Casual teen sex linked to higher depression rates, study finds

December 5, 2012 by Ted Boscia, Cornell University

(Medical Xpress)—Teens who date and are sexually active are known to be at elevated risk for depression, but why those associations exist is poorly understood.

Now a new Cornell study has found that casual sexual "hookups" increased a teenager's odds for clinical-level depression nearly threefold, whereas dating and sexual activity within a committed relationship had no significant impact. The effects held true for boys and girls, though younger teens (13-15 years old) who had so-called "nonromantic sex" faced substantially greater risks for depression. In contrast, dating alone was not linked to depressive symptoms, nor was sexual activity within a stable, committed relationship.

Researchers led by Jane Mendle, assistant professor of human development in Cornell's College of , said the study provides evidence that "context is key" when trying to understand how teen relationships and sex affect their well-being. The research is published online in the .

"Many historical and media perspectives have presented adolescent sexuality as an indicator of problematic or even socially ," Mendle said. "But this study and other recent findings are showing that's not the case, and adolescent dating and sexuality can be viewed as normal developmental behavior."

Using a novel approach that compares siblings growing up in the same home, Mendle and her co-authors analyzed responses from 1,551 sibling pairs ages 13-18 from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health, a nationally representative sample of U.S. initiated in the mid-1990s. Among other topics, teens answered questions about their mental health and dating and . Nearly two-thirds of the sample's youth had dated, and two-thirds were virgins.

By comparing siblings in their study, the authors could control for family and that might also raise one's risk for depression.

"We designed the study to give us a purer way to isolate many of the factors that could be contributing to depression," Mendle said. "It allows us to compare specific types of social activities—in this case, dating and romantic and nonromantic sex—to see their overall effect."

The paper notes that not all the associations at play can be unraveled, however. For instance, some teens who have depressive symptoms or clinical depression may be more likely to engage in casual sexual behaviors.

Mendle, a licensed clinical psychologist who studies how such developmental processes as puberty and sexual maturation influence teens' emotional growth, believes adolescent sexuality is important to study because it is closely tied to how well people transition into adulthood.

"One of the hallmarks of adolescence is the formation of romantic relationships, and we know that what happens in adolescence is strongly related to your psychological, physical and financial well-being for years to come," Mendle said. "Findings like this can help shape the dialogue and public debate about how to best support teen sexual health, psychological development and other areas."

Explore further: Romantic sexual relationships deter teenage delinquency, new study shows

Related Stories

Romantic sexual relationships deter teenage delinquency, new study shows

August 18, 2011
Sexually active teens in committed, romantic relationships are less likely to engage in delinquent behavior than teens who have casual sex, according to new research from psychologists at The University of Texas at Austin.

Boys who mature rapidly have more depression

May 8, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- Boys who reach sexual maturity more rapidly than their peers have more problems getting along with others their age and are at a higher risk for depression, according to a Cornell study published in Developmental ...

'Sexting' may be just a normal part of dating for Internet generation

July 24, 2012
(Medical Xpress) -- For young adults today who were weaned on iPods and the Internet, the practice of "sexting," or sending sexually explicit photos or messages through phones, may be just another normal, healthy component ...

Does true love wait? Age of first sexual experience predicts romantic outcomes in adulthood

October 17, 2012
It's a common lament among parents: Kids are growing up too fast these days. Parents worry about their kids getting involved in all kinds of risky behavior, but they worry especially about their kids' forays into sexual relationships. ...

Are 'hookups' replacing romantic relationships on college campuses?

November 8, 2012
"Hooking up" has become such a trend on college campuses that some believe these casual, no-strings-attached sexual encounters may be replacing traditional romantic relationships. However, a new study by researchers with ...

Recommended for you

Short-course treatment for combat-related PTSD offers expedited path to recovery

January 23, 2018
Symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) can be debilitating and standard treatment can take months, often leaving those affected unable to work or care for their families. But, a new study demonstrated that many ...

Priming can negate stressful aspects of negative sporting environments, study finds

January 23, 2018
The scene is ubiquitous in sports: A coach yells at players, creating an environment where winning is the sole focus and mistakes are punished. New research from the University of Kansas shows that when participants find ...

Social and emotional skills linked to better student learning

January 23, 2018
Students with well-developed and adaptive social and emotional behaviours are most likely to excel in school, according to UNSW researchers in educational psychology.

Study of learning and memory problems in OCD helps young people unlock potential at school

January 22, 2018
Adolescents with obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) have widespread learning and memory problems, according to research published today. The findings have already been used to assist adolescents with OCD obtain the help ...

People with prosthetic arms less affected by common illusion

January 22, 2018
People with prosthetic arms or hands do not experience the "size-weight illusion" as strongly as other people, new research shows.

Intensive behavior therapy no better than conventional support in treating teenagers with antisocial behavior

January 19, 2018
Research led by UCL has found that intensive and costly multisystemic therapy is no better than conventional therapy in treating teenagers with moderate to severe antisocial behaviour.

0 comments

Please sign in to add a comment. Registration is free, and takes less than a minute. Read more

Click here to reset your password.
Sign in to get notified via email when new comments are made.