, the stockboy, and the one-time-at-band-camp, can all be one night stands, as long as they aren't preceded or followed by anything that could plausibly be described as a Romantic and/or Sexual Relationship.

This may be my lack of cortical function showing, but I think you're overthinking it. A one-night stand is when you have sex once with someone you didn't otherwise have a mutual romantic relationship with, before or after. I'll grant you a commercial transaction with a hooker doesn't count, but what is the difference between the drunken frat party story and the office Xmas party story? I must be missing some of your connotations...

The difference in the stories is that the office party participants are compelled to see each other Monday morning. Which gets to my blurry area of a Continuing Relationship—I don't think I would use one-night stand to describe an incident where there is an ongoing social/professional relationship, even if that relationship is not ordinarily romantic/sexual. The connotation for me is that the entire relationship takes place during the one night. Or, perhaps, that the relationship builds up to an encounter and then He Never Calls, thus turning it in to a one-night stand in retrospect, I suppose.

Part of the issue for me, I suppose, is that I don't have one-night stands, and my circle of gossip does not include many one-night stands of any kind, so I have little empirical observation of how I actually in real life use the term or have the term used to me. I haven't even been aware of closing night cast party hookups since I have returned to the theeyater, so I don't know what terms my gossipy castmates (and they are generally very gossipy) use for that kind of thing. And it wouldn't really be appropriate to ask my supervisees how and if they use the phrase, would it?


Interestingly, on-line reference sources are divided on the meaning of "one-night stand" in ways that match closely the two meanings advanced in this discussion.

On the one hand, we have the American Heritage dictionary:

"Slang A sexual encounter that is limited to only one occasion";

and the Merriam-Webster Dictionary:

"a sexual encounter limited to a single occasion."

On the other hand, we have the most-approved definition at urbandictionary.com

"Hooking up with someone for one night of sex with no strings attached and hoping to never see them again. It is important not to exchange any personal info with them so they can't track you down and stalk you later."

So it looks like the more official dictionaries take a wider view of the term, but that popular usage often applies the term only in more narrowly defined cases of encounters between two people who have no ongoing relationship of any kind--social, professional, or otherwise.

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