Casual sex linked to teen depression

CORNELL (US) — Teens who “hook up” have a higher risk of depression, according to new research that finds the same does not hold true for those in a committed relationship.

Casual sex increases a teenager’s odds for clinical-level depression nearly threefold. The effects are the same for boys and girls, though younger teens (13-15 years old) who had so-called “nonromantic sex” faced substantially greater risks for depression. Dating alone was not linked to depressive symptoms.

Published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology, the the study provides evidence that “context is key” when trying to understand how teen relationships and sex affect their well-being.

“Many historical and media perspectives have presented adolescent sexuality as an indicator of problematic or even socially deviant behavior,” says Jane Mendle, assistant professor of human development in Cornell University’s College of Human Ecology. “But this study and other recent findings are showing that’s not the case, and adolescent dating and sexuality can be viewed as normal developmental behavior.”

Using a novel behavioral genetics approach that compares siblings growing up in the same home, Mendle and her co-authors analyzed responses from 1,551 sibling pairs ages 13-18 from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative sample of US high school students initiated in the mid-1990s. Among other topics, teens answered questions about their mental health and dating and sexual history. Nearly two-thirds of the sample’s youth had dated, and two-thirds were virgins.

By comparing siblings in their study, the authors could control for family and environmental influences that might also raise one’s risk for depression.

“We designed the study to give us a purer way to isolate many of the factors that could be contributing to depression,” Mendle says. “It allows us to compare specific types of social activities—in this case, dating and romantic and nonromantic sex—to see their overall effect.”

The paper notes that not all the associations at play can be unraveled, however. For instance, some teens who have depressive symptoms or clinical depression may be more likely to engage in casual sexual behaviors.

Mendle, a licensed clinical psychologist who studies how such developmental processes as puberty and sexual maturation influence teens’ emotional growth, believes adolescent sexuality is important to study because it is closely tied to how well people transition into adulthood.

“One of the hallmarks of adolescence is the formation of romantic relationships, and we know that what happens in adolescence is strongly related to your psychological, physical and financial well-being for years to come,” Mendle says. “Findings like this can help shape the dialogue and public debate about how to best support teen sexual health, psychological development and other areas.”

Researchers from the University of Texas were co-authors on the study.

Source: Cornell University

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  1. Joey

    This is an incomplete report. Of course casual sex is linked with more depression, just like casual cocaine use is linked with depression. What about the up side? There is a balance to it, the depression is caused by the extreme highs experience during sex. For non-sexual teens, to experience neither depression nor the high from sexual encounters is worse in my opinion than getting to experience the ups and downs of life. This site had an article earlier this year about how kissing someone is the same thing as doing cocaine, as far as what chemicals your brain releases for the pleasure and reward system. So people that get dumped or break up with their partner are depressed because their brain is no longer producing that specific endorphin at the same time intervals. It’s no different than withdrawal symptoms from any drug.

  2. Joey

    In short, having no sex is the worst, having non-romantic sex is the second best, and having sex with someone you actually care about is the best. end of discussion.

  3. Dian

    If it’s true much depression is a reaction to a feeling of powerlessness, then this would fit the theory if the casual sex doesn’t seem to result in any social benefit.

    Especially in a teen, where cementing social connections is the ultimate goal, having invested the energy in something that renders no advantage might leave one feeling even more than “back at square one”.

    Granted, the study doesn’t address if there was any perceived social benefit or any lack of same, so my theory could be complete bunk. I’m just figuring casual sex in the teen world carries no positive marketing effect, and very little training/ personal growth effect, or even “savvy social skills” bonus because if it gets too public, it’s bad press!

  4. kimbee

    Being happy all of the time is not possible! Teenagers are supposed to be depressed! I’m not talking suicidal or self-harming level here but if a teen grows up and is super happy every day, the there’s something wrong! Of course having sex is going to make them feel sad, the mystery is over, that’s the big thing they’ve been waiting for, the big boundary to break. And it probably doesn’t live up to what they expected. And that makes them sad. Good! They’ve learnt something. Life isn’t all happy-clappy sometimes sex is crap. They might be sad in the short-term but they’ve leart a valuable lesson to take to adulthood.

  5. Brian

    Why are they so certain that it’s the casual sex that causes depression? What if depression pushes teens towards casual sex? They’re making assumptions about causation that aren’t warranted from the data. Correlation does not imply causation, anyone who’s taken an introductory statistics class can tell you that.

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