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.
(Lazar Greenfield, M.D., professor emeritus of surgery at the University of Michigan, 2011)
The earliest hypothesis on the topic of discussion, put forward by Ney in 1986, suggested that prostaglandins, a component of semen, may actually be useful in treating depression in women. Inspired by this theory, Gallup, Burch and Platek (2002) decided to look for a possible correlation between condom use and levels of depression in undergraduate women.
It all began with cohabiting lesbians. Two studies showed that while heterosexual women who live together often have their periods at the same time, the lesbians living in close quarters do not. The phenomenon of menstrual synchrony is believed to be caused by pheromones in sweat. Gallup thought that if lesbians have the same pheromones breeders have, maybe the difference is exposure to semen, or a lack thereof. Then he happened upon a 1986 report in an out-of-the-way journal called “Medical Hypotheses.” Psychologist P.G. Ney wrote of a depressed woman who made an astounding recovery as soon as she got laid. Since the journal is a forum for wild speculation, Ney put forth the idea that something in her lover’s ejaculate cured her.
Gallup, one of the study authors became increasingly intrigued, and spent more time sifting through the medical literature to see if he could find any scientific basis for Ney’s report and the case of the asynchronous lesbians.
He found some compelling evidence. Semen is a nutritious medium that supports spermatozoa on their journey through a woman’s plumbing; however it is more than that. In fact, semen is a rich chemical brine, containing testosterone, estrogen and other hormones: prostaglandins (made in the prostate gland), as well as luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone (both trigger ovulation). Scientists know that chemicals in semen are absorbed into a woman’s bloodstream through the vagina.
With these facts in mind, he set out to test Ney’s hypothesis. He recruited 293 undergraduate females from the Albany campus to take part in his study. The women answered questions about their sex lives, including frequency of sex, how long it had been since their last romp, and what type of birth control they used. They also took a 20-question test to rate their level of depression with one of the commonly accepted Beck Depression Inventory.
The results were interesting indeed:
- 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.
Gallup claimed that, in the simplest terms, that semen is a drug, and that it’s addictive: women go through a kind of withdrawal when they stop getting it.
“It’s got all kinds of implications,” Gallup says. Since completing the study, he has replicated the results in a larger group of women (about 700 volunteered for the second study). He has also begun to test some new ideas he got as a result of doing the first study. For example, he is currently collecting data on the severity of PMS symptoms in those who use condoms and those who don’t.
PMS, postpartum depression (the “baby blues”) and menopause all bear on sexual activity. Women usually abstain when they have their period, right after giving birth, and at the onset of menopause, so Gallup wonders if the semen “withdrawal effect” may have something to do with the mood swings that often accompany these events. His follow-up research has also hinted that women who don’t use condoms get into rebound relationships quicker than condom users do. Again, this suggests something like an addict’s drug-seeking behavior.
The extent to which semen-borne testosterone gets into a woman’s bloodstream may have an effect on libido, too. Reams of research data show that testosterone is as essential to female sexuality as it is to the male urge. Researchers at Boston University supported this theory with their findings that low testosterone levels are linked to sexual dysfunction in pre-menopausal women.
The study’s design rules out some other explanations for the effect on mood that semen appears to have, but it leaves much in doubt. Dr. Winifred Cutler, best known for her discovery of human pheromones in 1986, says Gallup’s study “raises more questions than it answers.”
One of the alternative explanations is linked to intimacy. It is a reasonable hypothesis that women whose partners do not use condoms are in more intimate relationships than those whose partners do. There are other possible medical and holistic explanations, but there is a definite space for the further research.
Looking at the therapeutic capabilities of the semen, it is also important to acknowledge that there is a dark side to its chemistry as well. The vagina is a very hostile environment for sperm. During human evolutionary history women couldn't afford to conceive as a consequence of being inseminated by just any man, and the presence of semen in the female reproductive tract often triggers an immune reaction that treats the sperm as a pathogen. Not surprisingly, semen chemistry has evolved to neutralize vaginal acidity and suppress the woman's immune system. There is even reason to believe that because of the immunosuppressant properties of semen, frequent insemination may compromise the female immune system.
Yes, yes, there are STD (sexual transmitted diseases) around as well, so you should also be confident who exactly you accept the semen gift from.
Lastly, I would like to mention briefly that the semen has other positive effects on the woman’s general health:
- 50% reduction of the breast cancer risks.
- Reduced risk of the cervix’ or ovaries’ cancer development.
- Improved sense of smell.
- Reduced risk of heart disease.
- Aid in weight loss.
- Pain relief and soothing PMS symptoms.
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