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


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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