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Get the Science Right: Semen Prevents Depression!

Get the Science Right: Semen Prevents Depression!

Surgeon shows how not to present scientific findings

sex, psychology, State University of New York, Lazar GreenfieldWorld-famous surgeon Lazar Greenfield probably meant no harm. In a 2011 Valentine’s Day themed article in the trade journal Surgery News, Greenfield, president of the American College of Surgeons and the inventor of a widely used surgical device that prevents blood clots, reflected on a study that reported mood-enhancement properties of semen. He then made the following statement: “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 chocolate.”

What happened?

An academic ruckus broke out. Greenfield was accused of being sexist. People threatened to demonstrate publicly. Eventually, the surgeon was forced to resign his position at the American College of Surgeons, as well as his editorship of Surgery News.

Does semen affect mood?

The study Greenfield rather glibly mentions was conducted in 2002. Psychologist Gordon Gallup led a team at the State University of New York at Albany, where they compared mood scores of sexually active college women. Some of the women had sex where the male used a condom; other had sex without the condom. Women having sex without condoms had elevated mood scores, and were therefore less depressed. In addition, depression symptoms and signs of suicidal behavior were higher among women who used condoms. Gallup still concludes that the research shows that the complex constituents of semen may contain some anti-depressant properties, providing an evolutionary advantage to the male.

So,Greenfield was right?

If you believe the Gallup study, he was. However, not many studies have followed up on the study (at least not the findings connecting condom use and depression). But, the backlash against Greenfield’s comments and the Gallup study point to an important point about sexual behavior: there’s a lot in the delivery.

Sources: The Guardian, Psychology Today, Huffington Post

Photo: Totallifecounseling.com

Gallup GG Jr, Burch RL, & Platek SM (2002). Does semen have antidepressant properties? Archives of sexual behavior, 31 (3), 289-93 PMID: 12049024

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  • Scott McGreal
    June 2, 2013, 10:50

    I do take your point that delivery is pretty important. Greenfield’s remarks were in poor taste and not likely to win any hearts.

    As to the study itself, I am very sceptical of the authors’ findings. There are many confounding variables that the authors did not take into account, and they did not give adequate consideration to alternative, and in my view, more plausible explanations. For example, there could be pre-existing differences between women who do and do not use condoms respectively that could explain why the latter were less likely to be depressed. The very fact that some women choose not to use them could reflect features of their personalities. Additionally, no studies have ever demonstrated that the chemical constituents of semen have any antidepressant qualities especially when considering the minute quantities involved, contrary to what the authors claimed. I have previously written an article explaining in detail why I think the claim that semen is an antidepressant is unjustified by the study’s results.

    • Andrew Porterfield@Scott McGreal
      June 2, 2013, 18:54

      Thanks, Scott!
      I did come across your article when I was researching this, and I think you’re right. I also tried to look for other papers citing Gallup, and found none that addressed any antidepressant components of semen or the whole anti-depressant angle. Interestingly, I did come across papers that discussed issues like abuse, self-esteem, etc., as factors linking to why women might have sex without condoms.

  • Ignacio Gallo
    June 3, 2013, 05:40

    He had to resign because of that? One can only hope there was some deeper reason as well

  • Jeph
    June 10, 2013, 05:55

    I think this article could be true based on the findings that once the semen is absorbed it may contain some form of anti-depressant from the male. It could be not true based on all the other elements of sexual interactions. Some people may find that is may prevent depression but also if the female becomes pregnant she may become depressed. This study falls under contemporary and social Pschology.

  • Aliae
    June 13, 2013, 19:59

    I don’t think that the study of evualating the moods of sexually active college girls had all the information in account. They didnt go indepth with there range of there possible outcome.

    I was reading an article about how many woman orgasm from intercourse alone. The percentage is 10-15% of all woman have had an orgasm with intercourse alone. Dr. Kim Wallen a Professor from Emory University described in an article that all every woman have a different make up of there body than other women. The ability for a woman to have an orgasm depends highly on the distance of how far the clitoris is from the vagina also known as the C-V distance.

    Also there is a nautral hormone called Oxytocin which is increased when you are aroused or have an orgasm. Woman can have low levels from birth control or from a hormone imbalance. This hormone can affect the sex life and your mood after intercourse if it is low or high. If you have a high level of Oxytocin you will have a better over all health,mental health, better sex life, sex drive, less stress, and anxiety. If your levels are low it will make it harder or impossible to experience an orgasm doing intercourse and have a less sex drive and pleasure.

    What if the woman that didn’t use condoms were that percent that have an orgasms from sex alone and had higher levels of Oxytocin during intercourse Which resulted in an outcome of higher elevated mood scores. I think this study falls short of semen being an anti-depressant, because sex can be different for every woman depending on the make up of there body and hormone levels. I dont think that this study is correct or relable because of the things they didnt take in account for the study.