A one-night stand is a single sexual encounter without an expectation of further relations between the sexual participants. This is regardless of whether a single encounter was originally intended by either participant to be a one-night stand, or whether further relations between the participants subsequently occur. Critics of the practice describe it as "sexual activity without emotional commitment or future involvement".
A one-night stand can occur for different reasons, which vary between people. Examples of one-night stand participants include young adults exploring their sexuality; single people seeking to engage in sexual activity without any sort of commitment or relationship; or married people who desire extramarital sex without disturbing their marriage or family relationships through extramarital romantic relations. A one-night stand may be planned, in which at least one of the participants intended for the sexual encounter to be a one-night stand prior to participating.
It is noted that the circumstances which lead to such an encounter do not necessarily preclude a later relationship:
Certainly, having sex on a first date can be a death knell if your partner decides that a one-night stand is all he is after. On the other hand, many happy couples broke that rule of no sex on the first date and have been together for years.
However, where the people involved have regular sexual relations without romantic involvement, this is generally considered a casual sexual relationship, which is distinct from a one-night stand. Such a relationship may be called one with 'no strings attached'; the people involved may be called 'friends with benefits'.
It has been noted that the one-night stand is the most common form of infidelity and is often used in research, polls and surveys to define the level of promiscuity in a society at any given time. It has also been suggested that such an act can be as threatening to a relationship as a long-term affair:
A one-night stand can be more dangerous than finding a lover with mutual considerations. This scenario is good for the business traveler who has the odds in his or her favor; however, it is very important to know with whom you are getting into bed, even for just one night. No one should be exempt from causing you a problem, no matter the distance or circumstance. A one-night stand is still a form of infidelity and can be just as damaging for you and your partner if discovered.
Some women have suggested that women who feel sexually insecure or unfulfilled should seek out one-night stands for personal growth and fulfillment. One writes, "[a] one-night stand is the erotic manifestation of carpe diem— only we are seizing the night instead of the day". Another source advises women seeking empowerment to "jumpstart your heyday by having a one-night stand", and clarifies that the one-night stand should be a conscious choice.