Boffins in Minnesota have a message for young adults: sleeping around is OK. Your prospects in terms of psychological health should you indulge in casual flings are every bit as good as they would be if you bizarrely chose to waste your wild-oats years in one or more doleful and ultimately doomed monogamous relationships.
According to Marla E Eisenberg and her colleagues at Minnesota uni:
Speculation in public discourse suggests that sexual encounters outside a committed romantic relationship may be emotionally damaging for young people, and federal abstinence education policy has required teaching that sexual activity outside of a marital relationship is likely to have harmful psychological consequences.
Au contraire, say the researchers - a few notches on the bedpost achieved in one's salad days will do no harm at all. Having surveyed 1,311 Minnesotan youngsters whose average age was 20.5 during 2003-04, they found no evidence that the odd fling leads to psychological problems whatsoever.
"Young adults engaging in casual sexual encounters do not appear to be at increased risk for harmful psychological outcomes compared to those in more committed relationships," says Eisenberg.
The study did appear to refer to so-called "friends with benefits" cheery consequence-free shagging among likeminded sorts who already know each other socially, as opposed to more risky practices such as simply picking up sailors on the docks.
Also, Eisenberg did offer a note of caution.
"This should not minimize the legitimate threats to physical well-being associated with casual sexual relationships, and the need for such messages in sexuality education programs," she adds.
Or, freely paraphrased, you won't (or anyway, needn't) feel cheap or worthless and end up dead inside if you occasionally have a bit of meaningless fun, but there is the risk of a nasty/fatal dose of Cupid's measles - so chastity is optional but condoms are not.
Eisenberg and her colleagues' new paper, Casual Sex and Psychological Health Among Young Adults: Is Having "Friends with Benefits" Emotionally Damaging? appears in this month's issue of Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health. ®