New study: Casual sex depresses teens, raises risk of suicide

Nancy French

, Rare All-Star

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What can solve all of humanity’s problems?

If you watch much television, you might conclude the answer is sex …  and lots of it. Carrie Bradshaw of “Sex and the City” flitted from man to man, Don Draper always had his philandering ways and the characters of “Glee” attempt to expand the sexual horizons of its teenage viewers.

If you walk through a college campus, you might draw the same conclusion. Many universities — including Yale, Harvard, Brown, Washington University, Indiana University, and even (my alma mater) the University of Kentucky — have all had some version of “Sex Week.” During this “educational” week, students are taught about contraception, date-rape prevention, and STD avoidance.  However, universities also offer students violent porn, advice on erotic piercings, sex-toy raffles and classes where they can observe simulated-sex techniques.

If you see ads in magazines, you might think sex can improve every aspect of life. Companies like American Apparel, Dolce & Gabbana and Abercrombie & Fitch have drawn criticism for their sexually offensive billboards which nonetheless draw attention to their clothing. It’s almost a cliché for car manufacturers to use used scantily clad women to point out their vehicles’ assets. One nut company even hired a Los Angeles dominatrix to crack open a pistachio with her whip in a misguided ad campaign.

Our culture is becoming more sex-saturated every day.

A new study, however, which shows a strong link between casual sex and depression in teens and young adults should make us all pause.

Ohio State University researchers found that teens who showed depressive symptoms were more likely than others to engage in casual sex as young adults.

In addition, those who engaged in casual sex were more likely to later seriously consider suicide.

“Several studies have found a link between poor mental health and casual sex, but the nature of that association has been unclear,” said Sara Sandberg-Thoma, doctoral student and lead author of the study.

“There’s always been a question about which one is the cause and which is the effect. This study provides evidence that poor mental health can lead to casual sex, but also that casual sex leads to additional declines in mental health.”

Huffington Post writer Claire Hannum, an admitted advocate of casual sex, explains the way the researchers tested this correlation:

Researchers came to their findings by analyzing the data provided by the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. About 10,000 young people were interviewed in grades 7-12, and then were spoken with again when they were 18-26 years old. They were asked about their romantic experiences, as well as depressive symptoms. It was found that 29 percent of these students had engaged in a casual sexual relationship, which they defined as “only having sex” with that person instead of dating them. The researchers found that participants who had thoughts of suicide were much more likely to have had casual sex as young adults. They also found that casual sex was linked to mental health dwindling even further.

There are other consequences. Apparently, casual sex may also stunt young adults’ ability to cultivate committed relationships during this crucial time of life. Even more troubling, the participants’ suicidal thoughts increased by 18 percent with each additional casual sexual relationship — for both males and females.

“That was unexpected,” said Assistant Professor of Human Sciences Claire Kamp Dush, Ph.D, “Because there is still this sexual double standard in society that says it is OK for men to have casual sexual relationships, but it is not OK for women.”

HuffPo writer Hannum rightly points out the cultural discrepancy between the sexes. “In this sense, it seems that both genders have the same relationship to casual sex — if only pop culture would catch on to that!”

One gets the feeling Hannum wishes for a “what’s good for the goose is good for the gander” approach to sexuality, where women are portrayed just as sexually voracious, unattached and active as men. However, this new study should cause liberals to look more deeply at their beliefs on sexuality, as it reinforces what conservatives and Christians have been saying for, well, thousands of years.

Sex is best enjoyed within marriage.

Let’s hope pop culture — and even the Huffington Post — will catch on to that.

Nancy French

Nancy A. French is a New York Times best-selling author who lives in Tennessee. Follow her on Twitter @NancyAFrench 

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