Mental health and casual sex. What sort of bedfellows?

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I have no doubt there are those who would argue for the benefits of sex, sex and more sex. Loosening us up, chilling us out, opening us up to creativity – why, it’s a surprise there are not more of us putting it about. Perhaps such lines of thinking can be traced back to Sigmund Freud, or perhaps less salubriously to good old sex addiction which, arguably, now exists in epidemic proportions in our culture.

Unfortunately, a recent piece of research rather puts paid to this notion – at least when it comes to teens and young adults. A new study conducted within the Department of Human Sciences at the Ohio State University shows a clear association between poor mental health and casual sex, with both variables having a causative effect. In other words, casual sex leads to poor mental health and poor mental health leads to casual sex – there’s no way of cutting this one to make it work for the sex-obsessed.

The longitudinal study involved 1,000 participants, who were interviewed as adolescents (from about 12 to 16 years of age) and then again when 18 to 26. Each was asked about sexual relationship experiences, such as “just having sex” (i.e. casual sex) or “having sex with partner while dating” as well as mental health experiences, such as “depressive symptoms” and “serious thoughts of suicide”.

The results showed that teens who reported depressive symptoms and serious thoughts of suicide were significantly more likely to report having casual sex encounters as young adults (between 18 and 26) and each additional casual encounter increased the chances of suicidal thoughts by 18%. Which begs the question, what happens inside the heads of those who have more than five casual encounters? (And let’s face it, you wouldn’t have to look to hard to find a few of those.)

Sara Sandberg-Thoma, lead author and doctoral student commented: “This study provides evidence that poor mental health can lead to casual sex, but also that casual sex leads to additional declines in mental health”, which waves the red flag across both conditions.

How much more evidence do we need to believe that sex is a gift that can not be deployed outside a committed context without incurring serious consequences? For the sake of future generations, let’s help support our young and depressed understand the meaning of love.

Written by Jacqui Hogan


Photo by Maryna Yazbeck on Unsplash