The surgeon, the resignation and a closer look at that semen research

By Marissa Cevallos, HealthKey

8:02 PM CDT, April 18, 2011

So the president-elect of the American College of Surgeons has resigned amid a brouhaha over an editorial he wrote for Valentine’s Day on the mental health benefits of semen for women.

In the editorial, which he wrote for Surgery News as then editor-in-chief, Dr. Lazar Greenfield opined on a few scientific tidbits of animal courtship, starting with how bacteria can be an aphrodisiac for fruit flies. The research with which he concluded his article, a study of female college students having unprotected sex, is what got him in trouble:

Here’s what he wrote, in part:

“Female college students having unprotected sex were significantly less depressed than were those whose partners used condoms (Arch. Sex. Behav. 2002;31:289-93). Their better moods were not just a feature of promiscuity, because women using condoms were just as depressed as those practicing total abstinence. The benefits of semen contact also were seen in fewer suicide attempts and better performance on cognition tests.

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.”

He was quoted in Monday’s New York Times as saying: “I only hope that those who choose to judge me will read the article in the spirit in which it was intended.”

But let’s take a closer look at the research he was so indelicate as to mention. In 2002, psychologists at the State University of New York at Albany asked 293 college females to answer questions about frequency of sexual intercourse and types of contraceptives used, as well as questions from the Beck Depression Inventory, a standard mood-assessing questionnaire (a score over 17 is considered depressed). The team found women whose partners never use condoms scored 8 on average, those who used them sometimes scored 10.5, and those who weren’t having sex scored 13.5, they published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior.

The researchers write in the paper’s abstract:

“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.”

The researchers told New Scientist they tried to find alternative explanations, such as the strength of their relationships or personality types of the women, but settled on one explanation for the variability in happiness—that semen’s mood-altering hormones are absorbed into the bloodstream.

The research made a splash when it came out nearly 10 years ago, and is a Valentine’s Day favorite among science blogs as much as Cupid.

Others, particularly readers of Surgery News, may have felt a little less love.


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