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Abstract

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.
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Archives of Sexual Behavior, Vol. 31, No. 3, June 2002, pp. 289–293 (
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Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties?
Gordon G. Gallup, Jr., Ph.D.,
1,2
Rebecca L. Burch, B.S.,
1
and Steven M. Platek, B.A.
1
Received December 4, 2000; revision received April 20, 2001; accepted July 3, 2001
In a sample of sexually active college females, condom use, as an indirect measure of the presence of
semeninthereproductivetract,was relatedto scoreson theBeck DepressionInventory. Notonly 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.
KEY WORDS: semen; depressive symptoms; vaginal absorption; condom use; sexual activity.
INTRODUCTION
When it comes to mental and emotional problems,
one of the most consistent sex differences involves the
prevalence of depression. Females are more prone to de-
velopdepressivedisordersthanmales(Shanfield&Swain,
1984; Thomas & Striegel, 1994; Vance, Boyle, Najman,
& Thearle, 1995). The incidence of clinical depression in
females exceeds that shown by males by a factor of three
to five times (Culbertson, 1997). In females, depression is
often associated with different reproductive outcomes
such as death of a child, miscarriage, and menopause
(Suarez & Gallup, 1985).
In reviewing the literature on vaginal absorption of
seminal products, Ney (1986) hypothesized that semen
may have an effect on mood in women. Hormones in
seminal plasma include testosterone, estrogen, follicle
stimulating hormone and luteinizing hormone, prolactin,
and a number of different prostaglandins. Many of the
compounds present in human semen can be absorbed
through the vagina (Benziger & Edleson, 1983). Both
testosteroneandestrogenareabsorbedthroughvaginalep-
ithelium (Rigg, Milanes, Villanueva, & Yen, 1977; Schiff,
1
Department of Psychology, State University of New York at Albany,
Albany, New York.
2
To whom correspondence should be addressed at Department of
Psychology, State University of New York at Albany, 1400 Washington
Avenue Albany, New York 12222; e-mail: gallup@csc.albany.edu.
Tulchinsky, & Ryan, 1977; Wester, Noonan, & Maibach,
1980). Although little research has been conducted on the
vaginal absorption of prolactin, the absorption and subse-
quent rise in estrogen levels triggers an increase in pro-
lactinas well (Keller,Riedmann, Fischer, &Gerber, 1981;
Yamazaki, 1984). Some prostaglandins have been shown
to be absorbed rapidly from the vagina, namely E1, E2,
and F2 α (Eliasson & Posse, 1965; Sandberg, Ingelman-
Sundbery, Ryden, & Joelsson, 1968) and testosterone is
absorbed more quickly through the vagina than through
the skin (Wester et al., 1980).
To test Ney’s hypothesis, we measured depressive
symptoms in college females as a function of sexual ac-
tivity and condom use. Consistency of condom use was
used to index the presence of semen in the female repro-
ductive tract.
METHODS
Participants were recruited as volunteers from upper
division undergraduate courses at the State University of
NewYork at Albany. Thestudy wasapproved by the local
institutional review board and subject participation was
strictly optional. A sample of 293 college females agreed
tofilloutananonymous,writtenquestionnairedesignedto
measure various aspects of their sexual behavior, includ-
ing frequency of sexual intercourse, number of days since
their last sexual encounter, and types of contraceptives
289
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290 Gallup, Burch, and Platek
used. Among the sexually active females in the sample,
the use of condoms was taken as an indirect measure of
thepresence of semen in the reproductivetract. Frequency
of sexualintercourse was transposed into numberof coital
acts per year. Each respondent was also askedto complete
the Beck Depression Inventory, which is a widely used
measure of individual differences in depressive symp-
toms (Beck, 1961; Winter, Steer, Jones-Hicks, & Beck,
1999).
RESULTS
Most of the respondents answered most of the ques-
tions, but in a few instances items were left blank. The
majority of females in the sample were sexually active
(87%, N = 256).As depictedin TableI,depressionscores
on the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI) among the sex-
ually active respondents were found to vary as a function
of condom use (F[4, 292] = 5.72, p <.001). Post hoc
comparisons based on Fisher’s LSD showed that females
who engaged in sexual intercourse but never used con-
doms exhibited significantly lower scores on the BDI than
those who usually (p <.001) or always (p <.05) used
condoms. Females who engaged in sexual intercourse but
did not use condoms also evidenced significantly lower
levels of depressive symptoms than those who abstained
from sexual intercourse (p <.001). However, depression
scoresbetweenfemaleswhousedcondomsandthosewho
did not engage in sexualintercourse werenot significantly
different.
Significant correlations were found between BDI
scores and the length of time (in days) since engaging in
sexual intercourse. Forfemales who did not use condoms,
length of time since their last sexual encounter was corre-
lated with depressive symptoms (r = .229, p <.05). The
same was true for females who reported using condoms
some of the time (r = .318, p <.05). However, for those
who used condoms most or all of the time these correla-
tions were near zero and not significant. Thus, for sexu-
Table I. Female Condom Use and Scores on the
Beck Depression Inventory
BDI scores
Condom use NM SD
Never 88 8.00 6.58
Sometimes 54 10.54 7.60
Usually 38 15.13 11.22
Always 76 11.33 8.45
No intercourse 37 13.59 11.42
Fig. 1. Frequency of sexual intercourse as a function of the consistency
of condom use.
ally active females who did not typically use condoms,
depressive symptoms increased as the amount of time
since their last sexual encounter increased.
Participants were also asked to respond to questions
about how often they engaged in sexual intercourse. As
shown in Fig. 1, there were differences in the incidence
of intercourse among the different condom groups
(F[3, 252] = 5.47, p <.001), with the frequency of sex-
ual intercourse being inversely proportional to the con-
sistency of condom use (r =−.248, p <.001). Fisher’s
LSD showed that females who did not use condoms had
sex more often than those who used condoms most of the
time (p <.05) and those who used condoms all of the
time (p <.001).
To determine whether being in a relationship might
affectdepressionscores,respondentsweresubdividedinto
two groups: those who were currently in a relationship
with a member of the opposite sex (N = 185) and those
who were not(N = 98). The BDI scores between females
who were in a relationship (M = 10.17, SD = 8.46) and
those that were not (M = 12.11, SD = 9.55) were not
significantly different. Likewise, length of the relation-
ship did not correlate with depressive symptoms. The
only correlate of the relationship that approached sig-
nificance was the frequency of sexual intercourse, which
wasinverselyproportionaltothelengthoftherelationship
(r =−.134, p = .07).
A multiple regression analysis of BDI scores, with
condom use, days since intercourse, frequency of
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Semen and Depression 291
Table II. Multiple Regression Analysis of BDI Scores
Predictor t-statistic Beta
Condom use 3.39
.25
Days since sex 0.79 .061
Frequency of sex 1.54 .118
Duration of relationship 0.60 .045
p <.05.
intercourse, and duration of the relationship as predic-
tors was computed and the results are depictedin Table II.
Although the overall effect was modest(R
2
= .076), con-
dom use accounted for more variance in depression than
any of the other predictors, and the proportion of variance
(.25) due to condom use was greater than that of all of the
other predictor variables combined.
In contrast to condoms, the use of oral contracep-
tives appeared to have no effect on depressive symptoms.
Females who were using condoms and oral contracep-
tives (N = 70) showed BDI scores (M = 12.24) that did
not differ from those (N = 93) who were using condoms
alone (M = 11.38). Collapsing across condom use cat-
egories there were no significant differences in depres-
sive symptoms for thosewho used oral contraceptives and
those who did not.
Finally, females were asked if they had ever atte-
mpted suicide. Only 4.5% of the “never” use condom
grouphadattemptedsuicide,incomparisonto7.4%forthe
“sometimes”usegroup, 28.9% in the “usually” use group,
and 13.2% in the “always” use condom group. Those that
usually and always used condoms were significantly more
likely to have attempted suicide than those that never
and sometimes used condoms (χ
2
[1, N = 256] = 8.00,
p <.005). As was true for depressive symptoms, females
who abstained from sexual intercourse showed an inci-
dence of suicide attempts (13.5%) comparable to those
that had sex but always used a condom.
DISCUSSION
Itisimportant to acknowledgethat thesedataarepre-
liminary and correlational in nature, and as such are only
suggestive. More definitive evidence for antidepressant
effects of semen would require more direct manipulation
of the presence of semen in the reproductive tract and,
ideally, the measurement of seminal components in the
recipient’s blood.
Although our findings raisemore questions than they
answer, they do show that the level of depressive symp-
toms among sexually active female college students is
related to the consistency of condom use. Females who
had sex without condoms, and therefore would be more
likely to have semen in their reproductive tract, evidenced
significantly fewer depressive symptoms than those who
used condoms (see Table I). Consistent with the hypoth-
esis that there may be something about semen that antag-
onizes depression, females who were having sex without
condoms also showed lower depression scores than those
who were abstaining from sex altogether. The fact that de-
pression scores among females who were not having sex
didnot differfromthosewho wereusingcondoms demon-
strates that it is not sexual activity per se that antagonizes
depression.
Among sexually active females who never used con-
doms or only used condoms some of the time, there was
a significant correlation between depression scores and
how long it had been since they had sexual intercourse.
In other words, depressive symptoms among females who
did not typically use condoms increased as a function of
the elapsed time since their last sexual encounter. One
account of this relationship might be that females who
do not use condoms are having sex partly to alleviate
depressive symptoms. In support of this hypothesis, we
found that the frequency of sexual intercourse was in-
verselyproportionaltothe consistencyof condomuse(see
Fig. 1). Indeed, females who did not use condoms were
havingsex almost twice as often as those who alwaysused
condoms.
In terms of the relationship between condom use and
depressive symptoms, it is also important to comment on
the differences in suicide attempts. Sexually active fe-
males who usually or always used condoms were more
likely to report having attempted suicide than those who
neveroronlysometimesusedcondoms.Likewise,inmuch
the same way that was true of depression scores, those
who abstained from having sex were equivalent to those
that typically used condoms in terms of the proportion of
respondents who admitted a prior suicide attempt.
It is important to acknowledge and comment on sev-
eral possible alternative accounts of our findings. Because
over 7 out of 10 of the sexually active females in this
sample who never used condoms were using oral con-
traceptives, it is possible that there might be something
about oral contraceptives that offsets or antagonizes de-
pressive symptoms. However, both within and between
condom use categories there were no significant differ-
ences in depression scores as a function of the use of oral
contraceptives. Indeed, among the females who were us-
ing condoms, there were a substantial number that were
also taking oral contraceptives.But, those who wereusing
bothoralcontraceptivesandcondomsshowedslightly(but
not significantly) more depressive symptoms than those
who were using condoms alone.
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292 Gallup, Burch, and Platek
Another competing account of the proposition that
semen functions as an antidepressant might be that
sexually active females who never use condoms were less
depressedsimplybecausetheywerehavingsexmoreoften
(see Fig. 1). However, when collapsed across condom use
categories the frequency of sexual intercourse did not cor-
relate with scores on the Beck Depression Inventory. As
further evidence that sexual intercourse per se has no ef-
fect on depressive symptoms, it is important to note that
depression scores for females who abstained from sex did
not differ from those who were sexually active and using
condoms.
A third possibility might be that having sex with-
out condoms could be an indicator of high-risk behavior,
because the prospect of contracting a sexually transmit-
ted disease is greater among those who do not use con-
doms. Thus, one could argue that individual differences
in risk taking behavior may be confounded with condom
use. However, several studies have shown that various in-
stances of sexual risk taking behavior do not correlate
with scores on the Beck Depression Inventory (Dilley,
McFarland, Sullivan, & Discepola, 1998; McCusker,
Goldstein, Bigelow, & Zorn, 1995).
Still another account of these data might be that fe-
males who were not using condoms were less depressed
because they were more likely to be in a committed,
long-term sexual relationship. To take into account the
effect that being in a relationship might have on depres-
sive symptoms, females were asked if they were currently
involvedin a sexual relationship, and if so, howlong it had
lasted. There were no significantdifferencesin depression
scores between those who were in relationships and those
who were not. Likewise there was no correlation between
the amount of time since their last sexual encounter and
depressive symptoms among females who were in rela-
tionships. Moreover, the length of the relationship was
not correlated with individual differences in depressive
symptoms.
Research has shown that the vagina absorbs several
biological products contained in seminal fluid (e.g., estro-
gen, testosterone, prostaglandins) that can be measured in
the female’s bloodstream within several hours after ad-
ministration (Benziger & Edleson, 1983; Sandberg et al.,
1968). Our data are consistent with Ney’s suggestion that
semen in the female reproductive tract may play a role
in modulating depressive symptoms (Ney, 1986). Indeed,
our results suggest that semen may act to promote fur-
ther sexual activity. Of the various components found in
semen, the presence of estrogen and estrogen metabo-
lites are obvious candidates for what might be mediat-
ing these effects. Both estrogen and prostaglandins have
been shown to alleviate depressive symptoms, or at least
existin lower levelsin those who are depressed (Abdullah
& Hamadah, 1975; Zweifel & O’Brien, 1997). Estrogen
has been shown to have mood elevating effects in post-
menopausal females (Coope, 1996) and estrogen-based
contraceptives have also been reported to elevate mood
in younger females (Roy-Byrne, Rubinow, Gold, & Post,
1984).
If semen does antagonize depressive symptoms in
females, it is interesting to speculate about where this ef-
fect may originate; that is, are the effects mediated by
the transport of semen components through vaginal tis-
sue or through the uterus? One obvious way to make a
preliminary determination about the site of action would
be to compare females who are using diaphragms as a
means of contraception with those who are neither using
diaphragms or condoms. Among those using diaphragms,
the effectof semenwouldberestrictedto the vaginaltract.
It is also possible that there may be other nonreproductive
sitesofentry.Forexample,itwouldbeinterestingtoinves-
tigate the possible antidepressant effects of oral ingestion
of semen, or semen applied through anal intercourse (or
both) among both heterosexual couples as well as homo-
sexual males.
There are any number of other ways to test the possi-
bilitythatsemenhas antidepressant properties. In addition
todetermining whether sexuallyactive females are inare-
lationship, it would be helpful to knowwhether their com-
mitment to and satisfaction with that relationship varies
as a function of condom use. It would also be interesting
to examine depression among postpartum, menopausal,
and premenstrual (luteal phase) females as a function of
theirpriorhistory of condom use.Eachoftheseconditions
carry an increased risk of developing depressive symp-
toms (e.g., Suarez & Gallup, 1985) and these conditions
are all uniquely associated with varying degrees of semen
withdrawal. Thus, we would predict that among females
who are having sex without condoms the severity of de-
pressive symptoms should rise during the postpartum and
postmenopausal period. In contrast, among women who
use condoms we would expect less of a change in depres-
sive symptoms during these times.
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Using a variety of different and often provocative examples, this chapter illustrates how evolutionary theory can be used to think about things in new and sometimes even counterintuitive ways. Examples include how semen sampling may be an evolved mate-choice mechanism, why pubic hair removal may promote pedophilia, why we owe our existence to the moon, why the risk of conception is higher as a result of being raped, why bottle-feeding your previous child may put your next child at risk of becoming autistic, and why smart people are attracted to evolutionary studies. The chapter argues that evolutionary theory enables people to think about human behavior and human existence in ways that are outside the box.
... Dit leidt tot de suggestie dat semen in de vrouwelijke genitalia antidepressieve eigenschappen zou kunnen hebben. (7) Psychosociale problemen, zoals rouw, scheiding en partnerrelatieproblemen, kunnen bijdragen aan zowel depressie als seksuele disfuncties. Andersom trekt een depressie vaak een zware wissel op de relatie en er ontstaat gemakkelijk een vicieuze cirkel van depressie, relatieproblemen en seksuele problemen. ...
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Kernpunten van het hoofdstuk • Veel psychiatrische stoornissen gaan gepaard met veranderingen van het seksueel functioneren. Het is in het kader van diagnostiek en behandeling van belang hier actief aandacht aan te geven. • Kennis van de invloed van psychiatrische stoornissen op seksueel functioneren kan effectief in de behandeling worden ingepast. • Sociale gevolgen van het primaire psychiatrische lijden, én visies en vooroordelen in de samenleving rond seksualiteit van mensen met een psychiatrische stoornis beïnvloeden de mogelijkheden in het seksueel functioneren. • Veel psychofarmaca beïnvloeden het seksueel functioneren, bijvoorbeeld via hun invloed op het dopamine-, noradrenaline- en serotoninesysteem. • Het is van belang om bij de evaluatie van gewenste en ongewenste effecten van een geneesmiddel ook de effecten op seksualiteit te betrekken en de mogelijkheid voor farmacologische interventies te overwegen. • Kennis van farmacologische mechanismen inclusief effecten op het hormonale systeem is van belang bij het overwegen van behandelingsstrategieën voor seksuele.
... 1) They may produce more oxytocin [62][63][64][65][66][67][68][69] due to positive interactions between family members, especially those between spouses [64,65,70,71]. Oxytocin may inhibit the progression of human ovarian carcinoma cells [28,29]. ...
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