Dr. Tara is a professor of relational and sexual communication at California State University Fullerton. She’s also an award-winning researcher, a sex and relationship coach, and host of the Luvbites by Dr. Tara podcast.

“I guess now I’m also a resident tiktok sex educator with over 1 million followers,” Dr Tara adds. 

In other words, she’s killing it. 

Her goal is to normalize sex talks, help people live a more passionate life, and feel more sexually fulfilled through confidence and communication coaching.

She also has a great Tedx Talk Become Sexually Confident.  

Dr. Tara believes that when it comes to sex, “knowledge is power.” Because, “the more information you have, the more you feel empowered, because you understand what’s going on in your body.”

Agreed. Read the interview below to find out what casual sex can teach us about ourselves, how to communicate your desires to someone you’ve just met, and how to stay safe when hooking up with a stranger.  

Hookups can be meaningful 

afterglow: Hookups have a reputation for being meaningless… are they?  

Dr. Tara: I don’t think hookups are meaningless, I think we can learn a lot from them. I think they’re as meaningful as you, the participant, make them. 

Hookups can be self exploration to help you learn more about what you like and dislike. As a researcher I call it gathering evidence. Because if you haven’t tried all the food, how do you know what’s your favorite food? You can say my favorite food is tacos out but if you’ve never had sushi, how would you know?

So in a way I think hookups can be very helpful for young people in particular to learn their preferences.

“I think hookups can be very helpful for young people in particular to learn their preferences”

afterglow: How can we make hookups meaningful?

Dr. Tara: We can make them meaningful by entering them mindfully. If you’re drunk and sloppy then you’re just having sex for the sake of having sex. If you’re having fun and fun is the only objective, that’s fine! No judgments.

But, that is the fast food of sex. You don’t want to eat McDonald’s every day, right? But hey, once a while if you want fries, get your fries girl. 

But, if you want to enter a hookup mindfully, it doesn’t mean that you have to journal about that person before you meet them – though you totally can – it means being clear about what you’re doing.

You can be like, ‘Oh, I’m gonna go see my dick appointment. And I’m gonna go hook up with him and I’m gonna have a great time and I’m gonna treat him like a respectful human and hopefully the other person does the same thing for me.’ And it means treating your hookups like a respectful human, not like a piece of trash, which some people do sadly. 

What we can learn from hookups  

afterglow: What do you think we can learn from one night stands?  

Dr. Tara: You can use them as a time to experiment with new things, especially if you’re hooking up with someone who’s very sex positive or who is into a certain kink and you’re not. You can totally explore that kink with them. Maybe you’re not into BDSM but the person that you’re talking to and plan to hook up with the night like is into BDSM why not try it? 

If you’re single and you’ve never had a threesome, there are so many couples looking for a unicorn. You can be anyone’s unicorn, anyone you’d like! You can pick and choose, and go on apps that facilitate that. 

Hookups & sexual self-esteem 

afterglow: Is casual sex bad for us? Does it decrease our confidence?

Dr. Tara: No, there’s large scale research that shows that socio sexuality is positively correlated with sexual self esteem. Socio sexuality is a tendency to enjoy casual sex and typically people that tend to enjoy casual sex are the people that also have high sexual self esteem. So this research finding goes against the cultural narrative. 

Cultural narratives come from influential people speaking about their personal experience, which then become cultural norms. But we need to look at what the research say? Well, like I said, research found that people who authentically enjoy casual sex tend to typically have high sexual self esteem.   

“People who authentically enjoy casual sex tend to typically have high sexual self esteem”

afterglow: How can we increase our sexual self esteem?

Dr. Tara: So sexual self esteem comes in three different aspects. 

The first is how you view yourself. This can be improved by positive self affirmations such as “I am a good mother”, “I am a worthy lover”, “I am worthy of orgasms”,” I love my genitals” etc. 

Second is body image, which is more like do you hate your body? Do you think to yourself, “I hate my boobs” or “I hate my penis”? If you’re saying these things that’s going to affect your self esteem in the sexual arena.

Third is knowledge, because knowledge is power. The more information you have, the more you feel empowered, because you understand what’s going on in your body. So to increase your sexual self knowledge you need to read more, listen more, watch more, watch ethical porn, learn about your body, learn about different skill. The more knowledge you have in the sexual arena, the more you’re going to feel comfortable and confident which is a big part of sexual self esteem. 

You can also get knowledge from your own body too. Do pleasure mapping, touch different parts of your body to see what works best and keep a mental inventory or write it down in your journal. Then, in the future when you do have a partner or when you hook up with someone you can tell them, “touch me like that”. 

Communicating during hookups  

afterglow: How can we better communicate to someone new during a hookup?  

Dr. Tara: The first thing is to know your body and your preferences because if I was to give communication advice but you don’t know what to communicate, then there’s no point in teaching you the delivery because there’s no content.  

When you know what your preferences are, the number one rule in sexual communication is to make sure you have the same goal.  If you’re thinking ‘I’m here for a good time, not a long time’, then communicate that. There is always time to talk about it. If you’re at the bar and you know you’re gonna go back to their room, then you can say, ‘I’m attracted to you, I just want to know if you’re down to have a good time, because I want to make sure that I have a good time too.’ 

This is especially important for vulva owners because we don’t usually cum during hookups. So I even encourage you to say, ‘I want you to take your time and I want you to make sure that I orgasm’.

Put it out there and claim your orgasm! When you do say that, then the other person will know you’re here for a fun and pleasurable hookup. And you can always say ‘I’ll consider the same thing for you too. Let’s make sure it’s pleasurable for both of us.’

afterglow: Is that how we address the orgasm gap in hookups then?

Dr. Tara: 100%! Women don’t cum during hookups. So we have to be able to own our sexual satisfaction and communicate up front. If you just wait around and expect the other person to make sure you cum, not everyone will do that. Why wait for them to make a decision about your pleasure? Inform them!

“Think of [giving feedback] as a good thing you’re doing for society. Or else this person will go f*ck other people and no one will ever cum” 

afterglow: So do we need to be giving feedback after hookups?  

Dr. Tara: I would give honest feedback. When I was single and hooking up with a bunch of people, I always tell them if I didn’t come. They’ve gotta get feedback. Think of it as a good thing you’re doing for society.  Or else this other person will go f*ck other people and no one will ever cum, and they will just be a terrible lover. 

Let’s normalize hookup feedback. It’s helpful! If someone wants to tell me, ‘Tara, you use way too much teeth when you suck my dick’, I would be like, ‘thank you! I appreciate that. I shall improve.’

Staying safe during casual sex

afterglow: Aside from taking safer sex precautions, how can we stay safe hooking up with people we don’t know? 

Dr. Tara: There are so many people that would never go to their hookup’s place because they’re uncertain about being hurt or abducted but unfortunately some people don’t have that luxury. So I think the first thing to consider is, is it possible for them to come to your place? If you’re afraid of physical safety, can they come to your place and then after sex, you can be like, here’s your Uber.

You could also hook up in a car. It’s safe, it’s outside, you can hook up and have a hot, fun time and then leave the car.  

Another thing that helps to filter people is by using apps. Especially ones like Feeld, where the people are more intentional and sex positive. When I was online dating I would also always find them on LinkedIn to vet them, let them know that I know who they are, where they work, what their position is. 

“When I was online dating I would always find them on LinkedIn to vet them” 

Talking about hookups 

afterglow: Is talking about our hookups useful or is it just oversharing?  

Dr. Tara: I’m a fan of free will. I don’t like people regulating what’s okay and what’s not. So I think if you want to share, if your friends are interested in listening, go ahead and do it. Use your emotional intelligence. There is a higher purpose of normalizing hookups, but there’s also an interpersonal relationship evaluation. If you make everyone uncomfortable all the time, I don’t know if that’s serving you. So at the end of the day, I think, use your own judgment and be courteous of people around you.  

My hope is that more people are going to become more accepting of just talking about it. Just like, ‘oh I did SoulCycle yesterday’, will be like, ‘Oh, I got peed on yesterday’. It’s an activity and just one thing we do for fun.

The bottom line 

afterglow: Is there anything else you want to say about hookups? 

Dr. Tara: I do think there’s power to having fun, pleasurable, or conscious one night stands. However, I’m a fan of a more of a deeper, energetic, tantric sex, and that takes time. It takes time to know someone to have that level of trust, a level of partner knowledge. 

So I do think that hooking up forever isn’t going to be a fulfilling life for people. I don’t think that should be anyone’s end goal. But also, if hooking up is your thing, it’s your thing.

afterglow: At afterglow we are all about everyday sexual awakenings, what was your most recent sexual awakening?

My new discovery is that I can squirt on demand. I had no idea before but my current partner and I have gotten really good together with him fingering me, so I used to squirt sometimes and now I get that squirting orgasm every time.

Learn how to squirt in this tutorial with Ela Darling on afterglow 


About Dr. Tara 

Dr. Tara is a tenured professor of relational and sexual communication at California State University Fullerton, an award-winning researcher, a sex and relationship coach, and the host of Luvbites by Dr. Tara Podcast that focuses on sexual wellness and sexploration.  

In 2022, Dr. Tara gave a TEDx Talk titled Become Sexually Powerful that highlights her 5,000-participant study examining predictors of sexual satisfaction, and her journey from an anxious immigrant to a confident Sexpert. Her life’s goal is to normalize sex talks, and help people live a more passionate life and feel more sexually fulfilled through confidence and communication coaching.

Her book Sexual Communication: Research in Action is out now.

Watch a realistic hook up on afterglow


A no-strings-attached hookup or the start of something special? Jessica (Jessica Starling) and Mike (Shreddz) meet on Friday night and what’s expected to be a fun night with someone new turns into a very satisfying weekend.