This is part of a series addressing 1flesh, an organization that argues against contraception and promotes the exclusive use of one method of fertility awareness. Please read Part I, Part II, and Part III.
I’ve already discussed 1flesh’s philosophical ideas; it is now time to address their specific arguments against contraception. On to condoms!
From their website:
The condom is American as apple pie. Kids are taught from middle-school how to use them, the government spends millions to make them available without cost, and public bathrooms hold them as they used to hold cigarettes – a 450 million dollar industry, booming in all respects.
Well, they do if they don’t go to a school with abstinence-only programs, I guess. It also appears that people are really bad at using condoms, which is definitely a failure of education somewhere down the line.
Semen is an antidepressant. A study published in the journal Archives of Sexual Behavior found that “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.” Semen contains a hormone called prostaglandin, and the female genital tract absorbs this hormone. The greater the amount absorbed, the lower the rate of depression. Condoms ruin this effect of sex by preventing semen from naturally entering a woman.
Another effect of this hormone is to bond the couple to each other, especially the woman to her man. The same study found that women “needed” their partner and desired sex with him more than couples using condoms: “For females who did not use condoms, depression scores went up as the amount of time since their last sexual encounter increased.” In our current culture, where we are desperate to be loved and needed by another but instead find our sex-lives boring and unsatisfying, condoms aren’t helping. The natural biology of sex works to keep couples together — wanting, needing and waiting for each other.
I told you we’d talk about semen! After all, semen absorption is the only thing standing between women and crushing, suicidal depression. Because women are crazy! Without semen, their uteri could go wandering all over their bodies! It would be mass hysteria!
They are referencing a preliminary study of 293 female students at SUNY-Albany. The study was self-reporting; the women were asked to fill out an anonymous written questionnaire. It’s never been replicated, and the author of the study, Gordon Gallup, admits that it would be difficult to do so, because it would involve manipulating the presence or absence of semen, which would be ethically problematic. Interviewed for an article in Salon, Gallup also says that the findings were ‘largely correlational’ and raised more questions than they answered.
[Digression: Gallup also writes that 'Seminal plasma evolved to control and manipulate the female reproductive system so as to work toward the best interests of the donor –- the male'. Control? Manipulate? That sounds remarkably hostile. In my college anthropology class we studied the language of reproductive science studies, and sperm and eggs are frequently endowed with stereotypical masculine and feminine traits. Sperm is portrayed as vigorous and proactive, and eggs as passive, or alternatively, predatory (seductive). Words mean things, people.]
Although it seems that scientists haven’t taken this very seriously, there have been a number of criticisms of this study: the sample size was selected for convenience and is too small to draw far-reaching conclusions; the authors used only an indirect measure of semen exposure (self-reported condom use); they didn’t ask the women qualitative questions about larger reproductive choices; and there were confounders with hormonal contraceptive use that couldn’t be fully addressed by the study.
I think the lack of analysis of relationship quality and reproductive choices leaves a lot of stones unturned. This study was meant to test a hypothesis that semen lowers depression, after all, and depression is plenty complex. So is sex–it’s a lot more involved than whether or not semen gets absorbed by the vaginal wall. Is it possible that condom use is lower among committed monogamous couples, who report lower levels of depression because they’re in a supportive relationship–not because of semen exposure? What about people with multiple partners who don’t use condoms? Did depression increase between sexual encounters because of condom use behaviors, or because they weren’t having sex, period? What about a myriad of other factors that can determine how depressive one feels, which may or may not have anything to do with sexual behaviors?
What about gay men? What about lesbians?
Are nuns more depressive and suicidal because they don’t absorb semen?
I don’t have answers to these questions, I’m just pointing out that this study is flawed and raises more questions than answers, just like its author said.
There have also been other studies disputing the correlation between certain sexual behaviors, including lack of condom use, and better mental health.
I’m not saying 1flesh can’t reference the study, but to take one self-reporting preliminary study with a small sample size, which has been heavily criticized and never replicated, and treat it as completely factual and worthy of bolstering an entire argument, is intellectually dishonest.
And I’m not sure how any of this keeps couples ‘waiting’ for each other. Following the logic of this argument, it also seems that when a couple using fertility awareness abstains during the woman’s fertile period, the woman would become depressed, because she’s not absorbing semen. That doesn’t sound sustainable.
Even if the findings are true, they don’t justify not using condoms. Any effect would have to be minimal, and unplanned pregnancies and STIs are not going to make people feel less depressive. This is why I wish 1flesh would just admit that they’re Catholic; at least it would be more consistent. None of their arguments, in my opinion, justify rejecting contraception as a concept. At the core, they reject contraception because of their religion, and they’re merely trying to impose science and non-Christian philosophy on top of it.