Guilt, regrets and one-night stands


THAT'S MEN:Guilt is the emotion most closely linked to hypocrisy, as US research on casual sex shows. Even before this research was done, psychologists had long suspected that there was something not quite right about guilt.

Fritz Perls, one of the creators of Gestalt Therapy, asserted that we are most likely to feel guilty when we don’t enjoy whatever it is we feel guilty about. If you eat two big, fat choc ices in a row and you don’t enjoy them as much as you expected, you will feel more guilt than if the experience had been divine.

William Glasser, who developed Reality Therapy, even suggested on one occasion that when you feel guilty about something, you’re probably getting ready to do it again.

I myself have noticed that I am able to feel guilty about something before I do it without necessarily feeling guilty afterwards, so I’m with Fritz and Bill on this.

The US research, reported in the Review of General Psychology, looked at regrets arising from casual sex or “hookups” as it called them. In general, about 80 per cent of men and 60 per cent of women are glad, the morning after a hookup, that they had sex. Still, that leaves 20 per cent and 40 per cent who feel unhappy. Sometimes people experience a mix of both positive and negative feelings and this is especially so after a one-night stand when men may regret using another person and women may regret being used.

But the research also confirmed Fritz Perls’ view: better quality sex reduced the degree of regret reported, a 2012 study showed.

Sexual ‘hookups’

By the way, the article notes that sexual “hookups” really got going in the 1920s with the upsurge in the use of cars – that, though, was in the US. In Ireland, priests were still beating courting couples out of the ditches (that might be an exaggeration but I did, in fact, know a very old priest who, in his younger days, patrolled the fields of his parish with a blackthorn stick.).

So next time you feel guilty about chocolate, sex or anything else, just check if you are adding hypocrisy to the actions you are feeling guilty about. You might be surprised at the answer. You can read the research at bitly/hook up guilt though despite the subject matter it’s not a light read.

Addendum: I’ve never been a fan of censorship especially when it is done by me. A personal act of suppression came to light when I was sorting out stuff and got lost in old diaries in which I had recorded my unremarkable comings and goings in the 1970s and 1980s.

I was amazed at the sheer amount of drinking I got through at the time. Every night seemed to involve a visit to one or more pubs. I wasn’t into nightclubs which I found nerve-wracking but one night in 1973, I noted that I had gone to Zhivago’s nightclub in Baggot Street, “where love stories begin” according to its advertising. The experience must have been satisfactory because on the next night I went to Zhivago’s again – unusual for me because, as I say, I avoided nightclubs – and I noted that it was a “good night”. The rest of the entry, however, is crossed out with a black biro so determinedly that my efforts to read what happened to make it a “good night” have been thwarted.

This is infuriating. Shyness and general awkwardness consistently got between me and the benefits of the permissive society at the time, so if I had a “good night” at Zhivago’s, I want to know about it.

Whatever happened on that night, I have absolutely no memory of it. And thanks to my over-cautious self, I will never know.

(If you, too, used to climb the stairs to Zhivago’s, you can read all about it on the Brand New Retro blog at Type “Zhivago” into the search box – the good stuff is in the comments.)

Padraig O’Morain ( is a counsellor accredited by the Irish Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy. His book, Light Mind – Mindfulness for Daily Living, is published by Veritas. His monthly mindfulness newsletter is available free by email

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