Political correctness can get in the way of science. Lazar Greenfield, president-elect of the American College of Surgeons (ACS), recently had to resign as editor of Surgery News and from his position in the ACS after being accused of sexism despite his reputation for supporting women in surgery.
What caused this fall from grace? He wrote in a Valentine Day themed editorial in Surgery News about the anti-depressant effect of semen.
He cited a study that reported the mood enhancing effects of semen on women and suggested that “there was a better gift on Valentine’s day than chocolate”.
The original study in 2002 by Gordon Gallup, a psychologist at SUNY-Albany, found that women whose partners didn’t use condoms were less depressed. Depressive symptoms and suicide attempts were higher among women who used condoms regularly compared to those who didn’t. Furthermore women who didn’t use condoms became more depressed the longer they went without sex.
Gallup suggested that this was because semen contains oestrogen and prostaglandins, which have been linked to lower levels of depression, and oxytocin a hormone which promotes bonding. He also added a health warning about unwanted pregnancies and STDs which would offset any positive psychological effects.
In fact he elaborated further on this after the so-called “semengate” controversy. He thinks the anti-depressant properties of semen may promote bonding between sexual partners. He also thinks the reaction to Greenfield is “a tragic over-reaction” and “the point at which the political agenda dictates what science is about is the point where science ceases to be a viable enterprise”.
And still on the subject of semen, biologists at Indiana University have been looking at 19c family records of Mormons in Utah when polygamy was still common (Mormon leader Brigham Young had 55 wives and 56 children). They have published their findings in the US Journal of Evolution and Human Behaviour.
They discovered that the more wives they had the fewer children each wife produced. So although it’s great in overall numbers of children produced for men to have harems, for every new women added to the harem the number of children each wife produced went down by one.
This is the first example of the Bateman gradient in humans. Bateman was a geneticist who observed in fruit flies that the more sexual partners the male had, the fewer pregnancies amongst the females.
Basically after a while the dominant male is firing blanks. Whether through sheer exhaustion or lack of stamina, competition between women in a plural marriage for shared resources, or some other reason.