Casual sexual relationships and mental health in adolescence and emerging adulthood

Sara E. Sandberg-Thoma, Claire M. Kamp Dush

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

24 Scopus citations


Casual sexual relationships are relatively common in emerging adulthood. Yet the mental health implications of engaging in these relationships are unclear; past research has found negative associations, positive associations, or no association with mental health. In addition, little research has accounted for mental health status prior to entering casual sexual relationships. Using data from the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health (N = 12,401), we measured mental health prior to engaging in casual sexual relationships and subsequent mental health after engaging in these relationships. We found that suicidal ideation and depressive symptoms in adolescence were associated with entrance into casual sexual relationships in emerging adulthood. Furthermore, casual sexual relationships were associated with an increased likelihood of reporting suicidal ideation in emerging adulthood.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)121-130
Number of pages10
JournalJournal of Sex Research
Issue number2
StatePublished - Feb 1 2014
Externally publishedYes

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
This research used data from Add Health, a program project directed by Kathleen Mullan Harris and designed by J. Richard Udry, Peter S. Bearman, and Kathleen Mullan Harris at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and funded by grant P01-HD31921 from the Eunice Kennedy Shriver National Institute of Child Health and Human Development, with cooperative funding from 23 other federal agencies and foundations. Special acknowledgment is due to Ronald R. Rindfuss and Barbara Entwisle for assistance in the original design. Information on how to obtain the Add Health data files is available on the Add Health website ( No direct support was received from grant P01-HD31921 for this analysis.

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