Category Archives: feminism

Sex-Linked Links

Debbie says:

Last time I set out to do a links round-up, I wound up with a themed post on penises. This time, I’m finding a set of themed links on human sexuality. One day, we’ll have a real wide-ranging links round-up … but not today.

299px-Sperm-egg

Diane Kelly at Throb shares an interesting insight into why more babies are boys than girls … and why what we’ve always believed about that is wrong.

For nearly two centuries, experts have assumed that the skew came from a higher rate of male conceptions. In an article at Nautilus, David Steinsaltz, J. W. Stubblefield, and J. E. Zuckerman explain that an early, 19th-century guess that more males were conceived to compensate for greater losses in utero–the so-called “fragile male” hypothesis–snowballed into a rarely-questioned “truth. …

In fact, new methods of looking at the sex ratio during development have shown that … X and Y sperm are equally likely to fertilize any given egg. The skew comes instead from differences in survival rates during embryonic development. There’s a complex shift in miscarriage ratios over time, from more males to more females at different moments in gestation. In the end, more female embryos are lost to miscarriage, skewing the birth ratio slightly to males.

I will forbear from making jokes about the “fragile male” hypothesis. Really I will.

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In other news, the FDA has approved Addyi, a libido-enhancing drug for women. This sounds like good news, but Sarah Boseley at The Guardian is viewing it with alarm, and I think she makes sense.

[Cynthia] Graham, [professor in sexual and reproductive health at the University of Southampton] and other critics believe the FDA was pressured and half-shamed into approving Addyi (generic name flibanserin) by a campaign headed by a vocal group called Even the Score, which pitched the absence of drugs to help women with low libido as a gender inequality issue. It describes itself as a campaign for women’s sexual health equality which was “created to serve as a voice for American women who believe that it’s time to level the playing field when it comes to the treatment of women’s sexual dysfunction”. On the front page of its website now runs a banner saying “Thank you, FDA”. Sprout Pharmaceuticals, which owns Addyi, is one of the funders, as is Trimel, another company in the same field.

Nothing makes me more nervous than “grassroots” political groups which turn out to be funded by corporations with a financial interest in their activism. And learning that Addyi is “only moderately effective, should not be taken with alcohol, and has potentially serious side-effects” doesn’t calm my nerves.  I also appreciate the comments by Dr. Petra Boynton, an extremely smart and sensible analyst of sexual issues, who said:

“People have a perception that everybody else is having fantastic sex all the time with exotic positions.” There is, Boynton said, “anxiety brought about by misinformation about sex”, which is perpetuated by the media and especially men’s and women’s magazines. “The cultural wallpaper is telling you that to keep someone and be desirable and not left alone, which is a huge fear, you must be having and providing frequent sex.”

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In a related vein, Mona Chalabi at 538 is talking about “the gender orgasm gap” from her point of view as a data analyst:

In 2009, the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB) asked 1,931 U.S. adults ages 18 to 59 about their most recent sexual experience. The topline findings show that men are more likely to orgasm than women — 91 percent of men said they climaxed during their last sexual encounter, compared with 64 percent of women.

But there seems to be a perception gap, too — at least among men. Eighty-five percent of men said their partners in that recent sexual encounter had reached climax, far higher than the percentage of women who said they orgasmed. That can’t simply be explained away by saying that the men were referring to different sexual partners. Most of these sexual encounters were heterosexual — 92 percent of men and 98 percent of women said their last sexual encounter was with someone of the opposite sex. So it seems like some of those men were wrong when they said their partners had orgasmed — either their egos are causing them to overestimate, or some of those women are faking it.

Nothing surprising here (and it’s six-year-old data); nonetheless, 538 is always refreshing because of its focus on data. Chalabi has a lot more to say about which sexual acts, done with whom (including alone), etc.  And who can resist a chart about what acts lead to orgasm entitled “How Come?”

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Finally, Liz Prato at Hippocampus has a rich, nuanced article about female masseuses, male clients, and erections.

Massage school was the first to teach me that there were two types of erections: hostile and benign. My instructors taught me how to deal with each erectile happenstance, ranging from saying nothing at all, to having a clinical discussion with the engorged client about what’s appropriate behavior during a massage. I was confident that, by the time I graduated from massage school, I would have no problems dealing with erections, hostile or otherwise. After all, I’d seen a few in my private life without eliciting trauma, and (thought) I had a clear concept of professional boundaries. This would be no big deal.

My first encounter with a hostile erection popped up a lot sooner than I expected. … My school was a blond brick office building with bleached linoleum floors and industrial-grade carpet (in other words, not a bordello), and my student uniform was khaki pants and a green polo shirt (not a mini skirt and knee-high fuck me boots). My client was in his mid-twenties, with dark hair and a cheesy mustache. The massage began with him lying on his stomach, so if there was an erection, I didn’t see it. Sure, he moaned and groaned a little, but, Hey, some people are expressive, I reasoned. But when he turned over, there it was, pitching a tent under the thin white sheet.

Okay, ignore it, was my tactic. I figured bringing attention to the erection was always the wrong way to go, and just massaged his shoulders. That’s when his moaning turning into loud groaning. “Oh, God, oh, yes! It feels so good!”

Prato goes on to discuss the relationship between massage and sexuality, between touch and sexuality, and the complexities this entails. She looks at the issues with directness and compassion:

I used to have a forty-something client named Tom who saw me weekly. He was referred by a psychotherapist who treats sex addicts. It’s not as creepy as it sounds. I’ve worked with several recovering sex addicts, and they’re no more interested in a Happy Ending than anyone else who lies on my table. These folks have a pretty good idea of where to go for sex and don’t want to waste my time and theirs if that’s what they’re looking for. What they are looking for is touch that’s not a futile attempt to mask their emotional pain. See, for them, sex isn’t about pleasure, and it sure as hell isn’t about intimacy. It’s usually about trying to cover up some horrible wound inside of them, but that’s like trying to douse a flame with kerosene. All it does is create a firestorm of emptiness and shame. When they come to me they want touch that isn’t sexual. They want intimacy with boundaries. They want – and they get – no self-hatred.

When I lay my hands against their skin, it might very well be the first time that touch hasn’t been manipulative or degrading. So they come back. Each time I touch them, they relax a bit more. They feel a little more pleasure. They get a little less scared. It reminds me of how we all walk around carrying fear and self-doubt and weeping wounds, and we’re just doing the best we can to dance around all that pain. I wish I didn’t need to be reminded of that, but I’m so glad I am.

Read the rest; Prato is a fascinating writer.

Thanks to oursin for the Addyi link; the others are from my regular reading

Aging: Gray Hair Is Still Out, but Sex Is In

Debbie says:

Karen Kay at the Observer has a fine long article on gray hair in women.

Judi_Dench_at_the_BAFTAs_2007Kay starts out discussing the way Hillary Clinton and other women in politics and public life are expected to spend inordinate time on their looks:

Let’s transport ourselves back to 2001 and Yale, one of the world’s pre-eminent universities. New York senator and former first lady Hillary Clinton has returned to her alma mater to deliver words of wisdom to graduating law students. She takes to the podium and begins: “The most important thing I have to say to you today is that hair matters. Your hair will send significant messages to those around you: what hopes and dreams you have for the world, but more, what hopes and dreams you have for your hair. Pay attention to your hair, because everyone else will.”

When we speak in public, Laurie and I often mention the multi-billion-dollar diet industry (which is now somewhere in the high $60 billion range), but hair is an even bigger business, forecast to be $83.1 billion in 2016.  I don’t even know how to think about these numbers, except to imagine them spent on oh, education, agriculture, facing climate change, controlling police violence. Those issues pale before the terror that women might actually show signs of aging …

Only last week the Duchess of Cambridge, a mother to two infant children, whose husband has just started a stressful new job, was publicly rebuked by celebrity crimper Nicky Clarke for allowing a few grey hairs to appear in her hitherto lustrous brunette mane. “Kate is such a style icon that even a few strands of grey would be a disaster,” he commented, rather ungallantly. …

Professor Nichola Rumsey, co-director of the Centre for Appearance Research at the University of the West of England, says society places enormous pressure on women to conform to youthful ideals. “I’m in my late 50s and feel tremendous pressure to cover the grey,” she admits. “You need to have huge self-confidence to stand up to that and deflect it and know that you are still good at your job and will be loved by your family if you don’t fit a certain youthful stereotype.”

This fits my own experience; going gray definitely changed how people react to me (though because I have always been a fat woman, it didn’t take away my experience of being a sex symbol). I also have very clear memories of a friend being upset a couple of decades ago when her therapist dyed the gray out of her hair, explaining “It’s the only way I can get men to take me seriously as a possible romantic partner.”

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On the romantic partner front, however, Marie Lodi at Jezebel has good news, though I can’t say it surprises me …

A new study, published in the latest issue of the Annals of Family Medicine, shows that nearly six in 10 women over the age of 60 and in committed relationships are actively boning down. “People assume as women get older, they automatically become sexually inactive and sex is not as important to them, which isn’t necessarily the case,” Dr. Holly Thomas, author of the study, told Health Day.

More than 2,100 U.S. women between the ages of 28 to 84 were asked a series of questions pertaining to physical and mental health, medical problems, use of medication, relationship factors, sexual activity and sexual satisfaction. A majority of the women surveyed were in their 50s and 60s. The results showed that women in their 60s and 70s experienced sexual satisfaction comparable to women in their 30s and 40s.

Lodi doesn’t say anything (and neither did the study designers) about whether or not these women have gray hair. Clearly, we need a follow-up, including:

  • Do gray-haired women have better or worse sex lives than women who dye their hair? How about women whose hair naturally isn’t gray? (I’ll provide another piece of anecdotal experience; my sexual pleasure seems to be completely unchanged despite my gray hair.)
  • Do women who dye their head hair dye their pubic hair? Does that choice affect their sex lives?
  • Finally, gray head hair changes texture and quality (because it is caused by the death of the cells that color your hair naturally). Mine has gotten curlier and springier; many people’s hair gets coarser. Are these changes reflected in pubic hair?

Inquiring minds want to know.