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Asking whether casual sex is bad for you is like asking if a particular dessert is bad for you. The answer depends entirely on what you choose to eat. On the other hand, if you ask about casual sex in general, the answer is simple: yes, casual sex is bad for you. It’s bad for you because you’re taking this sexual freedom-and-responsibility thing too far. Sure, casual sex is good for certain situations, but this isn’t one of them. For most people, casual sex is bad news. Is casual sex good for your health? These days, society promotes casual sex — right along with the oh-so-healthful lifestyle of vegetarianism and running. If you’re worried that all this casual sex is going to a) give you a life full of debilitating heartburn and b) make you fat, you’re right. With the ubiquity of casual sex, the focus on weight and health has come to mean that we should only indulge in sex if we’re in excellent shape. This just isn’t true. These days, society promotes casual sex — right along with the oh-so-healthful lifestyle of vegetarianism and running. If you’re worried that all this casual sex is going to a) give you a life full of debilitating heartburn and b) make you fat, you’re right. With the ubiquity of casual sex, the focus on weight and health has come to mean that we should only indulge in sex if we’re in excellent shape. This just isn’t true. This isn’t a new argument, of course. Back in the ’50s, people questioned whether sex before marriage was bad for you and even led to bigger hearts, bigger brains and more spontaneous accidents. Then in the ’80s, the topic heated up as scientists discovered that some women — whom they labeled as “hypergamous” — weren’t having as many affairs as they wanted. Writing in Modern Matrimony in 1986, the researchers Sherwin B. Nuland and Leonard Leff pointed out that “the number of the world’s wives per sex life is lower than that of all other mammals.” Women and casual sex It’s probably not a shock that women prefer casual sex — and men want more of it. Only 32 percent of men feel that they need to commit to a long-term relationship before
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According to a study in the Journal of Adolescent Health, casual sex increased the risk of self-reported chronic disease, pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases; however, there was no relationship between casual sex and a number of negative mental health indicators, such as anxiety and depression, or self-esteem. The same study suggests that casual sex wasn’t as harmful to mental health as illicit drug use, except with regard to depression. “It is intriguing that self-reported poor mental health does not appear to be a strong correlate of having casual sex, perhaps because relationships are often short-lived or casual and the adverse effect of some experiences in these cases do not have time to materialize in reports of poor mental health,” says the study’s lead author, Tracy Wetzel, an assistant professor of human development and family sciences at the University of Wisconsin–Madison. That being said, it’s still a good idea to be aware of what casual sex is doing to your mind. Putting aside the responsibility of what you do after sex, casual sex itself — the act itself — is not inherently bad. But it can be bad for your mental health if you’re not ready for it, if you’re being pressured to do it, and if your health is not a priority. The 2018 study is the first study to examine these many issues simultaneously. Wetzel and her colleagues tracked 2,190 sexually active adults, ages 18 to 25, through three surveys, all of which looked at relationship quality, mental and physical health, and casual sex behavior. Each survey was conducted about 2 years apart, starting in the fall of 2015 and concluding in the spring of 2017. They found that people who had casual sex were more likely to think less highly of their partner at the end of the study. “We don’t think casual sex was generally worse for the participants, but in this kind of short-term study that’s where we saw the degradation of relationship quality,” Wetzel says. “I guess one could say what we’re saying is: The more casual sex you have, the more likely you are to degrade your relationship over time.” Exposure to casual sex also wasn’t associated with having more sexual partners — the researchers found that rather, casual sex provided a more exciting and satisfying hookup. But that’s not to say that you should only have casual sex if you don’t want to have sex with your partner, says Cynthia Graham, the lead author of a 2016 study on casual sex and mental health. “Sex is a great gift,

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