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The "Magical" Properties of Semen
Several years ago, a SUNY Albany study linked unprotected sex with elevated mood in college-aged women. The researchers surveyed nearly 300 female students about both their sexual practices and their mood. The results were striking -- women who reported engaging regularly in oral sex or unprotected sexual intercourse reported as being happier (as measured by the Beck Depression Inventory) than those who used condoms during intercourse or abstained from sex altogether.
The authors suggested that semen might be a natural mood-elevator. After all, it contains chemicals like estrone, oxytocin, cortisol, serotonin and melatonin, stuff that is linked to better mood, increased affection and better sleep. Yet, they knew that they could not claim causality. Even the study's title, "Does Semen Have Anti-Depressant Properties?" left the result as more of an interesting question than a foregone conclusion.
Yet that didn't stop the media from running with the idea that bareback sex might be the cure for what ails you. They heralded semen as Mother Nature's natural anti-depressant--you can imagine the fun blog posts and late night talk show jokes. And for some reason, just this week, the study has gotten a new set of legs--and is being reported again on sites like Gawker.
I can only think it's because a new study from University of Saskatchewan scientists suggests that semen can "magically" trigger ovulation.
While the SUNY Albany study offers a lot more questions than answers (for example, are women who are having unprotected sex more likely to be in long-term relationships or involved in some other activity that might explain that correlation with elevated mood?), the Saskatchewan project gives us some harder science to ponder.
Gregg Adams, lead author of the paper, discovered that a protein called the ovulation-inducing factor (OIF) sends a signal to the female brain to release hormones. Those hormones then set up the body to ovulate, no matter where in her cycle that female might be. He first saw it 10 years ago in camels. And since this protein is also one that's been shown to play an important role in normal neuron function, he was intrigued.
Adams and colleagues have now shown that this protein helps to stimulate ovulation in other mammals including llamas, koalas, rabbits and cats, elegantly documenting how OIF signals the brain to cue up ovulation.
I find this study very interesting (and, as a woman, admittedly, vaguely frightening). This work, of course, has potential implications for our understanding of fertility and infertility--and may also identify new targets for contraception. It might also explain a lot of so-called "Ooops" babies.
So I'm not sure I'd go so far as to say that semen contains some bit of "magic," as some media mentions have suggested. Yet I think these studies suggest that biology often has tricky little back-up plans in place to ensure, one way or another, we successfully reproduce. What do you think?
Credit: Peeradach Rattanakoses/Shutterstock.com
Andy Samberg and Cristin Milioti get stuck in an infinite wedding time loop.
- Two wedding guests discover they're trapped in an infinite time loop, waking up in Palm Springs over and over and over.
- As the reality of their situation sets in, Nyles and Sarah decide to enjoy the repetitive awakenings.
- The film is perfectly timed for a world sheltering at home during a pandemic.
China moves to Russia and India takes over Canada. The Swiss get Bangladesh, the Bangladeshi India. And the U.S.? It stays where it is.
What if the world were rearranged so that the inhabitants of the country with the largest population would move to the country with the largest area? And the second-largest population would migrate to the second-largest country, and so on?
A recent analysis of a 76-million-year-old Centrosaurus apertus fibula confirmed that dinosaurs suffered from cancer, too.
- The fibula was originally discovered in 1989, though at the time scientists believed the damaged bone had been fractured.
- After reanalyzing the bone, and comparing it with fibulas from a human and another dinosaur, a team of scientists confirmed that the dinosaur suffered from the bone cancer osteosarcoma.
- The study shows how modern techniques can help scientists learn about the ancient origins of diseases.
Centrosaurus apertus fibula
Royal Ontario Museum<p>In the recent study, the team used a combination of techniques to analyze the fibula, including taking CT scans, casting the bone and studying thin slices of it under a microscope. The analysis suggested that the dinosaur likely suffered from osteosarcoma, a type of bone cancer that affects modern humans, typically young adults.</p><p>For further evidence, the team compared the damaged fibula to a healthy fibula from a dinosaur of the same species, and also to a fibula that belonged to a 19-year-old human who suffered from osteosarcoma. Both comparisons supported the osteosarcoma diagnosis.</p>
Evans et al.<p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The shin bone shows aggressive cancer at an advanced stage," Evans said in a <a href="https://www.rom.on.ca/en/about-us/newsroom/press-releases/rare-malignant-cancer-diagnosed-in-a-dinosaur" target="_blank">press release</a>. "The cancer would have had crippling effects on the individual and made it very vulnerable to the formidable tyrannosaur predators of the time."</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"The fact that this plant-eating dinosaur lived in a large, protective herd may have allowed it to survive longer than it normally would have with such a devastating disease."</p><p>The fossilized fibula was originally unearthed in a bonebed alongside the remains of dozens of other <em>Centrosaurus </em><em>apertus</em>, suggesting the dinosaur didn't die from cancer, but from a flood that swept it away with its herd.</p>
Dinosaur fibula; the tumor mass is depicted in yellow.
Royal Ontario Museum/McMaster University<p>The new study highlights how modern techniques can help scientists learn more about the evolutionary origins of modern diseases, like cancer. It also shows that dinosaurs suffered through some of the same terrestrial afflictions humans face today.</p><p style="margin-left: 20px;">"Dinosaurs can seem like mythical creatures, but they were living, breathing animals that suffered through horrible injuries and diseases," Evans said, "and this discovery certainly makes them more real and helps bring them to life in that respect."</p>
Join the lauded author of Range in conversation with best-selling author and poker pro Maria Konnikova!
UPDATE: Unfortunately, Malcolm Gladwell was not able to make the live stream due to scheduling issues. Fortunately, David Epstein was able to jump in at a moment's notice. We hope you enjoy this great yet unexpected episode of Big Think Live. Our thanks to David and Maria for helping us deliver a show, it is much appreciated.