Casual sex is breeding a whole new problem beyond STDs; it's breeding anxiety. A study released in the Journal of Sex Research in June titled “Risky Business" evaluated the association between casual sex and psychological distress. According to the study, casual sex is defined as having intercourse with someone that one has known for less than a week, and encompasses phrases like “friends with benefits," “hook-ups," and “one-night stands." The study produced an overwhelmingly obvious clear response: casual sex is associated with psychological distress.

Should I Be Anxious about Casual Sex?

Before swearing off late-night booty calls and questioning your future sexual escapades, consider the facts: although there is a clear relationship between having casual sex and experiencing negative psychological effects, the relationship is correlational and not causational.

There is no clear evidence that suggests casual sex causes low self-esteem and anxiety. Rather, that casual sex is symptomatic of psychological distress. People who are depressed and anxious may just be more likely to seek out partners for casual sex than those who are not. However, this study found that psychological distress was not a good predictor of whether or not someone was engaging in casual sex. A better prediction of sexual behavior was a person's previous sexual history, alcohol consumption, and a variety of situational factors.

Who's Having Casual Sex (in the Study)?

The sample population included individuals who identified as single, heterosexual, and between the ages of 18 and 25. 3,907 students were selected from 30 diverse universities around the United States. Each participant filled out a questionnaire relating to his or her sexual behavior, psychological well-being, and emotional distress. Well-being was measured by assessing self-esteem, life satisfaction, psychological well-being, and eudemonic well-being (happiness). Distress was calculated by assessing general anxiety, social anxiety, and depression.

Although women were reported less likely to engage in casual sex (7.4%) than men (18.6%), gender differences did not distort the relationship between casual sex and psychological distress. However, women reported having more feelings of regret and less positive experiences from promiscuous sexual behavior. This gender bias may be a result of different social pressures for sexual behavior in men and women.

Overall, 11% of the participants reported engaging in casual sex. People who reported having casual sex in the last 30 days had lower levels of self-esteem than those who did not. College students that had engaged in casual sex within the prior 30 days experienced lower levels of life satisfaction and happiness. Not surprisingly, these students also reported higher levels of general anxiety, social anxiety, and depression.

Recommended For You

Olivia Bolt, Ph.D.
Kile Ortigo, Ph.D.
Kevin O'Grady, E.D.
David A Kalmbach, Ph.D.
Sigal Sharf


Date of original publication:

Updated: December 05, 2016