Science of Love, Sex, and Babies

The “psych” in semen

Posted in news by jenapincott on March 25, 2009

hypnotize2My post on mind control properties in semen still attracts a disturbing amount of attention. So to appease your curiosity — and, I’ll admit it, mine — I’ve decided to do a little more investigation into the compounds in semen that may enter the bloodstream after sex. Some may have an indirect effect on the recipient’s hormones. A few may breach the blood-brain barrier, directly influencing mood and sex drive. Several, but not all, of the chemicals have been studied and proven to pass through the vaginal walls. From an evolutionary perspective, mood-modulating components in semen may give a woman an incentive to be in a committed relationship with regular, frequent sex. Apparently, the goo is bonding.

The information below comes from SUNY Albany evolutionary psychologists Gordon Gallup and Rebecca Burch, whose fascinating study on semen and depression I describe in BLONDES. Gallup and Burch wrote a chapter, “The psychobiology of human semen,” published in a compilation of research on sexuality. What they describe, I think, is fascinating.

The primary putative mind-altering ingredients in semen:

Luteinizing hormone: astounding concentration in semen; linked to high sperm count and motility. Absorption into female bloodstream may facilitate or even induce ovulation.

Prolactin: influences maternal behavior, oxytocin secretion; mediates bonding

Estrone and estradiol: assists in recipient’s absorption of other compounds such as progesterone; may boost woman’s sexual motivation and mood

Testosterone: may increase sex drive and motivation; the more intercourse, the higher the testosterone levels in women, and the stronger the sexual desire. More than half the amount of testosterone in sperm has been found to be absorbed by the vagina.

Cytokines: these are the “warriors,” they suppress immune reaction to semen invading the vagina and cervix and therefore increase likelihood of pregnancy

Enkephalins: these opioids may contribute to orgasmic experience. They may decrease anxiety and cause drowsiness after sex.  There’s also speculation that they assist in immune function and “reinforcing effects” — making a woman come back for more, i.e. addiction  (although the absorption rate in female bloodstream is unknown)

Oxytocin: assists in stimulation of ovulation, increases production of other hormones, initiates bonding, facilitates orgasmic contractions; may strengthen bonding and make sexual activity more rewarding

Placental proteins, including human chorionic gonadotrophin (hcg) and human placental lactogen: associated with sperm motility; may increase chances of pregnancy

Relaxin: made in the prostate, this hormone may facilitate fertilization, implantation, and uterine growth. The role of relaxin suggests that women should keep having a lot of sex during pregnancy because sperm has pregnancy-maintaining properties. Relaxin also facilitates implantation and prevents preterm labor.

Thyrotropin-releasing hormones: potential anti-depressive; works by stimulating the release of thyroid-stimulating hormone, which in turn triggers hormone production in the mood-mediating thyroid gland. In pill form, it’s used to treat PMS and depression.

Serotonin: increases sperm motility.  It also mediates mood, although not much known yet about vaginal absorption. Even if it doesn’t make it to the brain, it may indirectly alter behavior and emotions by contributing the building blocks of serotonin

Melatonin: increases effects of steroid hormones; induces sleepiness and fatigue, which may help the woman relax after sex; may stimulate reproductive function, also mood mediator; low melatonin levels are associated with depression and “reality disturbance”

Tyrosine: a precursor of neurotransmitters such as dopamine, the hormone of reward and addiction, and norepinephrine, involved in attention and arousal

Oh, and there’s also sperm in there, the DNA-bearing courier. Sperm is less than 3 percent the total volume of semen. But as it turns out, the bath water is nearly as important as the baby.

n.b. Although not yet studied, researchers suspect that these chemicals in semen may also enter the bloodstream through mucous membranes when having oral and anal sex. If so, straight women aren’t the only lucky recipients.

11 Responses

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  1. nanojath said, on March 25, 2009 at 9:52 pm

    Now I’m highly curious to figure out which of these compounds I’m still producing (or, uh, emitting, I guess) post vasectomy. Any research hints on figuring that one out?

    • jenapincott said, on March 25, 2009 at 9:59 pm

      That’s really interesting. Reading over the chapter, I see that Gallup et al report that testosterone levels are significantly higher in subjects with sperm in their ejaculate than in men with vasectomies. Oxytocin levels are slightly lower in men with vasectomies. There are no differences in prolactin levels.

  2. […] Here is a list of the potential mind-altering “ingredients” in sperm. Possibly related posts: […]

  3. judy said, on March 26, 2009 at 5:41 pm

    holy cow! no wonder it’s so hard to stay out of trouble. the odds (read, chemicals) are against us! (ah, but i remember from a previous post. all we need in the sexual war is a well padded bra.) armed and dangerous.

    • thinkfertile said, on October 21, 2015 at 8:27 pm

      I have failed to see how our sperm is AGAINST you, women. The conclusion of the article seems to be rather the opposite, doesn’t it?

  4. flywheel said, on March 26, 2009 at 7:42 pm

    My dad told me a story when I was I kid that I have been unable to verify.

    Say you have two pure black dogs. They always have pure black puppies. If the female mates with say, a pure white dog, then the puppies of that litter will be a mix, some all white, some all black and some a mix of black and white.

    Say then that you breed the pure black female back to the pure black male, you will continue, at least for a while, to see litters that are a mix, with some characteristics of that pure white dog.

    Now, my dad had not agenda by telling me this and neither do I. This is about dogs. I am wondering if there is any chance that Dad’s story is true. Do you know?

  5. jenapincott said, on March 27, 2009 at 1:11 am

    Judy — no doubt about the bra armor! I still wish there were more studies on women’s chemical arsenal…Always on the lookout!

  6. jenapincott said, on March 27, 2009 at 1:21 am

    Hi, flywheel – No, tell your dad that biology doesn’t work that way….

  7. […] There’s “psych” in semen, oh yes there is, and Jena Pincott describes its hypnotic ingredients on her blog […]

  8. Utirwerty said, on April 10, 2009 at 4:03 pm


  9. […] include female hormones that may stimulate ovulation, here is fascinating information from the study’s authors: The primary putative mind-altering ingredients in […]

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