There’s been a bit of an uproar in the medical community recently over an editorial published in Surgery News, a publication associated with the American College of Surgeons. The editorial, written by Dr. Lazar J. Greenfield, the president-elect of the organization, has the gall to suggest that there are chemical elements in semen that decrease feelings of depression in women, and cites a couple of studies with results that support that theory. In the studies, as one might imagine, the women found to be happier were those having unprotected sex.
According to a blog called Retraction Watch, which published the editorial in full, Greenfield writes:
[Researchers] found ingredients in semen that include mood enhancers like estrone, cortisol, prolactin, oxytocin, and serotonin; a sleep enhancer, melatonin; and of course, sperm, which makes up only 1%-5%. Delivering these compounds into the richly vascularized vagina also turns out to have major salutary effects for the recipient. Female college students having unprotected sex were significantly less depressed than were those whose partners used condoms.
Which seems…scientifically interesting at best, and a bit thoughtless as far as condoning unprotected sex at worst.
But after the editorial was published, Greenfield was promptly accused not of being careless or picking a topic that’s in poor taste, but of being offensive to women. The article was pulled, and then the entire edition of the publication was pulled.
And that is what I would call…an overreaction.
Listen. As a person who writes about health on a fairly regular basis, I can tell you that doctors and researchers don’t usually think about science in terms of its political correctness — nor should they. Why? Because scientific research is not politically correct. Biological facts are not worried about whether they will be offensive. And in fact, any scientist who holds their tongue when reporting results of a study for fear of upsetting advocacy groups would be a shoddy scientist indeed.
Now, if the science that Greenfield cited was found to be flawed — as surgeon Dr. Colleen Brophy suggested it was in an interview with the New York Times — that would be something else. But in the same article, Greenfield was championed as someone who had gone out of his way to mentor female surgeons, and encourage them in a field that is still dominated by men.
Which leads me to believe that his editorial was just a poorly thought out topic, written by someone who is used to thinking in terms of facts, not in terms of feelings.
From a feminist point of view, it’s a dangerous road to go down to call the results of scientific research degrading to women because you don’t like what they reveal about our biology. In fact, that makes us no better than those who ignore science in favor of anti-abortion or anti-birth-control ideology. Sure, the effects of semen on women’s moods might be an odd subject for a scientific publication, but anti-woman it is not.