Is there any truth to the notion that more casual sex encounters happen around the holidays than during any other time of year? One poll from 2011 suggests more than half (60 percent) of people report they’re more likely to hook up in this season than at other times of the year. Some experts in the field, though, question this result.

“I wouldn’t say yes or no in terms of if it’s higher now,” Peter Sacco, author, psychologist, and international lecturer told Medical Daily. Having interviewed over a thousand people and spoken to various dating services, Sacco would, “if I were a betting person,” place his money on Valentine’s Day as the time for casual encounters, “but it could be close,” he said. After all, “there are a lot of lonely people around the holidays” and “sexuality and physical intimacy is often misconstrued as acceptance or being wanted.” “It doesn’t necessarily have to be a physical hookup,” he added, observing that many unhappy people, whether in a relationship or not, may become “addicted to dating sites” during the holiday season as a way to “vicariously live through someone else.”

Asked, which age group is most likely to become bed companions for a night, Sacco guesses, “it’s more prone to be somebody under 55,” but not real young, either. The early 20-somethings, according to Sacco, “can hang out in groups and get intimacy… or a perceived connection in that way.” The young, according to Sacco, are not truly lonely yet and not yet ruled by sentiment and nostalgia, unlike their older peers.

Statistics derived from an academic survey of casual sexual behavior, “Sexual hookup culture: A review,” suggest Sacco might be correct in his estimates.

Moving Toward Freedom… or Isolation?

Throughout the Western world, the authors of this review state, “hooking up — brief uncommitted sexual encounters among individuals who are not romantic partners or dating each other — has taken root within the sociocultural milieu” for teens as well as young and older adults. It has, in fact, “become culturally normative” for heterosexual young adults, according to the authors. With a sharp decline in dating, sexual behavior outside of the traditional romantic partnerships has become not just typical but also socially acceptable. One 2010 study revealed college students (both men and women) had nearly double the number of hookups compared to first dates, while one and all are willing, the authors noted, to “openly discuss the topic and advertise their acceptance and experiences of hooking up.”

However, the report suggests acceptance may mask the truth lurking within the murky depths. In a 2012 study of men and women who had participated in a hookup involving vaginal, anal, or oral sex, nine percent reported being extremely intoxicated, 35 percent very intoxicated, 27 percent mildly intoxicated, while just 27 percent had been sober. Less than a third, then, did not or could not use alcohol as either an excuse or justification — getting drunk to avoid admitting a desire to meet a sexual need by this (perfectly acceptable?) method.

Another study from 2010 found 63 percent and 83 percent of young adult men and women, respectively, preferred a traditional romantic relationship to hookups. Meanwhile, a 2011 survey cited in the review found that, of 500 experienced students, 65 percent of women and 45 percent of men said they hoped their encounter would turn into a committed relationship, with just 51 percent of women and 42 percent of men reporting they tried to discuss this possibility with their partner.

Major disconnect, right? Most men and women both say they want a real relationship, yet despite favorable odds, they are unable to grab hold of one. Naturally, you wonder, how do people really feel about their hookups?

The Morning After… and Beyond

“A lot of people don’t regret it,” said Sacco, who added one caveat: “It’s definitely regrettable if someone gets pregnant or gets an STD.” Still, he believes many in the holiday hookup crowd go into it knowing they’re simply “satisfying the metaphorical itch: It beats sitting home alone.”

On this matter of potential regret, the academic findings are contradictory. One 2008 study of 311 experienced young adults found 82 percent of men and 57 percent of women said the morning after a hookup they felt glad, generally, for having done it. Yet, a 2010 study of 832 college students showed substantially less feeling this way: 26 percent of women and 50 percent of men reported experiencing positive emotions; conversely, 49 percent of women and 26 percent of men described negative feelings. (The remainder felt a mix of both positive and negative feelings.)

Perhaps these somewhat conflicting results are a matter of age, with younger people being less happy with their behavior or simply more likely to hookup with expectations of a real relationship but ultimately disappointed. Asked if women were more likely to get hurt, Sacco told Medical Daily, “I don’t think it’s a gender thing anymore. I think it’s an individual thing, it’s an equal opportunity thing. Nowadays, it doesn’t depend on somebody’s gender, it depends on their heart.”  

Ahh, the heart. All this talk about sex, we’ve forgotten about the often romantic, sometimes deluded, but always vulnerable heart. Perhaps the most sobering statistic in our much referenced “sexual hookup culture” report is this one: According to the authors, “as number of sex partners increased, marital thoughts decreased, for both sexes.”

In other words, while our minds may rationalize casual sex as perfectly acceptable, our hearts silently tell us another story. You put your body (containing one beating heart) out there one time too often and you become a disbeliever, someone too smart to put your faith in partnership.

Ultimately, the sad facts are people get hurt all the time by relationships — whether casual or committed — but this is no reason to not do something. Still, you must be aware of what you want, what you are doing, all the while holding onto what you don’t want.

So how do you avoid slipping into a regrettable hookup during the holiday season?

Avoid Repeating Mistakes of the Past

You might begin by putting the kibosh on excessive drinking — a good health tip, as well — and do not permit alcohol to muddy your decision-making or cloud your judgment.

“If you get two people drinking together who are lonely, that’s not a good thing,” Sacco said. He also suggests, “Be careful if you’re using a dating site, stick to your guns. There’re a lot of people who are deceiving, so don’t compromise… just because you’re emotional over the holidays.”

Remember, as well, you're never locked into past behaviors. Just because you have hooked up once, twice, or even many many times, it doesn't matter and it certainly doesn't mean you cannot reverse your behavior today.

Always keep in mind this all important fact: Most people, men and women both, do not want a hookup, they want a committed relationship.

“In the end, we are social creatures needing acceptance, love, and the need to feel desired by someone, especially if we are single,” Sacco writes in Technological Rage. This holiday season, remember your heart.