Fact or fiction? Casual sex is good for your well-being

Jun 26, 2014 at 11:00 a.m. ET
Image: Russell Underwood/UpperCut Images/Getty Images

Previous research indicates that a casual romp is bad for your mental health, but a new survey says it's the perfect pick-me-up.

Casual sex

Photo credit: Russell underwood/UpperCut Images/Getty Images

Very few medical studies tout casual sex as a health benefit; that’s why this one piqued our interest.

According to a new study in Social Psychological and Personality Science, researchers from New York University and Cornell University surveyed 371 college students. Of these students, 42 percent said they had sex outside of a relationship. (Par for the course when you’re in college, right?)

The researchers say that those who slept around said they felt better after casual sex. After a hookup, they experienced lower stress and higher happiness, "suggesting that high sociosexuality may both buffer against any potentially harmful consequences of casual sex and allow access to its potential benefits."

Your happiness about doing the deed casually all depends on your motivations for having casual sex, though, wouldn’t you think?

The "right" and "wrong" reasons for casual sex

A few months ago, Zhana Vrangalova, Ph.D., a sex researcher at Cornell, wrote that casual sex leads to depression.

Here's the big-picture takeaway:

The researchers divided motivations by "right" reasons, as autonomous, or "wrong" ones, as non-autonomous. The "right" reasons included having sex for fun or to learn more about sexuality, while "wrong" reasons included having sex out of revenge, for better self-esteem or by being coerced.

According to the research, if you approach casual sex for the "right" reasons — such as getting in some good-old sex education — it could be good for your well-being. If done for the wrong reasons, that's when casual sex can have negative effects. But casual sex doesn't always have to be a negative thing, the researchers found.

"I found that whether or not students hooked up during the course of the year was not related to their well-being at the end of the year," said Vrangalova. "Whether they did it for non-autonomous motives was."

So, make sure your motives to have casual sex are "right," and you're likely in the clear.

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