February 18, 2013, ( – A group of researchers in New Zealand have found that the connection between alcohol and promiscuity does not run in just one direction. A long-term study from the University of Otago has found that young women who have “multiple sex partners” in their teens and early adulthood are more likely to abuse drugs and alcohol later in life.

“Women with only one sex partner in each period seem to be protected from substance dependence,” the study’s lead author said.

The researchers examined how many sex partners the study members reported from 18-20, 21-25, and 26-31 years. They compared this data with the mental health of the same women immediately after each period including anxiety, depression, and substance dependence.


Women who averaged more than 2.5 sexual partners a year were 10 times more likely to be clinically dependent on alcohol or drugs at age 21 than those who had one or no sexual partners each year. They were seven times as likely by age 26 and 17 times as likely by age 32.

The findings come out of a larger research project, the Multidisciplinary Health & Development Study, which has been following the health and behavior of 1,000 people born in Dunedin for a period of 40 years. The cohort study, published online in the U.S. journal Archives of Sexual Behavior, looked at “contemporary sexual behaviour in which both women and men commonly have long periods of serial or concurrent sexual relationships before settling down.”

The report said, “The more sex partners young adults have the more likely they are to go on to develop alcohol or cannabis dependence disorders in young adulthood.”

“When we used a model to compare men and women who had more than 10-20 sex partners in the same period, women were much more likely to have a substance disorder than men,” it said.

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The researchers noted that they were surprised not to find an association between multiple sex partners and anxiety or depression, noting research that links sexual risk-taking with anxiety and depression among 21 year-olds.

Lead author Dr. Sandhya Ramrakha called the increase in risk, “striking.”

The researchers themselves suggested that the data may not indicate a direct causal relationship. They suggested that the two simply go together, with “multiple partners” and substance abuse being part of a “cluster” of risky behaviors typical of adolescence and young adulthood.

“Another important possibility is that there is something about having multiple partners itself that puts people, especially women, at risk of substance disorders. For instance, it may be the impersonal nature of short-term relationships, or the effect of multiple failed relationships,” Ramrakha added.

At the same time, statistics from the UK indicate that the “hook-up” culture is growing. The Health Survey for England shows that not only are people still having plenty of casual sex, but that the age at which women start such encounters is dropping. The survey showed that 27 percent of women between 16 and 24 reported having sex when they were younger than 16, “a greater proportion than women in any previous generation covered by the survey.”

The same survey found that the behavior of men has remained more or less steady.  Some 22 percent of young men reported having had sex when they were younger than 16, about the same as for the 25-to-69 year-olds interviewed. At the same time, 26 percent of young women and 32 percent of young men said they had never had sex.

Just 17 percent of men and 24 percent of women reported that they have had only one sexual partner.

Fully 27 percent of the men and 13 percent of the women reported having had 10 or more sexual partners.


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