Ah, the so–called “hoe phase.” It’s a rite of passage, of sorts, of the college experience. Put simply, it consists of a period of your life, usually relatively short (hence: phase) when you engage in some form of sexual relations with a string of different people. Though such relations are often characterised as immature, knee–jerk reactions to heartbreak, they need not be defined by their background or the person in them: any time of relative promiscuity essentially fits the bill.

The concept of a “hoe phase” is often decried as being a fleeting and ill–advised time, something that we need to grow out of. But while it isn’t the best idea in every case, particularly when it’s forced and self–centered, the hoe phase receives an unfair reputation as an inherently immature endeavor.

First and foremost, it is impossible to talk about hoe phases without exploring the inherent patriarchal implications of the term. As many before me have detailed, while male promiscuity is encouraged and socially rewarded by our culture, similar behavior displayed in other genders is looked down upon as a “slutty” expression of emotional instability. In contrast, I believe that anyone can go through a period of relative promiscuity (whatever that means for them), and that such periods of our lives should be both recognized and accepted as normal, especially since unhealthy relationships are every bit as common in men as in other genders. More than anything, promiscuity can function as a part of the reclamation of “sluttiness” as a source of pride, rather than one of shame.

Though there’s absolutely nothing wrong in having been there (I certainly have), hoe phases are far too often entered for entirely the wrong reasons. Take the one where you’ve just entered college and are pining for sexual experience and validation from others in your newfound environment, conveniently filled with similarly horny teenagers. So, you follow the trope and try to emerge from NSO, or freshman year, with as many bodies as possible tallied up. Or the one where you’ve had your heart broken and rush into the arms of a stranger in the hopes that they will somehow fill the gaping hole that feels like it’s gnawing away at your insides. Even if you’re not quite over your ex, as the saying goes, why not resolve the issue by getting under somebody else? Either way, the story is very much the same: you decide that you’ll fix your personal problems with a hoe phase.

While I don’t doubt that this has worked wonders for a lot of people, in my experience and I’m sure in many of yours, this method of emotional healing doesn’t necessarily succeed. Over time, the lonely mornings grow longer, and the worry about whether the partner that you actually want to see again will ever text back grows stronger: that anxiety you’ve been attempting to escape through sex comes back with a vengeance, leaving you feeling emptier and more unloved than you felt before. After all, you’ll realistically learn little about sex from a string of dissociative, meaningless missionaries, and your self–image and heartbreak are never going to be fixed by a one–night connection with a stranger. Founded only upon insecurity, such promiscuity tends to lead to a vicious, self–destructive cycle that leaves everyone ultimately unsatisfied. 

But while this experience is nothing short of rough, you can learn from it. Understanding that self worth and emotional healing can only come from oneself, and not from others, is something that I’ve certainly learned from my mistakes.

Though too many of them take this pattern, to define all periods of promiscuity as inherently unhealthy is seriously inaccurate and does a disservice to those engaging in them. Plus, it discounts how fulfilling and, well, fun they can be. There is much to be said for the more “natural” hoe phase: those founded on liberty and confidence, rather than inexperience and insecurity. 

Once you start focusing on the experience itself and not one’s own inadequacies, you can find real beauty and romance in a one–night stand: forging a connection in some 12 hours that’s defined by, rather than reduced to, its impermanence. Equally, there is no shame in having sexual needs—what’s wrong with a marriage of convenience, especially if both of you make clear that you’re not looking for more?

Approaching a healthy hoe phase requires the maturity of being able to enjoy sex for what it is, without overthinking implications and attachments which render the entire process awkward afterwards. That’s not to say that sex is never a deeper, more emotional endeavor—for many of us in many cases, it absolutely is—but the ability to decouple the act itself from a desire for profound emotional fulfillment beyond its scope allows us to take the former at face value. In a world fueled by Hollywood blockbusters which present sex solely in the eyes of the hopeless romantic, hoe phases at their best remind us that sex can be fun, too. Rather than limiting, that concept should be liberating.

Whether it’s through patriarchal disapproval or general emotional concern, it’s easy to frown upon the hoe phase as a toxic extension of male culture, or a deliberate and immature eschewing of traditional relationship structures. But it can be so much more than that: it can act as an embracing of sexual freedom, and, when done right (i.e. practiced safely and with a display of basic human decency towards your partners), can be a lot of fun. 

At their worst, hoe phases allow us the chance to learn from our mistakes and grow emotionally. At their best, they can fulfill you, help you learn about others and yourself, and even naturally lead to a longer–term relationship when the right person comes.