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Hooking up may bring you down

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Affectionate Couple

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Updated: September 9, 2013 7:31AM

A new study from California State University found a possible link between casual sex and depression. Researchers surveyed almost 4,000 college students and determined those who had casual sex in the past month were more likely to report lower levels of happiness, satisfaction and self-esteem. (In this study, casual sex was defined as having sex with someone the student knew a week or less).

These findings make sense. When we have sex, our brains release oxytocin, which can inspire feelings of attachment. During casual sex, those states of intimacy often go unrequited (which can lead to feelings of emptiness and rejection). Men have higher levels of testosterone in their brains that help combat this reaction, but women might be more at risk of emotional consequences. This is further true from a social standpoint, as having multiple partners can sometimes lead to feelings of shame and isolation for women, who often are looked down on for their sexual choices and treated like “damaged goods.”

Drinking might also play a role. We know that heavy alcohol use is linked to depression, and binge drinking is in turn associated with risky sex and multiple partners.

It also could be that depression is the catalyst behind these self-soothing behaviors. The students in the study might already have been depressed or in distress, and consequently turned to alcohol and sex for comfort or release. Sadly, it’s a decision that backfires, as these behaviors often only worsen a person’s mental state, especially if they are already vulnerable.

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