Mar 21 2008

Hey ladies: Bummed out? Bend over!

Many sciencey researchers, if my Blaming Alert inbox is any indication, like nothing better than studying the mystifying sexual habits of women. Likewise, news editors like nothing better than to summarize this research in cornball patriarchy-friendly terms that even their readers can understand. Take today’s study, which purports to conclude, among other things, that depressed women have more sex than happy women.

Why sad ladies so horny? Because, guesses Dr Sabura Allen of Monash University, “having sex helps them feel that closeness and security.” The study, which was conducted on 107 Melbourne women (that’s right, it’s Eyes on Australia Week), showed that depressed women have “a third more sex” whether they are in relationships or not.

The Sydney Morning Herald gives this story the tantalizing headline “Sex: Cure for the blues?” Because wouldn’t that be great? “Feeling low, baby? What you need is a good pronging! But get me a beer first.”

The article then briefly outlines Allen’s findings, coming to what appears to be the completely unsupported conclusion that fucking ameliorates melancholia.

Apparently it never occurred to anybody to conclude that having a lot of sex (or at least having a lot of sex in Melbourne) is itself what’s bumming these women out. That’s because sex in our culture is thought to possess such golden, health-giving qualities that a lack of interest in performing it routinely is actually considered a form of deviance.

Of course we’re talking about het sex. The Sydney Morning Herald makes no mention of the participants’ sexual orientation, but it wouldn’t be the first time some researcher “forgot” the dykes. So I’ll go out on a limb and assume that, given the heteronormative nature of the dominant culture, the depressed women in question were having all this extra sex with men.

I mean, come on, Dr Sabura Allen, connect the dots!

I tell you whut, if I had to have sex 3 times a week with some horndog dude motherfucker, it’d harsh my mellow, too.


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  1. Feminist Avatar

    Well, of course, it’s hetero-sex. Cause in the world of science, if there is no penis, it ain’t sex. And, for that matter, according to science, sex is only the bit of a sexual relationship which involves a penis and an orifice (of which whether the mouth counts can be controversial). The stuff before, after, instead of, or that just simply doesn’t involve a penis and an orifice ain’t sex for a scientist.

  2. Somebody with problems

    Well, by that “researcher’s” logic suicide cures depression, too.

  3. atheist woman

    “…sex 3 times a week with some horndog dude motherfucker, it’d harsh my mellow, too.”
    That right there (plus kiddies, plus all the work, plus buying into a millenia old institution of enslavement/pronstitution)is why I am never going to marry. I once watched some horrid daytime special with the wife from Everybody Loves Raymond. She told the host that her doctor said she had to have sex three times a week with her husband. This, the viewers were informed, was for her health and to make her husband happy, or some such nonsense. Sex is privilege not a right. If some dewd cannot handle the fact that his wife is not attracted/does not want to have sex with him three times a week then he can go take a shower and manage it himself. Merely because she is a)a female and b)said “I do” does not make her his twenty-four hour penis-receptacle. IBTP!

  4. PhysioProf

    Is it my imagination, or do there seem to be an excessive number of wackaloon misogynist “researchers” in Australia? BTW, I am so glad you are posting frequently again, Twisty!!

  5. Somebody with problems

    There’s an excessive number of them on planet Earth.

  6. Lauren O

    So is there any scientific basis to the oft-quoted statistic that sex increases serotonin? Because, I don’t know, my mood is often lifted after having sex. This is not to imply that doctors should prescribe sex or that women should allow themselves to be convinced to have sex when they don’t want to by some “it’ll make you feel better” excuse. But sex does make me feel better a lot of the time. Am I an exception to the rule?

  7. su

    Sadly it is not your imagination, Physioprof. The concentration of misogynists and the severity of the violence also seems to increase the closer you get to the equator (I grew up in Queensland). I think misogynists must be heat-activated.

  8. Twisty

    Hey Lauren O, is it sex or orgasm that makes you feel better?

  9. Meg Thornton

    Actually, as a depressive Australian woman (who lives on the other side of the country from those interviewed for this study, what a pity), I have my own theory.

    [TMI alert]
    Prior to starting psych medication to deal with my depression, I masturbated regularly, indeed, almost obsessively. Once I started taking psych medication, my libido dropped dramatically – to the point where I’d now describe myself as being close on asexual.
    [/TMI alert]

    My theory is as follows: the endorphin rush from orgasm temporarily normalises the serotonin levels for a depressed person, allowing them not to be so depressed. Alternative sources of endorphin rush can also supply the same normalisation.

    I’d really prefer to know more about the study, however, than just what the SMH wants to tell us. I’d like to know things like how they gathered their data, whether there are plans to run a similar study on depressed male subjects (there are men with depression out there in Australia – I’m related to at least four of them), whether they ascertained if there were any changes being made by the use of medication etc. Hells, I’d even be interested in knowing what the original purpose of the study was (ie the starting hypothesis) and who funded it. But I’m contrary like that.

  10. Lauredhel

    Things of note: the stuff presented at conferences is typically not peer-reviewed. The SMH says it’s going to be published soon in a “British Medical Journal” – I wonder whether they mean the BMJ? If so, it’s available as fulltext online, so we’ll have access to it then.

    The author is here, form which all we can really tell is that she is USA-trained, hetmarried, and possibly a godbag.

    The conference (but not the research itself) was funded by Janssen-Cilag (Haldol, Risperdal, various oestrogens) and Lilly (Prozac, Strattera, Zyprexa, Cymbalta, and C.ialis).

  11. George Smiley

    It’s well known that there ARE no lesbians in Sydney. They are all in Melbourne.

  12. Nia

    Who got paid to start research on such a universal phenomenon as depression with a ridiculous, non-representative sample of just 107 urban women!?

  13. therealUK

    The thing with these reports is that they take a grain of truth but then, rather than engage with the actual harsh reality of the situation, grind that grain into a totally foul mess held together with classic evpsych bullshit.

    Grain of truth: most people, when unhappy, seek out comfort from others

    actual harsh reality: women live in a world where acknowledgement of their humanity is routinely denied, health care provision is poor, they are diminished in their social and political influence, and one of the few ways to get any attention at all is to make themselves available as wank-rags or brood-cows for their male owners.

    Furthermore, it is a reflection on the pitiful state of things that many women interpret this attention as “affection ” or “love” and an improvement on the otherwise unrelenting misery of their existence.

    totally foul mess: wimmins shuld be always gagging for it (from teh menz of course) cos being chattel is the cure for all ills, and if they protest then it’s they own fault they miserable, and anyway it proves that mens shoulds always be in charge – evolution sez its true !

  14. Sascha

    Hi Meg, very good questions and points. Always read the actual study before accepting a darn thing from someone who calls themselves a scientist. Never forget that ‘scientists’ are 95% men, and the women who are allowed to participate have had to go through an intitiation and testing process in the hope of excluding women who don’t want to be honorary men. (See also: Scientific American, issue April 1998, Holton and Sonnert’s articles, in which it is shown that women do better science and that THIS VERY FACT interferes with their careers.)

    That said, I wonder (if it’s true at all) whether depressed women aren’t more in for sex because depression is so strongly correlated with low self-esteem. Your points about endorphins and serotonin being accurate and taken, all the same…on to the learned elements of behavior. We learn that a man wanting to have sex with us is a measure of our worth. A depressed woman with low self-esteem will be less able to see whether or how she’s being degraded or used, and may feel sex as some proof that she has at least some worth. And so on, ending up at a point where depressed women have more sex because they value themselves less than other women are able to. I mean, if it’s true at all in the first place.

  15. Mehitabel Moody Moss

    @George Smith-
    So when I am depressed I should head for Melbourne? Good to know. Except I am depressed about money and Melbourne is a mite too far for this grrrl.

    Bored monkeys masturbate obsessively. Maybe that’s why women are encouraged to crochet, quilt, keep them idle hands busy….

  16. crowlie

    Well, for my money, living in Melbourne and all… Sex is pretty good, but not necessarily with men. The best seratonin/endorphin counterbalance I get to diagnosed depression is if I do it myself after a good book and half a bottle of red.

    Sascha seems to have a *very* good point. Lots of women seem to attach their self-worth to a feminine image and ability to attract dicks. Attracting dicks and being used may well then contribute or further compound the low self-esteem that (may have) caused her to go looking in the first place. Self-sabotage, anyone?

  17. CafeSiren

    Asked whether intercourse could be an effective balm for depression, the psychologist said “we really don’t know but we presume it helps as it gives these women opportunities to be close to their partner and loved.”

    I was on board with the study’s findings until this point. See, when I spent my years from 14 to… oh, let’s say 35 with incredibly low self-esteem (which is, by the way, close kin to depression at times), I was forever trying (and often succeeding) to get laid, and devoting a lot of energy to being sexually enticing. Because, as the study’s author points out, sex can give you a feeling of security.

    What she does not point out is that it requires utter capitulation to the patriarchy, because you’re basing your happiness on your score on the fuckability index, over which you as a woman have no control, and the eventual realization that this has become the organizing principle of your life only leads to further depression.

  18. ela

    Twisty, sorry for the unrelated question, but is the change of your blog permanent or you’ll soon change it to “I Blame the Patriarchy” again?
    I am thinking about new feminist readers, who may be frightened away by it. And, for some reason, I like the old look more too, despite the beauty of the new picture.
    Hope I don’t sound too impudent.
    Your avid and dedicated reader.

  19. TP

    It strikes me as feasible that depression and low self-esteem would also make it easier to coerce. “Oh, does this idiot want to fuck me? Might as well. Who cares?”

    Giving in to an unwanted fuck is like a little suicide.

  20. Nine Deuce

    My thoughts exactly, TP.

  21. Nine Deuce

    But not only that: women who are in the grips of depression might find that their will to resist being used sexually weakens. In fact, the study’s findings, if they were to be worded differently, would say exactly that. Saying that women would be having sex more often in the hopes of feeling some security and closeness is just another way of saying that they are easier to use (or to coerce).

  22. Lauren O

    Hey Lauren O, is it sex or orgasm that makes you feel better?

    Hmm, I suppose that’s a good question. I guess it’s more orgasm than sex, but I don’t think I’d rule out the sex completely. I feel better after sex than after masturbating.

  23. jeannebean

    Mehitabel Moody Moss:

    “Maybe that’s why women are encouraged to crochet, quilt, keep them idle hands busy….”

    Knitting’s fun but it’s not THAT fun!

  24. Liberty

    “My theory is as follows: the endorphin rush from orgasm temporarily normalises the serotonin levels for a depressed person…”

    I have to say my experiences have been similar. When I go through episodes of untreated depression, I tend to crave sexual gratification. Mind you, I’m wanting the big “O” – not “closeness and security”. If anything, when I am depressed I push further away and reject “love” and “connection” rather than craving or embracing it. (Just my own response, I can’t speak for other people.)

    While it certainly isn’t a cure (it’s actually a bit like self medicating with alcohol or drugs, really) it does tend to take the “edge” off the depression. There may be something to the study, just not in the slant it is presented.

  25. --Blue Girl

    That study makes me sad. Fortunately, there I have my very own gender traitor three feet away to get me through this period of melancholy.

  26. mearl

    Why the debate? Hasn’t everyone here heard how good semen is for your health? It’s all over the women’s magazines. It’s just like getting a regular dose of flax seed oil. Evpsych scientists recommend that women ingest at least eight glasses of jizz a day. You can easily add jizz to your regular diet, for example, by pouring some on your Muslix in the morning and tossing some fresh berries on top!

  27. Zofia Szeretlek

    As an ex Monash University student and ex Melbournite I need no datum or credentials to tell you this: Having sex with an Australian mad made me MORE depressed than anything.

    Taking my vagina out of that clusterfuck of a country was the bestest thing for it.

  28. Zofia Szeretlek

    I mean ‘Australian man’, but it is 4 in the morning and my fingers don’t want to move when the messages between the synapses fire off.

  29. Catie

    Also, is it just me or does that woman look like a stylized version of a prostitute?

  30. chingona

    I’m not really sure what to make of this. My husband suffers from pretty serious depressive episodes, and his desire to have sex pretty much disappears when he’s down. (Back in the day, when the problem was less severe, his meds would reduce his libido, but at some point, the depression got so bad that even the less-than-“normal” desire he has on the meds is more than the nonexistent desire without them.)

    Could this go back to the difference between how society views men and women’s sexual roles, that is the difference between being active and being passive. That is, when my husband is depressed, he feels unlovable and undeserving of any good thing. That takes sex off the menu. To some women, that feeling is totally consistent with having a lot of sex.

    Or maybe I’m extrapolating way too much from my personal experience.

  31. atheist woman

    No, chingona that makes amazing sense in my head. For many women sex is viewed as a *passive* activity. I think intergenerational thingamajiggies are getting in the way here too, as not only is sex supposed to be passive for women (back in the day), but those who go after a lot of it or enjoy it are bad/fugly sluts (women now). But the caveat or trap is that on top of it all there is this Sex in the City sheen to it, that sex (as envisioned by teh menz) is well, fun and sexy. So first off women feel badly about themselves, they’re told by pop-culture that sex is fun and healthy, so they go after it, to make themselves feel better. But really underneath all of that, there is the undercurrent of continuing self hate, both for being passive (letting men objectify them, losing control of their bodies) and for being active (wanting sex, going after sex). And all this just for a natural function of the human body. I blame the patriarchy.

  32. Kenzie


    “You can easily add jizz to your regular diet, for example, by pouring some on your Muslix in the morning and tossing some fresh berries on top!”

    Just… yuck. I think even the slight mental concatenation of the two has now turned me off Muslix for life.

  33. Helen

    The study doesn’t look like it did a decent job choosing it’s sample, so I wouldn’t think it worth taking seriously on that account.

    I wouldn’t be surprised, though, in a larger and better study to see the same result of correlation of depression with more sex in women in our culture. It sounds pretty obvious to me.

    We already know that one in four women at least have experienced intimate partner violence, and that male-on-female sexual coercion that most wouldn’t choose to identify as “violence”, even though it is, is far more frequent. Sexual coercion causes depression. So if you sample over a large population, of course you’re going to see a correlation between lots of sex and depression in women — on average over a large population, those having more sex are being exposed to more sexual coercion.

    It sounds like a big “duh” moment to me. The idiot reporters got their cause and effect mixed up.

  34. Helen

    “its sample”, not “it’s sample” — I so need coffee.

  35. Aine

    yeah, that sounded like the obvious conclusion to draw is “Happy people have less sex, therefore, if you’re depressed, stop having sex. ” But what do I know, I’m only a girl…

  36. Jennifer

    Hey, isn’t this really offensive? —> A blog named: Families against feminism. You can find it here: http://heartsforfamily.blogspot.com/
    Is it just me, that find this really awful? That blog makes me really angry! A mother of seven says that feminism is evil and that a woman is supposed to stay home with her children.

  37. Zoray

    Oh Jennifer,
    Why did you do that!? Blogs like that make me want to gauge out my eyes with a rusty spoon… Yet, like a road accident, I can’t help but to look.
    I’m so depressed, I may allow myself to be coerced into sex with an Australian man (figuratively speaking, of course).

  38. Jonathan

    It seems to me like the newspaper is trying to send a much more chilling subtext to the Dude readers.

    The article starts with a picture of a young women in silhouette (courtesy of Steve), followed by an elipse-filled pseudo sentence that states, “depressed women have more sex than happy women.” The article also makes it a point to say that depressed women, “had more sexually liberated attitudes, a bigger variety of sexual experiences and, if single, were more likely to partake in casual sex.”

    The Patriarchal propaganda message to the Dudes (who I’m guessing won’t read through more than a sentence of text without a picture of young women in patriarchy-approved outfits) seems to be: if you keep women depressed (i.e. treat the women in your life like crap and oppose women’s rights in all its forms) then you’ll get more sex.

    Or am I just being paranoid here?

  39. arby

    I put nothing past the patriarchy any more. The other message I would ascribe to it would be “aim for the sad chicks in bars, you’re more likely to get lucky”.

    Now I’m depressed. I’ll have to stay away from teh mens.

  40. Hedgepig

    Meg Thornton and Liberty,

    Just for the record, I too have long thought that depression is temporarily alleviated by the brief seratonin boost of orgasm. And it can become quite addictive – you feel crap all the time, why wouldn’t you want an easy high?

    An interesting question the study could have asked is whether the women seeking comfort sex also masturbated, or whether their mood improved only from orgasm with partnered (hetro of course!) sex. That might show how much comfort is actually found in the feeling that one is sexually attractive rather than the chemical high of orgasm. Obviously, this kind of thing is way outside the interest of the artcicle or the people doing the study.

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