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Michael Slezak is a freelance science writer, blogger and casual philosophy tutor and lecturer. His writing has appeared in various publications including The Guardian Online, The Sydney Morning Herald, ABC Science Online, Crikey and New Matilda. Michael's journalistic interests include science, the media, politics and the arts. His academic interest is broadly within the philosophy of science.
The Herald Sun, not exactly known for its high-quality science reporting, has come out with a cracker today about sex and its health benefits. It’s a wonderful mixture of very old news and the sensationalising of some very questionable results. But, its about sex so already in a few short hours its being tweeted like mad and dugg by hundreds of people. Let’s have a quick look at some of the claims in the article whcih range from the boring to the truly irresponsible.
The article opens by reporting on a study that correlates regular sex with not dying. It doesn’t mention that this study was done in 1997, that the study actually correlates orgasms (not sex) with lower mortality rates nor that the study fails to show that there is any causal link between orgasms and lower mortality rates. The study (as interesting as it is) doesn’t rule out, for example, the possibility that being in a long-term relationship causes lower mortality. Nor that the causal link may be the other way around.
So much for the news-hook.
From there the article gets worse. Christina Larmer uses the 12-year-old study as an excuse to talk about a bunch of claims that vary between bleedingly obvious and utterly bogus and irresponsible.
On the obvious side Larmer tells points out that sex “keeps you fit” and makes you happy. Well, thanks. Who would have guessed it?
On the bogus and irresponsible side, Larmer reports that women who have sex with male partners not wearing a condom have less depression than their condom-pushing sisters. She reports that some doctor has a theory that “semen contains the hormone prostaglandin, which may be absorbed through the vagina and act like an antidepressant.”
This kind of reporting is outrageous. There was one study published in 2002 in an obscure journal claiming to have found that semen acts this way. Firstly, everyone knows (or ought to know) that one study generally proves nothing on its own. Moreover, this study has some serious flaws. (One obvious one being that couples that don’t use condoms are probably in a more serious relationship and that might be what makes them happy.)
If Larmer had bothered googling the study, she would have found that every scientist asked to comment on the study expressed serious doubts and raised some serious questions. Telling depressed women that they ought to have sex without condoms to get happier is a seriously disturbing thing to do.
The article concludes with some fear-mongering about what will happen to your genitals if you don’t have enough sex. They’re not even worth repeating here.
There’s no doubt that sex is good for you but this article ought to be unpublished. Why don’t they just replace it with a link to any one of the many nearly identical lists of reasons why sex is good for you all over the internet. Here’s one that’s nearly identical without the completely ridiculous things included in the Herald-Sun story.
Update: Here’s the references for Researchblogging.org.
Gallup GG Jr, Burch RL, & Platek SM (2002). Does semen have antidepressant properties? Archives of sexual behavior, 31 (3), 289-93 PMID: 12049024... Read more »
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