The newest episode of Stuff Mom Never Told You tackles a question that my mama certainly never discussed with me: Does semen make you happier? And by you, I mean heterosexual women who are sexually active. Molly and I didn't cull this question from some crude bathroom humor source, either. It received heaps of scientific attention starting back in 2002 when psychologist Gordon Gallup postulated that, yes, indeed it does.
In his study "Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties?" (published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior), Gallup and a pair of other psychologists compared sexually active women's condom use to their rate of "depressive symptoms" and found that women who engaged in condom-less sex more often were perkier than the women who wrapped it up. Moreover, the women having sex sans condoms experienced something akin to semen withdrawal when the lovemaking tapered off.
Somewhere, my mother is blushing.
Why might semen -- not to be confused with sperm -- have such an effect? The cocktail of testosterone, estrogen, prolactin and other hormones contained in semen might act as an upper when absorbed into the vagina. And while the Gallup study only samples heterosexual females, Jesse Bering over at Scientific American highlights a similar correlation among homosexual men having unprotected anal sex.
Gallup acknowledges in the study that the "data are preliminary and correlational in nature, and as such are only suggestive." (Read: this is not an excuse to exercise risky sexual behavior by not using condoms in the hope of getting a mood lift.) But the findings are nevertheless intriguing since condom use was the only factor significantly related to depression. Relationship status, oral contraceptive use and sex frequency didn't appear to make as much of a difference on depressive symptoms as that thin sheet of latex. At the same time, the study didn't poll participants on withdrawal use, relationship health and stability and other influential components. So perhaps it's neither the size of the boat, nor the motion of the ocean, but the fuel in the ship's engine that makes the difference.