Sara Sandberg-Thomas of Ohio State University is the lead author of a recently released study that links casual sex to mental health problems in teens and young adults. Teens with symptoms of depression were more likely to engage in casual sex and to seriously consider suicide several years later as young adults. There have been questions in the past about casual sex and it’s effect on mental health and this study provides evidence that engaging in casual sex has a negative effect on mental health over time. The study also found that the results were the same for both men and women, which was unexpected.
10,000 teens and tweens from 80 high schools and 52 middle schools were interviewed- then the same group was interviewed again when they reached 18 to 26 years of age. They were asked about their sexual activity and screened for signs of depression and and any suicidal ideation.
29 percent of participants reported engaging in casual sex- which was defined as a relationship in which he or she was hooking up, but not dating. 33 percent of males and 24 percent of females overall reported engaging in hook-up relationships. It’s important to note that those who had serious depression and thoughts of suicide were more likely to be engaging in these casual sexual relationships as young adults.
Casual sex among tweens and teens was also shown to lead to greater mental health problems as young adults. For each additional sexual encounter the odds of suicidal thoughts went up by 18 percent. Of note is that casual sex in late teens and early 20’s was not linked to suicidal ideation in young adults as it was for those in their tweens and early teens. Apparently the earlier someone engages in casual sex, the greater their probability of having suicidal thoughts in young adulthood.
The study can be useful not only to parents and those who work with children, but it may also provide some clues to any adults out there who have a history of depression and suicidal ideation beginning in adolescence. Casual sex may be a symptom that points to how someone copes with low self-esteem, stress and other issues- and engaging in this behavior could in turn exacerbate those feelings of low self-esteem and hopelessness that are often present in people who are suicidal.
How we cope with and address what’s eating us can change the course of our lives- and this study provides real proof of this.