According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s data, the average age of marriage in the country is rising. As of 2018, men’s average age at first marriage is 29.8. On the other hand, women’s average age at first marriage is 27.8. As the gap between adolescence and marriage widens, it makes sense that uncommitted or “casual” sexual encounters are on the rise.
There are a lot of different words you can use to describe it. Perhaps you say a one-night stand, a hookup, “friends with benefits,” or “Netflix and chill.” Regardless, all these terms are synonymous with a casual sexual encounter. As casual sex grows in popularity, the question of its effects on an individual’s mental health are a subject of debate. Different people have put in their opinions or found conflicting data about the impact.
It’s hard to say if casual sex is “good” or “bad.” It’s not really that simple. Several studies conducted over the last 10 years have shown different results. Some studies report that most individuals report an increase in self-confidence. In fact, they’ve shown decrease in depressive symptoms after casual sex. On the other hand, some reports show the exact opposite. The only consistent findings in these studies has been that, despite what might be commonly believed, women were not more likely to be negatively impacted by casual sex encounters than men. Men and women can both respond positive or negatively to sexual encounters.
Factors Impacting Your Response to Casual Sex
While there are no clear indicators on whether casual sex is good or bad for your mental health, there are several factors you may want to consider. Based on your own personal history, personality and beliefs having sex outside of a relationship may be positive or negative. Here are some things to consider:
Upbringing & Religious Beliefs About Sex
If you were raised with a strict upbringing or with strict religious beliefs that have resulted in your association of sex with shame or guilt, you may be negatively impacted by a casual sexual encounter. Some people who grew up in really strict households experience so much guilt after casual sexual encounters that it leads to symptoms of depression. If having sex outside of a relationship doesn’t fit with how you think of yourself, you may experience what we call cognitive dissonance. Perhaps you even have a mini identity crisis or feel disappointed in yourself.
Your Expectations for Casual Sex
If your motives for casual sex are, for instance, to get back at an ex or to please another person, you will likely end up disappointed. On the other hand, some people have a positive experience with Casual Sex. For instance, if you are wanting to have sex for the pleasure or fun of it. Or perhaps you are choosing to explore your sexuality (in other words, for your own sake). In these situations, you may be less likely to have negative feelings afterwards. In fact, some people report feeling more confident or satisfied afterward.
Drugs or Alcohol Before/During Sex
Consumption of drugs or alcohol can lower your inhibitions and potentially cause you to make decisions you later regret. For instance, while under the influence of alcohol or other substance, you may participate in unsafe sex or choosing a partner you wouldn’t want to be intimate with sober. It also can cause you to have gaps in your memory of the experience, or not remember it at all. Not remembering a sexual encounter can be extremely upsetting.
Casual Sex Isn’t “Right” or “Wrong”
There is no definitive right or wrong answer on how a casual sexual encounter will affect your mental health. Every individual is unique and complex, and how your mental health may or may not be affected is exclusive to you. It’s up to you to decide what will or won’t work best for you. The key is to know yourself, your values and your motives.
Counseling in Cincinnati, OH
Do you find yourself questioning your sexual behavior, and need someone who can help you clarify your personal values, motivations, needs & goals for sexual relationships? As licensed mental health professional specializing in relationships, I can help. It’s hard to ask for help sometimes. However, you can know that when you enter my counseling office you are not going to experience judgment. However, as a trained couples counselor, I understand how complicated romantic & sexual relationships can be. And as a therapist who spent years working at a college counseling clinic, I have certainly heard all sides of this topic while counseling college students. At my Cincinnati counseling clinic, I work with both couples and individuals. In addition to relationship counseling, I offer Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) for depression, anxiety treatment & career counseling. So, if you or a loved one is interested in exploring treatment, please contact me today. You can get clarity about how to move forward in your romantic life. I can help.