This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.
Study: Casual Sex Linked to Psychological Distress
A new study, published in the Journal of Sex Research, found a negative link between casual sex and various measures of psychological well-being among heterosexual college students. Researchers surveyed more than 3,900 college students ages 18 to 25 who attended over 30 institutions across the country. Participants were asked if they had engaged in “casual sex”—which was defined as having sex with a partner they had known for less than one week—in the month prior to the study. Participants then answered questions designed to help researchers assess their well-being (including self-esteem, life satisfaction, psychological well-being, and sense of having found themselves) and their level of psychological distress (including general anxiety, social anxiety, and depression).
Despite the fact that the media would have us believe that college students are humping near-strangers daily, the researchers found relatively low rates of casual sex. In fact, only 11 percent of participants said they had had casual sex during the past month, though college men were more likely to report casual sex (18 percent) than college women (7 percent).
The researchers found that the men and women who had recently engaged in casual sex reported lower levels of self-esteem, life-satisfaction, and happiness compared to students who had not had casual sex in the past 30 days. Participants who had recently engaged in casual sex also reported higher levels of general anxiety, social anxiety, and depression compared their peers who had not had casual sex recently. Though the researchers had expected to find such results for college women, they were surprised to find that there was no differences between genders.
The authors caution that this research does not suggest that casual sex, in and of itself, causes psychological distress. Given how few college students engage in such behaviors, it is possible that the issues of self-esteem and anxiety are what lead young people to have casual sex in the first place. In addition, previous studies have suggested that factors specific to the situation—such as whether the partners were drinking and whether there was hope of a future relationship—affected whether those who engaged in casual sex regretted it later. The authors of this study, therefore, suggested that the effect of casual sex on well-being could be entirely situational.
That said, they believe this topic warrants further study and argue that it is “premature to conclude that casual sexual encounters pose no harmful psychological risks for young adults.” They go on to suggest the implications of their finding:
[P]ractitioners, STI/HIV counselors, and college administrators may wish to consider the broader health ramifications of casual sexual behaviors, given the link between mental health and sexual attitudes and behaviors. Efforts aimed at promoting positive sexual development and sexual health in college-aged individuals may wish to underscore the benefits of committed relationships and highlight the potentially negative psychological correlates of sex with relative strangers.
North Carolina Law Will Make Health Teachers Lie to Kids
Unfortunately, it is not rare for young people to hear inaccuracies about sex, contraception, pregnancy, and abortion in school, but North Carolina has taken it to a new level by forcing teachers to lie to their students. As Robin Marty reported last week, SB 132 was passed last week by both chambers of the state legislature. The original version of the bill would have required teachers to tell students that abortion causes pre-term birth in future pregnancies. There is no evidence that this statement is true, and none of the major medical associations recognize abortion as a cause of pre-term birth. Despite the facts, when legislators reworked the bill, they did not take this misinformation out—they just buried it a little. The version that passed and is poised to be signed by the governor now requires educators to list abortion as one of the things that can cause pre-term birth, along with along with smoking, drinking, drug use, and lack of prenatal care. Putting it in list form does not make it any less inaccurate.
Man Held Up at Knifepoint for a Condom?
A man who was walking out of an Erie, Pennsylvania, bar at 10:30 p.m. one evening several weeks ago says he was mugged at knifepoint by two men. They did not steal his wallet or his cell phone. Police confirm that the only thing stolen was the condom the victim was carrying. It’s unclear whether the victim was carrying anything else of value or if the thieves really were just after some protection.
There are many easier ways to get condoms, even free ones—I guess we can only hope that the thieves didn’t use the knife to open the condom as well.