Casual Sex = Unhappiness

Casual Sex = Unhappiness

By J.J. D.

Casual and promiscuous sex rarely leads to the personal happiness and fulfillment its proponents have long promised.

The sexual revolution that swept across America in the 1960s promised that so called “free love” was an unalloyed good thing and a necessary part of personal fulfillment.  The only danger in promiscuity lay in unwanted pregnancies and the spread of sexually transmitted diseases.  Though this revolution may have changed the way Americans viewed premarital sex, and certainly contributed to the uninhibited view of sexual relationships portrayed on television, in movies and in other media, the argument that more casual sex somehow makes us happier and more personally fulfilled is a myth that needs debunking.

In his provocative New York Times Op-Ed, commentator Ross Douthat attempts to explain why monogamy matters.  Douthat’s analysis centers on research from sociologists Mark Regnerus and Jeremy Uecker’s book Premarital Sex in America.  The research shows a significant correlation between sexual restraint and emotional well being in contemporary young adults and particularly women.  The happiest among those they surveyed were those in monogamous relationships..  Virgins followed closely behind on the happiness scale, while those with multiple sexual partners were more likely to experience low self-esteem, depression and instability in their marriages and sexual relationships.

These findings are hardly aberrational; researchers at the University of Pennsylvania have found that since the 1970s, even as women have closed the gender gap in pay and educational achievement, female happiness has declined both absolutely and relative to men. Research from the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University similarly shows a moderate drop in marital happiness since the 1970s. And sociologists are only now beginning to study the effects of widely available pornography on relationships and women’s psyche.

Lest we think that the revolution is all about adult happiness, research has also shown that children have been dramatically affected by America’s more carefree attitudes toward sex.  As many as 70% of African American 45% of Hispanic American and 35% of white American children are born into single-parent families.  These kids are more likely to live in poverty, more likely to use drugs, and more likely to become sexually active themselves at a younger age.

This research confirms what opponents of casual sexual activity understood long ago, that casual sex is not the way to happiness and personal fulfillment.  Rather, as research from Cornell University shows, those in committed relationships are generally happier then others.  The Cornell study shows that increasing levels of commitment in relationships increase levels of happiness and well-being, with married people being the happiest and most fulfilled group. The study’s author, Claire Kamp Dush reports, “Even when controlling for relationship happiness, being married is associated with higher self-esteem greater life satisfaction, greater happiness and less distress.”

In short, the mantra that casual and carefree sex is a recipe for happiness ignores the tremendous psychological effects of losing something as valuable as virtue.  As Douthot concluded, while the sexual revolution may have led to unprecedented fulfillment for some; for most, and particularly women, it has decreased levels of joy.  It is now clear that personal fulfillment is more likely to come from committed relationships where couples grow together, overcome obstacles, learn to accept each other’s weaknesses, and remain together, than it is from more “notches on the bedpost.” If our priority is to create the most happiness for the most people, our national policies should reflect this and move towards an acknowledgement that there is more danger in promoting casual sex than simply the increased occurrence of unwanted pregnancies or sexually transmitted diseases.

1 Comment
  • irwin
    Posted at 19:16h, 25 March

    I’m glad to see a real book about a topic I feel strongly about. I wrote my own book for teenagers trying to help them understand this important message. Mine is not as scholarly but nevertheless, it is my attempt to change attitudes about sex in this country. An abstinence message is anti-sex, it is pro-marriage.

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