College students who engage in casual sex - that is sex with partners they know less than one week - may be more likely to suffer with depression and anxiety, a new study suggests.
This autumn, thousands of young people in Ireland will begin or return to third level education and for many, the social side of college life plays as big a role as the academic side.
US researchers decided to investigate any links between casual sex and mental health in emerging adults. They surveyed almost 4,000 heterosexual students from more than 30 colleges.
Just over one in 10 admitted to having casual sex in the month prior to the survey.
The researchers found that among the college students, casual sex ‘was negatively associated with wellbeing and positively associated with psychological distress'.
Overall, those who recently engaged in casual sex had higher levels of depression and higher levels of social and general anxiety.
While previous studies have suggested that women are more negatively affected by casual sex than men, in this study, gender did not appear to affect the outcome.
The researchers said that it is still unclear whether casual sex leads to psychological distress or whether people engage in risky sexual behaviours because of mental health problems they already have.
However, they insisted that ‘it is premature to conclude that casual sexual encounters pose no harmful psychological risks for young adults'.
Details of these findings are published in The Journal of Sex Research.
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