Addiction Alcohol Use Binge Drinking How Multiple Sex Partners Shows Teen Risky Behavior By Buddy T Buddy T Facebook Twitter Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. Learn about our editorial process Updated on February 09, 2022 Fact checked Verywell Mind content is rigorously reviewed by a team of qualified and experienced fact checkers. Fact checkers review articles for factual accuracy, relevance, and timeliness. We rely on the most current and reputable sources, which are cited in the text and listed at the bottom of each article. Content is fact checked after it has been edited and before publication. Learn more. by Emily Swaim Fact checked by Emily Swaim LinkedIn Emily is a board-certified science editor who has worked with top digital publishing brands like Voices for Biodiversity, Study.com, GoodTherapy, Vox, and Verywell. Learn about our editorial process Print Image Source / Getty Images It is not unusual for teens to date multiple people during their adolescence. Some may even have sex. According to the 2019 Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance (YRBS) study, 27.4% of high schoolers are sexually active (meaning they had sex within the three months prior to the study). However, having sex with multiple partners in a short period of time is a much rarer behavior. In the 2019 YRBS study, only 20.5% of sexually active teens (roughly 5% of high schoolers overall) reported having sex with two or more people during the previous three months. It probably comes as no surprise that teenagers and young adults who have multiple sexual partners are significantly more likely to have substance abuse problems than those who limit their sexual activity. Substance Abuse and Other Risky Behaviors A 2011 study looked at the associations between the number of lifetime sexual partners and level of substance use among high schoolers. Compared to teenagers who had never had sex, teens who'd had sex with multiple people were much more likely to use alcohol, cigarettes, and marijuana. Within the analysis, the number of sexual partners went up in a step-wise fashion as the intensity of substance abuse increased. These trends were much stronger for females than males. A girl who'd had six or more sexual partners in her lifetime was up to 40 times more likely to report heavy alcohol use than a girl who'd never had sex. Meanwhile, boys who'd had six or more partners were only 20 times more likely to develop heavy alcohol use. An earlier start to sexual intercourse (age 14 or younger) often leads to multiple sexual partner behavior. In addition to substance abuse, having sexual intercourse with multiple partners increases the risk of unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted diseases, and resulting damage to reproductive health. Girls (but not boys) with multiple sexual partners are also more likely to have condomless sex, another dangerous behavior that compounds the risks of sex with many partners. Does Drinking Prompt Multiple Partners? There is some disagreement among researchers about whether having multiple sexual partners is a factor in the later development of substance abuse disorders or if the substance abuse increases the likelihood of having sex with multiple partners. Some studies have shown that with frequent and heavy drinking, there is a greater likelihood of risk-taking, including having multiple sex partners. One study of 533 ninth graders across a 13-year period found that alcohol use "was a leading indicator of changes in a number of sex partners throughout adolescence." But, the reverse pattern was not found—having multiple sexual partners was not linked to increased alcohol use. No Link to Depression or Anxiety However, a longitudinal New Zealand study examined the relationship between number of sex partners over three age periods (18–20, 21–25, and 26–32 years) and diagnoses of anxiety, depression, and substance dependence disorder at 21, 26, and 32 years. The results showed that the higher an individual's average number of sexual partners each year, the greater their likelihood of developing a substance dependence disorder later on. This trend was especially strong for women. No consistent associations were found with later anxiety or depression at any age. Why Is Sex Linked with Substance Abuse? Researchers have speculated on the reason that having multiple sexual partners might be linked to developing later substance abuse problems. Here are some of the possibilities: Sexual risk-taking and substance abuse are common risk-taking behaviors in adolescence and young adulthood.Occasions of substance abuse are opportunities for sexual behavior due to disinhibition and lowered perception of risk.People are more likely to meet new sexual partners in situations in which alcohol is served, and alcohol may facilitate multiple partnering.Something about having multiple sex partners puts people at risk of substance abuse disorders. Researchers speculate that it might be the perceived impersonal nature of multiple partner relationships that prompts later substance abuse. Or, they say, perhaps having multiple failed relationships creates an attitude in which substance abuse is likely. The 5 Best Online Sex Therapy Programs 6 Sources Verywell Mind uses only high-quality sources, including peer-reviewed studies, to support the facts within our articles. Read our editorial process to learn more about how we fact-check and keep our content accurate, reliable, and trustworthy. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Youth Risk Behavior Surveillance — United States, 2019. Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69(1):1-83. Cavazos-Rehg PA, Krauss MJ, Spitznagel EL, Schootman M, Cottler LB, Bierut LJ. Number of sexual partners and associations with initiation and intensity of substance use. AIDS Behav. 2011;15(4):869-874. doi:10.1007/s10461-010-9669-0 Kugler KC, Vasilenko SA, Butera NM, Coffman DL. Long-term consequences of early sexual initiation on young adult health: a causal inference approach. J Early Adolesc. 2017;37(5):662-676. doi:10.1177/0272431615620666 Zhao Y, Kim H, Peltzer J. Relationships among substance use, multiple sexual partners, and condomless sex: differences between male and female U.S. high school adolescents. J School Nurs. 2016;33(2):154-66. doi:10.1177/1059840516635712 Dogan SJ, Stockdale GD, Widaman KF, Conger RD. Developmental relations and patterns of change between alcohol use and number of sexual partners from adolescence through adulthood. Dev Psychol. 2010;46(6):1747-59. doi:10.1037/a0019655 Ramrakha S, Paul C, Bell ML, Dickson N, Moffitt TE, Caspi A. The relationship between multiple sex partners and anxiety, depression, and substance dependence disorders: a cohort study. Arch Sex Behav. 2013;42(5):863-872. doi:10.1007/s10508-012-0053-1 Additional Reading Cornelius JR, et al. "Early age of first sexual intercourse and affiliation with deviant peers predict the development of SUD: a prospective longitudinal study." Addictive Behavior April 2007 Dogan SJ et al. "Developmental relations and patterns of change between alcohol use and anumber of sexual partners from adolescence through adulthood." Developmental Psychology November 2010 Howard, DE, et al. "Multiple Sexual-Partner Behavior Among Sexually Active US Adolescent Girls." American Journal of Health Behavior January 2004 By Buddy T Buddy T is an anonymous writer and founding member of the Online Al-Anon Outreach Committee with decades of experience writing about alcoholism. See Our Editorial Process Meet Our Review Board Share Feedback Was this page helpful? Thanks for your feedback! What is your feedback? Other Helpful Report an Error Submit Get Treatment for Addiction Advertiser Disclosure × The offers that appear in this table are from partnerships from which Verywell Mind receives compensation.