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

3D printing might save your life one day. It's transforming medicine and health care.

What can 3D printing do for medicine? The "sky is the limit," says Northwell Health researcher Dr. Todd Goldstein.

Northwell Health
Sponsored by Northwell Health
  • Medical professionals are currently using 3D printers to create prosthetics and patient-specific organ models that doctors can use to prepare for surgery.
  • Eventually, scientists hope to print patient-specific organs that can be transplanted safely into the human body.
  • Northwell Health, New York State's largest health care provider, is pioneering 3D printing in medicine in three key ways.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Push Past Negative Self-Talk: Give Yourself the Proper Fuel to Attack the World, with David Goggins, Former NAVY SealIf you've ever spent 5 minutes trying to meditate, you know something most people don't realize: that our minds are filled, much of the time, with negative nonsense. Messaging from TV, from the news, from advertising, and from difficult daily interactions pulls us mentally in every direction, insisting that we focus on or worry about this or that. To start from a place of strength and stability, you need to quiet your mind and gain control. For former NAVY Seal David Goggins, this begins with recognizing all the negative self-messaging and committing to quieting the mind. It continues with replacing the negative thoughts with positive ones.

10 new things we’ve learned about death

If you don't want to know anything about your death, consider this your spoiler warning.

Culture & Religion
  • For centuries cultures have personified death to give this terrifying mystery a familiar face.
  • Modern science has demystified death by divulging its biological processes, yet many questions remain.
  • Studying death is not meant to be a morbid reminder of a cruel fate, but a way to improve the lives of the living.
Keep reading Show less
Big Think Edge
  • Master Execution: How to Get from Point A to Point B in 7 Steps, with Rob Roy, Retired Navy SEALUsing the principles of SEAL training to forge better bosses, former Navy SEAL and founder of the Leadership Under Fire series Rob Roy, a self-described "Hammer", makes people's lives miserable in the hopes of teaching them how to be a tougher—and better—manager. "We offer something that you are not going to get from reading a book," says Roy. "Real leaders inspire, guide and give hope."Anybody can make a decision when everything is in their favor, but what happens in turbulent times? Roy teaches leaders, through intense experiences, that they can walk into any situation and come out ahead. In this lesson, he outlines seven SEAL-tested steps for executing any plan—even under extreme conditions or crisis situations.