sex

Scientists confirm that bisexuals exist

Oh science. You amuse me sometimes. File this one away in “We kind of already knew that, but thanks for getting actual data to make sure.”

Well, I already knew that, at least. But from all of the straight people who have told me bisexuals are just slutty or want attention, and all of the gay people who have told me bisexuals are just closet cases, maybe we did need a scientific study.

Sarah Palin adds another grandchild to her list of hypocrisy

She’s against comprehensive sex education. She’s against contraceptives being available in schools. She cut funding for a program that helps teen mothers. She set up her daughter – who admitted abstinence is not realistic after having a child of her own – to be a spokesperson for abstinence, making hundreds of thousands of dollars in the process.
And now? She has another out of wedlock grandchild on the way:

In a not so surprising turn-of-events, the news that Sarah’s son Track is expecting a baby with his wife Britta was just released Thursday.

Pictures of the new bride posted on Facebook show that she is rather obviously expecting, while her marriage took place just two months ago.


The quick ceremony prompted many to ask whether Britta was pregnant, but supporters of conservative Sarah became extremely upset, continuing to argue that the new couple was not expecting. It certainly seemed like a shot-gun wedding, and today it was finally confirmed that the pregnancy came before the marriage.


You know, I wouldn’t give a flying diddly about this if Palin wasn’t trying to shove her beliefs down everyone’s throats. I think people should have all the sex they want regardless of their marital status, and that said status shouldn’t matter if you want to have a child.

It’s one thing to force abstinence only education on the public when study after study has shown it to be ineffective. When you’re anti-science like Palin, I can understand that things like facts wouldn’t change your mind. But when you can’t even use your method effectively in your own family, you think that would be a sign that maybe this shit doesn’t work.

But you know what I think is the really scary part of this story? That it’s more important to have shot gun weddings to save face instead of using a fucking condom. You’re going to make a life commitment to someone because you accidentally knocked them up? Really? And these are the same people arguing about sanctity of marriage. The same people who won’t let same sex couples who love each other get married.

Yep, that’s a great system of morals.

This is post 9 of 49 of Blogathon. Pledge a donation to the Secular Student Alliance here.

Michelle Bachmann, you crazy

As if her rampant homophobia, support for teaching creationism in schools, and general stupidity wasn’t enough, Bachmann just vowed to ban all forms of pornography. It’s the cherry on top of a Crazy Sundae, really.
How does someone like this get elected to anything, let alone come anywhere close to the presidency? My country, it terrifies me.

How big are the health benefits of circumcision?

When Dan had me on as a guest of the Savage Lovecast, one of the questions I fielded was on circumcision. I knew that circumcision had been shown to reduce HIV infection rates in at least one study, but I also knew the reduction wasn’t that huge. And frankly, that’s all I knew about the research, so I didn’t want to assert any more. I hadn’t read the paper, so for all I knew, it could have it’s flaws.

Turns out it does. PZ explains:

Now Salon has followed up with an article that suggests that circumcision may actually have some health benefits. I am not impressed. They cite a couple of incomplete epidemiological studies in African populations for HIV infection, and they come up with some astounding figures: a 50-60% reduction in infection rates. Wow, with that kind of advantage…sign me up.

However, these are deeply flawed studies. None of them were completed: they all abandoned the protocol and stopped the research as soon as preliminary results gave them positive values. This is like shooting craps and announcing that all your dice throws were practice…until you get a good roll, and then, yeah, that was the real deal. That one counts.

They all overstate their results. That 50-60% reduction was in relative rate, in comparison across the two groups. The actual calculated protection in absolute terms conferred by circumcision was a 2% reduction in the likelihood of infection. That doesn’t dazzle me, either, and given that the studies were terminated when they got their best results, I’m not persuaded.

And finally, give me a plausible mechanism for how circumcision would achieve these remarkable gains. Tell me how it is supposed to work. If it’s something to do with hygiene, it seems to me that better sex and health education should have the same or better effect than lopping off bits of skin.

Again, the jury is still out. So don’t be using this questionable study in the name of “science” to justify chopping off foreskin. And frankly, it would take a lot more than a 2% benefit to outweigh the concerns of autonomy in my mind. That’s not even touching on the fact that most people do it thanks to religion (which is bollocks ) or “tradition” (which is also bollocks).

And while I’m against circumcision, I’m also with PZ on his final paragraph:

I also say as I always have that I oppose circumcision, think it is a pointless and petty bit of suffering to put children through and ought to be discouraged, but I also don’t think it’s as hideously damaging as the obsessive nuts want to claim. Also, in the context of the original post, I consider it a prime example of selfish privilege to invade discussions of female genital mutilation, which does cause serious sexual and medical problems, with demands that we pay more attention to the lesser concerns of males getting lightly scarred penises.

What he said.

Context matters

Rebecca Watson recently made a video about a situation that made her feel very uncomfortable at an atheist conference.
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=uKHwduG1Frk&w=500&h=314]

tl;dr: At 4am after a night of drinking with conference attendees, Rebecca said she was going to bed. A man followed her to the elevator, and once in the elevator, invited her to his room. This made her very uncomfortable. To spell it out for you, a potentially inebriated man sneaking off to follow you and only propositioning you once you’re alone and unable to escape sets off red flags, even if he was totally benign and had the best intentions in mind.

And this is all sort of ironic, especially since Rebecca had just given a talk on sexism and making women feel welcome.

Unfortunately, Rebecca is receiving some shittacular comments about how she’s hypersensitive and oppressing male sexuality, and how men are the real victims here because they can’t flirt without seeming like sex crazed rapists. I get the same sort of comments whenever I make similar observations. So I want to spell it out very clearly:

I am not anti-flirting. I am not anti-finding a significant other. I am not anti-casual sex. Hell, I’m single and incredibly interested in finding someone who’s also interested in atheism and skepticism. I’m trying to flirt and find a significant other when I go to events (I plead the fifth on the casual sex part).

But context matters.

Do not come up to me right after I give a talk on communicating skepticism and tell me a perk of my presentation was that I’m easy on the eyes.*

Feel free to say I’m cute when I’m rocking my black cocktail dress at Penn Jillette’s party at TAM 9.

Do not interrupt an intellectual discussion on diversity in the atheist movement with a unrelated sexual joke.*

Feel free to tell raunchy jokes when I’m having a beer at post-talk social. I’ll join you.

Do not reference my looks, boobs, or sexiness when introducing me for a talk or panel, especially when you would not do so for the male participants.*

Feel free to say you think I’m attractive in casual conversation and tweets, especially if it’s in addition to my intellectual accomplishment. I fangirl over people too – it’s okay.

Do not make numerous comments about my looks in an intellectual blog post that happens to contain a photo of me that’s not meant to be sexy.*

Feel free to comment away when I post photos from my Skepticon pinup calendar. You have the green light.

Do not follow me around the Skepchick party insisting that I drink your bottle of whiskey, after repeated “No thank you”s.*

Feel free to approach me or offer me a drink if you’re okay with the chance that I may not be interested. Sometimes I am!

And finally – if you miscalculate the context of the situation, if you accidentally make someone uncomfortable, if you come off as a creep but you really just had a brainfart and said something incredibly stupid and unintentionally demeaning – it’s okay. It happens. We’re human. It doesn’t mean you’re an evil misogynistic beast, even if we publicly discuss it so others can learn from your mistake.

But recognize said mistake, apologize, and learn from it.

*Yes, all of these “Do not”s have actually happened

Welcome, Savage Lovecast listeners!

As a longtime fan of the Savage Lovecast, I had an absolute blast recording the podcast with Dan. If you found my blog through it, I assume you came here because you found me vaguely interesting.* I talk about a little bit of everything here – mostly atheism, feminism, science, and sex – but here are some posts you’ll probably enjoy:

If you want a more in depth analysis on how crappy current G-spot research is, check out my recent post. And if you want more information on the survey by Dr. Darrel Ray that showed atheists feel less guilty about their sex lives, Greta Christina has a wonderful summary article here.

Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the internet!

Current readers – You can find the podcast here.

*Though it’s entirely possible you came here to tell me to stfu and not infringe on your Dan Savage time, which is totally fine since I feel that way about some guests too.

Why is the G-spot still such a mystery?

A couple of weeks ago I called out a woman on Dan Savage’s podcast who asserted that we know exactly what the structure of the G-spot is, that all women have it, and that every woman can ejaculate. I called her out because scientists haven’t reached a consensus on the G-spot. They’re not sure what the heck it is, how variable it is in women, or if it even exists at all.But calling her out made me wonder: Why is the G-spot still such a mystery?

To put it simply? The current research sucks.

And that’s not just my personal opinion. The Journal of Sexual Medicine did a big review of G-spot research at the end of 2010 (1). Their conclusion?

Although a huge amount of data (not always of good quality) have been accumulated in the last 60 years, we still need more research on one of the most challenging aspects of female sexuality.

For those of you who don’t speak science-ese, allow me to translate: A lot of this data is crap, and therefore we don’t know what’s going on.

After even the briefest overview of the literature, you start to understand why we’re so confused. For example, let’s look at two very popular G-spot papers from very different camps.

First, the “It’s all in your head!” camp. This is the less popular view, but there are some researchers who think the G-spot is nothing more than the placebo effect. The main study they have supporting this was done by Andrea Burri in 2010 (2). They did a twin study and claimed to find no genetic correlation for the G-spot – that is, if a woman had a G-spot, her twin was not more likely to also have a G-spot. It spread like wildfire in the media, and was even picked up by xkcd:

Except this study was a piece of crap.

For one, they did absolutely no physiological studies. How did they know if a woman had a G-spot, then? Why, they simply asked them! In the most leading, biased way possible (emphasis mine):

“Do you believe you have a so called G spot, a small areas the size of a 20p coin on the front wall of your vagina that is sensitive to deep pressure?”

If we ignore how poorly worded that question was, it still is not going to test genetic correlation of having a G-spot. Relying on personal opinion for physiological data is frankly ridiculous – would we determine how many lobes a liver has by asking people what they believe to be true? What they’re actually testing is if someone’s personal opinion about G-spots is genetic! Someone could think she doesn’t have a G-spot, but still have the exact same physiological reactions as her sister.

The other huge flaw of the study was that it didn’t take into account sexual practices. What if one twin only has sex in the missionary position, while the other is purposefully trying out stuff to reach her “so-called” G-spot? It’s wrong to assume that all types of sex produce the same time of stimulation. The researchers seemed somewhat aware of this, because they excluded bisexuals and lesbians…because they tend to have more digital sex.

Wait, what? So you have a group of people having the type of sex that, from conventional wisdom, is more likely to stimulate the “G-spot” – and you leave them out? Why not test to see if that conventional wisdom is actually right?

Well, maybe because the lead researcher isanxious to remove feelings of “inadequacy or underachievement” that might affect women who fear they lacked a G-spot.” That’s certainly a noble cause, since women shouldn’t feel inadequate if they lack a G-spot…but it also certainly biases your research if you’re searching for a particular answer to support your world-view. Not to mention just swaps the stigma onto women who are told they’re being delusional based on crappy data.

I’ve been harping on the G-spot deniers, but the research on the other side is just as bad. I looked up the paper by Florian Wimpissinger that’s often cited as showing that female ejaculation is way more similar to semen than urine (3).

Yes, I had a good giggle that his name was Wimpissinger.

Anyway, this study looks very impressive on the surface. They did ultrasounds that found prostate-like structures in women! And urethroscopy that found a duct-like thingy! And biochemical analysis that showed it wasn’t urine! Doesn’t that sound fancy and
scientific?

Except they did a crappy job at those things.

Their ultrasound was so blurry and inconclusive that the article is immediately followed by a letter from concerned researchers saying “Dude, you totally misread that ultrasound. That’s a smudge, not prostate tissue.” And their response is basically “No, we’re right!” Not the best sign.

Maybe a prostate-like thingy.

But you know what’s a bigger problem then their possibly blurry ultrasound?

They had a sample size of two women who could ejaculate, and no control women.

Sample size of two.

No controls.

So while you can say some women may have a prostate-like structure (assuming their ultrasound doesn’t suck), you can’t say they all do. Because you tested two women out of 3 billion. What do the non-ejaculators look like? What do the women who think they don’t have G-spots look like? Humans are highly variable – height, skin color, breast size – the same could definitely apply to G-spots.

This is especially important in their biochemical study. They took ejaculate and urine samples from both women and compared them to the ejaculate from men using biochemical assays. They didn’t have a urine sample from men or non-ejaculating women to compare it to as a control. And for the second woman, they didn’t even do 5/9 of the tests! So basically they have a couple tests that vaguely show female ejaculate is more ejaculate-like than urine-like. I say vaguely because they didn’t do any sort of statistical analysis to see if this is significant or due to random chance – probably because they have a freaking sample size of two.

So from looking at these two important studies, it’s crystal clear why we don’t know what’s going on yet. The research just isn’t high quality.

But why haven’t scientists figured this out by now? How is it that we can track every individual cell in a developing worm, but we can’t tell if a structure is there or not in women? How is it that we know genetic variation at millions of sites in the genome across human populations, but we don’t know structural or physiological variation of an often discussed phenomena?

For one thing, the G-Spot is probably complicated. If I had to put my money on a hypothesis, I’d guess the G-spot is actually a combination of structures – maybe the Skene’s glands, the internal part of the clitoris, prostate-like tissue, or vaginal thickness. And I’d guess that it’s variable across women – either due to genetics or hormonal context during development. And when something is complicated, it’s a bit harder to figure out.

Part of the problem of getting a really good study is that sexual science is somewhat of an echo chamber. Almost all of the research is published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, and almost all of the reviewers of papers are part of the same little group. They don’t have random molecular biologists reviewing their papers and weeping at their sample size, or screaming “Why didn’t you just do a mass spec run?!” There’s a reason why this stuff isn’t getting published in PNAS, Science, or Nature – maybe partly due to blushing editors, but mainly due to quality.

Another problem is that a good study of something complicated calls for thousands of samples – and it’s not easy to find thousands of women willing to participate in such a study. That’s not just because of puritanical views, though that’s definitely a contributing factor. Women have been historically mistreated under the guise of medicine, especially within the realm of sexual medicine. Treatments for hysteria, forced sterilization – those things may be in the past, but they still linger in people’s memories.

But even if you had the best scientists and a thousand volunteers, a lot of it boils down to the politics of science – especially the politics of the science of sex. In the US, the type of research that’s being done is the type of research that’s being funded – mostly from the government. And when you look at these studies, almost none of them are coming from the US – the two I mentioned were from the UK and Austria. Our puritanical views make it less likely that a massive G-spot study is going to be funded to put this question to rest.

I’m not trying to be overly patriotic, but the US produces some of the highest quality scientific research in the world. And when it’s too scared to finance the investigation of women’s sexuality, it’s no wonder we’re left in the dark.

Yet somehow there’s no shortage of money so men can keep having erections. Funny how that works.

So the next time someone claims to know exactly what a G-spot is – especially when they’re trying to sell you something – think of the science behind it. And remember, it’s okay for science to say “I don’t know – yet.”

1. Jannini, EA et al. (2010) Who’s Afraid of the G-spot? Journal of Sexual Medicine. 7:25-34.
2. Burri, AV et al. (2010) Genetic and Environmental Influences on self-reported G-Spots in Women: A Twin Study. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 7:1842-1852.
3. Wimpissinger, F et al. (2007) The female prostate revisited: perineal ultrasound and biochemical studies of female ejaculate. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 4:1388-1393.

I’m a sucker for terrible Christian movies

I want to see this so badly:
[youtube http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fx-kg2xYznw&w=500&h=314]

From the video description:

“The Waiting Game is about a guy who saves himself for marriage only to have his fiance leave him on their wedding day. He must now decide if it’s worth it to wait again.”

What the movie is really about: only getting married because you want to bang someone. Lovely Christian ethics at work!

Horrible morals aside, this film looks unintentionally hilarious – almost like an atheist parody of waiting for marriage. I’m not going to lie – I lol’d at the Ted Haggard cameo and “You need Jesus! With Jesus comes the wisdom of how to drive!” But it’s real, and they’re looking for people to fund the movie.

I’m torn. Is it okay to want 2 million dollars to go to a pro-abstinence movie if it will inspire ironic godless viewing parties?

(Via Friendly Atheist)

Squeeeee

I gave Dan a chance to recover from my skeptical evisceration before taking this photo:You can hardly see the tears!

Joking aside, I had a fantastic time. I’m so happy that I got to be a part of one of my favorite shows! Though I think that’s all I can say without spoiling the magic of the Savage Lovecast – or before a Tech Savvy At Risk Youth assassinates me for spilling secrets.

The episode with me will be out May 31st – yes, you have to wait a little over a week, sorry. But it will be worth it – we talk about a lot of cool stuff. I was a bit nervous in the beginning and I think it shows, but overall I think it went really well. I’ll remind you guys when it’s out!

Until then I will agonize over all the things I wish I said. Or more realistically, get so distracted by the end of the semester that I’ll forget about the podcast. Eek.

Dan Savage invited me to slap him in person

Verbally, of course.
I’ll be recording an interview for the podcast with him on Wednesday, where we’ll talk about what went horribly wrong in the previous interview. Hooray for getting to geek out about skepticism on the Savage Lovecast! To say I’m excited is a vast understatement.

I have to give it to Dan – he does a good job at admitting when something has gone wrong. A lot of people would just sweep a bad interview under the rug, instead of having someone come on and tsk-tsk at them.

If you hear an annoying high pitched sound, that would be me perpetually squeeing. Sorry about that.

Hey Dan Savage: Did you turn your skepticism off?

Everyone here probably knows that I’m a huge fan of Dan Savage – but this week’s Savage Lovecast was a massive failure.
A guest on the show was Heike Rodriguez, who “teaches Female Ejaculation in West Seattle.” Not exactly sure what that entails, but that’s not the problem. When she wasn’t spewing woo-woo unscientific bullshit, she was claiming women who can’t ejaculate have some sort of emotional issues, and maybe were even raped and don’t remember it.

One of the very first things she says about female ejaculation is “That’s actually a myth. Every woman can do it. Everybody has a G-spot. There’s no argument about that. The anatomy is there for pretty much everybody.”

Uh, false. Researchers still have no freaking clue what’s going on down there. Some think it’s the Skene’s gland. Some think it’s the urethral sponge. Some think it’s the thickness of the vaginal wall. Some think it’s the internal parts of the clitoris. If scientists in 2011 are still arguing over a bit of human anatomy, it’s not as cut and dry as you think.

There’s also the fallacy of “Well I’ve experienced it, therefore it must be there for everyone.” Let’s assume the G-spot does exist in some women, and it’s not just psychological. That doesn’t mean it has to exist in everyone. A lot of human traits are variable – height, weight, breast size. And some people completely lack certain structures – for example, people who are born without wisdom teeth.

Now, you’re not going to be missing something like a heart or a stomach, but the G-spot isn’t exactly necessary for survival. More likely it’s the evolutionary side effect of certain male structures, in which case it would be completely plausible that it’s variable in women.

But to say all women have it, and as definitively as she did? Outright lie.

To illustrate how little Heike knows about sexual physiology, Dan asks her if female ejaculate is urine, and her response is “It’s impossible to pee while you’re aroused. It’s really simple. You can’t pee.”

Again, untrue. Both men and women can pee while aroused. Men can’t pee when they’re close to ejaculating (not the same as arousal) or soon after ejaculation because the bladder neck closes so semen won’t go into the bladder. Totally not the same as “You can’t pee while aroused.”

At this point Dan was tries to call her out on the idea that all women can ejaculate…and that’s where it gets even worse. “It has a lot to do with emotions. […] It has a lot to do with connecting intimacy with sex. It has a lot to do with letting your emotions flow, with being willing to cry when you feel something intensely. And that’s not something thats really out there as part of sex. And I think that’s why a lot of women can’t do it. Because they haven’t connected their heart with their vaginas.”

Oh bugger off with the new-age hippy bullshit. You have absolutely no evidence to support anything you’re saying, and it’s insulting to say that women who can’t ejaculate are somehow just not being intimate enough.

And when Dan gently calls her out on that, saying that some women are just anorgasmic, she responds that she was anorgasmic because she was raped. And then implies that emotional or sexual trauma are the real reasons why women can’t orgasm or ejaculate.

Again, not an ounce of evidence, and perpetuating the mindset that women are somehow damaged if they don’t react in a certain way. Sorry, but saying “I don’t think women should feel bad” over and over doesn’t make them not feel bad when you say the only reason they don’t squirt is because they aren’t intimate enough or are traumatized.

Even though Dan tried to (too politely) question her claims, I wonder why he even had her on the show to begin with. I thought something smelled fishy when she said “If it’s really painful, then maybe some emotional pain needs to be released.” Yes, “energy.” It must be “released,” or something. A quick glance at her group’s website doesn’t list any sort of credentials for her. The only “credentials” she mentions on the show is being able to ejaculate (good for you) and being a partner of her “co-facilitator.” And the credentials for her “co-facilitator”? He’s a former minister with a Masters in Divinity in degree, and “facilitates” stuff like “dreamwork.”

If that doesn’t set off skeptical red flags, I don’t know what will.

So massive fail, Dan. How are you so skeptical about religion, but invited someone like this on your show? Did no one call in that week and you were desperate to fill the air time? I have a feeling there are at least a couple people in Seattle with actual credentials to back up their sexual information that you could have turned to. Hell, people who can use Google are more informed than she was.

I have a feeling you got a lot of angry calls because of her. I hope we get to hear some of them in the next podcast.

Is there going to be Boobquake 2?

Today is the one year anniversary of boobquake, an accidental internet meme that I created at this blog. I’m not going to retell the story since it already has a Wikipedia article, which is also evidence of how viral it went (that, and being mentioned on the Colbert Report).

I’ve heard the question hundreds of times by now. “Is there going be Boobquake 2?” This is almost always followed by a quip about “increasing sample size,” with the person grinning about how clever they think they are for thinking that one up. While I’ve answered the question hundreds of times by now, let me answer it one last time to make it crystal clear:

NO.

I’m tempted to leave it at that, but I’ll take the moment to explain why the streets are not being flooded with immodestly dressed women today (at least, not more than usual).

1. The hypothesis is no longer testable.

Sedighi, an Iranian cleric, originally claimed that immodestly dressed women cause earthquakes. The whole purpose of boobquake was to be a humorous lesson in skepticism – that when someone makes claims, we should test them. But Sedighi clarified his statement a month later:

“Some ask why (more) earthquakes and storms don’t occur in the Western world, which suffers from the slime of homosexuality, the slime of promiscuity and has plunged up to the neck” in immorality, he said.

“Who says they don’t occur? Storms take place in the U.S. and other parts of the world. We don’t say committing sin is the entire reason but it’s one of the reasons,” he said.

But, he said, “sometimes, God tests a nation. … (God says) if believers sin, We slap them because We love them and give them calamity in order to stop their bad deeds.”

“And those who have provoked God’s wrath, He allows them (to commit sins) so that they go to the bottom of hell,” Sedighi said.

So basically, sinning doesn’t actually correlate precisely with natural disasters, and God will hold off on striking sinful nations so he can send even more people to hell. There’s no longer any sort of cause and effect – God just willy nilly kills people. His claim is now unfalsifiable. Increasing the “sample size” would not matter.

2. There are plenty of other unskeptical things to poke fun at.

Sedighi isn’t the only person on the planet to make ludicrous claims. Why obsess over a stupid comment someone made a year ago, instead of keeping an eye out for new ridiculous superstitions? People are saying crazy stuff every day. So much more can be accomplished.

Not to mention, I think a lot of people liked boobquake because it happened to be poking fun at a Middle Eastern Muslim. White people and/or Christians have just as wacky of beliefs, and I don’t want this turning into something fueled by Islamophobia.

3. The joke is funny once.

Seriously, don’t beat a dead horse.

4. I don’t want to be forever just known as “boobquake girl.”

It’s sure to follow me around a bit – and that’s fine, it certainly was a cool experience. But I have so many more accomplishments. I’m pursuing my PhD in Genome Sciences at the University of Washington. I have published research papers, and more are sure to come. I’m speaking at dozens of groups and conferences across the country about atheism. I hope to write a book some day soon, which will hopefully be the first of many.

I’m not just a boob joke.

So please, I know you think you’re being witty when you ask me what I was wearing when Recent Earthquake X struck Location Z…but give it a rest. We have other skeptical battles to fight. Let’s not all turn into one trick ponies.