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Keywords:

  • Depression;
  • IgA;
  • Sex;
  • Men;
  • Women;
  • Intercourse;
  • Immune

Abstract

Introduction

Depression can suppress immune function, leading to lower resistance against infection and longer healing times in depressed individuals. Sexuality may also influence immune function, with evidence that sexual activity is associated with lowered immune function in women and mixed results in men. Immune mediators like immunoglobulin A (IgA) are immediately relevant to sexual health, since they are the first line of defense against pathogens at mucous membranes like the vagina.

Aim

This study aims to determine if and how depression, sexual activity, and their interaction impact salivary IgA (SIgA) in men and women.

Methods

In Study 1, a community-based sample of 84 women and 88 men provided saliva samples and completed questionnaires on their demographic background, level of depression, and frequency of partnered and solitary sexual activity. Study 2, conducted separately in an undergraduate student sample of 54 women and 52 men, had similar methods.

Main Outcome Measures

The main outcome measures were scores on the General Well-Being Schedule depression subscale, reported frequency of sexual activity, and SIgA levels as measured by enzyme immunoassay.

Results

Across studies, higher levels of partnered sexual activity were associated with lower SIgA for women with high depression scores, but not for women with low depression scores. In contrast, higher levels of partnered sexual activity were associated with higher SIgA for men with high depression scores, but not for men with low depression scores.

Conclusion

Our results show that partnered sexual activity is a risk factor for lowered immunity in women with depressive symptoms but a possible resilience factor for men with depressive symptoms. This suggests a role for sexual activity in determining the impact of depression on physical health parameters. Lorenz T and van Anders S. Interactions of sexual activity, gender, and depression with immunity. J Sex Med 2014;11:966–979.