Over the past couple of years, there's been quite a debate about whether the hookup culture is harmful or beneficial to 20- and 30-something womenÃ¢â‚¬”and there's research supporting both sides of the argument. A new study adds to this body of research, finding that hooking up in college may be linked to short-term depression.
Let us be clear: We think that women should be just as empowered to hook up with people or have one-night-stands as men are. There's no reason that women who enjoy casual sex should be held to any kind of double-standard that suggests otherwise, and some research does suggest that ladies are just as game for hooking up as men are. But on the other hand, there's also research that indicates most women aren't having orgasms during casual sex (not that it's impossible to enjoy orgasm-free sex). Still other studies suggest that, regardless of how women should feel after they get frisky with someone they're not dating, hooking up tends to correlate with symptoms of depression.
In this latest study, published in The Journal of Sex Research, researchers from Syracuse and Brown Universities surveyed 483 college students over the course of 13 months. Roughly half of the participants reported hooking up during the time period, while the other half reported being in a romantic relationship. As it turns out, the people having casual sex reported significant depression overall, whereas those in committed relationships didn't.
There are several reasons this correlation may exist: The people hooking up may have wanted a relationship deep down and therefore have been disappointed that they weren't in one; they may have found their hookups unsatisfying or found themselves going further with someone than they really wanted to; or they may have been worried that their sexual activities would start to influence their reputations. Finally, because this study only shows correlation, not causation, another possibility is that women who feel depressed may be more inclined to have casual sex, rather than seek relationships. Previous research has shown, in fact, that when women feel sad or anxious, they're more likely to engage in risky sexual behavior (and casual sex can indeed fall into that category). Regardless, the point is that it's not totally clear whether hooking up causes depressed feelings, or whether depressed feelings cause hook ups.
There is an upside to the findings, though: The depression only occurred in women who reported having hooked up in the past month. In other words, while casual sex may bum you out for a couple of weeks, its negative effects seem to be fleetingÃ¢â‚¬”so it's not as if hopping into bed with a Channing Tatum look-alike from Tinder will leave you depressed for life (or even several months).
So how can you tell when you're stripping down with someone for the right reasonsÃ¢â‚¬”and when it will leave you majorly bummed out afterward? Running through these four questions to ask yourself before hooking up should help you decide.
MORE: Why Would Men Turn Down Casual Sex?
Editor's note: We made clarifying language changes to the beginning of this story after publication. We also added a point about correlation v. causation that wasn't in the original version.