4 Things I Learned From My First One-Night Stand (in My 40s)

Barbara McNally, author of Unbridled: A Memoir, shares four reasons why a one-night stand isn't always a bad idea.

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Raised as a fundamental Christian in a patriarchal society, I married the first man I slept with. Before my wedding, my feisty Irish Grandma Pat had asked me why I wanted to marry so young and sign up for the role of wife before I had even auditioned as an independent woman. Good question.

After my 23-year marriage ended, and I was well into my 40s, I had my first one-night stand.

I was on a trip to Ireland, determined to rediscover myself by following in the footsteps of my Grandma Pat. In Galway, I stayed at a castle, where I met Derek. He was British, handsome and charming — and a good 10 years younger than me.

We met for dinner at a pub, and as we left — surely headed back to my room at the castle — my conscience flipped between feelings of lust and caution. Lust the voice of Grandma Pat, caution the voice of my mother. But lust easily got the better of caution.

Later that morning (yes, it was an all-night affair), I woke up feeling more attractive than I'd felt in ages. My night with Derek had done wonders for my self-esteem. He got what all men want, but I got what I needed. He was my conquest, not the other way around. Yet feelings of doubt, shame, and fear still crept into my mind.

Most women have a story about a one-night stand, though it may be hidden in some deep, dark, secret spot in her dating history. Many come to regret their fling . . . "What was I thinking?!" That's because one-night stands have the walk of shame associated with them for women. While boys will be boys, girls are labeled sluts.

To get rid of the shame I came out of the closet and shared my story in Unbridled. After my experience (and ones that came later), I came up with four reasons why a one-night stand isn't always a bad idea:

1. One-night stands helped me decide what type of meal I like.

I tell my daughters: "You've got to taste a few meals before you decide what your favorite is." How do you know what you want if you don't kiss a lot of frogs? We don't know what we like unless we try it, whether it's new food, traveling to new countries or making love to different men. We get to see if we like spicy or sweet—or both! I discovered I enjoyed a type of man that I would not have known unless I tried him out. With a one-night stand, women are more willing to connect with someone who they may not consider "husband material"—and may be surprised at what they learn from the experience.

2. I learned how to ask for what I want.

Often, for our inhibitions to be gone, we need to consciously be in a situation in which we aren't trying to impress a man. When there are no concerns about "what's next?" we can be totally ourselves.

With one-night stands, by definition, there are no second chances to have great sex with the guy in question. If you want something, you have to ask for it right then and there — and that's a skill many women are glad to acquire.

Outside the bedroom, I'm hesitant to ask for what I want, whether it's salad dressing on the side or a bigger raise from my boss. So, as a "good girl" who would clam up about my desires when it came to sex, this was a big jump for me.

However, I decided to give it a try — just for one crazy night. And what a lesson I learned: that with a little communication, I can get exactly what I want in bed. No crossed signals, no misinterpretation, and no confusion. The funny part is that it took a virtual stranger to teach me that!

3. I learned I can overcome my feelings of attachment and just enjoy the moment for what it is: an exciting night.

I believe women should feel okay about occasionally throwing caution (but not condoms!) to the wind. The next morning we can walk away from the adventure without shame. Or maybe we decide we want to get to know this man on another level. It's not a waste of time to explore our sexuality and experience living in the moment. Bonus: the excitement of living out a fantasy may lead to multiple orgasms. We all want peaks in life, right?!

4. I learned that I can be strong, spiritual, independent and sexy — all at once.

Every woman has four sides to her: the nurturing, healing, empathetic side; the intuitive, spiritual, wise side; the assertive, goal-driven side; AND the passionate, playful, sensual creative side. To live fully and authentically, we need to express all of these dimensions.

When we own our sexuality, we are more willing to take responsibility for our own happiness. If we deny our sexuality, we may end up not using contraception or protection, which could result in an STD or an unintended pregnancy.

There is power in my choice. I should have confidence in sex because I am choosing to partake, so it's empowering, not shameful. As a single woman I am in control of who I have sex with and when.

Grandma Pat always encouraged me to create the life I wanted and not worry about what people might say: "Ten percent will applaud you, ten percent will condemn you, and the rest won't give a damn because they're living their own lives."

I'm living mine.

Barbara McNally is the author of Unbridled, a memoir chronicling her journey from stifled, predictable housewife to independent and joyous living. A mother and philanthropist living in San Diego, CA, Barbara is also the founder of Mother, Lover, Fighter, Sage, a foundation dedicated to providing women with opportunities for growth and self-discovery.