Study: Casual Sex Hurting College Students' Mental Health

Researchers say random hookups are having a negative effect on young adults.

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Those who reported having casual sex also reported lower levels of self-esteem.

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Researchers are starting to wonder whether those random hookups during college years negatively affect a student's mental health.

A study released last Saturday in The Journal of Sex Research found higher levels of general anxiety, social anxiety and depression among college students who recently engaged in casual sex.

The study comes as trends of a so-called "hookup" culture, like those perpetuated in movies such as "Friends With Benefits" and "No Strings Attached," become more prevalent in mainstream media.

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The survey, which emerged from a larger study that examined the interplay among culture, identity, health and risky behavior among young adults, surveyed the sexual behavior and mental health of over 3,900 heterosexual college students. Between the ages of 18 and 25, students from 30 different colleges and universities across the United States were asked if they recently had "casual sex" – defined in the study as intercourse – with someone they had known less than a week in the 30 days prior to the study.

Those who reported having casual sex also reported lower levels of self-esteem, life satisfaction and happiness than those who did not have casual sex prior to the study.

"It is premature to conclude that casual sexual encounters pose no harmful psychological risks for young adults," said Dr. Melina Bersamin, a research scientist with California State University – Sacramento and lead author of the study.

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The study also looked at how the negative connotations affected each gender. While significantly more men (18.6 percent) than women (7.4 percent) reported a casual sex encounter, the feelings of psychological distress and diminished well-being were similar among sexes.

The study did note there are some limitations to its findings. Of the 3,900 people surveyed, only 11 percent admitted to having casual sex in the 30 days prior to the study. This led researchers to suggest that casual sex is "somewhat atypical" and may be linked to symptoms of problematic behavior.

"I want to highlight that this study is correlational," Bersamin tells U.S. News. "It may be that people who are depressed or anxious are more likely to seek out casual sex relationships and not that casual sex causes depression or anxiety."

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