New Research to Link Immunity with Sexual Behavior
In the midst of flu and cold season, you may be adding more vitamin c or zinc to your diet. But what if changing your sexual habits could build your immune system, too?
Lorenz’s previous work with Sari van Anders at the University of Michigan measured the level of antibodies in saliva and the sexual habits of an individual. In their paper “Interactions of Sexual Activity, Gender, and Depression on Immunity” (Journal of Sexual Medicine, February 2013), they reported that sexual behavior affects immune system markers.
"However, we don’t know yet if a person is more or less likely to get sick due to sex,” Lorenz says.
Lorenz’s current postdoctoral work at Indiana University aims to answer this question. Conducted in collaboration with the departments of psychology and biology, the Women, Immunity and Sexual Health (WISH) study will examine how the presence or absence of sexual activity may influence immune response in healthy human females across the menstrual cycle. Past research has shown other social behaviors, like athletic competition and positive friendly interactions, can change how the immune system reacts to threats, but this study will be one of the first to show if sexual activity is another one of the factors the immune system takes into account in determining how high of an alert to set.
“Sex is important and the body expects sex—we are wired to reproduce— but we know so little about how and why the body is reacting to sex and influencing health,” Lorenz says.
The study will collect blood and saliva samples from pre-menopausal female volunteers in Bloomington over the course of a month, or one menstrual cycle. The study will include both sexually active and sexually abstinent subjects. With the help of Dr. Greg Demas from the department of biology, the samples will be infected with E. coli, and after an incubation period, will show how effective the antibodies are due to the amount of bacteria remaining.
Insights Into Depression
She explains that our immune systems, hormones, and mental health are all intertwined. Depressed women frequently experience mild, cold-like symptoms like fatigue, headaches, or achiness because there is a constant, physical immune reaction that accompanies persistent depression. How sexual activity plays a role in this is still something of a mystery.
Immunity and Reproduction
Though the science is preliminary, Dr. Lorenz hopes her findings will bring new insight to the interaction of sexual behavior and physical and mental health that can lead to applied research and treatment in the future.
“As a psychologist, it is really fun for me to see a lot of parallels between hormones and immune function. This is something psychologists are just now getting in touch with.”
Women interested in participating in the WISH study can find more information here »