The study surveyed more than 3,900 heterosexual college students from across the U.S. about their casual sex behaviors and mental well-being.
“Casual sex” was defined as having intercourse with a partner one has known for less than a week.
Students from more than 30 institutions around the country completed the online survey, making this the largest sample to be collected for a study on this topic. On average, 11 percent of students reported a casual sex encounter during the month prior to the survey, the majority of whom were men.
Study leader Melina M. Bersamin, Ph.D., said: “It is premature to conclude that casual sexual encounters pose no harmful psychological risks for young adults.”
The results “suggest that among heterosexual college students, casual sex was negatively associated with well-being and positively associated with psychological distress.”
The study opens the door to future research questions about causal links between sexual behavior and mental health. Researchers have yet to determine whether casual sex leads to psychological distress, or if existing mental health problems cause young adults to engage in riskier behaviors.
The researchers also investigated the role of gender in determining mental distress linked to casual sex.
Prior studies have found that women respond more negatively to casual sex than men, possibly because of double standards that allow men to have more sexual encounters with a greater number of partners than women.
In this study, however, gender did not have an effect on outcomes.
Source: Taylor & Francis