Hope For The Journey

Is Casual Sex Good
or Bad for Your
Mental Health?

According to the U.S. Census Bureau’s 2018 data, people are getting married later in life. In fact, the average age of marriage in the country is at its highest: men’s average age at first marriage is 29.8, while women’s average age at first marriage is 27.8. As the gap between adolescence and marriage widens, uncommitted sexual encounters are on the rise.

Call it a one-night stand, a hookup, “friends with benefits,” or “Netflix and chill” – all these terms are synonymous with a casual sexual encounter. According to a 2014 study published in the Journal of Sex Research, these casual hookups have had a modest increase in frequency since 1988. As casual sex grows more commonplace, the question of its effects on an individual’s mental health are a subject of debate and conflicting data.

Is Casual Sex Good or Bad?


Several studies conducted over the last 10 years have shown inconsistent results. Some studies indicate that most people report feeling better about themselves and a decrease in depressive symptoms after casual sex. Other reports, however, indicate 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.

While there are no clear indicators on whether casual sex is good or bad for your mental health, there are several factors that may play a part in how it could affect you individually.

Religious Beliefs & Upbringing


If you were raised with a strict upbringing or with strict religious beliefs, you may have begun to associate sex with shame or guilt. Even though you may reject these beliefs now, these lingering feelings from childhood can cause a negative impact from a casual sexual encounter.



If your motives for casual sex are, for instance, to get back at an ex or to please another person, this may result in a negative impact. Additionally, if you are trying to feel better about yourself, you are likely to feel worse afterwards. On the other hand, if your motive is for the pleasure or fun of it, or to explore your sexuality (in other words, for your own sake), you may be less likely to have negative feelings afterwards.

Sexual Trauma History


Many sexual abuse and assault survivors engage in sex as a way to feel power over their traumatic experiences or they feel tainted already so figure, “Why not?”. Unfortunately, these efforts to feel better about themselves or the reliving of a traumatic experience without the safety of someone who knows and loves them generally results in feeling re-victimized.

Additionally, many people who have experienced rape or child sexual abuse become triggered–or enter into a state of high alert–due to the sexual experience reminding their body of some part of the abuse. Even in a situation where the person’s motive is sex for fun or pleasure, these symptoms may occur. This typically causes a huge spike in anxiety and can result in significant negative results.

Drugs or Alcohol Use


Consumption of drugs or alcohol can lower your inhibitions and potentially cause you to make regrettable decisions. You might find yourself participating in unsafe sex or choosing a partner that you otherwise would not choose. It also can cause you to have gaps in your memory of the experience, or not remember it at all. If your partner is aware of your condition and not similarly under the influence, this is a situation where proper consent is not possible. When you are so drunk you cannot remember it the next day, you are not in a position to provide consent. Now, we are beginning to describe sexual assault and/or rape rather than “casual sex”. Clearly the after effects of such an experience would be negative.

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.

How Can I Find Help If I Need It?


But if you have a history of trauma, you should know that your reaction may not be pleasant. This does mean you can never enjoy sex, but it does mean that you might need some help working through the pain of the abuse in order to do so. Our clinicians at Hope For The Journey specialize in sexual issues of all sorts and can help. Call our office today, and let’s set up a time to talk.

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