A new study from Ohio State University in the Journal of Sex Research suggests that casual teenage sex has a reciprocal relationship with poor mental health – and that they contribute to one another over time.
An important thing to note is that this link was found to be the same for both men and women. “That was unexpected because there is still this sexual double standard in society that says it is OK for men to have casual sexual relationships, but it is not OK for women,” said assistant professor of human sciences Claire Kamp Dush, Ph.D. In this sense, it seems that both genders have the same relationship to casual sex — if only pop culture would catch on to that!
What isn’t clear is the nature of the association between casual sex and poor mental health — which is the cause and which is the effect? Why is casual sex such a bummer? This study indicates that it could be some kind of cycle where they both reinforce one another instead of one aspect being the root cause.
Researchers came to their findings by analyzing the data provided by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. About 10,000 young people were interviewed in grades 7-12, and then were spoken with again when they were 18-26 years old. They were asked about their romantic experiences, as well as depressive symptoms. It was found that 29% of these students had engaged in a casual sexual relationship, which they defined as “only having sex” with that person instead of dating them. The researchers found that participants who had thoughts of suicide were much more likely to have had casual sex as young adults. They also found that casual sex was linked to mental health dwindling even further. Apparently, each additional casual sexual relationship increased the odds of suicidal thoughts by 18% – well, that’s specific. While thoughts of suicide increased with casual sex, depressive symptoms did not increase.
This stood as a lesson to mental health professionals to extra vigilant, as a person who doesn’t have other depressive symptoms may still be considering suicide. Dush also said that casual sex may make it hard for young adults to develop committed relationships at a very important time for their personal growth.
This is all a pretty big bummer. I’ve always believed that casual sex can be a very healthy thing — and I still do. Maybe the lesson to draw here is that adolescent casual sex is what’s risky. It seems that positive casual encounters have to do with people’s motivations behind the hook-up and the sense of self they have entering the situation – and those are things that teenagers are often still finding their footing on. Either way, these statistics are pretty sobering.