Back in 2002, psychologists at the State University of New York at Albany published a study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior looking at the potential role of semen in alleviating depression in women. The researchers presented evidence supporting an earlier hypothesis that the hormones in semen have a mood-boosting effect on women.
For any woman who has had sex -- and enjoyed it -- this may not come as a huge surprise.
Cut to this past February. Lazar Greenfield, the incoming president of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), wrote a short Valentine's Day-themed editorial about mating in Surgery News. In it, he discussed the sex lives of fruit flies, rotifers and humans. He cited the SUNY Albany study before concluding: "So there's a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there's a better gift for that day than chocolates." That gift, of course, being semen.
Greenfield's editorial sparked a controversy among ACS members, many of whom felt it was blatantly sexist. In response to the flap, Greenfield -- a highly respected retired professor at the University of Michigan with a reputation for supporting women in surgery -- apologized and stepped down from his post as editor of Surgery News; two weeks ago, as the controversy continued, he also resigned from his position at the College. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press Greenfield said, "The editorial was a review of what I thought was some fascinating new findings related to semen, and the way in which nature is trying to promote a stronger bond between men and women."
Setting aside the unfortunate politics of this story, I decided to look into the science behind "Semengate" for my first Sex Files column. Could the stuff in semen actually be nature's own antidepressant?
In the 2002 study, 293 college women filled out questionnaires about their sexual histories and took the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), a widely used measure of depression symptoms. Women who always had unprotected sex had significantly lower levels of depression symptoms than those who usually or always used condoms, as well as those who abstained from sex. There was no significant difference in depression between condom users and abstainers, indicating that the physical act of sex itself wasn't the mood-boosting factor.
Late last week I asked Gordon Gallup, Jr., an evolutionary psychologist at SUNY Albany and lead author of the study, about the results. "Seminal plasma evolved to control and manipulate the female reproductive system so as to work toward the best interests of the donor -- the male," Gallup explains. "If you begin to think about semen in those terms, then the fact that semen might have antidepressant properties becomes a lot more interesting in that it may promote bonding between the female and her sexual partner." Such bonding, Gallup says, could increase the male's chances of developing a long-term reproductive relationship with a female that would work to his reproductive advantage.
Semen is a complex mixture of different compounds, and sperm actually only makes up a small amount of it. When you remove the sperm, what's left is seminal plasma, a fluid that contains an array of ingredients, some of which can pass through the vagina and be detected in the bloodstream after sex. Three compounds of interest in seminal plasma are estrogen, prostaglandins and oxytocin. Estrogen and prostaglandins have been linked to lower levels of depression, while oxytocin (which women release during birth, breastfeeding and orgasm) promotes social bonding. These and other compounds in semen could function to keep women coming back for more. "I think there's reason to believe based on some of the evidence we've collected that females that are in committed relationships that are having unprotected sex may use sex in part to self-medicate," Gallup says. "It's discovered after the fact that being inseminated has effects on mood, and they use sex to modulate their mood."
There's also evidence, he says, that women may actually go through semen withdrawal. In an unpublished study he conducted a few years ago, women in committed relationships who were having unprotected sex and were exposed to semen were "far more devastated and adversely affected [after a breakup] than those that were using condoms." He also found a risk of a rebound effect, where women who were not using condoms had sex with a new partner after a breakup within a couple of weeks versus several months for those who had used condoms. "I don't think the evidence is conclusive, but it's certainly very suggestive that it's a response, in effect, to semen withdrawal," Gallup says.
But couldn't there just be fundamental differences between women who have unprotected sex and women who use condoms? That's the question most often posed by skeptics of Gallup's work, he says. "What we've discovered is that if you look at depression scores on the Beck Depression Inventory as a function of the amount of time that has elapsed since the respondents' last sexual encounter, it turns out that those that are using condoms show no effect of time since sex. Their depression scores are independent of whether they've had sex recently or not. For those that are being exposed to semen, BDI scores increase as the time since sexual encounter increases. This implies that the difference between those that are using condoms and those that are not is not an enduring fundamental trait difference. Rather, it's a state difference that's induced by semen."
Next up, Gallup would like to study how a man's mental state affects his semen. Researchers studying artificial insemination have found that the makeup of seminal fluid changes depending on what the donor was doing when he provided the sample. "If they're using their imagination to achieve the necessary sexual arousal to ejaculate, Gallup says, "the sample is not nearly as potent than if they're watching explicit video pornography." (Cue the tapes!)
For what it's worth, I asked Gallup what he thought about Semengate. "I think it's a tragic overreaction," he says. "The point at which we begin to let a political agenda dictate what science is all about is the point when science ceases to be a viable enterprise." Considering how fascinating this research is -- and whether or not it offends our sensibilities -- I have to agree.
Jennifer Abbasi is a science and health writer and editor living in Brooklyn. She has seen every episode of The X-Files. Have a question about the science of sex? Email Jen at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Well this is terrible news for the condom industry and safe-sex advocates.
Yes it is and it is best swallowed.
@highermorals dear God that was horrible! but i don't think this is going to stop safe sex advocates, i also don't think this is going to stop the practice of unsafe sex.
also, it's bloody annoying to hear that the president of the American college of surgeons is being blasted for making a statement on the female anatomy that is rooted in study. if they have such a problem with it then prove them wrong, don't slur his name until then. he's a bloody figurehead, but he's human, it's good that he's taking responsibilities for his actions and stepping down but at the same time it should be shameful that he should have to in the first place. a classic example of feminism/political-correctness going too far, but these are the times we are in.
!!!(the following text is offensive and should not be read by anyone)!!!
They mention that the chemicals in semen can enter the bloodstream through the vaginal membranes... but they fail to mention if this is also the case for the digestive tract.
Therefore, simply swallowing (this news) might be the wrong approach.
I'm no expert on the subject, but I'd be willing to bet there's a greater probability for the anti-depressant chemicals to enter the bloodstream through absorption by tissues in the mouth or skin (works for nicotine [gum/patch]!)...
If this is the case, (this news) is best splattered across the mouth/face and dribbled down the chin.
Maybe women can tell the difference between the two versions of tools. One with a raincoat and the other without. Maybe they can feel the difference and has nothing to do with the payoff. Or the feeling of the payoff has nothing to do chemically but like icing on the cake. (0uch) Maybe they just "like" the real thing? Somehow it offers a more satisfying experience.
HIV is a 100% preventible disease and it and other std's would be off the face of the earth in a few generations if only abstinence and protection were used.
So can this anti-depressant effect be achieved if the seminal plasma enters the woman's body in any way, or just vaginally?
If the anti-depressant effect was related to the sex act itself, you'd expect to see statistically significant differences between those who have sex and those who do NOT have sex.
The article states that there was no statistically significant difference between abstainers from sex and women who used condoms during sex.
Unless you claim using a condom is SO awful for a woman that she will be just as depressed as if she didn't have sex at all...
I wonder if the most efficient absorption would occur with contact with the anal mucosa..
Wow! No wonder why gay men are so damn happy!!! :P
From article: "The point at which we begin to let a political agenda dictate what science is all about is the point when science ceases to be a viable enterprise."
Amen! Didn't anyone else recognize this as a problem with "global warming/climate change" predictions?
That's right ladies it's just like folgers good to the last drop
This article is tru, my girl says when I ejaculate inside of her it makes her happy....I knew about this for at least 10 years...this confirms it. I have a new respect for her for being so intuned with her body.
Now sperm banks can double as ant-depression clincs. $$$
This gives women who must undergo hormone therapy a choice. Then again, is female depression really all about biochemistry?
I'm surprised noone has pointed out: If they are not using condoms then logically it would follow they were using "the pill"...
The Pill... which: " includes a combination of an estrogen (oestrogen) and a progestin (progestogen). "
I think this experiment lacks an obvious "control" in it's results.
Did they take into account the depth of the relationship when doing the study? If a woman is having unprotected sex, then most likely they are in a deeper relationship then those that use protected and those obstaining from it all together. If this deeper relationship did cease, then the reaction would in turn be much more dramatic as well since the emotional attachment was much greater. Likewise, being in a deeper committed relationship should have the side effect of antidepressant as well.
This is the reason Janet Napolitano, Janet Reno and Hillary Clinton are such miserable people. Acute deficiency of Vitamim S!
I've actually been considering getting a male vasectomy for this very reason. My girlfriend does have symptoms if we don't have unprotected sex for a long time. She will actually request that I don't use one at times. However, obviously we arent married yet, so we don't want children. But I think birth control and getting her tubes tied are dangerous and harmful, though the male version is actually quite safe and way cheaper. I think these guys are completely right, I'm actually quite glad I stumbled across this.
birth control (as in the pill)^
I have had a vasectomy and I would say my wife's mood has improved since. We have been married 8 years and her mood was always best when we were not using any contraception, and if we don't have it for a while I notice symptoms... but I thought it was the act more then some inter-body chemical connection.
My wife was on the pill as well at one point but it caused depression (on the list of "lesser" side effects)
How Depressing. Women have overexaggerated a situation (and now that I re-visit this,it's actually a non-existent situation) once again, thinking they are somehow making a significant proclamation and scoring a point for feminism. These are simple medical facts from, according to the article, a well respected doctor of some standing. It also appears that the findings are supported by others in related fields of expertise.
An extract from the article: "The point at which we begin to let a political agenda dictate what science is all about is the point when science ceases to be a viable enterprise." Considering how fascinating this research is -- and whether or not it offends our sensibilities -- I have to agree."
I have to agree too. Perhaps the women who find accurate scientific findings personally offensive will have another 'SlutWalk' so they can march down the street and publicly display their ignorance. I hate to tell you this ladies, but you don't need the men of the world to make you look foolish, you're doing to yourselves. Sheesh.
Mr. Greenfield is unfairly being persecuted for making a statement based on scientific fact. Findings such as these could one day lead to better treatment of depression in women. Unfortunately, ignorance has prevailed once again.
It is altogether possible that science could one day devise a permeable condom that allows only the desirable chemicals to pass through. This could generate a lot more interest in using them which could effectively reduce overpopulation. Perhaps the ACS is being shortsighted in their response.
Feeling blue? No need to see a doctor. Use my new over-the-counter remedy. Or should I say, *under*-the-counter. (via Kwipster.com)
Why in the world it is always Men caring about women? Why not women caring about men? When men get depressed what will women do? or Do women even care for men's depression?
oh, so you're depressed....
"Such bonding, Gallup says, could increase the male's chances of developing a long-term reproductive relationship with a female that would work to his reproductive advantage. "
Wait, so does this mean that the whole "men need to spread their seed" idea is wrong? If it's wrong, then a lot of people need to disabuse themselves of the idea that men sleep around because instinct tells them it's the best way to spread their genes.
Your body is protected from infections by the thick dead layers of the skin or by the constant flow of fluid over moist tissues. Your saliva is constantly moving microbes safely into the stomach to be sterilized by stomach acids. The front of the digestive tract is positive flow and in the intestines it is negative flow to reabsorb fluids. This implies that oral absorption is low and anal absorption is high. So, any orally applied mood altering substance must survive stomach acid, and this must be assumed as unlikely until any study implies otherwise.
Once again, humans fume and fret about the realities of nature, and once again, nature doesn't give a damn.
I think both men's and women's depression can be temporarily cured through inseminating the vaginal area...
Just have a look at:
I believe that Mr. Greenfield, the author of the controversial editorial, should be given a position in Congress for actually making sense.
@bdotalex: A "male" vasectomy?! As opposed to what? A Female vasectomy? Perhaps you should review your human anatomy before posting.