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Mental Health Linked to Casual Sex

Update Date: Nov 19, 2013 01:47 PM EST

Poor mental health and casual sex may feed off each other, a new study suggests.

New research reveals that this is especially true in teens and young adults.

Psychologists found that teens who exhibited depressive symptoms were more likely to have causal sex as young adults. Furthermore, those who frequent have casual sex were more likely to later seriously consider suicide.

"Several studies have found a link between poor mental health and casual sex, but the nature of that association has been unclear," lead researcher Sara Sandberg-Thoma, a doctoral student in human sciences at The Ohio State University, said in a news release.

"There's always been a question about which one is the cause and which is the effect. This study provides evidence that poor mental health can lead to casual sex, but also that casual sex leads to additional declines in mental health," Sandberg-Thoma added.

Surprisingly, the link between casual sex and mental health was the same for both men and women, according to researchers.

"That was unexpected because there is still this sexual double standard in society that says it is OK for men to have casual sexual relationships, but it is not OK for women," researcher Claire Kamp Dush, assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State, said in a statement.

"But these results suggest that poor mental health and casual sex are linked, whether you're a man or a woman," Kamp Dush added.

The study involved around 10,000 people who filled out questionnaires about their romantic relationship experiences across time, as well as depressive symptoms and thoughts of suicide.

The findings revealed that participants who reported serious thoughts of suicide or more depressive symptoms as teens were significantly more likely to have casual sexual relationships as young adults.

Researchers also linked casual sex to further declines in mental health, and those who had casual sex in their late teens and early 20s were significantly more likely to have serious thoughts of suicide as young adults.

The results showed that each additional casual sex relationship increased the odds of suicidal thoughts by 18 percent. However, researchers found that casual sex in late teens and early 20s was not associated with changes in depression as a young adult.

Researchers said the findings suggest that both researchers and health professionals need to consider more than one measure of mental health.

"Just because a person does not indicate depressive symptoms in one survey is not always proof that he or she is doing OK," Kamp Dush said. "We need to look at multiple indicators of mental health, including suicidal thoughts."

The findings are published in the Journal of Sex Research.

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