I came across this abstract of a study published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior in 2002. It’s good for your skin, and now, possibly, it’ll turn that depressive frown upside down. Read, and marvel...
In a sample of sexually active college females, condom use, as an indirect measure of the presence of semen in the reproductive tract, was related to scores on the Beck Depression Inventory. Not only were females who were having sex without condoms less depressed, but depressive symptoms and suicide attempts among females who used condoms were proportional to the consistency of condom use.
For females who did not use condoms, depression scores went up as the amount of time since their last sexual encounter increased. These data are consistent with the possibility that semen may antagonize depressive symptoms and evidence which shows that the vagina absorbs a number of components of semen that can be detected in the bloodstream within a few hours of administration.
So having sex with men, and without condoms, may decrease your depressive symptoms? It opens up a host of new pick up lines. Other findings in the study included: women research subjects who didn’t use condoms (or used them rarely) had twice as much sex as subjects who used condoms, and women who abstained from sex altogether had more depressive symptoms than women who were regularly having sex.
To be fair to the researchers, they do raise (and then quickly discount) several possible alternative explanations for the relationship between frequency of intercourse, condom use, semen, and depression. They also clearly state that the study is preliminary and correlational, and that it raises more questions than answers.
But this doesn't really excuse some major problems with the study. The whole thing reminds me of when I was an undergraduate, desperate to find a supervisor willing to let me do sex research, and ready to entertain any simplistic or misguided hypothesis just so I could get my foot in the sexological door.
Before I continue my rant below, I want to be upfront and say that my understanding of all this comes from over ten years ago when I was a grad student. So I’ll rant, but I’m also happy to be proven wrong and ignorant at a later point. Back to the rant…
The researchers have taken a theory floated in a bio-medical journal, along with a piece of research from 1968, and tried to "study" it through the simplistic, asocial, and apolitical methods of social psychology. From the days when I studied social psychology, and research methods, I appreciate that they are, in some ways, meant to be apolitical and asocial. But now that I’m out of that world, it’s hard for me to remember exactly why.
Why is it a good thing, when studying such politically and socially charged topics such as sexual behavior, condom use, and depression, for the researchers to clearly have no regard for the impact of these pressures?
This is to say nothing of the fact they seem to be, willy-nilly, mixing biomedical research and ideas with social psychological measures, without ever accounting for the possible discrepancies in these two methodologies, outlooks, or theories.
Finally, shouldn’t research that could have such negative consequences for important public health issues like condom use, at least include a paragraph on that subject? I’m not saying that research that shows negative consequences of condom use is bad, but if we know that condom use is an important tool in fighting important public health battles, shouldn’t that warrant a mere mention? At least a footnote saying “by the way, you should still use condoms, even if it does make you more depressed!”
Gallup, G.G. Jr., Burch, R.L., & Platek, S.M. (2002). Does semen have antidepressant properties? Archives of Sexual Behavior. (31) 3, p. 289