I am usually sorry not to have the chance to write my weekly column but, on this occasion, I am capitalising on the opportunity to write about a topic which is perhaps too delicate to lie around the house on a printed page. My next full column should appear in the coming issue.
On the 29 July this year I wrote a piece headed Abortion by unintention. Prescinding from the moral issue of contraception as such, I considered the potential abortifacient effects of the Pill and the intrauterine device. Thus, leaving aside natural family planning, the remaining method is the barrier contraceptive – ordinarily, the condom. I am not here discussing the effectiveness of the condom on an individual or epidemic basis but examining an interesting characteristic, hitherto unknown to me.
The story start with the McClintock effect — of which you will have heard – in which women living in community have a tendency to synchronise their monthly periods. The concept has its defenders and its opponents, but more recently some interesting evidence has appeared.
One element of this is that the phenomenon is apparent when the female group are heterosexual, and does not appear when they are homosexual. Since the latter group would presumably have more physical contact, this was counter intuitive. It did not seem that proximity, sexual affection or contact was the factor.
It was then discovered that the heterosexual women could be divided into two classes. One class routinely practised condomistic intercourse and the other, although sexually active, did not. It was the non condom group which tended to synchronise.
The potentially significant difference was that a condom prevented the seminal fluid from coming into contact with the vaginal wall – a mucous membrane very well suited for the passage of substances into the bloodstream.
Now the seminal fluid (not the sperm itself which is only between 1% and 5% by volume) is a very interesting substance. It contains over 50 different compounds. Amongst them are many mood changers such as cortisol, oxytocin and serotonin which can raise the mood and increase affection. There is also melatonin which helps sleep. The downside is that seminal fluid also contains an HIV enhancer, which increases by a large multiple the likelihood of transfer.
So you would expect that condomless women would be getting mood benefit from the effects. And so they measurably do. They are not only significantly less subject to depression than condom users, but less subject than those who are not leading active sexual lives. The rate of attempted suicide is up to six times less. Conversely women who are leading very active and promiscuous lives, but using condoms, gain no benefit.
One may reasonably infer that the McClintock effect is brought about by unconscious communication between the women conveyed by pheromones.
We are left of course with barrier contraceptives use by women such as diaphragms, cervical caps and spermicidal sponges. Doesn’t sound a barrel of laughs to me, and the failure rates are shockingly high.
This inevitably pushes us in the direction of natural intercourse and, where required, natural family planning. It does not in itself create an imperative but it indicates more clearly how nature intended the sexual embrace to be.
I have been deliberately very brief, and some you who want to go further might try this link.
I warn you that it contains information which some of you might prefer not to encounter.