Semen Retention Myth: Semen Cures Depression

by Cam Fraser // May 18 // 0 Comments

I recently saw this post and want to use this as an opportunity to educate.

We’ll start from the top...

Women report more mild depression whereas men report more severe depression (Hajduk et al., 2011). Depressed men are more likely to report loss of appetite, weight loss, insomnia, anger, irritability, and are more likely to engage in alcohol and substance abuse than depressed women (Sloan & Sandt, 2006). However, women have a higher prevalence rate of depression compared to men (Li et al., 2023; Salk, Hyde, & Abramson, 2017; Kuehner, 2017).

The source of this claim seems to be the following journal article from 2002.

What the study actually found was that women who did not use condoms during sex had lower levels of depressive symptoms compared to women who usually or always used them, and to women who abstained from sex altogether.

The authors suggest this resulted from vaginal absorption of semen, citing a single-case study from 1986 which argued that prostaglandins found in semen can be absorbed into a woman’s bloodstream and have an antidepressant effect.

This paper in turn cites a 1977 review of prostaglandins.

However, this review found one study which reported slight increases in prostaglandin synthesis in depressed patients (Abdulla & Hamadah, 1975). A later study also found that prostaglandin concentrations were significantly higher in depressed patients (Ohishi et al., 1988).

If the absorption of prostaglandins in semen had an antidepressant effect, you’d expect depressed patients to have lower levels, yet this doesn’t appear to be true. Hence the idea that semen has anti-depressant properties doesn’t appear to be based on available evidence.

I could only find one source about oral sex and swallowing sperm...

...which found that it may be correlated with a diminished occurrence of preeclampsia, not depression. Again, based on what I could find, there is no credible evidence for the claim that semen is an antidepressant.

Claims like this are a result of media outlets misreporting scientific papers.

And semen retention zealots not doing their due diligence, falling prey to confirmation bias.

Returning back to the journal article from 2002 which seems to be the central source for this claim, it is stated in the research methods:

However, given that 13% of women in one study reported that withdrawal was their most effective method of contraception (Jones, Lindberg, & Higgins, 2014), it follows that condom usage isn’t a reliable measure of the presence of semen in the vagina.

The authors of the 2002 article also did not properly consider a range of alternative explanations. For example, instead of condom usage causing depression, depression itself may lead to condom usage.

This 1996 study examined safe sex practices over a three-month period and found that women who were depressed when the study began or who became depressed later on were more likely to use condoms.

Even in a study like this, it is still difficult to untangle causality, as isn’t clear why the women were initially depressed or if sexual activity impacted it.

All this is to say that, the claim that semen has an antidepressant effect is not only lacking any direct evidence, there does not even appear to be any plausible biological reason to believe that the components of semen have a beneficial effect on mood.

Unfortunately, this won’t stop semen retention zealots from promoting, perpetuating, and peddling this medical misinformation.

Cam Fraser is a Certified Professional Sex Coach and Certified Sexologist. Being a former Tantric Yoga Teacher, his work integrates scientifically validated, medically accurate information about sexual health, with sacred sexuality teachings from the mystery traditions. As a coach, he helps men go beyond surface-level sex and into full-bodied, self-expressed, pleasure-oriented sexual experiences free of anxiety or shame.

Learn more about masculinity and sexuality. Start Now!