Sex is considered one of life’s greatest pleasures, and while more action is supposed to equal more happiness, that’s definitely not always the case. The links between sex and mental health are complex; depending on the situation, can work for or against one.
With the gap between puberty and entry into marriage getting wider, more adolescents are turning to casual sex as a way to express and satisfy their sexual needs.
In a comprehensive review of the status of research on casual sex, the researchers concluded that “Hookups are part of a popular cultural shift that has infiltrated the lives of emerging adults throughout the Westernized world”
There’s a lot of hype about the ways sex can transform our harsh realities into fantasies, and a study even suggested that having sex once a week is enough to increase your wellbeing significantly.
Feel-good hormones at the moment aren’t often enough to impact your overall psychological wellness, and the idea of well being or happiness drastically differs from person to person based upon your life circumstances and/or mental and physical makeup.
Sex and mental health can be positively correlated, and they can be negatively correlated too. Sometimes, they don’t even correlate at all
Does Having Casual Sex Make You Depressed?
Casual sex has long been viewed to result in heartache and sexually transmitted infections (STIs), particularly for women. However, in addition to the known risks of contracting STDs, developing unwanted pregnancies, and being raped or otherwise assaulted, people who engage in casual sex may suffer emotional consequences that persist long after the details of an encounter has died down.
On college campuses, where brief sexual liaisons are prevalent, unanticipated results can jeopardize a student’s career, and the results can be just as disastrous, if not more so, in the workplace.
It’s difficult enough to conduct research on sexual behavior, and even more challenging when the topic is sexual relationships outside the context of long-term relationships.
For one, there’s the discomfort factor, and despite the flood of media messages that hookups are okay, if not desirable, people may still feel that they’ve done something that violates their own inner standards.
Feeling perhaps pressured to get involved because everyone else is, may lead to performance anxiety, ironically setting the stage for future sexual dysfunction. Other common reactions may include regret, disappointment, confusion, embarrassment, guilt, and low self-esteem, although other individuals certainly report feeling proud, nervous, excited, and desirable or wanted.
A research study that examined the mental health associations of hookup sex, report that participants who were not depressed before showed more depressive symptoms and loneliness after engaging in casual sex. However, experts believe that casual sex can impact your mental health in positive, negative, and mixed ways.
Analyzing the responses of college students to their one-off encounters, a researcher found that those who hooked up for the wrong reasons (to avoid their feelings, to please someone else, to get revenge, etc.) had lower self-esteem and higher levels of depression and anxiety, while those who hooked up for the right reasons (to try new things, or explore their sexuality) showed higher self-esteem and similar levels of depression and anxiety to those who didn’t engage in any at all.
The Bottom Line
Casual sexual relationships and experiences are still considered to be detrimental to the psychological well-being of youth even though findings remain inconclusive. Most studies suggested that how a hook up will impact your mental health has everything to do with your reasons for having it.
Depression is often caused by chemical imbalances in the brain, and it’s deeply ironic that depression can inspire a lack of desire for sex in some people, when sex itself can help ease depression symptoms, because, even a single sensual session can boost the happy hormones, serotonin, and oxytocin levels and bring a little bit of color to a grey mind (at least in the immediate aftermath).
Vulnerability to depression exists before casual sex happens, whether genetic or other factors. The questions to consider include: was the person brought up to have confidence and self-esteem? Were they undermined or even abused, entering the world of relationships with a fragile sense of self? Etc…
Any situation which could involve rejection and create feelings of shame exposed, feeling different from others, feeling you have to be the same as others, and be sexual in the same way, could potentially create a foundation for depression.