An Inordinate Fondness for Beetles

July 30, 2010

Recreational Sex is a Survival Strategy

Filed under: gender,Uncategorized — Tags: , , , — Ethan @ 7:00 pm

There are plenty of studies out there on human sexuality that seem to assume that evolution hasn’t quite caught up with all our modern sexual tinkering, seeing as how they start off assuming all sex, and all our sex drives, stem only from a fundamentally a reproductive urge (this one, which that claims that women who are approaching menopause become “more willing to engage in a variety of sexual activities to capitalize on their remaining childbearing years”  is what spurred my thoughts today) There are points where this makes sense–genetically-driven instinct won’t catch on to the advent of The Pill for a few millenia to come. But other purposes for sex, and forms of non-reproductively oriented sex, have been around for more than enough time.

Queer sex, oral, manual and anal sex are OLD. Judging from our closest living relatives, all those ways of fucking are older than we are as a species. Our hind brains may not have picked up on condoms yet, but ‘I don’t want to get pregnant, so how about you go down on me instead?’ is older than time.

And why should all sex be driven by reproduction? Humans do, and probably always have, used sex for lots of other things–for fun, to strengthen relationships, to ease tensions (and did I mention for fun?). We’re social creatures, and our gene’s survival depends not only on our ability to churn out babies, but on our ability to gain the love and support of others. With fucking. Or sharing food or whatever. But fucking is free.

I’m not an expert in human sexuality, so I’m curious: is there any evidence that having more not-PIV-sex is strongly correlated to having more PIV sex and higher pregnancy rates? If there’s not, wouldn’t it be important to distinguish between sex-in-general, which may or mat not include PIV sex, and sex that’s actually able to lead to pregnancy, when you’re doing research on sexuality and reproduction? Because it’s not a good idea to assume that when you ask someone about how often they have sex, or how intense their sexual fantasies are, that their personal definition of sex is all missionary, all the time.

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June 4, 2010

Propaganda for your Pants

Filed under: feminism,gender,media and pop culture — Tags: , , , , , — Ethan @ 7:31 pm

A little while ago, I got the chance to tour parts of the CDC. While waiting for our contact to come and lead us through the impressive maze of the place, we killed a few moments wandering around the main attraction of the Visitor’s Center: the CDC’s museum to itself.

At the time, their temporary exhibit was a retrospective of STI public health campaigns. It was fascinating stuff, from the now-quaint syphilis scares to the deep, deep disgust with women’s sexuality.  (Note: all these images are from Mother Jones recent retrospective of military propaganda The Enemy in Our Pants, which inspired this post. Check it out)

Yeeeeah. I love a good pun, but seriously. Booby Trap? Are you fucking kidding me? There are pulp novels from the same time period with classier covers. This is a hairs breadth away from suggesting that woman’s vagina is a spear-lined pit covered in palm fronds. And they go on like that, one after another, warning innocent men of the horrible, horrible things that could befall their precious wieners, should they get too close to any of the local ladies.

Well, except maybe for this one. Made for the British public just before the US sent a massive wave of troops in to prepare for D-Day, it puts the blame squarely on the hoards of apple-cheeked, sex crazed GI’s.

The other thing that really caught my attention was the  stark difference between a lot of the first-generation PSA’s and the ones that came later–the first syphillis treatment ads basically just said “Hey, did you know you could stop having syphillis? Ask your doctor!” Which, given all the havoc untreated syphilis can cause, was probably all they needed to say.

Similarly, the posters from the pan-African smallpox eradication campaign all translated to variations on “If you go to your local clinic and get vaccinated, you won’t ever get smallpox. Bring the kids!” with matching illustrations of a friendly-looking man in a lab coat holding a minimally intimidating vaccine gun, followed by happy families celebrating their smallpoxlessness. I mean, that shit pretty much sells itself, right?

But by the 60′s, one US ad for the oral polio vaccine mentioned its ‘great taste.’ Which is nice and all (I’m guessing it was for the polio vaccine carried on sugarcubes ) but seriously? Even if it tasted like rotting shark asshole, it keeps you from getting polio. There’s no question about whether it’s worth it.

Yeesh. Americans.

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April 29, 2009

Best. Methodology. Ever.

Filed under: funny — Tags: , — Ethan @ 10:37 pm

Dr.  Simone Schnall at the University of Plymouth in the UK, has found some, er, interesting ways to study human’s visceral responses to our thoughts and  emotions. Specifically, she’s recently headed up two studies on the link between moral judgement and disgust. As I understand it (and I mostly don’t, as there are no plants or fungi involved), her work suggests our sense of morality is closely tied to, perhaps evolved out of, our sense of disgust. Which, when you think about it, makes sense–morality is deeply ingrained in our psyche, it had to come out of something less abstract, and we’re often viscerally disgusted when faced with something morally repugnant. The trick, though, is separating the two.

And that’s where the fun starts. In order to separate respondent’s moral judgment from their sense of disgust, the research team came up with sets of moral conundra to present to participants, while physically grossing them out in a variety of effective, but morally neutral ways.  For example:

A team led by Simone Schnall asked students walking outside on a college campus to answer questions about scenarios like this, rating them on a scale of 1 (extremely immoral) to 7 (perfectly okay). The catch was that they had rigged a trash can near the experimenters’ desk with fart spray. Some respondents read and rated the stories in the presence of a mild stink (four sprays of fart scent), some had a strong scent (eight sprays), and a lucky third group completed the experiment with no scent at all.

See kids, science is fun! In addition to using lab-grade fart spray, they tried a variety of other ways toset off  subjects internal gross-o-meter: having them answer the questionairre in a dirty, sticky office piled high with empty pizza boxes, making them watch a ‘disgustng’ movie first, or asking them to recall a disgusting memory. They all worked–when people were grossed out, they judged the charachters in the researcher’s morality thought-experiments more harshly.

And what were these fictional people up to? Breaking and bending a wide variety of taboos: keeping money from a found wallet, filming people without their consent, killing one person to save 5, having children with their cousins, and masturbating with kittens. Yes, I said masturbating with kittens. As in:

Matthew is playing with his new kitten late one night. He is wearing only his boxer shorts, and the kitten sometimes walks over his genitals. Eventually, this arouses him, and he begins to rub his bare genitals along the kitten’s body. The kitten purrs, and seems to enjoy the contact. How wrong is it for Matthew to be rubbing himself against the kitten?

Needless to say, folks who had just been fumigated with canned fart were in no mood to be lienient toward hypothetical kitten fetishists.

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December 13, 2008

Good News and Bad News

Bush is trying to tack a loophole onto the Endangered Species Act on his way out the door. Meanwhile, Obama’s (likely) picks for Secretary of Energy, head of the EPA, and the new ‘Energy Czar’ position suggest we’ll be seeing a science-and-reality-ward shift in environmental and energy policy. If anyone out there has a time machine, please go ahead and fast-forward to Jan. 20th before Bush can do any damage.

(And thanks to Rachel Maddow for dubbing the proposed HHS regulation the Amish Busdriver Rule: extending freedom of religion to protect folks who take jobs and then refuse on religious grounds to do tasks central to that job.)

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May 17, 2008

The Right Wing Says Soy Makes You Gay

Thanks to Bria for sending this my way. The article is old, but it’s some pretty amazing fear-mongering from a popular right-wing news blog thing. I’d never heard of ‘em before, but Wikipedia says it’s big. The guy says he’s warning parents about the risks of endocrine disrupters, but he gets it all wrong. For starters, apparently soy foods are the only source of estrogen mimics out there. Not biphenol-a, not DDT, not whatever DES might still be floating around out there. Just soy. Take a look:

Soy is feminizing, and commonly leads to a decrease in the size of the penis, sexual confusion and homosexuality. That’s why most of the medical (not socio-spiritual) blame for today’s rise in homosexuality must fall upon the rise in soy formula and other soy products. (Most babies are bottle-fed during some part of their infancy, and one-fourth of them are getting soy milk!) Homosexuals often argue that their homosexuality is inborn because “I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t homosexual.” No, homosexuality is always deviant. But now many of them can truthfully say that they can’t remember a time when excess estrogen wasn’t influencing them.

So, what is all that hippy food doing to our children? He mentions the toll endocrine disruptor can do to one’s fertility, and the sharp uptick in cancer amongst people who have been exposed to synthetic estrogens (not naturally-occurring phytoestrogens, like those in soy) early in life. But all of that pales in comparison to the fear of effeminizing little boys. And, apparently, here’s not difference between beingintersex, being a ‘feminine male’ and being gay. No matter that the assertion that gay men have a testosterone deficiency/estrogen surplus was disproved the moment someone developed a handy way to test hormone levels. Giving gay men extra testosterone just makes them want to have more gay sex, since testosterone tends to up your sex drive.

Honestly, I couldn’t stomach reading all 5 parts. I have a short attention span, and I’d need to artificially extend it to wade through all that psudoscience. Plus I can’t even figure out who this guy’s misinterpreting, because all his citation either lead back to the home page of the site, or to a 404 error. Which I guess says it all.

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May 4, 2008

Let’s Kick Things Off

Filed under: feminism,gender,media and pop culture,Uncategorized — Tags: , , — Ethan @ 7:54 pm

The current issue of Bitch magazine has an article entitled Mad Science: Deconstructing Bunk Reporting in 5 Easy Steps that I just love. the author, Beth Skwarecki, lays out a great framework for spotting dubious science reporting in mainstream media. To pile on the awesome, she colors the whole deal with studies about gender, from whether male monkeys prefer trucks over dolls to the ‘housework prevents breast cancer’ debacle. It’s not the most fun part of the article, but this part pretty much sums up her thesis:

Ben Goldacre, who writes the “Bad Science” column for the UK’s Guardian, speculates that science stories come in three varieties: the wacky story, the breakthrough story, and the scare story. Most widely reported studies on gender seem to fall into the wacky category—the supposed innate preference for pink is one of them—and their media strength is that they tend to support existing stereotypes of women, reassuring readers that social stereotypes do, in fact, reflect reality.

We can’t put all the blame on mainstream media, of course. Scientists are part of the same culture as the rest of us, and they too have biases that shape their hypotheses and interpretations. The scientific community can also be as fad-driven as popular culture, creating a climate in which many researchers simultaneously geek out over one specific theory while competing ideas get lost or abandoned. So let’s learn how to read between the lines of these dubious articles. Next time you see an article reporting that women are happiest when they’re picking up their man’s dirty socks, try asking these questions:

1 Do the Conclusions Fit a Little Too Well With Cultural Stereotypes?
2 Does the Study Agree With the Headline?
3 Can You Spot the Double Standard?
4 Is There Another Conclusion That Would be Just as Valid?
5 Is the Study Even Science?

Each point gets  a little mini-essay of it’s own. Really, though, you should just go read the whole thing.I’ll be testing you on it later.

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