Cut to this past February. Lazar Greenfield, the incoming president of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), wrote a short Valentine's Day-themed editorial about mating in Surgery News. In it, he discussed the sex lives of fruit flies, rotifers and humans. He cited the SUNY Albany study before concluding: "So there's a deeper bond between men and women than St. Valentine would have suspected, and now we know there's a better gift for that day than chocolates." That gift, of course, being semen.
Greenfield's editorial sparked a controversy among ACS members, many of whom felt it was blatantly sexist. In response to the flap, Greenfield -- a highly respected retired professor at the University of Michigan with a reputation for supporting women in surgery -- apologized and stepped down from his post as editor of Surgery News; two weeks ago, as the controversy continued, he also resigned from his position at the College. In an interview with the Detroit Free Press Greenfield said, "The editorial was a review of what I thought was some fascinating new findings related to semen, and the way in which nature is trying to promote a stronger bond between men and women."
Setting aside the unfortunate politics of this story, I decided to look into the science behind "Semengate" for my first Sex Files column. Could the stuff in semen actually be nature's own antidepressant?
In the 2002 study, 293 college women filled out questionnaires about their sexual histories and took the Beck Depression Inventory (BDI), a widely used measure of depression symptoms. Women who always had unprotected sex had significantly lower levels of depression symptoms than those who usually or always used condoms, as well as those who abstained from sex. There was no significant difference in depression between condom users and abstainers, indicating that the physical act of sex itself wasn't the mood-boosting factor.