Archive for the 'sex' Category

How science regulates our sexual behavior

June 30, 2009

As someone who’s never tried to conceived a child under pressure, I have to roll my eyes at this kind of thing, from Reuters:

Having sex every day improves the quality of men’s sperm and is recommended for couples trying to conceive, according to new research.

Until now doctors have debated whether or not men should refrain from sex for a few days before attempting to conceive with their partner to improve the chance of pregnancy.

But a new study by Dr David Greening of Sydney IVF, an Australian center for infertility and in vitro fertilisation (IVF) treatment, suggests abstinence is not the right approach.

Plug away, friends.


Coastal intellectuals were so uptight about human pheromones

June 3, 2009

And by “were,” I mean in 2006.

Remember the story from that year about an interesting link between smell and sexuality? Well, I was working last night on my single-mechanism theory of male sexuality — how’s yours coming? let’s compare notes — and I got to the end of the theorizing — which is the fun part, involving chemicals — and then started looking at the data — which is the equally fun part, involving telecommunications — and the most salient bit of data I knew of was that 2006 study.

So I reread the NYTimes‘s coverage and was shocked by the unreasonable amount of hedging that in any other beat would be like saying, “This is study is pointless and possibly bogus.” 

The big data point:

Lesbians react to the smell of certain bodily odors in ways similar to heterosexual men and different from heterosexual women, new research suggests.

Interesting. Go on.

The substances involved are a progesterone derivative produced in male sweat and an estrogenlike steroid that has been detected in female urine. The two smells are processed in the brain differently from ordinary odors.


In the experiment, 12 lesbians [small study, I grant you] smelled the two substances while researchers observed blood flow in their brains with PET scans. The scents activated parts of the brain that ordinarily process odors, but the estrogenlike compound also activated a part of the hypothalamus, as it does in heterosexual men.

Animal studies suggest that the hypothalamus is important in sexual behavior. So when that part of the brain lights up under the stimulus of an odor, a sexual response, rather than simply an olfactory one, is implied.

The prior finding:

Heterosexual women responded to the male sweat odor in the hypothalamus rather than in the olfactory portions of the brain, and heterosexual men responded to female estrogen in the hypothalamus. Homosexual men processed the smells in the same way as heterosexual women.

Huh? I can barely follow that. He’s kludging it up so nobody will get what he really wants to say: Here’s another consistency check on whether these chemicals are pheromones, a puzzle we’ll only solve for sure if we knock out a few key control experiments, such as tracking the natural history of these patterns from a young age.

Despite the similarities, lesbians do not respond to these two odors in exactly the same way as heterosexual men, so the analogy with gay men and heterosexual women is imperfect. “This observation could favor the view that male and female homosexuality are different,” said Dr. Savic, an associate professor of neurology at the Karolinska Institute in Stockholm.

The doubletalk:

The researchers also emphasize that their findings have no clinical application. “It is very important to make clear that the study has no implications for possible dynamics in sexual orientation,” Dr. Savic said.

What?? Seriously? Please show me other kinds of research that would have implications for “dynamics in sexual orientation” without using methods like these! It’s a scent that permits heterosexual members of one sex to recognize those of the other sex! Geeeyaaaaad.

Ok, look, I know it’s all correlation equals causation. Maybe we’re witnessing neural correlates of learned patterns of sexuality. And she did say “dynamics,” which every lay reader knows means change over time. And no, I haven’t Googled any single other thing on the subject. And yes, maybe NIcholas Bakalar had a long day that day.

I want nevertheless to record my first reactions upon revisiting that small bit of history.

The mere way the information was framed indicated a high (if only perceived) level of defensiveness on everybody’s part. From reading and talking to everybody, I feel says saying the evolutionary psychologists refuse to understand the subtleties of sexism, so they won’t acknowledge smart arguments by post-structuralists. And the post-it crowd sure as shit is not going to be having the mass media perpetuating the idea, foisted on us by undersexed nerds, of pheromones — human pheromones, for God’s sake! — when Times readers? women the world over are being treated like this and this.

In microcosm, the above is the bottom line message of Fistful of Science: Masculine and feminine; objective and subjective; scientific authorities and critically oriented academics — neither one knows how to talk to the other in this culture. It’s like a stereotypically bad marriage. One side is empowered but whines whenever he has to do anything; the other side is marginalized and forced to lash out to get fair treatment. Both sides have way, way more in common than they want to admit.

Now, regarding the specific issue of human pheromones, the authoritarian in me says, Yes, some people will misuse the likely fact (does anyone have a better, non-ridiculous explanation?) that human sexual orientation has a strong inborn biological component (to say “genetic” would imply single-gene causation; “hereditary” makes it sound like a disease that strikes both sexes).

The libertarian in me says people have nothing to fear but their chains.

And the empiricist in me says, I need more data. Seen any studies?

Chimps do the sugar daddy thing, too

April 13, 2009

Oh crap, Ars Technica reminds me I meant to post a witty follow up to the sugar daddy post. Tada — chimps do it too! From PLoS One:

Here we show that female wild chimpanzees copulate more frequently with those males who, over a period of 22 months, share meat with them. We excluded other alternative hypotheses to exchanging meat for sex, by statistically controlling for rank of the male, age, rank and gregariousness of the female, association patterns of each male-female dyad and meat begging frequency of each female. 

John Timmer of Ars says “It’s either an example of long-term commitment or prostitution, depending on how you want to spin it.” He also chuckles at “meat begging frequency.” Oh, those scientists.

God bless the New York Times Magazine

April 12, 2009

… for making my Easter a sweet one – and giving me things to blog about. This time it’s a fascinating look at the denizens of, a web site that connects prospective “sugar daddies” with lollipop-loving young women everywhere who need extra cash until they finish college or whatever.

Though one-quarter of the site’s sugar daddies (including married ones) are looking for male “babies” and 1 percent of the site’s members are “sugar mommies,” they still tend to fall into traditional roles, where the one who is paid supplies sex, admiration, comfort and the kind of status conferred by any other expensive consumer good. The “baby” is the one who regulates her appearance, schedule, behavior and emotions to make the payer feel special.

You should read the whole thing – it’s like Gossip Girl fan fiction. I’d like to say I found it gross but not really. The spectrum of relationships described is pretty wide, from one step above john vs. call girl to platonic benefactor plays pen pal with benefactress.

The narrative focuses on the sexualized father-daugher interactions, where high achieving men are looking to play the provider role, even paying for the young women to visit their boyfriends – did somebody say “double dose of dis pimpin’“? – while the young women get financial support and life coaching, plus some swell, faux incestual boinking.

Here’s a sweet quote from a sugar baby:

“When these sugar-daddy relationships go the way I think they should go, the lines are pretty blurry between that and a typical boyfriend-girlfriend relationship,” she said. “And when they go the way I don’t think they should go, the lines are blurry between that and sex work.”

She quit la dolce vita after she felt a guy had coerced her into letting him go skins, of course.

Now who could have ever come up with such a thing?? Ah, you don’t say:

BRANDON WEY GOT THE IDEA for the site from his own dissatisfying love life as an M.I.T. student and then as a well-off but awkward tech executive.

He wasn’t the only high-functioning Aspie trolling for tainted love:

[Sam the sugar daddy] started college when most kids his age were still in middle school. […] [He] runs these relationships with an explicit business plan, a set budget, measurable goals and quarterly reviews. From the outset, the contract has an end date. It’s a brilliant, if contrived, way to protect his pride. The contract specifies that the romance and sex are to end by the preset date, so there’s no break up, no rejection, no bruised ego. She’s not dumping him; the gig’s just over.

Reading this piece, I could see the wheels turning in the mind of the pop evolutionary psychologist. I’ll save that for later. From a cultural evolution pov, here’s my take:

1. I’m not sure we have the vocabulary in our culture to acknowledge the spectrum of relationship people enter into. That’s why the article keeps using the “with benefits” construction.

That link btw = Survey Finds ‘Friends with Benefits’ Common, which tells us this:

Two-thirds of participants said they had been in a “friends with benefits” relationship, and 36 percent said they currently were in one. The main advantage of such a relationship was “no commitment” (reported by 59.7 percent of participants), which was followed closely by “have sex” (55.6 percent).

More than half of those who had sex with a friend said they had engaged in all forms of sex; 22.7 percent said they had intercourse only, while 8 percent said they did everything but have intercourse.

2. There’s a lot of fucked up fathers and daughters out there. Then again, as long as we have the construct “fathers and daughters,” we’ll have men and women failing in those roles and seeking other outlets to establish equivalent connections.

3. Assuming women take over more and more of the Gawkersphere and men like me shrug it off, will we ever see this pattern reverse itself – i.e., will sugar mommas ever become the norm? Mm, I hope so. Sign me up and pimp me out.

open caption – whose turn is it to pleasure Miss Jupiter?

March 19, 2009
I like how the "real" Dr. Manhattan's head is cocked slightly to one side.

I like how the "real" Dr. Manhattan's head is cocked slightly to one side. Seriously, he's gross.