Just in case you thought we only had one post related to penises and surgery today …
The editor-in-chief of Surgery News and president-elect of the American College of Surgeons, Dr. Lazar Greenfield has resigned after publishing a Valentine’s Day editorial that enraged female colleagues. The offending piece cited a 2002 Archives of Sexual Behavior study titled “Does Semen Have Antidepressant Properties?” and included the joke “[N]ow we know there’s a better gift for that day than chocolates.”
First of all, a man ought to give a woman chocolates and semen on Valentine’s Day. But more importantly, we need to ask: Is this guy a misogynistic jerk, discouraging young women from entering the medical field, or is he being crucified over a harmless, albeit inappropriate, attempt at humor?
Ann M. Little, a professor at Colorado State University, is convinced of the former. She refers to the likes of Greenfield as “entitled sexist a–holes,” and suggests: “Someone needs a massive shipment of used tampons in his in-box … I just don’t think we think hard enough about the language we use.” (The first and second halves of this quote are totally consistent.)
On the other end of the spectrum is evolutionary psychologist Gordon G. Gallup Jr., who conducted the original semen-as-antidepressant study, and defends Greenfield. We asked him for his opinion. And asked him to clarify his, uh, seminal research.
What’s your take on this controversy?
People are overreacting to it, frankly. People who want to evaluate the research are free to do so, but I don’t think he said anything that was erroneous. People are reacting to it more on an emotional level than on a medical level. It’s political correctness, not a matter of science or evidence. It’s a shame he was forced to resign; I don’t think he was intending to offend anybody. Offense is in the eye of the beholder. … The criticisms are unfounded; they are based on emotions and feelings and politics, not based on the evidence.
What exactly did you conclude from the study?
What we discovered—which we’ve replicated and extended—is that among female college students, those having sex without condoms are less depressed as measured by objective scores on the Beck Depression Inventory, which is the test of choice by practicing clinicians for evaluating patients. We partitioned them into three groups—those having unprotected sex, those having sex with condoms, and those not having sex—and then partitioned them into subsets based on whether they were taking birth control pills, whether they were in committed relationships, and how long the relationships were going on. The antidepressant effect of semen exposure was the same accounting for the variables, while students having sex with condoms had the same rate of depression as students not having sex at all. (Approximately 13.5 percent of females who abstained or used condoms attempted suicide, as opposed to 4.5 percent of females exposed to semen.)
What’s the biological explanation?
Nobody knows the chemical process. Semen contains very large, complicated array of different compounds. Only 5 percent of ejaculate is sperm; what’s left is seminal plasma, which is a very rich concoction of chemicals, many of which have mood-altering effects from hormones and endorphins. There are even female sex hormones in male semen. Within an hour or two of unprotected sex, you can detect heightened levels of seminal chemicals in a woman’s bloodstream.
Does oral sex have the same effect?
There is evidence that chemicals in semen can survive the digestion process. I get a lot of emails, “semen testimonials,” from females who swear that the effect is robust and genuine.
So you’re saying unprotected intercourse and swallowing are the secrets to female happiness?
It’s not a happiness effect; it’s an effect on depression. There’s no evidence that it makes women happy, which is how a lot of people misconstrued it; just because you’re not depressed doesn’t mean you’re happy and vice versa. We’re not encouraging unprotected sex. If you think you’re depressed now and throw your condoms away, just wait until you have an unplanned pregnancy or a sexually transmitted disease!