Why are depression and suicidality higher in adolescents who engage in sex?

TurningPointSynergy Explorers

depression

Sex is good for people, right? Yet do we know enough about sex to educate adolescents for best results to avoid any subsequent post-coital depression?

Consider this 2021 massive, 178,664-participant study published in the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health on Korean adolescents, available in full here: Association between Sexual Behavior and Depression in South Korean Adolescents: A Cross-Sectional Study.

The study reports higher rates of depression and depression + suicidality in teens who have had sexual intercourse, when compared to teens who had not had sexual intercourse. The link between depression and sexual intercourse held true for both sexes. It remained even after controlling for other variables known to be associated with depression.

The sex-depression link has shown up in the formal literature before. In 2004, US researchers reported similar results in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine based on a 1994-1995 sample:

Teens engaging in risk behaviors [drinking, smoking, and/or sexual activity] are at increased odds for depression, suicidal ideation, and suicide attempts.

Adolescent depression and suicide risk: association with sex and drug behavior
Details from the current study

This table shows the relationship in depression rates between controls (nondepressed adolescents) and sexually active adolescents. Note that the depression + suicidality correlation is even stronger than the depression correlation. This caused the researchers to reflect on the possibility that higher amounts of sexual activity might correlate with more severe depression.

depression

Another representation of these data:

depression

The researchers point out that there was no difference in depression prevalence between subjects in early (age 12-15) and late (16-18) adolescence. This suggests that simply delaying sexual experience won’t solve the issue.

So, what’s going on?

Flummoxed yet honest, the researchers recommended that sex education should normalize depression after sex:

Proper sex education should also contain suggestions on how to manage the depression that could occur after sexual behavior, as our results indicate that the correlation between depression and sexual behavior may lead to further impulsive and unsafe sexual behavior.

Association between Sexual Behavior and Depression in South Korean Adolescents: A Cross-Sectional Study

Rather than simply normalize post-coital depression, perhaps researchers should vigorously study what causes the post-coital distress and what options lovers have for minimizing it. After all, it’s an open secret that post-coital symptoms show up in adults too. And how many adults don’t make the connection because their symptoms are delayed or not as intense?

It’s worth noting that multiple studies report post-orgasm neurochemical events. Such evidence may someday shed useful light on the widespread phenomenon of emotional distress associated with orgasmic sex.

Despite (because of?) the mind-blowing high of orgasm, subsequent emotional distress may be “built-in” to many lovers’ neuroendocrine systems. Of course, none of us like to consider that possibility, but it would help to explain otherwise baffling results like those in the study under consideration.

Sex education?

Interestingly, healthcare providers’ universally recommended panacea of “sex education” didn’t help reduce depression. Adolescents who had received sex education were not better off and in some cases evidenced more depression.

The researchers nevertheless suggest that the solution is better sex ed. We can’t argue with that.

Might young people benefit from learning the gifts of affectionate exchange without sexual intercourse? And perhaps more about the natural neurochemical cycle that follows orgasm and how it can temporarily disturb lovers’ emotions? And maybe even how non-goal oriented lovemaking techniques like Synergy can head off emotional distress?

Certainly, the stakes are high enough and the evidence of post-coital distress widespread enough. Let’s think outside of the box.

Also see “Youth Sexlessness: Porn and Relationships in a Dying World”