Poor Mental Health, Casual Sex Reinforce Each Other
Self-loathing and disgust are all too often the result of a one night stand - for both men and women.
Now study suggests that poor mental health and casual sex actually feed off each other in teens and young adults, with each one contributing to the other over time.
Researchers found that teens who showed depressive symptoms were more likely than others to engage in casual sex as young adults. In addition, those who engaged in casual sex were more likely to later seriously consider suicide.
“Several studies have found a link between poor mental health and casual sex, but the nature of that association has been unclear,” said Sara Sandberg-Thoma, lead author of the study at The Ohio State University.
“There’s always been a question about which one is the cause and which is the effect. 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.”
Poor mental health and casual sex linked for both men and women
One surprising finding was that the link between casual sex and mental health was 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,” Kamp Dush said.
“But these results suggest that poor mental health and casual sex are linked, whether you’re a man or a woman.”
The study used data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. About 10,000 adolescents from 80 high schools and 52 middle schools were interviewed when they were in grades 7 through 12 and then again when they were aged 18 to 26.
Overall, 29 percent of the respondents reported engaging in any casual sexual relationship. These were defined as any relationship in which the participant reported he or she was “only having sex with partner” as opposed to dating. This included 33 percent of men and 24 percent of women.
The results showed that participants who reported serious thoughts of suicide or more depressive symptoms as teens were significantly more likely to report having casual sexual relationships when they were young adults.
Casual sex, in turn, was linked to further declines in mental health. Specifically, those who had casual sex in their late teens and early 20s were significantly more likely to have serious thoughts of suicide as young adults, results showed. In fact, each additional casual sex relationship increased the odds of suicidal thoughts by 18 percent.
However, casual sex in late teens and early 20s was not associated with changes in depression as a young adult.
Casual sex linked to thoughts of suicide
The researchers are not sure why casual sex was linked to later serious consideration of suicide, but not depressive symptoms, in these participants. It may be that depressive symptoms fluctuate during adolescence and it is hard to capture an accurate reading when measured just twice, as in this study, Kamp Dush said.
The results point to a possible “cyclical pattern” in which poor mental health leads to casual sex, which leads to further declines in mental health, Sandberg-Thoma said.
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Story Source: Sara E. Sandberg-Thoma, Claire M. Kamp Dush. Casual Sexual Relationships and Mental Health in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood. Journal of Sex Research, 2013