Can Casual Sex Cause Depression?

Casual sex stopped being a taboo for our society since the sexual revolution that marked the period between the 1960s and 1980s. Although this sexual behaviour is still criticised by many for corrupting the traditional codes, some see casual sex as a freedom of sexual expression and experimentation.

In the end, we are free to choose whomever we want and when we want. But does this freedom of sexual exploration come at a price?

Yes, both physical and emotional!

Research Data: Now & Then

The first theorist to discuss the power of repressed sexual desires was the well-known psychoanalyst Freud. He recognised that inhibited sexual desires can have profound effects on individuals, leading to a disruptive emotional & psychological development. Following theorists and researchers of that period, believed in Freud’s theories, who aimed to change the general belief and raise awareness on the detrimental impact of sexual repression. This social movement put the concept of marriage in crisis, increasing the interest of people in engaging more in promiscuous relationships rather than seeking sex only for the purpose of reproduction.

Today, decades after the sexual revolution, our society deals with the same psychological effects, but different causes.

If before the 1960s sexual repression was one of the causes of depression, today psychologists wonder & research whether casual sex is still a form of sexual liberation or a cause of depression.

While the research of the topic is in its early stages, scarce evidence highlights a positive correlation between casual sex and poor emotional well-being.

For instance, a research conducted by the California State University of Sacramento (USA) on a sample of 3907 students between 18 and 25 years old, was based on responses to an online questionnaire that dealt with a variety of topics including identity, culture, psychological well-being and risky behaviour.

From the Californian survey, it is noted that casual sex is positively correlated with psychological distress and negatively with well-being. It could be said that occasional sex can cause psychic malaise and distressed well-being.

Although the study may raise a big question mark and lay the foundation for further research, the results cannot be applied to a wider population as detailed studies are needed if we wish to find the answer.

Nevertheless, there are some contradictory perspectives and certain aspects of this risky sexual behaviour that make us doubt its “benefits”.

Are Depressed People More Likely to Engage in Casual Relationships or Is Casual Sex Leading to a Light Form of Depression?

On one side, there are psychologists who claim that people with low self-esteem, who have either been undermined in childhood or worse, abused, are more likely to engage in temporary sexual relationships. The reason may be a profound desire of being wanted or appreciated, hence they seek validation & acceptance from multiple individuals. Additional explanations may be given by people’s genetic predisposition to depression or their personality type: some dislike the feeling of loneliness or they may have commitment “phobia”.

On the other side, this theory is counter-attacked by other psychologists, suggesting that depressed individuals present a decreased sex drive, low sexual interest & sense of discomfort caused by the thought of being intimate with other people. Such evidence could indicate that depression is not the reason why people engage in casual sex.

What Could The Reasons Be?

Casual sex can mean one thing to one person and another thing to others. It depends very much on someone’s age, mood, motives and beliefs.

Some may simply do it for the sake of experimentation, while others may not be ready for a long-term relationship due to personal or professional reasons.

Yet There Are Some Effects 

Everything in life has a cause and an effect, so casual sex makes no exception.

Besides the high risk of being contaminated with STDs or having an unplanned pregnancy, the emotional impact can have similar long-lasting effects.

  1. Casual Sex is not Casual

Like it or not, we must admit that a certain level of attachment is created between two partners even if their sexual encounters do not last longer than a month. There is an expectation that when needed, you can count on the other person to answer your call or meet you when you ask. Consciously or unconsciously, you get used to their persona, their aura and even if you think that there are no emotional strings attached, you have a form of dependency: you like their attitude, you enjoy the passion, etc.

2. Inconsistency=Confusion & Disappointment

Some may argue that engaging in short-term “relationships” only for experimental purposes, will not emotionally hurt anyone if they are aware of the fact that they are not going to build a relationship.

Just like I mentioned above, there are some small expectations from your partner, which will not be fulfilled. You cannot always count on the plans you make as there is no responsibility nor emotional attachment. Their presence in your life will not be constant. Whether you have one or more experiences with various partners, one thing is sure: they all come and go. Initially, it may not affect you, as your attention is somewhere else (career, holiday plans, university, etc.), but it will come a time when this emotional instability will leave you confused & disappointed. We are human beings that also feed on emotions (emotional security, appreciation, care, etc.) and unstable relationships cannot provide them.

3. Sense of Emptiness

If you seek validation, jumping into casual relationships is the worst thing you can do to yourself. As much as there is a physical attraction involved in this type of encounters, you will not find somebody who actually looks at your intellectual or emotional qualities.

As soon as the passionate moments are over, each one of you goes back to the daily activities, to your personal lives.

4. All Those Awesome, WOW! Moments, Transform Into Boredom

For a while, the chemical attraction will play its role, but once the passion is consumed, the sexual moments will become boring, meaningless and less joyful.

Sex is a very intimate moment, seen by many as the ultimate expression of love between two partners. It is a moment not only of physical connection but also of mental and emotional one, where the last ones have a significant impact on the sex quality.

In a casual relationship, everything becomes “mechanical” in time, losing its spark.


5. You Are Not Irreplaceable

The first rule of casual relationships is to not fall in love. As soon as the signs appear, end it there. You may try to tell yourself that what keeps you seeing this person is only the great chemistry you have in the bedsheets, but deep down you actually grow feelings and as soon as the other person will sense it, you will be replaced.

Of course, the reasons may vary in these cases, as a person may decide to end a casual relationship because they have fallen in love with somebody else, professional challenges and so on. The overall idea is that you are replaceable at any time.

6. Misguided Assumption About People

You may have a wide experience with people and you think you know them only because you have been intimate with them. The thing is that casual sex creates the illusion of a relationship, giving you the impression that you understand what motivates people to have certain behaviours.

Do not let these experiences (good or bad) make you think that all people want the same thing from a relationship.

We all choose to live life differently and while this article does not aim to criticise nor encourage such behaviour, it is worth to understand what a casual relationship involves.

In some cases, this type of relationships may intensify the symptoms of depression or even causing it (depending on everyone’s circumstances), while in other cases may be a great experience.

Leaving aside the emotional aspect of the topic, remember that the physical risks exist as you may never who you meet. Hence safety and information are always important!


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