Trouble for Sperm

Are chemicals putting your sperm in trouble?

By Nicholas Kristof MARCH 11, 2017   – New York Times

The New York Times/Donnelly

Let’s begin with sex.

As a couple finishes its business, millions of sperm begin theirs: rushing toward an egg to fertilize it. But these days, scientists say, an increasing proportion of sperm — now about 90 percent in a typical young man — are misshapen, sometimes with two heads or two tails.

Even when properly shaped, today’s sperm are often pathetic swimmers, veering like drunks or paddling crazily in circles. Sperm counts also appear to have dropped sharply in the last 75 years, in ways that affect our ability to reproduce.

“There’s been a decrease not only in sperm numbers, but also in their quality and swimming capacity, their ability to deliver the goods,” said Shanna Swan, an epidemiologist at the Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai, who notes that researchers have also linked semen problems to shorter life expectancy.

Perhaps you were expecting another column about political
missteps in Washington, and instead you’ve been walloped with
talk of bad swimmers. Yet this isn’t just a puzzling curiosity,
but is rather an urgent concern that affects reproduction,
possibly even our species’ future.

Andrea Gore, a professor of pharmacology at the University of Texas at Austin and editor of the journal Endocrinology, put it to me this way: “Semen quality and fertility in men have decreased. Not everyone who wants to reproduce will be able to. And the costs of male disorders to quality of life, and the economic burden to society, are inestimable.”

Human and animal studies suggest that a crucial culprit is a common class of chemical called endocrine disruptors, found in plastics, cosmetics, couches, pesticides and countless other products. Because of the environmental links, The New Yorker once elegantly referred to the crisis as “silent sperm,” and innumerable studies over 25 years add to the concern that the world’s sperm are in trouble.

And so are men and boys. Apparently related to the problem of declining semen quality is an increase in testicular cancer in many countries; in undescended testicles; and in a congenital malformation of the penis called hypospadias (in which the urethra exits the side or base of the penis instead of the tip). These problems are often found together and are labeled testicular dysgenesis syndrome.

There is still disagreement about the scale of the problem, and the data aren’t always reliable. But some scientists are beginning to ask, At some point, will we face a crisis in human reproduction? Might we do to ourselves what we did to bald eagles in the 1950s and 1960s?

“I think we are at a turning point,” Niels Erik Skakkebaek, a Danish fertility scholar and pioneer in this field, told me. “It is a matter of whether we can sustain ourselves.”

One recent study found that of sperm donor applicants in Hunan province, China, 56 percent qualified in 2001 because their sperm met standards of healthiness. By 2015, only 18 percent qualified.

“The semen quality among young Chinese men has declined over a period of 15 years,” concluded the study, which involved more than 30,000 men.

Perhaps even more alarmingly, Canadian scientists conducted a seven-year experiment on a lake in Ontario, adding endocrine disrupting chemicals and then observing the impact on fathead minnows. The chemicals had a devastating impact on males, often turning them into intersex fish, with characteristics of both sexes but incapable of reproducing.

The crisis for male reproductive health seems to begin in utero. Male and female fetuses start pretty much the same, and then hormones drive differentiate of males from females. The problem seems to be that endocrine disrupting chemicals mimic hormones and confuse this process, interfering with the biological process of becoming male.

How should we protect ourselves? Swan said she avoids plastics as much as possible, including food or drinks that have touched plastic or been heated in plastic. She recommends eating organic to avoid pesticide residues, and avoiding Tylenol and other painkillers during pregnancy. When in doubt, she consults guides at ewg.org/consumer-guides.

Yet this isn’t just a matter of individual action, but is also a public policy issue that affects tens of millions of people, their capacity to reproduce and their health and life expectancy.

What’s needed above all is more aggressive regulation of endocrine disrupting chemicals. The United States has been much slower than Europe to regulate toxic chemicals, and most chemicals sold in the U.S. have never been tested for safety.

The larger question is why we allow the chemical industry — by spending $100,000 on lobbying per member of Congress — to buy its way out of effective regulation of endocrine disruptors. The industry’s deceit marks a replay of Big Tobacco’s battle against regulation of smoking.

If you doubt the stakes, look at the images with the online version of this column of a hapless sperm swimming in circles, and remember this: Our human future will only be as healthy as our sperm.

The Kinky Sex Lives of Insects

From Lehmiller.com

Video: The Kinky Sex Lives of Insects
October 28, 2015

“Sex in insects is more interesting than sex in people.” – Marlene Zuk

birds, bees, & flies

birds, bees, & flies

In this fascinating and humorous TED talk, evolutionary biologist Dr. Marlene Zuk offers a look into the sexual practices of a wide range of insects, from dragonflies to honey bees to kadydids to ants. Zuk reveals that insects break many of the rules we think we know about male and female mating practices. In fact, this video will undoubtedly lead many views to question some of their most fundamental ideas and assumptions about what’s “normal” and “natural” when it comes to sex and mating.

Gloria Steinem Dedicates Book To The Doctor Who Changed Her Life

Gloria Steinem

Gloria Steinem

Feminist icon Gloria Steinem, who had an illegal abortion when she was 22 years old, dedicated her most recent book to the doctor who performed that procedure for her.

Steinem’s book My Life on the Road, which recounts her lifetime of travel and activism, opens with a dedication to Dr. John Sharpe, the doctor who helped Steinem end a pregnancy in London in 1957. At the time, elective abortion was still criminalized In England, but Steinem was desperate to avoid going through with the pregnancy and ultimately tying herself to a man who wasn’t right for her.

In the book’s dedication, Steinem writes that Dr. Sharpe referred her for an abortion at “considerable risk” to himself, and asked her to promise something in return:

Knowing that she had broken an engagement at home to seek an unknown fate, he said, “You must promise me two things. First, you will not tell anyone my name. Second, you will do what you want to do with your life.”

Dear Dr. Sharpe, I believe you, who knew the law was unjust, would not mind if I say this so long after your death: I’ve done the best I could with my life.

This book is for you.

In a recent interview with NPR’s Terry Gross, Steinem said she also attempted some of the “foolish things” that women of her generation did to terminate an unwanted pregnancy in the absence of legal abortion rights, including throwing herself down the stairs.

“I just knew that if I went home and married, which I would’ve had to do, it would be to the wrong person; it would be to a life that wasn’t mine, that wasn’t mine at all,” Steinem said in that interview. “It seems to me that every child has the right to be born loved and wanted, and every person has the right to control — male and female — to control their own bodies from the skin in.”

Research has confirmed that many women in the United States choose to end pregnancies for similar reasons. According to a qualitative study from the Guttmacher Institute, most women who have abortions say that they could not afford a baby, they did not want to be a single mother, or they did not want to have a child amid serious relationship problems with their partner.

There’s also evidence that reproductive health options are critical for allowing women to pursue their goals over the course of their lifetime. Women say that the ability to plan and space their pregnancies gives them the freedom to work toward becoming financially independent or getting a college degree.

Steinem wasn’t open about her decision to have an abortion until years later, when she was in her mid-30s and working as a reporter for New York magazine. She told Gross that, as she was covering an abortion speak-out and listening to other women talking about their own decisions to have illegal procedures, she suddenly realized that she wasn’t alone.

India’s Daughter & Rape Culture

[Two articles below about India’s Daughter film of 2012 rape in India]

India’s Daughter review – this film does what the politicians should be doing

By Sonia Faleiro, author of 13 Men The Guardian, March 5, 2015

gbviolprotest India’s Daughter is director Leslee Udwin’s stirring documentation of a crime that triggered what she has described as “an Arab Spring for gender equality” in India.

The December 2012 Delhi bus gang rape resulted in the death of 23-year-old medical student Jyoti Singh at the hands of six men. The men threw Singh and her male friend out of the bus before gleefully divvying up the pair’s belongings.

One rapist got a pair of shoes, another scored a jacket. There was, however, an item that Singh had left behind which the men didn’t want. So they wrapped the innards they had wrenched out of her in their frenzy of violence in a piece of cloth, and pitched it through the window. “They had no fear,” Mukesh Singh, the driver of the bus and one of four men to be convicted for Jyoti’s rape and murder, tells Udwin.

The interview with Mukesh Singh, whose death sentence is currently in appeal, is a coup for Udwin, who is the first journalist ever allowed to talk to him, or any of the men. She will likely be the last. Yesterday the authorities banned the film in India after claiming that Udwin had failed to get the requisite permissions. Shortly afterwards the parliamentary affairs minister M Venkaiah Naidu described the film as “an international conspiracy”.

Naidu’s allegation is bewildering, given that the film reveals little that is new either about the crime, or the mindset of the man convicted of it.

Journalists have reported on the rape in detail. And surely it comes as no surprise that someone who participated in a gang-rape and is now on death row will place blame just about anywhere it might stick in the hope of a reprieve – the grinding poverty that he was born into, the overbearing nature of his older brother, who is believed to have masterminded the assault, even his victim.

A whining Singh comes off as genuinely unconvinced that he should be in jail. “She should just be silent and allow the rape,” says Singh, implying that if Jyoti had only done the right thing and let the men take from her what was theirs – her body – she would still be alive today.

In fact audiences, in India at least, are unlikely to flinch at anything Udwin has to show them. If she thinks that she is holding up a mirror, she should know that Indians have been looking into it for some time now and are as eager for reform as those outside India demanding it on their behalf.

Even the statements of the two lawyers for the men, in which they describe women in terms as disparate as diamonds, food, and flowers – objects all, of course – before finally admitting that “in our culture there is no place for women” will sound familiar.

But it is the dismaying familiarity of the views expressed by Singh and his lawyers – which are now mainstream in India, echoed by everyone from politicians to high school students – that makes this essential viewing. Some will argue that the unapologetic misogyny revealed in these interviews is a skewed representation of the Indian male mindset. But it is, in fact, widespread.

Delhi protest

‘No rape’ message during a demonstration in New Delhi. Photo Mahesh Kumar/AP

 Singh’s interview also confirms that Indian jails restrain; they do not rehabilitate. It is obvious, given the views he expresses to Udwin, that were he to be released today he would walk the streets of Delhi still convinced of the lopsided inevitability of relationships between men and women: what men want, women must promptly give, even at the pain of death.

Udwin has opted for a tight focus, but some viewers may wish that she had embraced a broader view of the rape crisis in India. The country’s history of anti-rape agitation, for example.

The protests that followed the death of Jyoti Singh may have been the largest against rape, but they were certainly not the first. Earlier high-profile crimes such as the 1972 Mathura custodial rape case also led to legal reform, and laid the groundwork for the development of the protest constituency that filled Delhi’s political corridor from Rashtrapati Bhawan to India Gate that December, in what ultimately turned into a war zone of tear gas, lathi strikes, and police violence.

But Udwin, like any good field reporter, doggedly pursues this one case from start to present, unable to tear herself away even for a minute. Her intimate focus allows for a more affecting narrative.

Jyoti Singh’s parents emerge as superheroes, radiating courage and strength. Her father Badri Singh, then an airport loader, comes across as exactly the sort of modern, forward-thinking, male feminist that India would be so lucky to have many millions more of. And her mother, Asha, who says of Jyoti’s birth “we celebrated like she was a boy”, was surely the propeller that allowed her daughter’s soaring ambitions to take flight.

Udwin skilfully contrasts the light in Singh’s young life with the darkness that engulfed the lives of her rapists.

The Singhs were poor, but they cared for their children fiercely. Jyoti, their only daughter, grew up well-adjusted and focused, but also deeply empathetic. One of her friends recalls that after the police picked up a street urchin for snatching her purse, Singh, rather than berating the boy, took him aside and asked him what made him do it. Because I want what you have, he said – shoes, jeans, a hamburger. Singh, recalled her friend, promptly took the boy shopping and bought him everything on his wish list. Her only stipulation was that he not steal again.

The word “happy” repeatedly comes up in reference to Jyoti. She was happy, said Asha Singh. She had only six months of her internship left, recalled Badri Singh. “Happiness was a few steps ahead.”

In contrast, the six men who would take Singh’s life appear never to have encountered happiness. The juvenile left his home in a village in the northern state of Uttar Pradesh when he was just 11 years old and didn’t return. His mother thought him dead. The others were familiar with poverty and violence. In turn, they were violent towards others. “There is nothing good about him,” Singh says of one his co-conspirators. Of another he admits: “He was capable of anything.”

A psychiatrist in Delhi’s Tihar Jail, where Singh is lodged, tells Udwin that he knows of rapists who have committed as many as 200 rapes before they are ever caught. Two hundred rapes that they remember, that is.

Given Singh’s own statements it isn’t a stretch to say that had the men got away with raping and killing Jyoti, they would have raped and killed again. Or, that neither Singh’s mindset nor even the manner of the rape, during which an iron rod was inserted into Jyoti, was, as the court declared in its judgment, truly “the rarest of the rare”. As recently as February this year, a woman was gang-raped by nine men in Rohtak, Haryana for over three hours. The men violated her with bricks and asbestos sheets. Sticks, stones and condoms were found stuffed in her private parts.

India’s Daughter doesn’t malign India, but Naidu’s statement about a “conspiracy” does demonstrate, with an acute lack of self-awareness, what lies at the heart of the nation’s rape crisis.

Naidu isn’t implying that rape is shameful; but that talking about rape is shameful because it draws attention to the fact that it happens at all. This fear is exactly what prevents rape victims from filing police complaints, and, as a result, emboldens rapists to strike again and again. In fact, Udwin has done what India’s politicians should rightfully be doing: investigating rape cases thoroughly and discussing them openly.

While eloquently expressing his love for his daughter, Badri Singh tells Udwin: “I wish that whatever darkness there is in the world should be dispelled by this light.”

The Indian government has thwarted his wishes. By banning this documentary it has deprived the Singhs of the opportunity to share the story of their daughter widely within India. In attempting to push a conversation about rape back into the closet, it has stigmatised the subject further. It has done more damage to India’s reputation, and, far worse, the fight against rape, than any film ever could.

****

 

Why India gang-rape film row is extraordinary

By Soutik Biswas  BBC Delhi correspondent  03.05.15

A documentary by a British film-maker on the 2012 gang rape and murder of a female student in Delhi has kicked up a storm in India.

The courts have issued an injunction stopping it from being shown in India, and the home minister has promised an inquiry into the making of the documentary.

The film and the row it has generated are extraordinary for four main reasons.

Incredible access

British producer Leslee Udwin gained some of the most extraordinary and rare access that any film-maker has ever had inside an Indian prison.

She interviewed convicted rapist Mukesh Singh for 16 hours over three days. She says the crew was given permission by the jail authorities and the ministry of home affairs.

Activist Kavita Krishnan wondered how Udwin was allowed access to convicts inside jail when authorities “prevent most human rights campaigners in India from speaking to, let alone filming, prisoners”.

The hour-long film also includes extensive interviews of the victim’s parents, families of the convicts and their lawyers, interspersed with reconstruction of the incident.

Remorseless rapist

Mukesh Singh, who is facing the death penalty along with three others, expressed no remorse and blamed the victim for fighting back.

Times Now news channel promptly took the lead in whipping up a campaign against the film, which it has described as “voyeuristic” and against “all norms of journalism”.

Some media analysts believe this has more to do with the channel’s rivalry with NDTV, which had the rights to broadcast the film.

Critics of the film have variously accused it of glorifying the rapist by giving him a platform, encouraging copycat crimes, or prejudicing the appeals of the rapists and spurring demands to fast-track their executions.

Others have been outraged that Indian audiences have been “exposed to the remarks of such a brutal man” on prime-time news. Although, it has to be said, Indians are accustomed to some pretty shocking stuff on prime-time news.

Official outrage

A Delhi court has blocked the film “until further orders” after police said Mukesh Singh’s “offensive and derogatory remarks” were “creating an atmosphere of fear and tension with the possibility of public outcry and law and order situation”.

A cynical friend suggests most of this outcry and potential danger to the law and order situation is confined to the TV studios and social media.

Home Minister Rajnath Singh has promised an inquiry into how the prison authorities gave permission to the film-maker and said he was “deeply shocked” by the interview.

Some say India has sadly become a country of bans – films, books, and in a recent case, even beef.

It is not clear though whether the film’s ban was provoked by a touchy Indian government led by the image-conscious Prime Minister Narendra Modi or because the home ministry was embarrassed.

Free speech

Many believe that the ban on the film hurts India’s reputation most.

When Mr Modi is trying hard to spruce up India’s global image as a favoured destination to invest and visit, such ham-fisted and impulsive reactions cannot really help.

“It is patronising to control what people see about their own country,” an American artist said on my Twitter timeline.

“Nobody sensible is suggesting banning the film,” says writer Salil Tripathi. “That is wrong”.

But the more things change, the more they remain the same.

Senior minister Venkaiah Naidu talks about a “conspiracy to defame India” and says the “country will be harmed if Ms Udwin’s documentary is broadcast outside India”.

Many believe India’s image will be harmed because India’s government is not seen to be supportive of free speech, and not because of Mukesh Singh’s odious remarks.

Why don’t they let Indians watch the film and make up their minds about it? Why can’t the state be less paternalistic?

Every Sperm Is Sacred

There are Jews in the world, there are Buddhists,
there are Hindus and Mormons and then
there are those that follow Mohammed  -but-
I’ve never been one of them. -Monty Python

The movie “Sacred Sperm” is described as:

“A personal journey of the director Or Yashar, an orthodox religious Jew after one of the most difficult and Important prohibitions in Judaism – the “waste of Sperm” that for its violation there is almost no forgiveness or atonement. The film creates a daring first exposure on the way parents, rabbis, teachers, pedagogues and therapists within the Orthodox Hasidic Jewish Community educating their male children from infancy to adolescence, to avoid spilling their sperm.”

“According to the Talmud, male self-pleasure is forbidden, as it wastes the seeds of potential life.”

****

Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great,
If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.

Let the heathens spill theirs, on the dusty ground.
God shall make them pay for each sperm that can’t be found.

Let the pagans spill theirs on mountain hill and plain.
God shall strike them down for each sperm that’s spilled in vain.

Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is good,
every sperm is needed, in your neighborhood,
Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great,
If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.

Hindu, Taoist, Mormon, spill theirs just anywhere
but God loves those who treat their semen with more care.

God needs everybodies, mine, and mine, and mine.
Let the pagans spill theirs on mountain hill and plain.
God shall strike them down for each sperm that’s spilled in vain.

Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is good,
every sperm is needed, in your neighborhood,
Every sperm is sacred, every sperm is great,
If a sperm is wasted, God gets quite irate.

Full Lyrics From Monty Python

‘Sacred Sperm’, Religion & Taboos

‘Sacred Sperm’ Film Explores Ultra-Orthodox Jewish Taboos

AP By Tia Goldenberg  Published by the Huffington Post

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who's the cutest of them all?

Mirror, mirror, on the wall, Who’s the cutest of them all?

JERUSALEM (AP) – Like so many parents, Ori Gruder was grappling with how to talk to his 10-year-old son about sex. Being a member of Israel’s ultra-Orthodox religious community, which tends to keep discussions of sexuality to a whisper, made the task even more difficult.

So Gruder created “Sacred Sperm,” an hour-long documentary in which he tries to tackle the hard questions he can expect from his son. The film presents an intimate, informative and at times awkward look at the insular religious community and its approach to sexuality, fleshing out deeply entrenched taboos in the conservative society.

“What is it about that little sperm that looks like a tadpole and has everyone so hot and bothered?” Gruder ponders in his narration of the film.

Gruder, a 44-year-old father of six who once worked for MTV Europe and didn’t become religious until age 30, gives the viewer a rare peek into private ultra-Orthodox lives, taking the camera into his own home, into ritual baths and circumcision ceremonies, to the religious school system and more.

"Sacred Sperm"  (AP Photo/Gliad Kavalerchik)

“Sacred Sperm” (AP Photo/Gliad Kavalerchik)

The film already has been shown in Jerusalem, London and California and is touring the U.S. festival circuit, including Atlanta on Feb. 15.

It begins with a visit to a rabbi, who grants Gruder his blessing to create the movie but implores him to do so “modestly.” Gruder’s wife expresses reservations about the project because it could elicit unwanted attention from the community.

“Maybe that’s why I should do it, because people don’t talk about it,” Gruder responds.

Under Orthodox Judaism, masturbation is forbidden, seen as a violation of an age-old covenant with God that promotes and encourages procreation. Sex is viewed as a sacred act and intercourse is permissible only after marriage.

“One who spills his seed literally kills his sons,” Prosper Malka, one rabbi interviewed in the film, tells Gruder.

Gruder explains the theological reasoning behind the Jewish ban on spilling sperm: “The reproductive organ is called the ‘covenant.’ Spilling one’s seed is called ‘damaging the covenant.’ And abstaining from masturbation is called ‘guarding the covenant.'”

While other world religions such as Roman Catholicism take a similarly dim view of masturbation and premarital sex, the film makes clear how much more ultra-rigorous the ultra-Orthodox Jews are. They live strictly regulated lives according to Jewish law that governs everything from diet to dress. Procreation is seen as a “mitzvah,” or commandment from God. For this reason, large families are common in Orthodox communities.

But talking freely and openly about sex is taboo. Many Orthodox Jews do not touch members of the opposite sex except their spouses, and the sexes are usually separated in school and prayer. Sex education is largely not taught in schools, although young brides and grooms are given counseling before they wed.

Gruder brings viewers into an education session for a soon-to-be-married young man, in which the perplexed bridegroom is told that “all positions are permitted, but our sages tend to say that the best way is for the husband to be on top of the wife.”

The film details the precautions that many ultra-Orthodox men take to prevent themselves from becoming aroused. It’s not merely a matter of averting their eyes from women.

One rabbi, longtime friend Yisrael Aharon Itzkovitz, holds up his baggy white underpants – and explains he buys them a few sizes too big, because snug-fitting undies might stimulate the wearer by accident. Many ultra-Orthodox men do not touch themselves when they urinate, Itzkovitz explains, even if that means they misfire.

Gruder describes his own journey from secular to Orthodox Jew, recounting the guilt he felt knowing that he previously had sinned. To repent, he said he has taken seemingly countless ritual baths, fasted, given to charity and rolled around naked in snow at a ski resort in northern Israel. He said that was a purifying experience.

Judaism expert Menachem Friedman said the movie, which was shot in Israel and Ukraine, offered a unique “anthropological window” into the ultra-Orthodox world. “It is about a very intimate subject which nobody talks about,” he said.
Gruder expressed hope that the film would help ultra-Orthodox Jews to become better understood by outsiders.

“It’s a first look into a keyhole that needs to be opened more,” he said.

Buddhist Feminist Art

Feminism Awakens In Himalayan Buddhist Art and Meditation

 “She has acquired the reputation and recognition of delivering hard financial and concrete results in a career devoted to the advancement of young women.”

Tara Sculpture

Tara Sculpture

“Our temple is at the heart of the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery  Since this is a Nunnery, the inner decoration of the temple reflects female embodiments of Enlightenment – Tara, Vajrayogini and so on – and this is especially emphasized in the exquisite murals around the walls and the rounded stained glass windows. There are walls dedicated to senior nun saints surrounding Shakyamuni Buddha and Mahaprajapati who was the Buddha’s stepmother and the first nun. These are rarely portrayed in Buddhist art. Also there is the great yogin Milarepa surrounded by his female disciples. When people enter they immediately feel a sense of peace together with gentle but powerful feminine energy: they feel awed and uplifted.”

By G. Roger Denson  Huffington Post [Excerpts below]

In mid-January the British-born Buddhist nun, Jetsunma Tenzin Palmo — the closest thing we have to a Thomas Merton figure today — spoke before a sold-out audience at the Rubin Museum of Himalayan Arts in Manhattan. The nun of 50 years is known not only for having spent twenty years of her life meditating in a cave, but for her founding of the Dongyu Gatsal Ling Nunnery for young Buddhist nuns in the Kangra Valley of the Indian state Himachal Pradesh, a two-hour drive from the Tibetan exile community of Dharamsala. Accompanying her and providing locutory support was the art historian and former Rubin Museum curator, Kathryn Selig Brown. The topic was Jetsunma’s approach to visualization in meditation and the overall place of art in its embodiment and enhancement of dharma.

In Himalayan sacred art, erotism, like all other visualizations, activates the mind’s eye — the eye of inward perception — to transform our external perception of our own presumed singular and disparate realities into bridges to endless other individualities that together build the continuity that binds us as a whole.

M. Gotami

M Gotami

 

2 White Taras

Two White Taras

But discussions of magical and metaphysical surrealism, or the art of spectacle and erotism are not what concerns the impressively serene and pragmatic Jetsunma, as she is called by everyone to her apparent satisfaction. Even when discussing a topic like visualization, she remains focused on the liberation attained in the process, not the abstract or structural, the psychological or the mystical methods and effects. Her priorities are rooted in the social implications of Buddhism, which is attested to by her early development and chosen life focus. It was at the age of 20 in 1964 that she became one of the first Westerners to be ordained as a Buddhist nun. Thanks to at least two biographies written about her since, she has acquired the reputation and recognition of delivering hard financial and concrete results in a career devoted to the advancement of young women. Hers is the kind of character that proved itself capable of navigating through all the cultural, ideological and political differences that obscure right living, or at least the pathways to right living that manage to run through the bureaucracy and prejudice that characterize life in the northern border region of Himachal Pradesh, India.

Perhaps we all should have expected an espousal of feminism to come from Jetsunma. After all, she became a Buddhist nun just when her native England and the West as a whole was undergoing a radical feminization of society. Why shouldn’t feminism now be brought to fruition among Buddhists, who at least in their contemporary incarnations count among the most civilized and proto-democratic peoples the world has known. (Although this wasn’t always the case.) Of course, it should be no less remarkable to witness feminism manifest in what may be the world’s only Himalayan Buddhist monastery devoted to visualizing predominantly female deities, yoginis, and bodhisattvadevi, than it is in the art world, where galleries such a Gagosian still are resistant to some of the most significant developments in contemporary art because they are made by women, or because they will earn less. Of course, there is the nature of the entities that Jetsunma commissions for her art that ordinarily belie feminism and activism. Not only are they entirely archaic in origin and originally designed to placate the patriarchal sensibility written into and legislated by Buddhist social structures.

Sexual Science

Science Confirms the Existence and Purpose of Rebound Sex

Study shows that the recently-dumped are more likely to use sex with someone new to cope with negative feelings.

Science can teach you new things, or it can provide official validation for things you’ve long known to be true. And with things like love and sex, it’s sometimes nice, comforting even, to impose a structure on the chaos, to realize that every lap you take around the track falls into the well-worn groove of humanity—that a lot of the time, we do the same things, for the same reasons. Over and over again. Like having rebound sex to get back at your ex. For example.

They say to get over somebody, you need to get under somebody else. By “they,” I mostly mean “best-friend characters in romantic comedies.” Though such questionably helpful bon mots abound in our interpersonal relations and pop culture, there wasn’t much scientific evidence to back them up. Until now.

In a study published recently in Archives of Sexual Behaviorresearchers at the University of Missouri had 170 heterosexual undergrads who had gone through a breakup in the past year keep online diaries over the course of a semester. They submitted weekly “distress reports” and “self-esteem and sex reports.”

The study gathers some canonical definitions of “rebound sex” from Yahoo Answers (“Rebound sex is when you’ve just gotten out of a relationship—typically a serious one, and you have sex with another person to either stick it to the one who dumped you or try to quiet your emotional hurt… or both!”) and of “revenge sex” from the website Lemondrop (“random, meaning- less hook-up just to make the ex jealous”).

Over the course of the semester, the researchers found that—lo and behold—people were using sex to cope with their anger and distress, or to get back at their ex. Those who did were also more likely to keep having sex with new partners over time, “suggesting that they may be slower to recover from the breakup,” the study reads. Overall, participants’ distress decreased and then leveled off. Distress was at its lowest about 25 to 28 weeks after the breakup. “The average person also reported higher levels of coping, rebound, and revenge motives for sex immediately after the breakup, which then declined over time,” the study says.

The nature of the relationship and the breakup had an effect on participants’ behavior, unsurprisingly. A “dumpee” was much more distressed at first, and therefore more likely to have revenge or rebound sex than a “dumper.” The researchers also looked at how long the relationship lasted before it ended, and how committed the person was to it, but those results were more complex. For example, it seemed that someone who was more committed to their prior relationship was less likely to have sex in its aftermath, but if they did, it was more likely to be motivated by a desire to cope with negative feelings.

Interestingly, self-esteem was the attribute that changed the least, “suggest[ing] that self-esteem…is a relatively stable property of the individual and, as such, may be relatively unaffected by relationship loss.” So that’s something to hold onto in the dark and lonely night.

What Is Sex

What Is Sex?

Anna Pulley, Alternet 

Our definitions of sex are all over the place. Why does it matter?

sexybrain In my recent piece, “10 Things Not to Say to a Lesbian,” one of the questions never to ask was “So, how do lesbians do it?” The inside joke is that many of us have actually asked ourselves, though not usually aloud, “Wait, did we have sex?” Since many people consider “sex” to mean penis in vagina, the lines for what constitutes sex for queer women can blur easily and often.

It’s an interesting question, and not just for lesbians: What is sex? The answer is something that nobody can agree on, though many have tried. Planned Parenthood looks to the dictionary for a definition: “People define ‘sex’ in different ways. The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines it as sexually motivated behavior.’ This sounds right to us. But not everyone agrees with the dictionary or with us. People all have their own definitions of what ‘sex’ and ‘having sex’ means.”

Personally, I adhere to the Salt ‘N’ Pepa definition, which counts as anything that makes me want to shoop.

Discussions about what sex is often devolve into increasingly more specific and narrower rules, as people try to pin down a precise explanation. This is evidenced by this humorous Reddit thread: “The number of times a person has had sex with another person in heterosexual relationships represents the number of male completions per unit time,” said one. “I would count each removal of the pants that ends in any number of orgasms,” said another. In the sitcom “Seinfeld,”  Elaine asks Jerry when he believes sex is taking place, and he says “when the nipple makes its first appearance.” So keep your shirts on, folks, and you’re in the clear.

As a Kinsey Institute study proffered, a culturally agreed-upon definition of “having sex” is important for medical research and clinical practice. If “having sex” to me means farting on a cake until orgasm (don’t Google that, Dad), then researchers are going to have a hell of a time gathering accurate data on sexual behavior. The Kinsey study, “Misclassification bias: diversity in conceptualisations about having ‘had sex’,” published in 2010 in Sexual Health, surveyed just under 500 participants in order to figure out what qualifiers and acts people considered “doin’ it.” Or, put more scientifically:

To our knowledge, this is the first study of a representative sample to assess attitudes about which sexual behaviours constitute having ‘had sex’ and to examine possible mediating factors (gender, age, giving/receiving stimulation, male ejaculation, female orgasm, condom use or brevity).

The results were, unsurprisingly, mixed. The highest percentage (90 percent) believed that penis-in-vagina sex was sex. This is the Gold Standard for hetero sex, “reaching home base,” what many talk about when we talk about sex. But that means around 10 percent of respondents didn’t count penis-in-vagina sex as sex. This also excludes gays and lesbians, of course, who would be considered virgins no matter how many orgies or Goddess Circlings they participated in.

Thirty percent thought oral sex wasn’t sex, and 20 percent thought anal sex wasn’t sex, despite the fact that both acts have the word “sex” in the name. Perhaps even more confusing is the orgasm factor. Eleven percent of people said it wasn’t sex if no male ejaculation occurred. Conspicuously absent was any mention of the female orgasm. Maybe they fell asleep before getting around to it. Manual genital stimulation counted more when it was received (48 percent) than when given (44 percent), and among men, “the oldest and youngest age groups were significantly less likely to believe certain behaviours constituted having ‘had sex’.”

Why does age play a factor in all this? Can we blame Bill Clinton? One group of researchers has done just that. Researchers at the University of Kentucky-Lexington think that Bill Clinton’s infamous admission that he “did not have sexual relations” with Monica Lewinsky may be the reason so many young people today don’t consider oral sex to be sex. Also published in 2010 in Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, the study surveyed 477 college students about their views on sex. Researchers found that 20 percent of those students considered oral-genital contact to be sex, compared with nearly 40 percent of a similar sample surveyed in 1991.

“Our respondents were adolescents after the Clinton-Lewinsky era, which our comparisons of data over time suggest may have been a turning point in conceptualizations of oral-genital contact,” they noted. Pinning all the blame on Clinton would be too much of a low-hanging cigar, however.

Other sources for the changing perceptions in attitudes on sex noted were access to comprehensive sex ed, increasing TV portrayals of sex, and cultural beliefs. Oral sex (and anal sex as well) isn’t tied to the cultural narrative about virginity and purity like penis-in-vagina sex is. The prevailing thought among some misguided evangelical folks is that you can blow or plow whomever you want, as long as no hymen is involved, and still get a thumbs-up from Jesus. Since you’re not really having sex the biblical way, you’re technically still a virgin, the thinking goes. Since a woman’s chastity is tied to her morality and character, the purity stakes are even higher, which in part explains the tendency not to count oral sex as sex, since doing so may boost a woman’s “number” to sluterrific proportions.

Of course, as in such discussions, both online and off, many are quick to point out that no one has real authority over what counts as a sexual act, that the experience is entirely subjective and varies not just from person to person, but culturally as well. The Sambia tribe in Papua New Guinea participate in a ritual where younger men fellate older men in the tribe in order to ingest their manliness and become strong and virile. This isn’t considered sex, but a rite of passage. In certain Latin American cultures, a man who is the insertive partner in same-sex relations isn’t considered to have had gay sex.

Then there’s situational sex, where one is in prison or a single-sex institution. Does that count? What about using sex to curry social favor or protection? What about porn stars and sex workers? Must they count those acts of sex where money was exchanged, even if it’s their job? What of kinky sex and fetish sex? Does a well-placed foot count, or a helpful balloon? Perhaps most importantly, why do we care? Why do we attach such significance to a number or a definition that doesn’t ultimately require any?

Partly, it’s neurological. Our brains categorize and compartmentalize data in order to make sense of the world. For instance, the word “dog” inevitably conjures an image of what a dog looks like, though no doubt my idea of a dog (a black Yorkshire terrier, for some reason) will be vastly different than yours. We have beliefs and ideas of what “real” sex is and we carry those ideas into our relationships, cocktail conversations, and countless all-caps-riddled YouTube comments, sometimes with very little thought about how they might be limiting or even downright silly, as the Reddit pants comment illustrates.

As Greta Christina put it in her essay, “Are we having sex now or what?”:

[Y]ou have to know what qualifies as sex, because when you have sex with someone your relationship changes. Right? Right? It’s not that sex itself has to change things all that much. But knowing you’ve had sex, being conscious of a sexual connection, standing around making polite conversation with someone thinking to yourself, ‘I’ve had sex with this person,’ that’s what always changes things. Or so I believed. And if having sex with a friend can confuse or change the friendship, think of how bizarre things can get when you’re not sure whether you’ve had sex with them or not.

Christina talks at length about her experiences working at a peep show, hosting orgies, about consent and reciprocity and pleasure and sadomasochism, concluding ultimately that she still doesn’t have the answer to the question of what is sex.

But that is also the point, and maybe we should be spending more time enjoying sex than trying to define it in a way that will satisfy every person. Now somebody bring me a cake; I’m feelin’ lucky.

And you thought you were weird

Sex Shocker: Men and Women Are Not so Different

Especially when you compare us to the rest of the animal kingdom. Alternet

“The only bite he’ll ever take will be a love bite. He’ll latch on to a female anglerfish with his teeth, triggering a chemical reaction that will dissolve his face, fusing it permanently. Eventually he’ll lose every organ in his body to this process, except his testicles. Those will stick around, literally. A happy female anglerfish will be dotted with pairs of balls. They are safe deposit boxes of sperm that she draws on at will.”

AnglerFishSomewhere in the deep, dark depths of the ocean a male anglerfish is hungry. He lacks the artificial, bioluminescent lure that females use to attract prey. This is a rather insignificant problem compared to the fact that he is incapable of digesting food. The only bite he’ll ever take will be a love bite. He’ll latch on to a female anglerfish with his teeth, triggering a chemical reaction that will dissolve his face, fusing it permanently. Eventually he’ll lose every organ in his body to this process, except his testicles. Those will stick around, literally. A happy female anglerfish will be dotted with pairs of balls. They are safe deposit boxes of sperm that she draws on at will.

This is sexual dimorphism. The phrase refers to the degree to which males and females of a species differ. Anglerfish are obviously strongly dimorphic. Other animals are less so. Males and females of some species, like the ring-necked dove, are almost impossible to tell apart. In the big scheme of things, humans are more like the ring-necked dove than the anglerfish, and that is a really important fact that we seem hell-bent on ignoring.

Instead, we obsess over gender differences. We search for them in scientific studies, scour religious texts for hints from a higher power, and extrapolate from the behavior of our friends and loved ones. We write and read a seemingly endless stream of books counting and discounting the evidence. We argue over whether the differences we think we see are caused by nature or nurture.

When it all comes down to it, though, how much difference are we talking about? Let’s put it in perspective.

If we were as sexually dimorphic as the elephant seal, the average human male would tower six feet above the average woman and weigh 550 pounds. If we were like gorillas, men and women would be about the same height as they are now, but the average man would outweigh the average woman by over 166 pounds.

If we were as sexually dimorphic as the blanket octopus, men would be 0.8% the size of a female, or about the size of a walnut. If we were green spoonworms, the average human male would be less than an inch tall. He would live his entire life on his five-foot three-inch human mate – unless she accidentally ate him. Luckily, he could then live out a full life inside her digestive tract.

If we were as sexually dimorphic as the Alaskan moose, men would walk around with antlers four-and-a-half feet wide, but only during mating season. If human males were like the rhinoceros beetle, they would sport a single horn that protruded almost four feet forward. That might be inconvenient.

It would be lovely, though, if men carried lustrous manes like male lions or were covered in iridescent skin cells that gave their body a glossy shimmer that changed colors as they turned in the light, as many birds do. It might be quite pretty if they preened 11-foot tails that tripled their body length, like the resplendent quetzal; even better if they could advertise their romantic interest with a display like the peacock. I wouldn’t mind.

Nor would I complain about being drab if the boys came in dramatic colors. If we were as sexually dimorphic as Northern cardinals, men would be bright red with a black mask around their eyes and throat and women would look pretty much as they do now. But we don’t have to let the boys be the pretty ones. We could be like eclectus parrots: boys in bright green and blue and girls in purple and red.

Then again, some sorts of sexual dimorphism are less appetizing. If we were as sexually dimorphic as orangutans, males would be distinguished from females by large, fatty cheek flaps that went from temple to chin. If we were like the proboscis monkey, a guy would have a rather massive bulbous nose that started between his eyes and hung several inches below his mouth. If we took after the platypus, men would be poisonous but women would not. Males would have a spur on their foot that could inject venom. Luckily for the ladies, they would probably only use it on each other; it appears to be mostly a way to compete for females during breeding season.

I could go on.

As Dorothy Sayers once said: “women are more like men than anything else in the world.” Yes, we’re different. We reproduce sexually, so we do come in (with some exceptions) two types: one that potentially gestates, births and feeds new life and one that can mix up the genes of our species. Most men don’t have a uterus and most women will never inseminate anyone. That’s a fact of life.

But we’re not that different. We’re just not that kind of species. It’s kind of amazing when you think about it. We face a great deal of pressure to be different. We live in a world in which “men are from Mars and women are from Venus” is a household phrase and a publishing empire. Despite these influences, scholars find either no difference or only very small differences on 78% of traits, abilities, interests, attitudes and behaviors. As communications scholar Kathryn Dindia once put it, it’d be more correct to say “Men are from North Dakota, women are from South Dakota.” We are alike despite ourselves.

I call for a more reasoned conversation. “Opposite sexes” is obviously a misnomer. The phrase suggests that men and women are fundamentally dissimilar, with contrasting strengths and weaknesses. In fact, if we have to choose between arguing that we are exactly the same and totally different, we have to go with the former. We are much more alike than we are different. Instead of plowing forward with the differences debate, I’d like to see us give more ink to our similarities and spend more energy appreciating just how much we have in common.

Lisa Wade holds an M.S. and Ph.D. in sociology and an M.A. in human sexuality. She is a professor at Occidental College in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter or Facebook.