Whoever doubted the stronghold of condoms was sorely mistaken. Pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections might seem like obvious enough incentives to "glove up," but now, new research suggests that unprotected sex may worsen endometriosis.
Last month, the European Journal of Obstetrics & Gynecology and Reproductive Biology released an article investigating the effects of semen on endometrial tissue growth. The study, which compared samples from women with and without endometriosis, found that seminal plasma significantly increased growth in the women with endometrial disease, by almost three fold.
The reason behind this novel finding is due to high concentrations of various macromolecules in seminal fluid. When uterine tissue samples from women with endometriosis were treated with combined antibodies, which promote chemical blockers to these molecules, growth was significantly suppressed, suggesting that in nature, these women are susceptible to semen-induced flare-ups. The same was not true for women without endometriosis.
The study also showed that concentrations of these macromolecules--most notably, prostaglandin E2 (PGE2) and hepatocyte growth factor (HGF)--were much higher in the seminal fluid of men than in the blood or abdominal fluid of women, regardless of endometriosis status.
While the exact cause of endometriosis is still unknown, this study suggests that direct contact with seminal fluid might be one of perhaps many triggers that might make the disease worse. The obvious flaw with rushing to this conclusion however, is that this is only one small study. The researchers sampled only 18 fertile men, 20 women without endometriosis, and 45 women with endometriosis. To make a more persuasive argument, these results would need to be extended to a much larger, diverse population of people.
Until that time comes, the research suggests that safer, protected intercourse could potentially dampen the painful periods (dysmenorrhea) and excessive bleeding (menorrhagia) that accompany abnormal uterine tissue growth in endometriosis. If this is true, the solution is remarkably simple and cheap--something we don't find too often in health care.