A recent longitudinal study published in the Journal of Abnormal Psychology suggests that teenagers who engage in casual sex are more likely to suffer from depression than their peers who don’t engage in casual sex.
The study conducted by Jane Mendle and three other researchers used several questionnaires completed by a sample size of a little over ninety thousand students during the 1994/1995 school year. I purchased the fourteen page study on pdf at PsycNet to thoroughly understand how the study was conducted.
The researchers were clear to make a distinction between casual sex and sex that occurs within the context of a romantic relationship. Even further they also accounted for teens who engaged in sexual relationships with other partners while involved in a romantic relationship. Other variables accounted for were teens who were celibate but in romantic relationships and teens who were celibate and in no relationships. The study also compared results with siblings, to include identical and fraternal twins to account for how environmental factors influence genetics. There are more variables but I do not deem them important to highlight.
The study does indicate a strong correlation between casual sex and depression in teens, as a matter of fact the relationship between casual sex and depression is so striking, that the symptoms of depression and full onset of clinical depression becomes more pronounced for teenagers who are fifteen and younger and have engaged in casual sex. I found it interesting that there was little statistical difference with depressive symptoms and clinical depression between teens who routinely cheated on their romantic partners and those who just engaged in casual sex.
As a professional, the results of this study helps shed some insight into what teens who engage in casual sexual encounters may be going through. Given that teens who practiced celibacy were rated lowest for clinical depression and depressive symptoms on the charts, promiscuity may be symptomatic of depression.
Given that sex is a pleasurable activity, it also stands to reason that teens who struggle with depression will routinely seek to engage in pleasurable and excitable behaviors to provide temporary relief from their experiences with chronic sadness, hopelessness and perhaps lethargy. In other words, self medication. I wonder how many of those who habitually engage in casual sex, also engage in habitual abuse of mind altering substances.
While this study may energize the base for proponents of teaching abstinence to teens, I believe that teaching abstinence to any teen isn't the answer, (a thorough sexual education curriculum is) besides the fact that it is ineffective. This study should help parents gain some insight into the mind of their teens who are engaging in sexual activity within any context.
Creating an open line of communication is key to understanding what your teen is experiencing. If it turns out they are experiencing depression, a professional can help your teen identify his or her triggers for depression with focus on your teen learning new strategies on how to respond differently to these triggers. The next stage would be for your teen to begin the process of visualizing a future for his or herself and taking steps to make that future a reality.
Often times when a teen is out of the woods with any habitually destructive behavior, I notice that they stop seeing that "friend." When asked, the response is usually along the lines of getting their priorities in order.
So what are your thoughts and feelings about this post? All agreements and disagreements are welcome.
Ugo is a psychotherapist and owner of Road 2 Resolutions PLLC, a professional counseling practice located in Tucson AZ.