I know I'm dating myself by referencing an SNL bit circa 1986, but I couldn't resist. Those of you who've read Microscopic Mind Control know that toxoplasma, the bacteria people pick up from house cats, is purported to make women more "outgoing and warmhearted." Well, according to New York State University Psychologist Gordon Gallup, semen is an even more powerful organic anti-depressant. In 2002, Gallup conducted a study that suggested that women who regularly engage in unprotected sex (both vaginal and oral) are happier than their conscientious counterparts. (Semen Acts as Anti-depressant)
When I first stumbled on Gallup's findings, I couldn't help but wonder what prompted this line of inquiry. It seems less like science than a plan hatched in a boy's locker room. 'Let's see, how can we convince girls to swallow?' 'I've got it! We'll just tell them that sperm's good for them.'
So how did Gallup measure the emotional benefits of semen?
He divided 293 female students into groups, based on how often their partners used condoms. Then, he administered the Beck Depression Inventory to assess their wellbeing. Anyone who scores under 17 on the 21 question emotional inventory is considered mentally sound.
Gallup found that women who never used condoms scored 8 on the Beck scale; women who used them intermittently scored 10.5; women who frequently used protection came in at 15; and those who swore by condoms scored 11.3. (Incidentally, Gallup also administered the test to a group of abstainers. They scored 13.5.)
There are several reasons I'm suspicious of Gallup's claim that unprotected sex is a mental magic bullet. First, the psychologist maintains that he screened out other criteria that might influence a woman's state of mind. He adjusted for the stability of relationships and the possibility that certain personality types were inherently predisposed to use condoms. While I commend him for trying, it strikes me that a number of other factors contribute to mood: job satisfaction, family relationships, exercise and eating habits, to name just a few.
Second, the numbers just don't add up. If Gallup's hypothesis is correct, I find it strange that the women who used condoms most of the time scored 15, indicating a minor case of the blues, while women who always used them came in at a respectable 11.3.
But, most importantly, Gallup seems to be indulging in a little hyperbole here. He may have demonstrated that semen enhances mood, but he certainly hasn't proven that it's an anti-depressant. Why? Because nobody in his study was depressed to begin with! Not one of his test subjects scored 17 or above on the Beck scale, the range required to qualify as clinically depressed.
Still, it's worth noting that a more recent study seems to support Gallup's notion that semen is an upper. A group of researchers at the State University of New York conducted a study of 1000 women, which provides further evidence that regular semen exposure boosts mood. (HappySemen)
Unlike Gallup, this team of researchers provides biological evidence to back up their claims. They ascribe semen's mood-altering effects to a cocktail of hormones. Semen, apparently, contains a wide-rage of psychoactive chemicals:
*Arginine: an amino acid believed to increase blood flow and blunt pain
*Tyrosine: a chemical that gets converted into adrenaline
*Dopamine: the much-publicized happy drug
*Beta-endorphins: a painkiller that lowers anxiety
*Estrogen and Oxytocin: two "female" hormones linked respectively with happiness and pair bonding.
Who knew? Actually, there is a kind of Darwinian logic to the idea that semen makes women happy. If women feel good when they come in contact with sperm, they're more likely to procreate. (I'm surprised that evolutionary psychologists haven't already latched on to these findings.)
These studies are intriguing, but not persuasive enough to convince me that semen-based drugs will be the next big thing in anti-depressants. And for the sake of teenage girls everywhere, I hope adolescent boys aren't spending their time pouring over scientific journals.