File this study under “most likely research to be shared by men around the world.” You can also file it under “post containing the most words that I never thought I’d be writing about.” But it’s terribly interesting and far-reaching, so here goes: It turns out scientists think semen has special powers to reduce depression when absorbed into the vagina via unprotected sex. Really and truly; it’s too early to be an April Fool’s post.
I will place a forewarning here early in this post, just as research psychologist, Jesse Bering, did when he wrote the article for Scientific American that I stumbled across, “An ode to the many evolved virtues of human semen.” Having unprotected sex is clearly a risky proposition in today’s world. That’s why this information is intended for married/committed readers. Please be wise in your application of this data. I also give credit to the author for his well-mannered apology for what will likely to result in an increase in ejaculatory humor, “Ladies, forgive me for what I have done.”
OK, back to the “rich vat of seminal theory,” as Bering so aptly calls it. It all began back in 2006 when Gordon Gallup and Rebecca Burch were studying menstrual synchrony (that fact that women in the same household tend to synchronize their menstrual cycles). Because lesbian women did not have the same effect on one another, Gallup and Burch began to look at the possible effects of semen, realizing quickly how little is known about how the chemicals in semen influence female biology, behavior and psychology.
A little biological background is helpful. Semen (or seminal plasma) contains only 1 to 5 percent sperm. The rest of the chemical composition includes more than 50 compounds with various functions. A few of the more notable elements include cortisol (increases affection), estrone (mood elevator), prolactin (a natural antidepressant), oxytocin (mood elevator), thyrotropin-releasing hormone (antidepressant), melatonin (induces sleep), and serotonin (well-known antidepressant neurotransmitter), among many others. It’s not a stretch for researchers to then consider whether semen would have antidepressive effects, given its composition. The presence of two female hormones in semen (FSH and LH) may indicate that it has some power to trigger ovulation.
Bering also notes that the vagina has long been known as an ideal route for drug delivery because of the many arteries and blood vessels in the area. Chemicals that enter the body through the vagina “have an almost direct line to the peripheral vascular system.”
Results of Study
Now that you know biologically why the theory seems plausible, what did the researchers actually study and discover? They recruited 293 college females from the SUNY-Albany campus, who filled out anonymous surveys about their sexual behavior. They compared women who had sexual activity with condoms with those who did not. They also tracked depressive symptoms using the Beck Depression Inventory, a fairly common clinical tool.
After adjusting for frequency of sexual intercourse, women who had sex and “never” used condoms showed significantly lower depressive symptoms than those who “usually” or “always” used condoms. The unprotected, sexually active women were also less depressed than those who abstained from sex. Sexually active women who used condoms were “just as depressed” as those practicing abstinence. (This takes care of the argument that happier people have sex, or that having sex makes for happier people.) I repeat my above statement that this article is intended for married/committed couples as unprotected sex with multiple partners remains a very high risk.
In addition, women having sex who “never” used condoms were much less likely to have attempted suicide than those who “sometimes” or “usually” used them.
Still, I immediately thought about hormonal birth control and its possible effects. It turns out the researchers also controlled for that possibility. They also controlled for frequency of sex and duration of the relationship with the male partner.
In an important caveat, the researchers admit that the results are “preliminary and correlational in nature, and as such are only suggestive.” They say that to gather more definitive evidence would ideally require the measurement of seminal components in the recipient’s blood.
Let’s see if they are able to replicate the results, or if they even plan to. There certainly are other plausible explanations for the results.
Ladies, are you surprised by the results? Do you think there could be other causes for the reduced levels of depression? Men, have you always thought you held a special power in your loins?
After I scheduled this post to publish, I found The Generous Husband just posted about this very same topic. Paul lists other potential positive attributes of semen, including pain control and better sleep.
Photo credit: ©Pavel Losevsky/PhotoXpress.com