February 23, 2010

Casual Sex And Hooking Up Do Not Cause Psychological Harm

Researchers have finally answered the question, "does casual sex and hooking up cause psychological harm?" No, it doesn't!

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Researchers have finally answered the question, “does casual sex and hooking up cause psychological harm?”  The answer: No, it doesn’t!

The Study

I noted in an earlier post on Kinsey Confidential that a number of people have expressed concern about the harm that casual sex and hooking up may cause.  Marla Eisenberg and her colleagues conducted a study on casual sex and psychological well-being to determine whether these concerns are founded.

With a sample of 1300 sexually-active young adults, the researchers found no significant differences in the psychological well-being of those who had engaged in casual sex compared to those who only had sex with an exclusive, long-term partner.

They do, however, caution that the scope of their research is only on mental health, not physical health; thus, it is still important that sexually-active adults use condoms and other forms of contraceptives to prevent the spread of sexually transmitted infections and unintended pregnancies, get tested regularly for HIV/AIDS and other sexually transmitted infections, and maintain open communication with their sexual partner(s)

Just How Much Casual Sex Is There?

Some of the concern about the potential harm of causal sex seems to be infused with the assumption that most young adults are engaging in casual sexual encounters, outside of an exclusive, monogamous relationship.

Is it true?  Well, no.

While most young adults are sexually active, 80% of Eisenberg and colleague’s sexually-active sample were only having sex with an exclusive dating partner, fiance, or spouse or equivalent (i.e., civil unions and same-sex couples in states where same-sex marriage is not yet legal).  The remaining 20% reported that their last sexual encounter was with a close but not exclusive partner or a casual acquaintance.

That is, casual sex may not be nearly as wide-spread as some may think, though, sociologist Paula England has found in her research that only 20% of college students had not engaged in hooking up at some point in college.  (Part of what may seem like a contradiction between these studies is how young adults are defining sex.)