Risky sexual behaviour has long been linked to an increased risk of contracting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). But what is risky sexual behaviour? Well, any one of the following is classified as risky sexual behaviour (believe it or not):
- sex without condom use
- mouth-to-genital contact
- starting sexual activity at a young age
- having multiple sex partners.
- having a high-risk partner (partner who has multiple other sex partners or infections)
- sex with a partner who has ever injected drugs.
- engaging in sex trade work
Even if one is taking precautions, innate risky sexual behaviours put one at an increased risk of contracting HIV and other STIs. So why do we engage in these risky behaviours? One big factor that has been linked as a cause behind engaging in these behaviours, is depression. Depression causes some neurocognitive and reactional changes while the person is suffering from it, which can cause them to engage in risky behaviour. Let’s explore some of the reasons:
- Depression lowers inhibition (the ability to think before we act) on a neurological level, so people are more likely to engage in impulsive, and often risky, sexual acts without thinking about the consequences
- Feelings of isolation and loneliness (sometimes brought on by the person themselves through the depression), together with the lack of social support this brings, can cause some to seek the connection that one gets through sex (even if just on a physical level)
- For some, it’s the need to feel something other than sad or empty, and so they seek sex as then they feel something
- Depression can make one’s life seem out of their control, so for some people they get a feeling of control in sex (“I am choosing to sleep with whoever I want, I have the control”), and this can cause them to seek out sex
- Substance use (alcohol and drugs) is prevalent is depression, which is linked to risky sexual behaviour
- And for some people with depression, risky sex can be a form of self-harm (“I don’t give a damn if anything happens, I’m worthless anyway”)
Overall, depression can change the way a person thinks and acts to make them be less aware of the dangers of risky sex, and also caring less about the consequences. Depression can cause risky sexual behaviour through just one, or any combination, of the above factors, and this then puts the person at a greater risk of contracting HIV and other STI’s because of this. It’s important to remember, that some of the behaviour’s mentioned above are just a symptom of the underlying depression, and as the depression gets treated the behaviours will start to change as well. Therefore it is very important that if you, or someone you know, are suffering from depression, that you or they get help. And remember: the more we all become aware of the impact of mental health on us and our loved ones, the easier it will be to accept and seek the help that’s often needed!
Daniel Greenslade is a Clinical and Neuropsychologist. As a contributing writer for Anova Health Institute, these are his view, which may or may not reflect those of Anova and its affiliates.