Casual sex can result in depression; study says women expect romance

By Michael Shelton

UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. – Casual sex can be a depressing experience, according to a recent study.

A study done for the recent publication of the Journal of Sex Research, “No Strings Attached: The Nature of Casual Sex in College Students” concluded that college-aged women who have a history of casual sex tend to feel more depressive symptoms after their sexual experiences than men do.

The study found that 18 percent of women and three percent of men who participated in the study thought their most recent casual sex experience was “the beginning of a romance,” and this disparity, the authors said, could be the reason for the difference in depressive symptoms. The study’s sample included 404 undergraduate students in introductory psychology courses at a large public university in the southeastern United States. The study excluded the results from lesbian, gay and non-traditional students – those married or older than 21.

More than half of the students surveyed who were sexually active said they engaged in casual sex — sex with someone who they were not currently involved in a romantic relationship with.

Seven percent of the males in the sample said their recent casual sex experience was “experimentation,” while 14 percent of females described it as such.

The study also found that casual sex occurred more often between friends than between strangers.

Simon Holowatz, a community health educator at Penn State University Health Services, had some concerns about the study’s findings.

People on TV have casual sex all of the time, but the consequences are never shown, he said.

“People have a perception (about sex) that’s not really accurate,” Holowatz said.

Holowatz said a romantic relationship is the best place for sex because there is security in knowing that someone can be open with his or her partner. It creates less anxiety and makes each partner feel more valued, he said. “People should do what most fits with their values,” said Debby Herbenick, a psychologist and lecturer at The Kinsey Institute at the University of Indiana in Bloomington.

Herbenick said she prefers to use the term “uncommitted sex” rather than casual sex to describe the encounters in the study because it better describes the type of relationship people are engaged in.

“For some people, there are benefits,” she said, adding that practicing communication and sexual skills may benefit people engaged in these kind of non-committed relationships.