The purpose of this research is to study whether there exists a co-relation between depression and the types of sexual relationships. The main objective is to find whether people in committed sex relationships face more anxiety and depression than people in uncommitted casual sex relationships. In the contemporary era, the ratio of marriage is decreasing while that of casual sexual relationships is increasing (Kerner, 2013). Hence, it is pertinent to research and understand the psychological outcome of such relationships.
The type of romantic relationship a person has and his/her mental health go hand in hand; meaning that one’s mental health affects a relationship and similarly one’s romantic relationship affects his/her mental health. Sound mental health is important for having peace and tranquillity in everyday life. Thus, it is important to understand if having a committed romantic partner can help reduce the stress, anxiety and depression levels.
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Existing literature holds significant insights about the association between romantic relationships and psychological health. According to Bersamin, Zamboanga, Schwartz, Donnellan, Hudson, Weisskirch and Caraway (2014), the psychological symptoms which appear in uncommitted relationships are largely gender dependent. Being in a casual sexual relationship increases psychological distress in females, more than males. Females were found to think more negatively about casual sexual relationships than men, hence, females were found to have more guilt, regret and less enjoyment of casual sexual intercourse as compared to men (Bersamin et al., 2014). Females also had more depressive symptoms than men. This change in gender reaction can be due to the social schema that men are more sexually permissive, and are generally allowed to have more sexual relationships. Women, on the other hand, may feel guilty as being involved in casual sexual relationship violates the social standard of women (Bersamin et al., 2014). Similarly, the social cognitive theory explains this phenomenon on the basis of attitude. Media usually portrays an ideal woman as pretty and independent, yet not indulging in sexual activities. This creates a negative attitude towards casual sexual relationships, hence an overall negative impression on the association of casual sexual relationships and mental health (Bersamin et al., 2014).
In a bid to understand the role of committed relationships in facilitating happiness, Braithwaite, Delevi and Fiincham (2010) and Braithwaite and Lunstad (2017), compared married couples with uncommitted partners and single men/women. The married couples were proved to have better health, low chances of diseases and low morbidity and mortality. In comparison to single males and females and married males and females, unmarried were found to be more depressive, anxious, face more problems, have adjustment issues and suffer from mood disorders. Justifying the findings through selection hypothesis, Braithwaite, Delevi and Fiincham (2010) maintained that this might be because people who are happier, get married earlier. On the other hand, the social support hypothesis suggested that this is because marriage provide people with satisfaction and make it easy for them to cope with through daily stressors (Braithwaite, Delevi and Fiincham, 2010). Braithwaite and Lunstad, (2017) used the behavioural regulation hypothesis to justify the findings and suggested that married people are more psychologically and biologically healthy as any couple tends to monitor each other’s behaviour and repress the unwanted behaviour. Thus, social support hypothesis and behavioural regulation hypothesis imply that committed sexual relationships lead to less depression as compared to uncommitted or casual sexual relationships, given that committed couples extend their maximum efforts in making each other psychologically happy.
Another research studying psychological symptoms of hookups in college students proved that women faced more depression as compared to men generally (Fielder, Walsh, Carey, Carey, 2014). Women and men differ in hookup expectations and how far the relation should go; whereby women want a longer relationship than men (Fielder, Walsh, Carey, Carey, 2014). When this status of relationship is not achieved, women face emotional distress which leads to symptoms like depression, anxiety and stress. The use of alcohol also increases chances of depression in women (Fielder et al., 2014).
In another study, emotional distress was observed as the cause of non-dating behaviour in adolescents (Shulman, Walsh, Weisman, Schelyer, 2009). Emotional satisfaction happens because of adaptation. In long term romantic relationships, depressive symptoms occur less because both male and female are adapted to the relationship. On the other hand, casual sexual relationships do not offer enough time for adaptation. Shulman et al., (2009) found that association between casual sexual relationship and depression was more pronounced in women than men. According to the developmental model, a stable long termed sexual relationship serves for close intimacy and physical attractiveness, which do not occur in a casual sexual relationship, thereby causing emotional distress (Shulman, Walsh, Weisman, Schelyer, 2009). Women focus more on long term relationship while men, on the other hand, focus more on sexual engagement. Another factor that can potentially be the cause for more depressive symptoms is the repression of one’s thoughts in front of their sexual partner (Shulman et al., 2009). The authors maintained that women have a higher tendency of keeping their desires to themselves, in front of their sexual partner. It implies that women often feel unrewarded in an uncommitted sexual relationship, which leads to anxiety and depression.
Vrangalova (2015) contended that attachment is the key to mental well-being. Casual sexual relationships do not have the element of attachment, resulting in insecurities, due to which emotional distress and low self-worth are experienced in such relationships. In Vrangalova (2015)’s study, women were found to be more affected by short term sexual relationships because these relationships often led to pregnancies which caused emotional distress in women as they were left alone, unable to take up financially responsibility of children (Vrangalova, 2015). It was also found that low self-esteem and high depression lead to more hooking up behaviour. Vrangalova (2015) also associated hook ups with anxiety because hook ups are followed with fear and worries regarding health, future relationships and reputation.
Diving further into the association of depression and romantic relationships, Whitton and Kuryluk (2012) found that depressive symptoms in relationships arise due to the feeling of being unsatisfied. According to the authors, association between martial satisfaction and depression is less in younger couples. As the couples increase in age, more responsibilities burden them and fear takes over them, for example fear of loss of child and unemployment. On the other hand, in adult casual relationships people do not have to face the difficulties which married people encounter; hence depressive symptoms are less in them as compared to that of married couples (Whitton and Kuryluk, 2012). The emotional stability in young adults depend on the quality of sexual relationship, rather than the time for which relationship lasts (Whitton and Kuryluk, 2012). It implies that depressive symptoms in women may potentially increase over time, if the relationship fails to be committed over time (Fielder et al., 2014).
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Similarly, Whitton, Weitbrecht, Kuryluk and Burner (2013) tested the relationship between mental health and committed relationships for college students, using self-report methods. The findings suggested that students, who are in committed romantic relationships, report better psychological well-being and less depressive symptoms. A major factor that played a role in this study was the use of alcohol. According to Whitton et al., (2012), alcohol consumption increases depressive symptoms.
It can be concluded that short termed casual sexual relationships cause more depressive symptoms than committed relationships. Some of the main factors which lead to depression in casual sexual relationships are dissatisfaction, lack of attachment and fear about future. Gender differences also play a big role, as women show more depressive symptoms in casual sexual relationships, due toof the social unacceptability to have more sexual contacts. Moreover, different social stereotypes and stigmas, which refer to women as degraded if they have more than one sexual partner, also play a pronounced part in the emotional distress caused due to casual sexual relationships. In short, casual sexual relationships lead to depression and anxiety, whereby women involved in such kind of uncommitted relationships suffer more from psychological disorders, as compared to men.
Although existing literature contains useful insights about the diminishing effects of uncommitted relationships in causing depression and anxiety, yet most authors have focused on only women as the subjects of study. Nonetheless, there is little evidence about the effects of casual sexual relationships on men and how their psyche is affected by such relationships. Therefore, it is pertinent to investigate how depression is caused in men involved in casual sexual relationships versus steady relationships. Moreover, the factors which lead to depression in casual and steady relationships in men and women also need to be thoroughly researched.
Bersamin, M. M., Zamboanga, B. L., Schwartz, S. J., Donnellan, M. B., Hudson, M., Weisskirch, R. S., Caraway, S. J. (2014). Risky business: Is there an association between casual sex and mental health among emerging adults?Journal of Sex Research, 51(1), p. 43-51.
Braithwaite, S. R., Delevi, R., & Fincham, F. D. (2010). Romantic relationships and the physical and mental health of college students. Personal Relationships, 17(1), p. 1-12
Braithwaite, S., & Holt-Lunstad, J. (2017). Romantic relationships and mental health. Current Opinion in Psychology, 13, p. 120-125.
Fielder, R. L., Walsh, J. L., Carey, K. B., & Carey, M. P. (2014). Sexual hookups and adverse health outcomes: A longitudinal study of first-year college women.Journal of Sex Research, 51(2), p. 131-144.
Kerner, I., 2013. Young adults and a hookup culture [Online]. CNN. Retrieved from https://www.cnn.com/2013/05/16/health/kerner-hookup-culture/index.html (Accessed 13th April, 2018).
Shulman, S., Walsh, S. D., Weisman, O., & Schelyer, M. (2009). Romantic contexts, sexual behavior, and depressive symptoms among adolescent males and females. Sex Roles, 61(11-12), p. 850-863.
Vrangalova, Z. (2015). Hooking up and psychological well-being in college students: Short-term prospective links across different hookup definitions. Journal of Sex Research, 52(5), p. 485-498.
Whitton, S. W., & Kuryluk, A. D. (2012). Relationship satisfaction and depressive symptoms in emerging adults: Cross-sectional associations and moderating effects of relationship characteristics. Journal of Family Psychology, 26(2), p. 226-235.
Whitton, S. W., Weitbrecht, E. M., Kuryluk, A. D., & Bruner, M. R. (2013). Committed dating relationships and mental health among college students.Journal of American College Health, 61(3), p. 176-183.