A recent study found mood-boosting compounds in a surprising source: semen. So should you undress if you're feeling depressed?
The relationship between depression and sex is complex. Depression can steal your sex drive, make off with your motivation, and deplete any desire you once had to feel attractive. On the flip side, many aspects of sex can help boost your mood and act as a buffer against depression's effects.
How? One surprising recent study actually suggests that exposure to semen may help fight depression. Beyond sperm, the research found that semen may provide mood-boosting hormones and chemical compounds for women.
Researchers curious about the depression and sex (specifically semen) link tested the theory with college-age women. They found that those who used condoms (and were therefore less exposed to semen) were more likely to be depressed than those who did not use condoms. On the other hand, among women who did not use condoms, the longer they went without having sex (or being exposed to semen), the more likely they were to be depressed.
These results speak specifically to the mood-boosting benefits of sex for women, who are more likely than men to suffer from depression. But a romp in the hay may keep men upbeat as well.
"Our data on males indicate that the sex act elevates mood," says Rebecca Burch, PhD, a researcher in the department of psychology at the State University of New York in Oswego, and one of the authors of the semen study. "The condom groups did not differ in depressive symptoms, but the males who were not having sex were significantly more depressed."
Dr. Burch and her colleagues acknowledge that there are still many unanswered questions surrounding the relationship between depression and sex. For example, are men who aren't having sex depressed because of the lack of sex, or are they not having sex because of depression's side effects? Are women with mood disorders basically self-medicating with unprotected sex? More research is needed to find the answers.
But the semen study doesn't mean throw all caution to the wind. In fact, risky sex has been associated with negative self-esteem. Burch stresses that, despite the possible mood enhancing effect of semen, "unprotected sex can lead to plenty of depressing conditions like sexually transmitted diseases or unwanted pregnancy."
Even with a condom, she notes that women and men can still benefit from the mood-enhancing effects of orgasms, as well as the emotional bond that come from an intimate relationship.
Is depression keeping you or your partner from lovemaking and its mood-lifting benefits? Revive your sex drive with these steps:
- Deal with depression. Although it's no quick fix, treating your depression or your partner's depression with therapy, lifestyle changes, or medication is the surest way back to an active sex life.
- Nip side effects in the bud. Low sex drive or lack of response is a side effect of certain antidepressants, so talk to your doctor about other options. Low libido can also be the side effect of lifestyle choices, such as regular alcohol consumption.
- Seduce him (or her). You may find that a little seduction is all that's needed. Experimenting with erotica or sticking with some of the old stand-bys (flowers, candles, and sexy clothing) could get you both in the mood.
- Make it a date night! Depression can leave you with little motivation to dress up for a night on the town. Schedule a date night — it'll force both of you to make an effort. Be sure to plan an activity you both find enjoyable and relaxing — you may even find that the anticipation itself is an aphrodisiac.
- Unwind. Stress and depression too often go hand in hand. A couples' massage could be the ticket to helping you both feel sexy.
With a little creativity and effort, you'll soon be able to reconnect and enjoy the mood-enhancing effects of sex.