Depression: The New Sexually Transmitted Disease?

Nearly every discussion about sexual education focuses on preventing sexually transmitted diseases and pregnancy. However, recent research published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine finds that, especially for girls, the discussion needs to include a third negative possibility: depression.

Most medical and mental health professionals would agree that there is a link between depression and sexual and drug using behavior in adolescents. However, it is commonly assumed that depressed teens use sex and drugs to “medicate” their depression. Thus, when faced with a depressed, sexually active teen, adults may overlook sexual or drug using behavior with the hope that the risky behavior will cease once the depression is gone.

Although the depression followed by sex and drugs link seems to make sense, a new study, which followed over 13,000 middle and high school students for two years in a row, found that depression did not predict risky sexual or drug using behavior. Instead, the study found that depression often follows risky behavior. Lead author of the study, Dr. Denise Hallfors told me in an interview that her research team found evidence that heavy drug and alcohol use significantly increased the likelihood of depression among boys. For girls, the findings are stunning: Even low levels of alcohol, drug or sexual experimentation increased the probability of depression for girls.

Read the remainder of the article at

Also, I confess, I read the comments at Exgay Watch about this article and they are comical.

10 thoughts on “Depression: The New Sexually Transmitted Disease?”

  1. I’m not going to argue with all the scientific debate going on below, but I can give testimony from my own personal experience. I am a 21 year old female, and I became sexually active as a teenager. 2 years later, I have been diagnosed with clinical depression. I know that the depression is related to my sexual experience; I have been fully realizing the self-harming implications of that choice ever since it was made. I can absolutely see how females would be more prone to depression after a sexual experience outside of marriage than males. From talking to various females and males, I have gathered that women are just wired differently. Everything about women is deeply tied to their emotions. While males obviously experience deep emotions as well, they don’t seem to have the same, all encompasing, life controlling element that they can have in females. So after a sexual experience, in which some of the most deep emotions and spiritual aspects known to humans are shared with another person, something changes within the individuals involved. Sexual relations outside of marriage inevitably will be discontinued. There is no committment involved. Giving away the sexual aspect of oneself causes an emotional tie that is excruciatingly painful to break. In my case, the tie had to be broken due to life circumstances, but against my wishes, even though I knew then and know now that those wishes were wrong. Personally, I am a Christian, and I believe it is amoral to have sex outside of marriage, but I can say that it is obvious for other reasons why sex outside of marriage should be considered detrimental. Aside from unwanted pregnancy and STD’s, there are lasting emotional consequences that can require a lifetime of healing. I did not become pregnant, nor did I contract any STD’s, for which I am ever thankful. However, I still have deep emotional wounds, and depression that I struggle with every day. Not to mention several broken relationships and a bad reputationn as a consequence of my actions.
    Maybe sex education at an early age is correlated with early sexual behavior. But kids are going to find out about it one way or another, regardless of what they hear from a teacher. The factor that is going to influence what they DO with the information is the key. Do they have strong enough moral convictions to keep themselves from sex before marriage? If not, they risk several harmful consequences. I wish I had thought more thoroughly through the consequences before I acted. Thankfully, I know healing is possible, and I know I have been forgiven by God. For any girls out there who have been through something similar, I hope they hear this – that Jesus can make you pure again. His love covers our deepest, ugliest sins. Thank God for that. And for anyone who has not sinned sexually, please, please, I beg of you – don’t do the harm to yourself and others – you don’t realize the long-lasting implications of your actions! Please take the advice of someone who has been there, and save yourself for that one person you will someday marry. You are worth it.

  2. Gender Differences in Adolescent Attitudes and Receptivity to Sexual Abstinence Education.
    Smith, Thomas Edward, Steen, Julie Schwendinger, Andrea Spaulding-Givens, Jennifer Brooks, Robert G.
    Children & Schools; Jan2005, Vol. 27 Issue 1, p45-50. For a study of attitude change.

    Can Abstinence Work? An Analysis of the Best Friends Program
    Robert Lerner, PhD, Adolescent & Family Health, 2004, 3(4); p. 185-192. Innercity program that has lessened sex, drug use, etc.

    The hallmark of successful efforts is repetition and mentoring.

    Other programs (contraceptive based or asbstinence based) have not been as successful. For the most part, the differences between the two are not dramatic. We have a small percentage of kids that neither programs do anything to help use condoms or delay sexual activity. Sexual education must respond to the characteristics of the demographic in question. I doubt what helps or will work in Kansas will work in Seattle.

  3. Sorry, had to answer a phone call.

    The percentage of female American teens who have had sex by grade 9 is 28% (table 42). That doesn’t sound like a rare 14 year old. Same age males are at 37%.

    But perhaps Pennsylvania is different and there is only the one girl that age who has had sex. You may be correct. I’m not sure how to explain the 720 pregancies and 295 births in 2000 though. (table 5)

    Immaculate conception?
    I understand it’s happened before.

  4. No Warren.

    I know you’ve stated that simplistic correlation before, but I have actually run the numbers. It’s the online survey by Durex, and I’ve been following it for several years.

    Did you also bother to run the GDP of each country against age of first sexual activity? No? Any other factors (such as when the school year commences)? No? Why is it that teens in wealthy countries commence sexual activity at an earlier age?

    Rather than sex ed. causes sexual activity — another (more realistic) view is that sex ed. begins in anticipation of the age of first sexual activity. We could, of course, end all teen sexual activity very easily; but most places do not wish to reintroduce chastity belts or locking up daughters in the house.

    Regardless, you are still faced with one simple, unassailable fact — the United States has very high rates of teen pregnancy, abortion, STDs and number of partners when compared against every other developed nation.

    And the United States is the only nation where abstinence-based “sex ed” is even debated to be either sensible or realistic (let alone funded).

    Germany and Austria have (in that survey) lowest ages of first sexual education and they also reported lower ages of first sexual activity. Now — tell me how their pregnancy, abortion and STD rates compare. And how many partners have these teens had vs. U.S. teens? How about the Netherlands?

    Very clearly, if we are concerned about pregnancy, abortion and STDs… it is not the average age of first sexual activity that matters.

    As for the “I would need to prove” nonsense… go get the relevent data from each U.S. State, and graph that against the various indicators of abstinence-based education (funding, reach, lessons plans etc). I have already done that — myself. The data is very clear, and no wishful thinking on your part will alter those numbers.

    (And quite clearly sexual activity cannot be compared to smoking. ANY cigarette is harmful. That is not the case with sexual activity, and it is why comprehesive sex ed. works).

    And as for that peer-reviewed study on abstinence-based sex. ed. that I asked for? You know, the one that shows it works…

    Oh, that’s right. There isn’t one.

  5. PS – In thinking of the policy of countries on this matter, there is a strong positive correlation between time of sexual education beginning and first intercourse. The earlier a country starts sexual education, the earlier people report their first sexual experience.


  6. Yes, comical.

    Let me sum it up: research sucks unless I agree with it.

    First, you would have to prove that teen pregnancies and STDs are higher where abstinence education has been conducted. Second, you would have to prove for the nation that those faulty programs were prevalent. Third, you would have to account for all of the places in this land where there are no programs being used. Fourth, you would need to account for variables like school enrollment status (many pregnant teens show up in health stats but haven’t shown up for health class since 5th grade). No the big picture stinks and research like Hallfors who looked 13000 kids over two years may show something important the big picture needs.

    RE: Teen boys. If depression for teen boys was all we had to be concerned about then you might have something there. But in the BIG PICTURE this is not all we have to think about.

    How great is the abstinence dosage in the programs that aren’t successful? One pledge and one class is not enough for any intervention. The message needs to be from, from you, from me, from HRC, from Hollywood and Nashville, from mom and dad and the local school. I am not even talking about programs here. I am talking about messages and influences from the culture. Here smoking is frowned on by left adults and the commercials are everywhere not to smoke. Kids are still doing it; they are aware of the dangers. Yes kids are going to take risks. But why is it good public policy to say “don’t smoke” but bad public policy to say “don’t engage in sex?” Attitude change in the society takes time. We are going to wrong direction on sexual attitudes in my estimation.

    When exactly is that? Does a 14 year old — prepared to accept all you have suggested — have your stamp of approval?

    In my state, that would be ok legally. That would also be the rare 14 year old. All one of her would not be able to find any mates to play with.

  7. Comical? Well… it is the season of good will, and all. I think the most comical thing is a pro-abstinence American making suggestions about how to reduce teen pregancy and STD rates. Perhaps ths is one time you should listen to others who are successful, rather than preach.

    Here’s few things to ponder:

    > why are those US States that promote abstinence most highly also those locations with the highest teen pregnancy, abortion and STD rates? You enjoyed commenting on the (apparent) link between teen sexual activity and depression… but the big picture somehow got lost.

    > the data you quote only — as you said — applies to teen women. QED there is no problem with teen boys engaging in sexual activity. Because teen girls are at risk, I would therefore suggest teen boys only have liaisons with older women (if they must). That way everyone’s happy, no?

    > what is the failure rate of abstinence-based education? That is, how many teens fail to remain abstinent — even after the message, and even after taking a pledge etc?

    > the wording differs between your site, and Focus on the family: but verbage such as “it’s best to wait to engage in sex until they are ready to accept the financial, relationship and emotional consequences of making that choice?” is essentially meaningless. Even if you add “adulthood” on the end.

    When exactly is that? Does a 14 year old — prepared to accept all you have suggested — have your stamp of approval?

    > youths who grows up in a society that uses words like “pure” and “save yourself” and “I’m worth the wait” will — directionally — become depressed when they (like most of their peers) do not live up to an unreasonable expectation.

    > please provide a peer reviewed study that indicate abstinence education a) works b) is the best approach.

    > some studies show that first sexual intercourse is delayed on average by a (frankly) trivial number of months when abstinince-only education is provided. Unfortunately this is matched by the same studies showing that when they do actually have sex they will be less likely to use contraception or condoms. The STD and pregancy rates, of course, reflect this.

    > why does the United States have a teen preganancy, abortion and STD rate well above every other developed nation? Does everyone else base their sex ed. on abstinence, or knowledge?


    Everyone agrees that not having sex is the only way to 100% avoid pregancy or STDs. However, few actually care to live that way; including teens.

  8. That certainly makes sense to me. I’ve seen that with several teen girls. Tried to follow the link to the comments but it wouldn’t go through.

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