by Andrea M. Darcy
Into casual sex, but then suffer from low moods? And wonder if your promiscuity and depression might be at all connected?
Does casual sex affect your mood?
It’s challenging for psychologists to study casual sex. They obviously have to rely on secondary reporting over actual observed experiments. And many of us either downplay our sexual experiences, or pretend more went on than it did.
When we report our feelings around sex, we are also often speaking through a variety of filters, such as our culture, family values, and religion. So if we do feel depressed after sex, it might not necessarily be the sex that is the problem, but, say, guilt around our religious beliefs.
All this aside, it does seem that there is a direct link between promiscuity and depression.
A 2014 study that polled over three thousand single heterosexual college students found that those with low wellbeing scores and higher psychological distress were more likely to report a higher amount of casual sex. And the low mood link didn’t change with gender.
Although a smaller, earlier study found that women engaging in casual sex were more likely to experience depression symptoms than men, if the casual sex was an ongoing habit over a one off.
Why would casual sex make me feel bad?
Most of us feel quite good to know someone finds us desirable. And sex with someone we like who likes us back can leave us floating on an oxytocin high.
There are obvious reasons that high can then become a low. STIs, unwanted pregnancies, or casual sex that turns into sexual assault are all things that can be hard to navigate.
And we don’t feel good if a sex partner then somehow leaves us feeling rejected, if we feel used, or if that other person says derogatory things about us to others that invade our privacy.
But what if none of this is happening but we still aren’t feeling great after casual sex? When all our friends seem to love it and we want to, too?
Promiscuity and depression
It might be time to question your sexual behaviours and get very honest with yourself.
1. What is your real reason for having casual sex?
Is it because you are exploring your sexuality and it’s a healthy, exciting way for you to enjoy yourself and your body? Have you recently exited a long, sexually unfulfilling relationship and are finally getting a chance to have sex you like?
Or is it because your friends are into it and it’s ‘what everyone else does’?
When we do things to fit in, we stop listening to ourselves and push ourselves past our own comfort zones. The end result can be depression and anxiety.
Not everyone is highly sexual, or extroverted. And some of us have values of stability over adventure, safety over excitement. Some of us are simply happier in monogamous relationships, or being celibate. So promiscuity and depression come hand in hand.
2. Is your sex life constructive, or destructive?
Constructive casual sex would be about getting to know yourself and your body in a safe way. You know the other person enough to know they are safe and will respect and listen to you. And you practice safe sex, using protection.
Destructive casual sex is high risk. You don’t know the other person at all, you are engaging in substance abuse before your sexual experiences, you are not using protection.
Self-destructive behaviours always affect our mood because they send a message from us to ourselves that we don’t deserve to be cared for.
A study looking at the effects of vaginal intercourse on moods amongst female college students linked unprotected sex to a higher risk of the sexual encounter leading to low moods.
3. Do you have a history of addictive behaviours?
Do you tend to drink too much, overdo the party drugs? Have you had a past history with substance abuse, or addictive behaviours like overeating and shopping addiction?
If you are using sex addictively, then you are using it to distract from emotional pain.
Start to notice if you seek out a sexual partner not when you feel good, but when you feel edgy, moody, or when something goes wrong. If you are secretive about your casual sex experiences, if you sabotage other things with sex.
Addictive behaviour leads to depression when after the high, the pain is still there, and we then get to layer our self hatred on ourselves for doing something destructive. And that shame then feeds the cycle.
4. Is it actually a choice you are making?
When someone asks you to have sex, or you are engaging in foreplay and they start to push for more, do you actually have the personal power to then say, no? To clearly and calmly say, “I don’t want to”?
Or do you feel ‘obliged’ to say yes, or to let whatever happens happen? And then later tell yourself it’s what you wanted? But feel oddly moody and tired?
Feeling obligated to have sex with others means at some point you were taught you don’t have the right to personal boundaries. It might just be that you grew up around adults who didn’t let you voice your needs and wants. But it’s often connected to child sexual abuse.
5. Did you experience child sexual abuse?
Child sexual abuse decimates our personal boundaries and also our self identity. We can take on board messages that we don’t have the right to say no to anything, that we are worthless.
We can even deep down harbour a belief that we deserve negative sexual experiences. If the person who sexually abused us was a parent or someone we cared about, we can also mix up abusive sex with love.
If we don’t get help to heal after child sexual abuse, we can end up with negative sexual behaviours. This can look like:
- not using protection
- having sex with people we don’t like or who even disgust us
- not setting any sexual limits
- allowing people to physically hurt us during sex
- using sex to win approval from others.
And we can deep down have no idea what we do or don’t like sexually, instead lying to ourselves that we ‘love sex’ or ‘have a really high sex drive‘. This can be easier than to facing the huge amount of pain driving our sexual choices.
Your sex life is your decision
If you really love casual sex, and you are sure it is working for you, then it’s your body and your life. But if you deep down aren’t really sure what you want sexually, feel pressured to have casual sex to fit in, or might be having casual sex for bigger reasons that relate to a difficult or abusive childhood? And you are suffering from symptoms of depression? It might be time to slow down and seek support.
Time to stop hurting yourself and start healing? We connect you with expert, friendly, and highly rated therapists in central London. Or use our booking platform to source UK-wide registered therapists now.
Andrea M. Darcy is a mental health and wellbeing expert, who has done some training in person-centred counselling and coaching. She often writes about trauma, relationships, and ADHD, and advises people on how to plan their therapy journey. Find her on Instagram @am_darcy