What Parents Should Know About the University of Minnesota Casual Sex Study

Some say the world has flipped on its side, leaving parents in a quandary. Long gone are the sugar-coated days of Ozzie and Harriet and their well-separated twin beds. No such sweetening of reality for today’s young people. No, sir. Now such comedies as Two and a Half Men portray casual sex as an entertaining end-goal, and ads extol the benefits of Viagra and KY Intense.

Meanwhile, “adults” can simply head to Craigslist, click on “Casual Encounters,” make a few promises, like being at least eighteen, and then connect with some stranger. No more complicated than seeking a used crib or laptop. The message nowadays is clear: nothing is taboo anymore.

It’s been an uphill battle for parents and schools for some time now, and the forecast doesn’t look promising. Despite pleas to abstain, make commitments, be responsible, and appreciate the risks-unwanted pregnancies, STDs, and HIV/AIDS–our kids continue to engage in oral and casual sex at ever younger ages. Our all-encompassing media makes no-strings-attached-sex seem so appealing. Face it: nowadays, enjoying “friends with benefits” is no longer out of the ordinary.

Previous studies, such as the one out of England’s Dunham University last year, confirmed what many of us have been thinking, and that’s that there is an emotional downside to the one-night stand. Indeed, while 80% of the surveyed men in this instance reported positive feelings afterward, only 54% of the women said so, reporting that they regretted having been “used.”

Yet now comes word out of the University of Minnesota’s Project EAT (Eating Among Teens) suggesting that young adults engaging in casual sex don’t appear to be at any more increased risk of negative effects than those in more committed relationships. Of the 1,311 sexually active 18- to 24-year-old participants-574 males and 737 females:

o 55% reported that their last sexual partner was with an exclusive partner;

o 25% said their most recent partner was a fiancé, spouse, or life partner;

o 12% said their last sexual partner was a close but not exclusive partner;

o 8% had been with a casual acquaintance.

Said lead researcher, Maria E. Eisenberg, Sc.D., M.P.H, “We were so surprised. The conventional wisdom is that casual sex, ‘friends with benefits,’ and hooking up is hurtful. That’s what we’ve been teaching kids for decades.”

For some, this study’s conclusions all but sanction such behaviors. As one Internet post reads: “But the mentality that young people’s sexuality needs to be controlled, especially young women’s sexuality, is what’s responsible for this so-called ‘conventional wisdom.’ If you haven’t been brainwashed by abstinence-only education, you can see with clear eyes that hooking up is about enjoying pleasure… Casual sex only becomes harmful when it’s stigmatized.”

Still, despite the Minnesota study’s findings and the progressive attitudes held by many, it should be noted what the researchers also found: more than twice as many males as females reported that their last sexual coupling was casual. It seems reasonable, then, to conclude that such findings underscore more than ever the need for parents to remain vigilant, advise their children to protect themselves, and be wary. Schools, too.

As Dr. Eisenberg cautions about the study, “… 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 and other interventions with young adults.” The risks are very real– physically, as most agree, but emotionally, too, and parents must take note. This is, after all, just one study among countless others that contradict its conclusions.