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Casual Sex Linked to Anxiety and Depression Among College Students

Update Date: Jun 28, 2013 05:46 PM EDT

College students who engage in casual sex may be at an increased risk for anxiety and depression.

A new study published in The Journal of Sex Research surveyed over 3,900 heterosexual college students from across the U.S. about their casual sex behaviors and mental wellbeing.  Researchers said casual sex was defined as having intercourse with a partner one has known for less than a week.

Students from over 30 institutions around the country completed the only survey, making this the largest sample to be collected for a study on this topic.

The survey found that 11 percent of students reported a casual sex encounter during the month prior to the survey.

The study found that casual sex was negatively associated with wellbeing and positively associated with psychological distress.

"It is premature to conclude that casual sexual encounters pose no harmful psychological risks for young adults," lead author Dr. Melina M. Bersamin of California State University, Sacramento, said in a statement.

The study "suggest that among heterosexual college students, casual sex was negatively associated with well-being and positively associated with psychological distress," she added.

Previous studies found a gender difference in mental distress linked to casual sex. Past findings revealed that women respond more negatively to casual sex than men, possibly because of double standards that allow men to have more sexual encounters with a greater number of partners than women.  However, the latest study did not find that gender had an effect on psychological outcomes.

Researchers said the next step is to determine if casual sex leads to psychological distress or if existing mental health problems cause young adults to engage in riskier behavior. 

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