Casual sex: risky for your mental health?
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Casual sex: risky for your mental health?

People whose relationships don’t get further than casual sex are much more at risk of having suicidal thoughts, a large US study found.

But the same is also true the other way round – depressed teens are more likely to have casual sex. So which comes first, the casual sex or the depression? Either way, it seems that for a healthy mind young people need love, not just hook-ups.

It’s Saturday night, and you’re headed to a bar with a group of friends. Before you leave you slip a condom into your purse because you know you’ll probably be going home with one of them. Though you’re not dating, exactly, you’ve been hooking up off and on for months. No harm done, right? After all, there’s got to be some truth to the expression ‘friends with benefits’.

No strings

But can casual sex can be harmful to your mental health? Being in a relationship that takes place in bed, and nowhere else, increases the chance of suicidal thoughts by a whopping 97 percent, according to this study. And sex with no strings attached is far from uncommon in the US – almost 30 percent of the 10,000 young adults in the study had been in a casual sex relationship.

In the study, participants were asked questions about their mental health when they were in high school, and then seven years later when they were between the ages of 19 and 26. As young adults, they were also asked about the kinds of romantic relationships they’d been in over the past five years.


But does casual sex lead to poor mental health, or is it the other way around? Teens who are depressed or have suicidal thoughts are more likely to have sex-only relationships instead of long-term partners when they’re young adults, the study also showed.

And though hooking up is still considered OK for men and less so for women in many societies, the relationship between casual sex and depression is the same for both sexes. It seems there’s something about not developing a long-term relationship during young adulthood that’s linked to mental health problems, the research suggests.

Comfort sex

Relationship goals change at different stages in life, and young adults are more likely to want to be with a committed partner. But those who’ve struggled with mental health issues may have a tougher go of it and not be able to maintain a serious relationship.

To comfort them for the lack of long-term love, they could turn to hooking up with a friend or to one night stands. But occasional sex is no replacement for the long-term partner they long for, and this could lead to further mental health problems, the researchers reckon.

Love heals

But just because a young adult has a history of hooking up for sex, doesn’t mean the consequences will last forever. Mental health might only be affected over the short term. The therapy you need to get you back on track? Love.

Once you get into a committed relationship, it can have all sorts of benefits, like a partner’s companionship and knowing someone will be there for you emotionally. And these could cancel out the impact of past flings on mental health. 

Have you ever connected casual sex with depression? Leave a comment below or join the discussion on Facebook.

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Recent Comments (24)

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