A new study out of Ohio State University shows there is a cyclical relationship between casual sex and mental health - poor mental health contributes do more casual sex, which leads to more mental health problems.
Some previous studies have already shown a correlation between mental health problems and casual sex. (Some studies have shown no correlation.) What was unknown, though, was whether those with poor mental health are more likely to engage in casual sex or if those who engage in casual sex are more likely to experience mental health problems.
The answer is both, according to the study, "Casual Sexual Relationships and Mental Health in Adolescence and Emerging Adulthood," published in the October issue of the Journal of Sex Research: Those with mental health problems are more likely to engage in casual sex, and casual sex can contribute to additional mental health problems.
The researchers, Clair Kamp Dush, assistant professor of human sciences administration, and lead author and doctoral student Sara Sandberg-Thoma, used data from a study that interviewed about 10,000 middle school and high school students, and interviewed them again when they were aged 18 to 26.
They found that the students who reported thoughts of suicide or symptoms of depression were more likely to report having casual sexual relationships when they were re-interviewed as young adults. Those who continued to have casual sexual encounters as young adults were also more likely to have serious thoughts of suicide. Each additional casual sex relationship increased the odds of having suicidal thoughts by 18 percent.
Casual sex was defined as having sex with a person they are not dating.
To prevent a "cyclical pattern," in which poor mental health leads to casual sex, which leads to more mental health problems, Kamp Dush explained to Ohio State's "Research News," mental health professionals should "identify adolescents struggling with poor mental health so that we can intervene early before they engage in casual sexual relationships."
Kamp Dush added that casual sex can make it more difficult to develop a committed relationship later in life.
"Young adulthood is a time when people begin to learn how to develop long-term, satisfying and intimate relationships," she said.