With the gap between puberty and entry into marriage getting ever wider, more “emerging adults" are turning to casual encounters as a way to express and satisfy their sexual needs.In a comprehensive review of the status of research on casual sex, Kinsey Institute researcher Justin Garcia and his team from Binghamton University (2012) concluded that “Hookups are part of a popular cultural shift that has infiltrated the lives of emerging adults throughout the Westernized world” (p. And yet hookups pose a significant threat to the physical and psychological health of these young individuals.Despite our 21st-century reality, many of our social norms remain tied to 20th-century sensibilities.
In contrast to the notion that men are okay with casual sex but women are not, we did find gender differences in the relationships between casual sex and either distress or well-being.
For both men and women, true hookup sex—with a casual stranger rather than a romantic partner or “friend with benefits"—seemed to bode poorly for mental health and self-esteem. We don’t know whether poor mental health caused individuals to be from casual sex.
In addition to the known risks of contracting STDs, developing unwanted pregnancies, and being raped or otherwise assaulted, people who engage in casual sex may suffer emotional consequences that persist long after the details of an encounter are a dim memory.
On college campuses, where brief sexual liaisons are prevalent, unanticipated results can jeopardize a student’s career.
All of the participants in the Bersamin et al study were heterosexual (as is the case for the majority of research on this topic), and came from multiple ethnic backgrounds and social classes.
We asked participants to indicate how many times, during the past 30 days, they had sex with someone they knew for less than a week.
As Garcia and colleagues point out, there may be a biological basis to the greater acceptance of casual sex among men, but there’s no way to separate biology from sociocultural influences given that the two are so tightly intertwined—and will forever remain so.
Setting aside the issue of gender differences for the moment, what do we know about those unintended emotional consequences of short-term sexual liaisons?
Our results showed that a relatively high percentage of students had engaged in casual sex within the past month (11%), with more men (18.6%) than women (7.4%) stating they had done so.