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Casual sexual relationships and experiences (CSREs) are common and emotionally significant occurrences. Given the uncommitted, often emotionally complicated nature of CSREs, researchers have asked whether these experiences may have positive and/or negative emotional consequences. We reviewed 71 quantitative articles examining emotional outcomes of CSREs, including subjective emotional reactions (e.g., excitement, regret) and emotional health (e.g., depression, self-esteem). Overall, people evaluated their CSREs more positively than negatively. In contrast, CSREs were associated with short-term declines in emotional health in most studies examining changes in emotional health within a year of CSRE involvement. Emotional outcomes of CSREs differed across people and situations. Women and individuals with less permissive attitudes toward CSREs experienced worse emotional outcomes of CSREs. Alcohol use prior to CSREs, not being sexually satisfied, and not knowing a partner well were also associated with worse emotional outcomes. These findings suggest directions for prevention/intervention related to CSREs. For example, skill-building related to sexual decision-making may help individuals decide whether, and under what circumstances, CSREs are likely to result in positive or negative emotional outcomes. In addition, the limitations of extant research suggest directions for future inquiry (e.g., examining whether verbal and nonverbal consent practices predict emotional outcomes of CSREs).


Rose Wesche, Shannon E Claxton, Emily A Waterman. Emotional Outcomes of Casual Sexual Relationships and Experiences: A Systematic Review. Journal of sex research. 2021 Oct;58(8):1069-1084

PMID: 32991206

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