The Culture of ‘Hooking Up’ and Depression Among Teens

The term “hook up” is one modern way individuals, especially young people, refer to casual-sex encounters. Teenagers who are sexually active, but not in romantic relationships, may “hook up” with other teens. But are these encounters damaging to adolescents’ sense of well-being? Research has suggested that teens who date are more likely to experience stress, depression, and emotional conflict than those who do not. However, the level of depression and stress teens experience in committed relationships has not been compared to the depression and stress in teens who “hook up.”

To address this void in research, Jane Mendle, of the Department of Human Development at Cornell University in New York, conducted a study that compared the emotional and psychological well-being of more than 1,500 pairs of siblings ranging in age from 13 to 18. She gauged whether the siblings were romantically involved with another person, engaging in sexual activity with that person, or whether they were sexually active with nonromantic partners. She found that although the teens in committed relationships did have moderately higher levels of depression than those who were single, the teens who participated in “hook-ups” had the highest levels of emotional distress and depression. This was especially pronounced in teens under the age of 15.

Mendle believes that one of the reasons for this finding could be the fact “hook-ups” often involve partners who used to date, or who may want to date each other in the future. In this sense, one of the participants may be more emotionally invested in the encounter than the other. The subsequent dismissal of a romantic relationship may bring on feelings of sadness, disappointment, and even jealousy. The findings in this study are rather robust because they are based on sibling pairs. However, this dynamic can also limit the results, and further family history should be gathered in future work. Additionally, romantic relationships, as defined by the participants, may not necessarily involve sexual intercourse but may include other intimate acts. This should also be explored in future research. “Continued exploration of how the transition to sexual maturity may be moderated by contextual factors can help clarify the particular developmental challenges and stressors of adolescence,” Mendle said.


Mendle, J., Ferrero, J., Moore, S. R., Harden, K. P. (2012). Depression and adolescent sexual activity in romantic and nonromantic relational contexts: A genetically-informative sibling comparison. Journal of Abnormal Psychology. Advance online publication. doi: 10.1037/a0029816

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  • Molly andrews

    October 3rd, 2012 at 3:04 PM

    I find this to be such a dangerous trend, and not just for young adults but for anyone in gemeral who is engaging in these kinds of relationships.

    This is the kind of behavior that would set anyone up for a whole world of hurt. It is dangerous physically, thinkk of the STD dangers, but it is also a danger on a mental health scope too. If one person is far more committed to becoming involved while the other sees this as something casual, then what happens when the sex is over and one is ready to stay involved and the other is ready to move on?

    I really wish that this trend wouldn’t have become the norm because I think that there are a whole lot of people who set themselves up for being hurt but all the while they think that they are doing the cool laid back thing.

  • Bailey

    October 3rd, 2012 at 4:13 PM

    This is not meant to be crude or callous, but why is this so bad? If it is between two consenting adults, and there is an understanding from the very beginning that this is what it is, and you are safe, then why is that wrong? We all need a little release, this is a good way to do just that, so I am just wondering why this would be so offensive if there is the conversation up front that this is all it is meant to be?

  • Grant

    October 3rd, 2012 at 10:33 PM

    Depression is different from feeling rejected. You don’t try and restrict a behaviour because there is the possibility of an adverse emotional reaction, but it is a VERY good idea to educate young people regarding the possible emotional fall-out. This lets them make mistakes but know that different people have different reactions to relationships that will have an emotional component regardless of what you conceive will occur intellectually.

  • Tom

    October 4th, 2012 at 12:12 AM

    @Bailey: well that’s coz even tho both know (or so they think) of what they r gettin into,the emotional burden n issues do come up later on at some point of time. We r emotional being n can’t jus become robots or machines in this regard.

  • kendall t

    October 4th, 2012 at 3:53 AM

    @Bailey- I understand that you think that this is alright if it is between people who are on the up and up and both understand what is going on.
    But what if one party lies? And isn’t honest with the other that this is not serious, just a one night stand? How would that make you feel if you thought that this could grow into something serious and really you were just being used?
    I know how I would feel, and I think that you know you would feel the same way.

  • WES

    October 4th, 2012 at 11:21 AM

    This is just kinds the norm, you know?
    Guys and girls are both doing it, that’s what they are looking for right now.
    It might not be for you, but if you are of a certain age, believe me, this doesn’t seem so weird.

  • Anton.M

    October 4th, 2012 at 3:46 PM

    I ‘hooked up’ with this girl in college and both of us thought we were sure about getting into a no-frills relationship. The sex was great and so was everything else. But after a couple of months things started to change. I think the emotional connect that came on due to the physical proximity got to me and when I would get a little possessive about her that would put her off. Funny thing is when the same thing happened to her a few weeks later I reacted the same way she had!

    Although both of us were getting emotionally involved at this point of time,we somehow could not make it work and we parted ways,both hurt and disturbed.We hardly even talk to each other now and I know I will not ‘hook up’ like this again.Its just too heavy on your mind.

    I can only imagine what this must be to those younger than me, those that have just entered into their teen years.I was 19 at the time and the younger you are the more problems such things will cause in your mind.Must be so very taxing to these young kids in the long run.


    October 5th, 2012 at 12:15 AM

    The age for depression is only decreasing and the numbers increasing. And the number of teens and youngsters involved in these hook ups are only increasing.Anybody else see the link?

  • Rene

    October 5th, 2012 at 4:06 AM

    Under 15 and hooking up?!?

    This is a serious epidemic of young girls and boys making very poor dating decisions and ultimately paying a very high price for that.

    they lose their feelings of self worth and confidence, which will most likely lead them to making worse decisions, and destructive ones later on.

  • Claire

    October 6th, 2012 at 8:09 AM

    As a high school guidance counselor I see that this form of dating if you will is becoming more and more popular and that really concerns me, both as an educator and a parent.
    Our children have no real idea of how much they are putting their lives in danger by choosing to play out this kind of behavior. They are risking STDs, emotional damage, and many other problems by choosing to hook up over becoming involved in a loving and caring relationship with someone who gives that same kind of love back. I am not sure where this disposable mentality can from, but I sure hope that it is just a passing phase because this is not a healthy way to promote young people and to prepare them for lufe ahead.

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