If there was ever research guaranteed to make women suspicious of male researcher’s motivations it’s this one. Pointed out to me by a kind email correspondent (thank you!), this study tests a hypothesis put forward by Ney (1986) suggesting that prostaglandins, a component of semen, may actually be useful in treating depression.
No condom = less depression?
Inspired by this, Gallup, Burch and Platek (2002) decided to look for a correlation between condom use and levels of depression in undergraduate women. Their headline results were as follows:
- Women having sex without condoms (often using alternative methods of contraception) were less depressed than those using condoms.
- Numbers of reported suicide attempts were proportional to consistency of condom use (less consistent use was associated with fewer suicide attempts).
- For those not using condoms, depression scores increased with the time since they last had sex.
While there’s all sorts of objections flying around my head, this last one sounds particularly unconvincing. After all there could be all sorts of reasons why those who had sex more recently are less depressed, right?
But consider the fact that there was no relationship between depression scores and time since last having sex for those reported using condoms most or all of the time. Then this last finding is a little stronger.
A closer look does, however, reveal one contradictory result: that those who always used condoms had considerably lower depression scores than those who usually used condoms. This is the reverse of the headline trend.
More questions than answers
The authors are the first to admit that their data are preliminary, correlational and raise more questions than they answer. Like all good scientists they consider all sorts of alternative explanations for their findings. These include whether using an oral contraceptive, being in a relationship or taking part in high-risk activities might have an effect on depressive scores.
The authors also consider different ways of testing the hypothesis further – all of which would probably require much more work in convincing an ethics committee. In fact, this may well be one of those situations where the intrusive nature of a more conclusive study is just not warranted when balanced against the potential gain in knowledge.
Still, never say never. And if there’s anything in it, no doubt we’ll start seeing a new sight on the high street: ‘Semen Cafes’. This time, for real.
Gallup, Burch, & Platek. (2002). Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties? Archives of Sexual Behavior, 31(3), 289-293.
Ney, P. G. (1986). The intravaginal absorption of male generated hormones and their possible effect on female behavior. Medical Hypotheses, 20, 221-231.