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Are College Student Hook-Ups Linked to Anxiety and Depression?

June 28, 2013—As narratives of “hook-up” culture take center stage in popular media, behavioral researchers are starting to ask what psychological consequences, if any, may be in store for young adults who engage in casual sex.

A new study in The Journal of Sex Research found higher levels of general anxiety, social anxiety, and depression among students who recently had casual sex. Titled "Risky Business: Is There an Association between Casual Sex and Mental Health among
Emerging Adults?" the study surveyed over 3,900 heterosexual college students from across the United States about their casual sex behaviors and mental well-being. “Casual sex” was defined as having intercourse with a partner one has known for less than a week.

Students from over 30 institutions around the country completed the online survey, making this the largest sample to be collected for a study on this topic. On average, 11 percent of students reported a casual sex encounter during the month prior to the survey, the majority of whom were men.

The study was led by Dr. Melina M. Bersamin of California State University, Sacramento. According to Dr. Bersamin, “It is premature to conclude that casual sexual encounters pose no harmful psychological risks for young adults.” The results “suggest that among heterosexual college students, casual sex was negatively associated with well-being and positively associated with psychological distress.”

The researchers also investigated the role of gender in determining mental distress linked to casual sex. Prior studies have found that women respond more negatively to casual sex than men, possibly because of double standards that allow men to have more sexual encounters with a greater number of partners than women. In this study, however, gender did not have an effect on outcomes.

“Risky Business” opens the door to future research questions about causal links between sexual behavior and mental health. Researchers have yet to determine whether casual sex leads to psychological distress, or if existing mental health problems cause young adults to engage in riskier behaviors.


"Risky Business: Is There an Association between Casual Sex and Mental Health among Emerging Adults?" Melina M. Bersamin, Byron L. Zamboanga, Seth J. Schwartz, M. Brent Donnellan, Monika Hudson, Robert S. Weisskirch, Su Yeong Kim, V. Bede Agocha, Susan Krauss Whitbourne, S. Jean Caraway. Journal of Sex Research. Published online: 07 Jun 2013. 



The Journal of Sex Research is a scholarly journal devoted to the publication of articles relevant to the
variety of disciplines involved in the scientific study of sexuality. The journal is designed to stimulate research and promote an interdisciplinary understanding of the diverse topics in contemporary sexual science. The
Journal of Sex Research is the official journal of the Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS). Members of SSSS receive an annual subscription to the journal as a benefit of membership.


The Society for the Scientific Study of Sexuality (SSSS) is an international organization dedicated to the advancement of knowledge about sexuality. It is the oldest organization of professionals interested in the study of sexuality in the United States. SSSS brings together an interdisciplinary group of professionals who believe in the importance of both the production of quality research and the clinical, educational, and social applications of research related to all aspects of sexuality.

Press materials provided by Taylor and Francis, Online.

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