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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.On the positive side, due to the large size of our sample, we were better able than other researchers to institute statistical controls, particularly in terms of the inevitable errors that occur when measuring these sensitive psychological constructs.The only way to begin to tease out directionality in the casual sex/mental health conundrum is by conducting longitudinal studies, though even those will not be perfect.People who seek out casual-sex opportunities, particularly those who do so under the influence of alcohol or drugs, may be fighting off persistent feelings of loneliness, depression, and social anxiety that they hope to eradicate or reduce through brief encounters that grant them momentary closeness.At that level, mental-health factors may trump socialization or biology to wipe out gender effects.
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.
Our findings suggest that even though gender norms, biology, or some combination of the two may lead men to be more likely to seek (or at least to report seeking) casual sex, there are similar connections as for women between hookups and mental health.
Moreover, the fact that we defined casual sex in the way that we did (with a stranger within the past month), it is possible that we were tapping into a population at particularly high-risk due to high levels of impulsivity.
(Feelings tended to be more positive before and during a hookup, and more negative afterward.) Researchers examining the mental health associations of hookup sex also report that participants who were not depressed before showed more depressive symptoms and loneliness after engaging in casual sex.
(Another set of risk factors involve nonconsensual sex.