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May 11, 2010



Well this is a bit of good news for a change.

A Man

"The critics may be skeptical but the medical community is reporting the rampant number of STDs, increase in suicides and depression among sexually active teens and adults. Of course, the media rarely covers the facts." (emphasis mine)

This is disingenuous at best. Especially with the follow up sentence chastising the media for their lack of factual reporting. I take umbrage with the seemingly flippant implication that being sexually active predisposes one to depression and suicide. If one is chaste all one's pesky psychological issues would simply vanish? It's simply not the case. Correlation does not equal causation.

Obviously sexual activity is the number one risk factor for contracting an STD and reducing STDs is never a bad thing. But sex is great for those who are prepared for it, and the best way to prepare people for it is education, not using suicide and depression as a scare tactic. Even if your goal of reducing the impact of "hookup culture" on young people is noble, I don't think you need to resort to those kinds of tactics.

Additionally, as this blog is mainly targeted towards women, but let's not forget that men are three times more likely to commit suicide than women. Among men under the age of 35, suicide is the second most common cause of death. Simplifying it to a matter of being sexually active or not does a disservice to everyone, man and woman, who struggles everyday with psychological issues.


I disagree. Facts are not "tactics." Depression does increase with the number of sexual partners and that's a fact. I don't see why giving that info. is a scare tactic. It seems like the only "scaring" going on is to prevent people from having this discussion.

What does "sex is great for those who are prepared for it" mean? To me that's complete bunk. Chaya's point is that condoms do not offer complete protection against STDs. To tell young people they can 'protect" or "prepare" properly for something when that's a lie is the true disservice.

I think we should be preparing young people for love instead. That's why I'm glad to see these new college groups starting up.

--A Woman


Man, you're not paying close enough attention to the grammar. The facts Ms. Harrison complains the media doesn't report relate to condoms and STIs, not suicide and depression. What she says about suicide and depression just states the correlation in a separate sentence. Millions of people think this correlation indicates causation, though it might be circular, and live their lives accordingly. The likely circularity is depressed people engage in more and riskier sex, and indiscriminate and risky sex leads to depression.

As for scare tactics, their advisability depends on whether one considers sexual activity mostly a moral, rather than medical, matter, how much one trusts young people to make rational decisions, and one's risk tolerance. If sexual activity is a mostly moral matter, an argument can be made for playing up its risks, that is, using scare tactics, to deter people with health reasons who are not deterred by moral reasons. If one does not trust young people to make rational decisions, one's teaching must play up factors one suspects young people won't pay attention to. Similarly, a 20% chance of pregnancy or contracting a STI may be acceptable to one person and unacceptable to another, and this will affect one's tone in stating the risks of sexual activity.

Personally, having gotten a mostly scare-tactics education about sexual activity, only to find the information I was given was exaggerated and out-of-date (even when it was given), I think the scare-tactic method is too risky. Once a student of such education catches such a teacher exaggerating or misleading, and this is likely to happen where the teacher had the purpose of scaring the student, all trust is gone, and the student is left with no information he thinks is reliable. This is almost as bad as no information at all. Better to try to provide the education dispassionately, and to play up the moral and emotional aspects, rather than the medical.


The media rarely covers the facts in any story. Sensational stories about young, pretty upper middle-class teenagers binge-drinking/having sex/doing drugs/any other number of activities causes middle - upper middle class parents to buy papers or watch the tv and worry about what their kids are doing. Even if the media doesn't report it, the information is readily available (on condoms themselves for instance) Most STI's do not show symptoms. If you are not in a monogamous relationship, get checked every 6 months. (you have to ask, and some tests you have to ask specifically for, herpes is only checked if you ask for it) HPV rarely shows symptoms. Most immune systems destroy the virus in two years. There is even a vaccine for the (I think 2) most common types, at least one of which is linked to cervical cancer.
I'm not even sure where I'm going with this. I get where a man is coming from, because with all the factors that go into suicide and depression, it's a bit misleading to say depression and suicide are up in sexually active teenagers and adults. I mean, that includes, I'm just guessing here, 75% of the population. And that's being generous to teenagers not engaging in sex. Sexual activity may not even factor into most cases.

A Man

"Depression does increase with the number of sexual partners and that's a fact."

Care to provide a peer-reviewed citation for that claim? One that asserts a causal relationship?

Again, correlation does not equal causation. Kids who have more sex are more likely to commit suicide. Kids who smoke, kids who have been in fights and kids who use drugs are also all more likely to commit suicide. Does smoking cause suicide? No. Are kids who are depressed more like to engage in risky behavior? Absolutely. I stand by my assertion that conflating sexual activity with depression and suicide as a simple cause and effect does a disservice to everyone, especially men and including myself who struggle daily with depression. If you want to ask a hard question maybe "why is increased sexual activity an outlet for people who are depressed?" would be better.

Shapiro, maybe I didn't make myself clear. The author clearly presents a causal relationship between sexual activity and depression and suicide as fact (I have yet to find any evidence for this) and then decries the media for
their lack of 'factual' reporting.

Risky sexual activity is merely one of many signs of depression. Even the implication that stopping the activity, whether it be sex or smoking or substance abuse, will stop the depression that causes the behavior is dangerous. It's not about sex any more than it is about drugs or smoking or acting out. What you say here matters. It matters to every person who is suffering from depression who might happen to read your post.


Interesting, Man, and I sympathize with your struggles. If there is some circular causation between risky behaviors and depression (and I'm still unclear as to whether you agree with that), does it help or hurt those already suffering from depression to dissuade them from engaging in those risky behaviors in hopes of improving their mental health? or is it a risky approach to "treatment," likely to exacerbate the depression when ceasing the risky behaviors turns out not to be a cure-all? It would take a mental health expert to tell us, and I am not one. I agree with you that lots of "abstinence education" and "sex ed" is provided by amateurs (or "peer counselors") who also don't really know the answers to these critical questions. Given the prevalence of depression among teens, and the fact that most "abstinence educators" and "sex educators" don't know their students personally, maybe this should make those providing such "education" think harder about what correlation information they include in their presentations.

For the mentally healthy, is there a risk to suggesting there might be a causal relationship between risky behaviors and depression? It's hard to see how, as the risky behaviors are unhealthy in themselves, so using all available information to dissuade people from them makes sense. But do we ever give information or ideas to just one person or group of people? Say I'm a mental health professional studying a possible causal connection between sexual activity and depression, and I tell someone I know is mentally healthy but is not a mental health professional, say my teenage child, that I think there is such a relationship. Then my kid tells a friend, who is depressed, of this opinion, but not that it comes from me. Man, you're saying this information hurts the depressed friend, especially if it's presented or interpreted as fact, rather than opinion or theory. But does that make it wrong for me to say there might be a causal connection, just because what I say might get misinterpreted and passed on to someone who is vulnerable to the misinformation? I find the situation of an "abstinence education" or "sex ed" presentation or this blog rather similar, actually. Though generally intended for the mentally healthy, who can usually be expected to make up the majority of the audience, they will inevitably reach the mentally vulnerable.

Yet I really don't like the suggestion that there are "dangerous ideas" or "dangerous facts." I think the more ideas and facts running around society, the better. But I do agree that the default position is that correlation means causation. It's very hard for someone to state a correlation without the hearer adding in causation. I actually think this discussion is an example of that, because I still think Ms. Robinson only stated the correlation, and you brought in the suggestion of causation, though of course to question or deny it. But I hope that doesn't mean we shouldn't talk about correlations when a false understanding of the causation is harmful. The correlations are still facts, and circulating facts should always be a good thing. If they're misinterpreted, that's the hearers' fault, not the speakers'.


And I disagree with Emily. Facts are most certainly tactics, at least how they're presented and what is included are. An example from my work as a lawyer: "The 11-year-old boy was unsupervised by an adult while riding a personal watercraft 30 miles per hour through a narrow channel where 3 people were swimming. The rider had on a helmet and dark sunglasses." Kid sounds pretty reckless, right? But if I then say, "The kid was a world champion personal watercraft racer warming up for a race. The channel had been used all weekend as the warm-up area. Local residents had never seen anyone swim in that channel, and the swimmers had had a considerable amount of alcohol before jumping in. The helmet and sunglasses were required safety equipment, and the sunglasses were meant to help with the glare of the afternoon sun on the water." Now it doesn't sound as much like a stupid kid speeding through a swimming hole.

More on point, what about "Oxytocin, the 'cuddle hormone' produces a strong emotional bond. It's released after sex and childbirth"? That's a close paraphrase from part of my abstinence education. What they didn't tell me was oxytocin is also released during good conversation with platonic friends and during romantic, but non-sexual encounters. The first was designed to make me think that the biology of sex is all about creating life-long bonds. The latter suggests it's not so special. Caveat: I think I've got my hormone and facts right, both times, but, as I'm not a mental health professional, I'm not an endocrinologist, either.

Chaya Harrison

Thanks to everyone for taking the time to write their responses. I think we all feel quite passionately about the subject. One of the books that I highly recommend is called "Unprotected" by Dr. Miriam Grossman. She worked on college campus counseling students, where she encountered on a regular basis the issues we've been discussing. Here is an article that includes some excerpts from her book:


I find it interesting that those that participated in the sexual revolution of the 60's believed that they were expressing a new-found freedom from societal constraints and mores and supposedly it was about Love (at least in theory). What is disturbing to me about the hookup culture, is that the expectations are quite the opposite - no obligations, no commitments.... no feelings?

How can an intimate act, one that is filled with the highest potential of emotional expression and connection to another human being, be traded in so cheaply and willingly?

There is a cost to this shift in behaviour and attitude. Maybe some escape the negative consequences, but there are also those who tried it and those working in the field are saying who are saying it doesn't work. To quote from the young author and journalist, Shannon T. Boodram, in the first chapter of her book, "Laid: Young People's Experiences with Sex in an Easy-Access Culture":

Hooking up is nothing more than settling;it is the microwavable burrito of sex...It's the fast-food version of getting what you really want....You buy into it because it seems like a good,quick meal idea, but shortly after the few first bites you realize that the momentary hunger relief is not going to make up for the crappy feeling you're probably going to have later."

Well-said, don't you think?

Chaya Harrison

To R. Shapiro,

You missed the point in your abstinence education classes. When you say:
"oxytocin is also released during good conversation with platonic friends and during romantic, but non-sexual encounters... the latter suggests it's not so special"
Both sex and good conversation release oxytocin, creating bonds and connections. They are both special and their effects are emotional connections to the people that you encounter. That means that the feelings last, they are not momentary and easy to dispense with.



I thought only orgasm or nursing releases oxytocin, not conversation! Where is that statistic from?


I apologize. I forgot that I was dealing with a college-oriented blog. My "abstinence education" and "sex ed" examples were from junior high and high school, when the adult-child aspect is still very large. Educators need to look harder at the moral issues involved in what they're saying when they're adults speaking to children. The dynamics in education are different once it's just older and younger adults. Then both student and teacher see the teacher as merely providing information, rather than advice, and it's up to the student to decide what to do with the information. My forgetfulness colored lots of what I wrote.

It's interesting that Man is looking for peer-reviewed studies, which would track sizable populations over a period of time, an empirical approach; while Ms. (I guess it's "Miss") Harrison sites principles ("This is what sex is. Therefore we can know it has these consequences, without studying lots of examples."), the dialectic approach. I wonder if the choice of approach is colored by moral judgments, rather than mere intellectual preferences?

I attended one of the most conservative Christian colleges in the US, so I can't relate to experiences of a campus hook-up culture or even campus health services. We, I feel, needed less information about emotions and morals and more accurate medical information, or at least more medicine-focused discussions.


So you got similar abstinence education, Emily? ;-)

A semantic point, but this e-conversation if full of those: I didn't state a "statistic," which involves multiple individual things or events and manipulation and presentation of factors in those things and events, but more of a universal medical fact.

Anyhow, I got the second half of my information about oxytocin from various women's magazines and blogs, sources I refer to as "not dress code" among my college friends. Obviously, I take such sources with a big grain of salt, but as I think my "abstinence education" also colored the facts, I'm eager to at least _read_ the other perspective. One such article is "The Science of Heartbreak" in the April issue of _Women's Health_. It's available online, but I don't want to link to a "not dress code" site. It looks like the archives have multiple articles stating similar facts. [While you're there, check out "How Not to be a Starter Wife" from the same issue, quoting the smart, friendly, and courageous Brad Wilcox, with whose work I'm sure many readers of this blog are familiar.]

I'm also seeing posts on glamour.com that have MDs stating the conversation-oxytocin link.

I don't doubt that the more intense the activity generating the oxytocin release, the bigger or stronger the release, but aren't you happy that those of us outside the hook-up culture can still get doses of feel-good hormones?

In researching this response, I searched for "oxytocin" on the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists' web site. Oxytocin, it turns out, is pitocin, the drug used to induce and hurry-up childbirth. Who knew?


Chaya, I think sex is different things to different people. After losing my virginity, with my highschool boyfriend who was also a virgin, and whom I was very much in love with, the first words I said were "That wasn't a big deal at all." All my life, i've heard from the media, church, friends and family (with the exception of my mom, who never really over-emphasized sex itself, and talked more about pills and encouraging me not to do anything before I was ready) as this earth-shattering, life changing event. And then I did it, and well, not much changed. I didn't feel much different for having done it, didn't feel anymore connected to my boyfriend then before we did it, it just was. But thats me. People are different, for some it is a life-changing event. For me, it was a pleasant afternoon. Well, that and a fun, awkward conversation with my mom that I share with friend because it's both funny and a good example of how close we are. As far as Oxytocin goes....enh. Research is still out on that, but the chemical also shows up in men, and by eating chocolate, so I doubt it has that much of an effect on peoples bonds.


Oops. Posts are crossing in the approval process.

Miss Harrison, I got the point that "sex is special" in my abstinence education. Boy, did I ever. But the way the first set of facts about oxytocin were presented gave the impression that sex created a lifetime emotional bond _impossible_ to break. Moreover, it was a _happy_ emotional bond _only_ available through sex and childbirth. I don't have access to the particular video anymore (That my parents, pastors, and teachers left this important aspect of my education to a video is another matter.), so I can't know if the problem is with my interpretation or the presentation, but I know the message I digested was 1) Adults can't be happy without sex and kids, but 2) If you have sex with more than one person, you'll go crazy. It was stronger, at least in my 14-year-old mind, than just a suggestion that having multiple sexual partners leads to depression. It was more like I'd have a hormone-induced permanent panic attack while still in bed with the second guy.

Other, more effective, parts of my abstinence education had already convinced me that sex should be the expression or consummation of a lifetime bond. I didn't need medicine to reinforce that point. It was the first part that upset me when I got older and wiser, when sex became something not to look forward to when I was older, but something I was denied even though I was older. That's why, as I say in a post above, I was happy to learn that there are other ways to get those "bonds and connections...emotional connections to the people that you encounter."

Chaya Harrison

Here are the stats that some of you would like to see, courtesy of the CDC, Centers For Disease Control:


Headless Unicorn Guy

But the way the first set of facts about oxytocin were presented gave the impression that sex created a lifetime emotional bond _impossible_ to break.

Which is obviously false. If it were true, NOBODY would ever divorce or sleep around.

Humans do NOT pair-bond emotionally for life. When they do (like me 25 years ago), it's a Lethal Mutation, as you have to find another who also pair-bonds for life among all the bonobos on Spanish Fly.


Great discussion.

It does seem to be the case (based on a study of 19,000 teens from the National Institute of Health) that girls are four times more likely to be depressed if they experimented with sex, and that the depressive symptoms generally increased as the risky behavior increased. The Pacific Institute for Research also found that "sex, drugs and alcohol among teens actually precede--and apparently lead to--the onset of adolescent depression, which contradicts the common belief that depressed teens may be 'self-medicating' through substance abuse and sex." Part of what a good study does is make a distinction between association and causation, and account for the former; and yet these researchers have found more than an associative link.

I think we all can agree that emotional health is important, but to say so isn't to suggest that this is the ONLY reason teens are depressed.

I thought the main point of Chaya's article was that there are alternatives now; whatever your views are on multiple partners and depression, can't we all be happy for the fact that those who DON'T want to take this route, now have more options? Clearly, the kids are looking for them

Robin Goodfellow


I'll say that the oxytocin-effect does indeed exist, though it doesn't have to happen from sex, so much as a sense of "intimacy" (often produced through sexual (in the relatioshippy/courtship way) contact like cuddling or even hugging. I'm still rockin' the V-card, but I've been on an oxytocin high before.

And losing your virginity may have been easier for you because compared to others, you had a lot of everything already "in place", that is to say you and your bf both loved each other, and were at the same mutual point in your sexual history/experience. Not everyone gets to experience a loving/"innocent" first time like that. Were I in your shoes, it might have been possible for me to have had the same response.

Headless Unicorn Guy,

Dude, I get it, you're pretty upset. But I kind'a take offense at being called a "Lethal Mutation". I'm pretty sure once I get myself all nice and put together, I'll make a special lady (you know, the kind that also believes in not sleeping around or cheating?) pretty happy.


I looked at that article, and the comments made after it. One of them reffered to student budget concerns (be it time or money) resulting in more hook-ups. I can't help but agree somewhat: sometimes you just want an easy sense of companionship, more than sexual gratification, but sometimes that companionship comes in the form of sexual gratification. I'm not saying it's "right", I'm just saying it's there.

So if you follow traditional dating etiquette of a guy asking a girl out, and paying for most (if not all) of it... you're not going to see a lot of dating happening on campus. And assuming we're not a bunch of otherwise promiscuous louts, wouldn't respectable young women rather see their [future husbands] studying hard for a good future instead of spending time courting (which would require time working more to make the money for dating, taking away from time for school)?

Just asking, because I also imagine a lot of young women using that as their own reason for not dating too much in college or university.


Mr. Goodfellow, depending on the kind of college or university, I'd say traditional dating ought to be less expensive in school than afterwards. Only at some rural residential colleges (such as mine) will dating require obtaining use of a car, and then usually something like "dinner and a movie." Most schools have free concerts, lectures, sports events, poetry readings, etc. that make for good dates. Then throw in coffee afterwards, and that's a pretty inexpensive (but not "cheap") date. Or go for a hike, or, at a large university, a "self-guided tour" of part of the campus you 2 don't frequent. For example, as a law student, I never set foot in my university's medical school, but it had piano concerts and an art collection. Women value creativity and thoughtfulness in men, just as we value diligence. [These ideas, with minimal variation, work after school too, by the way, and work even better in expensive cities where a young woman may not want to explore a strange neighborhood or locale by herself.]

As for whether students should avoid work and dating during school, that's obviously a bigger question, the answer to which will vary from person to person. Some people may not be able to afford their books without a job. Some people will be in more intense academic programs.

As for whether women want to see men working hard in school, rather than "wasting time" at a job or on dates, again, it all depends. Lots of women will be impressed by a man who can successfully balance courses, work, and a romantic relationship. After all, in marriage, the husband usually has at least one full-time job as well as familial, religious, and social obligations. For others, it's not so much that we see that a man who has a job and romantic relationship while still in school is spreading himself too thin, as it is we need to see what life after school is going to be like with that man. Sometimes we can only see this when the man is no longer in school.

Some examples: Some acquaintances of mine, sophomores or juniors in college, just got engaged. He doesn't yet have a chosen career. My mental reaction was, "How can they plan a life together if he doesn't have a plan for his work life?" But she is obviously more comfortable with more uncertainty (and, yes, I realize that no career plan is certain; but some people need a plan, no matter how tenuous or uncertain, around which to organize their thoughts). Yet I have lots of friends, now married for several years, who had similar courtships, engagements, and early marriages, and everything has worked out exceedingly well.

Robin Goodfellow

Thanks, RShapiro.

Your response put things into perspective for me.

I'll be on the look-out for local creative dating venues (though I'm done college now, so those aren't as viable) :)

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