In a recent survey by the Office for National Statistics (ONS), in the 16 – 24 age group, approximately 31 per cent of men and 29 per cent of women stated that that they had their first sexual encounter before they had reached their 16th birthday.
In commenting on the findings, Professor Kaye Wellings (the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine) stated: "We do see a progressive decrease [in age] in the onset of sexual activity and at the same time we see an increase in the age of first cohabitation and of becoming a parent. Because those intervals have increased, the length of time the individuals are more at risk of adverse sexual health outcomes has increased."
A further study reported in the Journal of Sex found that teenagers and young adults (both males and females) who engaged in frequent casual sex are at greater risk of depression, which could even lead to suicidal thoughts. Poor mental health and casual sex contributed to each other in a downward spiral over time.
"Casual sex" was defined for the purpose as having sexual intercourse with a partner who the participant was not "dating" or involved in a relationship.
Claire Kamp Dush, the assistant professor of human sciences at Ohio State University, commented that the findings "suggest that poor mental health and casual sex are linked, whether you're a man or a woman".
Ohio State University's research found that teenagers and young adults who were involved in casual sexual encounters were more likely to experience depression in later life, with the likelihood of having suicidal thoughts increasing by 18 per cent.
Although there was the linkage to suicidal tendencies, it did not appear to have any effect on the person's depressive symptoms. The conclusion by the researchers was it could be because symptoms of depression fluctuate during the adolescent years, so it is harder to ascertain by an accurate snapshot of two readings.
Dr Kamp Dush commented sympathetically: "Just because a person does not indicate depression in one survey is not always proof that he or she is doing OK."
She added: "We need to look at multiple indicators of mental health, including suicidal thoughts."
Conversely, teenagers who demonstrated the symptoms of depression were more likely than others in their peer group to be participants in casual sex.
Sara Sanberg-Thoma, the author of the report, commented: "The study provides evidence that poor mental health can lead to casual sex, but also that casual sex leads to additional declines in mental health."
In Genesis 2:24, the purpose of a sexual relationship between a man and woman given by God is that they are to be 'united', literally 'glued together'.
It is intended to be part of the fabric of a permanent relationship, not a transitory acquaintance, in all aspects (ie not only physically but also emotionally, mentally, etc).
At the same time, there needs to be a reaching out by the Church to those with poor mental health, who are often in dysfunctional families (without a good male role model) and are looking for acceptance however that is expressed (such as physical or emotional).
The result of these brief encounters could lead to guilt, further reduction of self-worth and other contributory factors to depression.
Ms Sanberg-Thoma spelt out the objective: "The goal should be to identify adolescents struggling with poor mental health so that we can intervene early before they engage in casual sexual relationships."
We are reminded that we should be mentoring teenagers and young adults in our community as Dr Kamp Dush stated: "Young adulthood is a time when people begin to learn how to develop long-term, satisfying relationships."