August 31, 2010

Hookups Aren’t Bad For Your (Mental) Health, But Grades May Suffer

In a study of teen sexual behavior and relationships, two researchers have found that teens who engage in casual sex face a few negative academic consequences.

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Study after study has found that people who engage in casual sex and “hooking up” do not fare any worse in terms of well-being than those who do not.  Yet, some researchers have found that you may suffer another way: academic performance.  In a study of teen sexual behavior and relationships, two sociologists have found that teens who engage in casual sex face a number of negative academic consequences.

The Study

Sociologists Bill McCarthy and Eric Grodsky used data from two nationally-representative studies to analyze whether there was a relationship between teens’ sexual behavior, relationship status, and academic performance.  In particular, they looked at grades (GPAs), drop-out rates, absences, suspensions, and expulsions.  They compared three main groups: those sexually active within committed relationships, those sexually active outside of a relationship (thus, engaging in casual sex), and those who abstained from sex all together.

The Findings: It Depends On Your Relationship Status

Earlier research on academic performance and sexual activity has found teen sex to negatively impact grades and school aspirations.  However, in this study, the researchers find that the negative effects of teen sex were faced only by those who engaged in casual sex outside of a committed relationship.  Teens who engaged in casual sex had significantly lower grade-point averages, cared less about school, and experienced more problems in school (suspension, expulsion) compared to abstinent teens.  However, those who were sexually active within a committed relationship did not face these negative academic consequences.

So, Casual Sex Is Bad?

One important implication of this study is dispelling the myth that all teen sex is bad; the researchers noted, “these findings raise doubts about the veracity of sexual education programs that link adolescent sex to a plethora of negative outcomes.”  While they and other sociologists have suggested that these findings call for an improvement of comprehensive sex education programs in schools, they have not offered an explanation for why there is a link between casual sex and academic performance.  But, until more research is conducted to explore this relationship, I am skeptical of the implication that sex causes students to do worse in and care less about school.