A hot-and-heavy night should leave you doing a stride of pride the next day. But if you've ever hooked up with someone, only to find yourself in a post-sex funk afterward, you're definitely not alone: New research links casual sex to negative well-being, lower self-esteem, and higher levels of anxiety and depression, according to an article published in the Journal of Sex Research.
For the study, researchers from 30 institutions across the U.S. looked at 3,907 straight college students between the ages of 18-24. Each participant was given a survey about their risky habitsÃ¢â‚¬”including having casual sexÃ¢â‚¬”as well as various aspects of their mental health. What they found: Both men and women who'd had casual sex in the past week were more likely to report anxiety, depression, and negative wellbeing.
"I really want to emphasize that this was just correlational," says study author Melina Bersamin, PhD, professor of child development at Sacramento State. "We donÃ¢â‚¬â„¢t know what causes whatÃ¢â‚¬”it could very well be that students who are depressed and anxious seek out those casual sex relationships; itÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not necessarily that having casual sex causes anxiety and depression. Ã¢â‚¬Â¦ More research is really needed."
Still, it doesn't take a scientist to know that hooking up with a guy can be fun, carefree, and sexy, or that it can leave you feeling like crapÃ¢â‚¬”depending on the circumstances.Ã‚Â So what can you do to ensure that your hookups bring you nothing but bliss? Kristen Mark, PhD, MPH, an assistant professor at the University of Kentucky, suggests asking yourself these questions to figure out how a potential roll in the hay might affect you emotionallyÃ¢â‚¬”before you take your clothes off:
"What do I really want out of this?" Men aren't the only ones with needsÃ¢â‚¬”women crave physical pleasure, too. So if some spine tingling is really what you're hankering forÃ¢â‚¬”and you've got a guy who's willing and able to helpÃ¢â‚¬”then by all means, go for it. But if you're really looking for a longer, more intimate relationshipÃ¢â‚¬”even if you tell him (and yourself!) that you're notÃ¢â‚¬”you're setting yourself up for disappointment. "When expectations aren't met, anxiety and depression may increase," says Mark. "Assess your needs and wants, and communicate them with your casual sex parter. If this results in the casual sex not happening, that's likely for the best."
"Was I feeling anxious or depressed going into the night?" When you're down in the dumps, an orgasm may seem like a great way to lift your spiritsÃ¢â‚¬”but it's not. "That's really just a Band-Aid thatÃ‚Â may make things worse in the end," says Mark. Since negative wellbeing usually has more to do with your emotional needs than your physical onesÃ¢â‚¬”and casual sex won't help you feel more emotionally connected to othersÃ¢â‚¬”getting busy to boost your mood will probably backfire.
"Am I getting weird vibes from this guy?" You definitely want to make sure the person you're hooking up with seems respectful, says Mark. That way, when you ask him to put on a condom, or if you change your mind, you don't have to worry that he'll give you grief or make you feel bad about for your choices or requests.
"Is there any other reason I think I may regret this in the morning?" This may seem like a no-brainer, but taking the time to do a gut check and really being honest with yourself is crucial. If you've tried having casual sex in the past, for example, and have never been able to enjoy it, then no-strings-attached flings may just not be for youÃ¢â‚¬”and that's OK. And if you do hook up with a guy, only to wish you hadn't later? "Don't be so hard on yourself," says Mark. "Take it as a learning experience, and move forward with new knowledge that you can apply to any future encounters you may have."