Does Casual Sex Lead to Psychological Harm?

Few peer-reviewed studies have explored the possible relationship between casual sex—or sex outside of a committed romantic relationship—and harmful psychological outcomes. In the December 2009 issue of Perspectives, Marla E. Eisenberg and colleagues were among the first to examine the phenomenon of “friends with benefits” (or “hookups”) and whether such relationships were linked to psychological consequences. In their analysis of a diverse sample of sexually active young adults, most of whom were heterosexual, one-fifth said their most recent sex partner was a casual acquaintance or a nonexclusive partner; such partnerships were twice as common among men as among women. Notably, having a casual partner was not related to the four psychological measures assessed—body satisfaction, self-esteem, depressive symptoms and suicidal ideation. The authors call for future research that assesses diverse measures of psychological well-being, as well as characteristics of sexual relationships—such as partnership duration, frequency of sexual activity and presence of intimate partner violence—that may be related to negative psychological outcomes.

Cover illustrations of Margaret Sanger © Matthew and Eve Levine