‘Dry Sex’ Is the African Sexual Health Issue No One’s Talking About

‘Dry Sex’ Is the African Sexual Health Issue No One’s Talking About
December 2, 2014

By Wendy Syfret  Vice

drysexafrica I first heard about “dry sex” when one of my friends returned from Malawi, where she was doing work with women and cervical cancer screenings. Dry sex, she told me, is the practice of reducing moisture in your vagina in order to seem tighter and cause more friction during intercourse. This is believed to be more pleasurable for the person with the penis, but for the women involved, it’s incredibly painful. It’s an idea linked to the perception that a tight vagina is one that hasn’t been stretched out by overuse, which speaks to the low level of sexual education in the region.

It gets worse. To achieve dryness, some women insert chalk, sand, pulverized rock, herbs, paper, or sponges before sex. Douching with caustic liquids such as detergents, antiseptics, alcohol, and bleach is also common. The use of these substances, in combination with un-lubricated penetrative sex, can lead to vaginal abrasions and increased condom breakage—which compounds the spread of HIV.

Looking into the trend, I found that information was thin. Most of the studies I did find were more than a decade old. The impression was that the issue was endemic, but hard figures were few and far between. For all the efforts put into HIV awareness and prevention campaigns in this part of Africa, none seemed to address dry sex or its role in the spread of the disease.

After much searching I found Dr. Marlene Wasserman, popularly know as Dr. Eve in South Africa. She’s a sexual health clinician, advocate, and host of a radio program on which she attempts to dispel the country’s rampant misinformation around sexual health. She believes that the silence around the issue isn’t due just to ignorance but also to a massive hole in sexual education relating to pleasure equality and women’s rights.

VICE: Why aren’t people talking about dry sex?

Dr. Eve: There’s on-again, off-again discussion around it, but you’re right. There isn’t enough. It hasn’t got attention from the government to that level where policies are being put in place.

And it’s because it’s about vaginas—it’s way too real to talk about. We can talk about penises and circumcision, which we do all the time, and the government puts policies into place. But dare we talk about vaginas? I’ve been doing radio for 20 years and the only time I’ve been reported to the broadcasting commission was when I referred to vaginas. [Go to full article]

STI and Pregnancy Prevention Methods Needed

The Need for Broad-Spectrum STI and Pregnancy Prevention Methods Is Clearer Than Ever

by Bethany Young Holt, CAMI Health  RH Reality

December 1, 2014 Imagine the impact on women’s lives if people who wanted to prevent a pregnancy and steer clear of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) could use one product that simultaneously did both.letstalksex

Imagine if women who were the most at risk of HIV but worried about the stigma associated with HIV or negotiating prevention with their partners could have access to a variety of products to choose from—devices, gels, injectables, or drug combinations—so that women could choose one that made sense for their own circumstances. Multipurpose Prevention Technologies, or MPTs, are products on the horizon that offer this kind of broad spectrum prevention.

Why are MPTs important?

Some MPTs could combine contraception with STI prevention, including HIV. Others would allow women to get pregnant while still preventing HIV and other STIs.

Today, if women want to protect themselves from unintended pregnancies and STIs, they can use condoms (male or female), which offer “all-of-the-above” prevention. Both male and female condoms require male partner cooperation, however, and while condoms are extremely effective if used consistently and correctly, couples overwhelmingly forgo them once they are in a more committed partnership. In fact, only 8 percent of couples worldwide use condoms, leaving millions of women who use alternative kinds of birth control in danger of contracting STIs.

Furthermore, there are many millions of women worldwide who want to avoid or delay having children but who lack access to modern contraceptive methods—increasing their chances of unplanned pregnancy or, depending on the contraceptives available, contracting an STI.

It is clearly time to create new, female-initiated products that offer multipurpose prevention of HIV, other STIs, and unplanned pregnancy.

MPTs and Better Uptake

Recently, specialists at Ipsos Healthcare released research showing that an overwhelming number of women surveyed would prefer prevention methods that offer combined protection from unintended pregnancy and STIs. Ninety-eight percent of women interviewed in Uganda, Nigeria, and South Africa said that if they were hypothetically given a choice of methods, they would choose the one that offered broad spectrum prevention rather than simply an HIV prevention tool or a contraceptive.

There was no consensus on preference among the respondents, suggesting that no single product will address the needs of most women. It is therefore critical to develop a suite of MPTs that could protect through different mechanisms. One thing is for certain, though: With MPTs in women’s hands, we could expect significant dips in HIV rates in high-risk regions as preventing STIs becomes easier and more accessible.

In addition, we would expect to see reductions in the 86 million unplanned pregnancies worldwide and improvements in maternal mortality and morbidity. And when contraceptive efficacy increases, so does the quality of life for women and children: As women are better able to plan their children and stay healthy, they are more likely to attain higher levels of education and economic stability.

Women’s Input at the Heart of MPT Development

The international collaborative of researchers, policymakers, and advocates known as the Initiative for MPTs (IMPT) has already succeeded in transcending a number of barriers to innovation, not the least of which are the silos traditionally separating HIV, contraceptive, and STI research. Until recently, funding for each of these fields, primarily from the governmental sectors and private foundations, was separate and disconnected—a great challenge for collaboration. Now, agencies working in these areas are starting to work together. This is reflected in the recent formation of the IMPT Supporting Agency Collaboration Committee, which is tasked with identifying and addressing priorities and gaps in the MPT field.

Furthermore, it is important to note that product development has occurred primarily in labs; scientists traditionally have not sought women’s opinions and feedback until later-stage clinical trials. The work of the IMPT is changing the paradigm so that women’s input is sought at the get-go and social-behavioral research that informs whether women will actually use a given product is meaningfully integrated into the biomedical research. To ensure that women’s input is incorporated into the product development process, the initiative is working with agencies, including those within the National Institutes of Health, to develop product development criteria that reflect feedback from women in different regions of the world.

As IMPT partners have shared findings, reduced redundancies, and created a more streamlined and efficient field, we have already made some noteworthy advances. We have developed an MPT product development database, for example, where anyone can find out details about which products are currently in development. An MPT expected to be available within the next few years is a silicone one-size-fits-most diaphragm that can be combined with a gel that will simultaneously prevent unintended pregnancy and HIV. This is currently in the final trial phase to confirm its efficacy.

This is not to say that there aren’t significant biomedical challenges ahead in the development of MPTs—there are. But the progress made to date in the field, in combination with the potential cost savings and efficiencies offered by MPTs, makes for a compelling case for funding innovation and the international collaboration that is moving all aspects of the field forward.

On World AIDS Day this December 1, we hope you will learn more about the Initiative for MPTs and push to support MPT development as both a meaningful tool in the fight against AIDS and a potential game-changer for women’s global health.

Sex Toy Industry Has Quietly Turned Into Multi-Billion-Dollar Business

Sex Toy Industry Has Quietly Turned Into Multi-Billion-Dollar Business
Smart high-tech product designers and clever investors are hunting down the next hot opportunity.

By David Rosen    Alternet

Earlier this year, Diamond Products acquired Jimmyjane, the San Francisco sex paraphernalia company. Diamond Products is a joint venture between Pipedream Products, another leading sex-toy company, and Brookstone Partners, which according to a Bloomberg is a New York-based “private equity firm that seeks to acquire companies or invest in growth equity situations in the middle market. The firm invests in companies located in North America and focuses on industrial light manufacturing, distribution and logistics, and business services.” And sex toys.

In keeping with America’s corporate business culture, neither company would disclose the amount of the all-cash deal.

The new Diamond Products describes itself in the following glowing terms: “The Company’s product portfolio includes adult toys, lingerie, games, lotions and creams that are sold in over 80 countries through 5,000 retailers as well as e-commerce websites.”

Sex toys are a big business that has been rebranded “sexual wellness.” U.S. revenues are estimated at $15 billion and the business site, the Street, projects sales to grow to $52 billion in 2020. The sex-toy industry has changed over the last decade, driven by a change in cultural values and the anonymity of the Internet. Sex-toy outlets have shifted from retail shops serving the raincoat crowd to online sites catering to every whim and price point. The hard-scrabble sex-positive activists who started San Francisco’s Good Vibration, Babeland in Seattle and the Pleasure Chest in New York have given way to Amazon, which offers an estimated 60,000 products, and Silicon Valley-backed ventures and crowdfunding fantasies.

Sex toys are a growth market attracting an ever-growing customer base as well as smart high-tech product designers and ever-clever investors looking for the next hot opportunity. And nothing is hotter than sex.

Last year, Cave Inc., a San Francisco-based startup specializing in elegant, up-market sex toys, raised $2.4 million from a group of 60-plus angel investors. Michael Topolovac, the company’s CEO, was surprised at how little stigma he faced when pitching the company. For him, investors want results and sex is just one more market. “This is a massive market opportunity with very few players and a community eager for a new product,” he said.

“The quality of design for women’s most intimate products has long suffered,” insists Ti Chang, the Cave’s co-founder and head of design. In an unlikely coincidence, Chang, a Georgia Tech graduate, met Topolovac in China where she was promoting her startup, Incoqnito, a venture integrating jewelry and erotica. They merged their efforts and Cave was born. She noted, the “dearth of good design, coupled with the fact that the industry is dominated by men designing for women, is exactly why I began designing sex toys.”

“The industry is shifting and women are demanding more from their toys,” she added.

In February 2014, Shauna Mei, a former Goldman Sachs analyst and founder of AHAlife, launched AHAnoir, billed as “a premium destination for exclusive, high-quality adult products and boudoir accessories.” Mei raised about $21 million to launch AHAlife in 2010, a membership site offering recommendations on high-end clothing, cosmetics and other boutique products.

Other sex startups have turned to crowdfunding to raise early-phase monies. Brian Krieger, co-founder of Minna Life, a San Francisco sex toy startup, ran a successful IndieGogo campaign raising $83,777, well over its goal of $60,000. As Krieger said, “Most people don’t personally think vibrators are taboo, but they think everyone else does. I want to tell investors, ‘You’re not the only one. Nobody cares.'”

VibeEase, co-founded by Hermione Way, is a San Francisco startup promoting an app-controlled vibrator. It bills itself as “the world’s first wearable, smart vibrator bringing fantasies to life with an immersive pleasure experience.” It raised $100,000 through IndieGogo, more then three times its original goal of $30,000, and is currently seeking seed-round funding.

David Rosen is a regular contributor to AlterNet, Brooklyn Rail, Filmmaker and IndieWire. His website is DavidRosenWrites.com. He can be reached at drosennyc@verizon.net.

[Full Article]

‘We Make Us Better’ Against Domestic Violence

What are men doing to challenge and stop gender violence?

By Victoria Law  From Waging Nonviolence November 5, 2014

A group of men in Bedford-Stuyvesant called We Make Us Better formed in 2010 to re–establish a positive male influence in the community. (Facebook / We Make Us Better)

A group of men in Bedford-Stuyvesant called We Make Us Better to re–establish a positive male influence in the community. (Facebook / We Make Us Better)

I’ve been writing a lot about domestic violence this fall, both in the wake of the publicity surrounding Ray Rice’s beating of his then-fiancée Janay Palmer and because October was Domestic Violence Awareness Month. As I’ve rifled through my files to dig out examples of community organizing against gender violence, I’ve realized that most of the examples concentrate on women organizing against gender violence. This made be wonder: What are men doing to challenge gender violence, both individually in their daily lives and collectively as part of their political organizing? So I began asking that question on Twitter. I have a bunch of followers who are male-identified, so I figured they’d all chime in and we’d have a mini-discussion, right?

Wrong. Instead, I started noticing that people were unfollowing me. To be fair, not all of them may have done so because of my constant variation of the question: “MEN (cis and trans): What are you doing to challenge #DV (individually or collectively)?” appearing in their stream every other day. But the near-silence that met my question every time I sent it out was more than a little unnerving. While I don’t personally know all my followers, I do know some of them, including men who identify as feminist or say that they don’t put up with violence against women. I figured that, at the very least, they would speak up, right?

Wrong again. No one I know responded. (I did get two responses from people I don’t know. I’m very thankful that they responded.)

Around this time, I was asked to write a piece for Jacobin critiquing carceral feminism, which is the kind of feminism that sees an increased police response, prosecution and harsher prison sentences as the solution to gender violence. While writing the piece, I started becoming annoyed that, when we (radicals, anarchists, communists, socialists, what-have-you types of leftists) talk about domestic violence and problematic ways of addressing it, we tend to direct our anger towards carceral feminists, pointing out all the ways in which policing and increased criminalized responses have placed marginalized women at increased risk of state violence.

But we rarely seem to look in our own circles and ask, “Well, what are we doing to create alternatives to relying on the state to stop domestic violence?” Why is this only a discussion among feminists (and feminist women at that)? Where is the rest of our so-called movement in these discussions and in these actions? Why isn’t challenging domestic violence, abuse and other forms of gender violence incorporated into our social justice organizing and into the beliefs that we’re espousing?

I’m not trying to say that no one is doing work on this front. After all, I did get three responses to my repeated Twitter question over the course of a month, and there are a couple of recent examples of men addressing gendered violence.

In 2010, after a rash of muggings and robberies in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, men in the neighborhood decided they needed to take action. They formed a group called We Make Us Better and began escorting people home from the subway station, making it less likely that people would be targeted. But they didn’t stop there. The group also sponsored a neighborhood outreach walk, stopping to talk to young men hanging out on corners and encouraging them to become involved in their community. The following year, the group provided prom tuxedos for the 30 graduating senior men at the local high school. To get a tuxedo, the young men had to attend a course on etiquette before the prom. While the idea of an etiquette course may conjure up images of great-aunt Millie telling you which fork to use or the proper way to eat shellfish, that wasn’t this course.

“We want to re-establish a positive male influence in our community,” Titus Mitchell, a co-founder of We Make Us Better, told NBC New York. “A lot of these kids don’t know how to open the door for a young lady or tie a tie. If they don’t have any male figures around, how will they ever learn?”

I’m not sure if the group is still active. Both their Twitter and Facebook pages show no activity since 2012. In the face of the neighborhood’s rapid gentrification, it’s possible that some got priced out, others moved away and overall momentum for the group faded. But what we can take away from this group’s example is that, for over a year, men in the neighborhood acted to not only prevent the immediate threats of violence that targeted women, but also begin to address underlying assumptions about masculinity and acceptable male behavior in their own communities.

Last year, utilizing October as Domestic Violence Awareness Month, Emotional Justice Unplugged, the Chicago Taskforce on Violence against Girls and Women, and Free Marissa Now launched a month-long letter writing campaign called #31forMARISSA. The campaign urged men to write letters of support to Marissa Alexander, a Florida mother who was arrested after firing a warning shot to keep her abusive husband from continuing to attack her. Although her conviction had been overturned in September 2013, she was still in prison the following month. Eventually, she was released on bail; the prosecutor has vowed to seek a 60-year sentence against her when they go to trial in December 2014.

The campaign #31forMARISSA urged men to share stories of violence experienced by the women in their own circles, donate funds for her trial fees and become engaged as active allies in the domestic violence movement. Their letters were posted on a Tumblr while paper copies were printed and mailed to Alexander each week. Over 100 people responded to the call.

This year’s campaign is entitled #31forRay and asks men to write about childhood experiences witnessing domestic violence, its impact, and the actions of men in their family and community to stop the violence. Interestingly, this particular call seems to have garnered much less participation. There were two letters when I checked. Hopefully, by the time this column is published, there will be many more.

Addressing domestic violence and other forms of gender violence need to be seen not just as a women’s issue. We can continue to be angry at carceral feminists’ reliance on policing and imprisonment as the solution to gender violence, but until everyone in our communities takes steps to create and implement alternative responses, people will continue to see that as the default solution.

So let me throw down the gauntlet and challenge all men to take concrete actions towards ending gender violence, both in their individual lives and in their political organizing work. It’s not going to be a short and sweet task, but if we truly are committed to transforming our world, then we need to make those commitments.

Victoria Law is a freelance writer, analog photographer and parent. She is the author of Resistance Behind Bars: The Struggles of Incarcerated Women and co-editor of Don’t Leave Your Friends Behind: Concrete Ways to Support Families in Social Justice Movements & Communities.

Creatively Confronting Rape Culture-Carry That Weight

Students get creative to confront rape culture with Carry That Weight

By Kate Aronoff    From Waging Nonviolence   November 1, 2014

Students at Penn State University participate in a “collective carry” in solidarity with sexual assault survivors. (Facebook / Carrying the Weight Together)

Students at Penn State University participate in a “collective carry” in solidarity with sexual assault survivors. (Facebook / Carrying the Weight Together)

Ever thought of creative non-sleeping uses for a vinyl-covered, extra-long twin mattress? Students at 130 colleges across five countries did just that on Wednesday, when they used their university-issued bedding to participate in Carry That Weight Together, an international day of action to confront sexual assault.

The driving forces behind the day of action were Columbia University student groups Carry That Weight Together and No Red Tape, founded this past year by Allie Rickard and Zoe Ridolfi-Starr, respectively, along with other students. No Red Tape’s Facebook page states that it seeks “to end sexual violence and rape culture at Columbia University, and [fight] for transformative, sustainable, survivor-centered solutions.” The group’s name refers to the administrative hurdles survivors go through when attempting to report their assaults to the university. No Red Tape, formed in January, pushes for university-level policy changes with actions like the ones this week, while also providing direct services related to sexual violence: a survivor support group, bystander training for staff at local bars, and consent education workshops to name just a few.

While there has been work around sexual assault on Columbia’s campus for decades, the most recent wave began last winter when Anna Bahr, then a senior at Barnard College, published a two-part expose in a campus magazine revealing — from the perspective of those assaulted — the gaps between college policy, the law and survivors’ needs.

“We are organizing at Columbia because this is where we are and this is what we know,” said Michela Weihl, a sophomore at Columbia who started working with No Red Tape when it began in January. “But this is not only about Columbia having a rape problem. It’s about living in a world where rape culture pervades everything. That’s something people experience every day.”

Carry That Weight — also known by the more literal name“Mattress Performance” — began in early September as a project by Columbia student Emma Sulkowicz for her senior thesis. Drawing comparisons to the aesthetics of Jesus Christ, Hester Prynne and Marina Abramovic, the ongoing “endurance performance art piece” comes with its own publicly posted “Rules of Engagement.” Sulkowicz must carry the mattress around at all times while on Columbia’s campus, and leave it in a secure location before she leaves university property. While onlookers can volunteer to help carry the mattress, the rules stipulate that Sulkowicz cannot solicit assistance. She intends to carry on the piece until her alleged assaulter is expelled, or until they both graduate next spring.

Since the project began, survivors and their allies at Columbia and around the country have organized “collective carries” in solidarity with Sulkowicz. Rickard, another Columbia art student, told Think Progress about how quickly the concept caught on: “Pretty much every day I’ve been finding new pictures of students, faculty and staff doing their own versions of the project — carrying mattresses around, holding rallies, doing speakouts.” This week, a group from the Central European University in Budapest posted photos from a #CarryThatWeight action in Hungary.

Mattresses carry considerable symbolic weight for Sulkowicz, who has been one of many survivors to share her story with the media. She went public only after unsuccessfully reporting her rape to university administrators, who, after a seventh-month long process, found her alleged assaulter “not responsible.” She told the Columbia Spectator in September, “I was raped in my own dorm bed and since then, that space has become fraught for me. I feel like I’ve carried the weight of what happened there since then.” The piece adds a collective and highly public element to an issue that’s so often considered a private matter.

Columbia students presented the administration with a list of 10 demands on Wednesday, calling for greater administrative transparency and a comprehensive policy review process that would incorporate feedback from survivors. One demand was to re-open Sulkowicz’s case. Weihl said, “I hope that she doesn’t have to carry that mattress on stage with her when she graduates.”

Columbia students, however, are by no means the first to expose universities’ mistreatment of survivors. Wednesday’s actions are the latest spike in a national, multi-year effort to change the way colleges deal with sexual assault. Organizers — working as individual campus groups and with national networks like Know Your IX and Ending Rape on Campus — have kicked off federal investigations at over 55 colleges and universities, according to a list released by the Department of Education’s Office of Civil Rights last May. The schools represented on the list speak to the widespread nature of the problem — from Ivy League universities like Dartmouth and Princeton, to elite liberal arts colleges, to massive state institutions like Penn State University and Ohio State University. Since May, the number of schools being investigated has jumped from 55 to 79.

Six months ago, Sulkowicz and Ridolfi-Starr were among 28 students to file a complaint with the Department of Education’s Office for Civil Rights against Columbia for violations of Titles II and IX, as well as the Clery Act — all of which relate to gender-based misconduct in education. As of October 9, they had yet to hear back from the Department of Education as to whether the Office for Civil Rights will pursue a formal investigation. Similar complaints have been filed at Swarthmore, UCLA, Kansas State University and Harvard, among others. While 76 schools are currently undergoing investigation, some administrations chose to initiate federal review processes without having received a complaint.

Columbia made national headlines again last spring when anonymous students posted lists of four perpetrators of sexual assault — Sulkowicz’s alleged assaulter and three others that the university found officially “responsible” — in public places around campus. Such actions show that students’ efforts are changing — or even starting — the conversation about sexual assault on college campuses. As Weihl put it, “That people are talking about it at all is a change.” In no small part thanks to the prestige of the schools where complaints have been filed, the campaign has gained national and international media attention, and forced many universities to undergo lengthy overhauls of their institutional policies.

Responses have also come from the federal level. “It’s Not Us” is a White House initiative to involve more bystanders in the prevention of sexual assault. Affirmative consent laws, like the one passed recently in California, define consent as an active “yes” rather than the absence of a “no,” with jurisdiction specifically bound to the state’s college campuses.

Neither of these efforts are perfect; there remains a long way to go in confronting rape culture on the national and international scale. That said, new regulations and actions like Carry That Weight are emblematic of a broader cultural shift to put survivors’ needs above their schools’ reputations.

Now, taking a short “breather” after weeks of planning to catch up on schoolwork, Weihl explained that “the point of our policy push is to make cultural change happen, and to make it so that the systems in place at the university are constantly working towards that culture rather than relying on a set of passionate students to push for that cultural change. We want it embedded in the school.”

Kate Aronoff is an organizer and freelance journalist based in Philadelphia, PA. While in school, she worked extensively with the fossil fuel divestment movement on the local and national level, co-founding Swarthmore Mountain Justice and the Fossil Fuel Divestment Student Network (DSN). She is currently working to build a student power network across Pennsylvania. Follow her on Twitter @katearonoff

3 Parent Brave New World

 GMO Babies with Three Parents?

Human EggSome call a new medical procedure “macabre“, others ‘Frankenscience‘, while advocates say it prevents mothers with mitochondrial disease from having unhealthy children: “they hope to prevent a variety of devastating diseases caused by mutations in mtDNA.”

In Britain, Dr. Doug Turnbull, who led the research team at Newcastle University, said last year: “What we’re trying to do is help people have healthy children, and it’s not appropriate for us to pre-judge.”

The Daily Mail explained it in a nutshell:

“The treatment is designed to get rid of faulty genes carried in structures known as mitochondria, passed down to babies from their mothers. Mitochondria are contained in all human cells and provide them with energy. If faulty, they can cause a range of debilitating, often fatal, diseases that cannot be cured.

The procedure involves taking the fertilised egg of a woman affected by faulty mitochondria and removing most of the genetic central material, or pronuclei. This is then transferred into the healthy egg of a second woman.”

Dr. Turnbull added, “I can understand those who say this is Frankenscience. But people with those views tend to be the same ones who are against IVF and any research in this area.”

The New York Times magazine published a longer story about this new technology of a baby with a father and two mothers. From The Center for Advanced Reproductive Services at UCONN 

The Brave New World of Three-Parent I.V.F.

A new treatment could sidestep certain hereditary diseases by altering the genetic makeup of the egg. Is there anything wrong with that?

Published in the New York Times by Kim Tingley

In August 1996, at St. Barnabas Medical Center in Livingston, N.J., a 39-year-old mechanical engineer from Pittsburgh named Maureen Ott became pregnant. Ott had been trying for almost seven years to conceive a child through in vitro fertilization. Unwilling to give up, she submitted to an experimental procedure in which doctors extracted her eggs, slid a needle through their shiny coat and injected not only her husband’s sperm but also a small amount of cytoplasm from another woman’s egg. When the embryo was implanted in Ott’s womb, she became the first woman on record to be successfully impregnated using this procedure, which some say is the root of an exciting medical advance and others say is the beginning of the end of the human species.

The fresh cytoplasm that entered Ott’s eggs (researchers thought it might help promote proper fertilization and development) contained mitochondria: bean-shaped organelles that power our cells like batteries. But mitochondria also contain their own DNA, which meant that her child could possess the genetic material of three people. In fact, the 37 genes in mitochondrial DNA pass directly from a woman’s egg into every cell of her offspring, including his or her germ cells, the sperm or eggs that eventually produce the next generation — so if Ott had a girl and the donor mitochondria injected into Ott’s egg made it into the eggs of her daughter, they could be passed along to her children. This is known as crossing the germ line, something that scientists generally agree is a risky proposition.

Ott, who is Catholic, remembers weighing whether altering the makeup of her descendants in this way was O.K. “Being a person who’s been involved in science my whole life, the way I looked at it is: God gives us doctors to help us, and they help us with things like infertility,” she told me recently. As far as anyone knows, mitochondrial DNA (mtDNA) governs only basic cellular functions; Ott understood that her and her husband’s nuclear DNA would determine their child’s characteristics — height, eye color, intelligence and so on. “If I was doing something like, say, I only wanted a blond-haired girl, I would feel that was unethical,” she said. “But what I was trying to do was use whatever medical procedures were available to me to get pregnant, and I didn’t think that was unethical.” In May 1997, she gave birth to a healthy baby girl.

Two months later, her doctors published her case in the journal Lancet; soon, at least seven other U.S. clinics were doing the injection. Because the amount of donor mitochondria added to Ott’s egg was small, it was unclear how much third-party DNA would be present in the cells of her daughter. Ott says her doctors ran tests and did not find any, but it has been found in two other children born from the procedure. Although I.V.F. drugs and devices are regulated by the Food and Drug Administration, I.V.F. procedures (like all medical procedures) are generally not. But what media outlets came to call “three-parent babies” compelled the agency to take action. In 2001, the F.D.A. informed I.V.F. clinics that using a third person’s cytoplasm — and the mtDNA therein — would require an Investigational New Drug application.

A meeting before an F.D.A. committee followed, at which the clinics presented their research. While at least 30 women became pregnant through the injections, it was unclear what role the third-party cytoplasm played in their fertility. And there were safety concerns. Two embryos with Turner syndrome, typically a rare chromosomal abnormality, occurred after the procedure; one miscarried, the other was aborted. Further, not all of the children born from the procedure in the United States were being tracked. (They would be teenagers now, whose whereabouts and health are, for the most part, unknown.) “I think it is pretty ridiculous how little data there is to support any of this, and that worries me,” the acting chairman of the F.D.A. committee, Daniel Salomon, a professor at the Scripps Research Institute, told the embryologists in his closing remarks. The “drug,” such as it was, has never been approved.

But now, more than a decade later, two research groups in the United States and one in Britain each believes it has nearly enough data to begin clinical trials for a new technique based on the transfer of mitochondria — only in this case, researchers want to pair the nuclear DNA of one egg with all the mitochondria of another. Their aim is not to cure infertility. Rather, they hope to prevent a variety of devastating diseases caused by mutations in mtDNA. The new technique, which they call mitochondrial-replacement therapy, is far more advanced than the cytoplasm injection — and the researchers have studied the procedure’s impact on animals and human cells up to a pivotal point: They have created what appear to be viable three-parent embryos. They have yet to implant one in a woman, though. In Britain, national law prohibits altering the germ line, but Parliament is very likely to vote later this year on whether to allow mitochondrial replacement to move forward. Likewise, this February, the F.D.A. held a meeting to examine the possibility of allowing clinical trials. If either gives the go-ahead, it will be the first time a government body expressly approves a medical procedure that combines genetic material of three people in a heritable way. The historic nature of the moment has turned the technique into a symbol, a red line separating humanity from a dystopian or progressive future, depending on how you look at it. In the months leading up to the meeting, the F.D.A. received several hundred emails from members of the public objecting to the idea of three-parent embryos on grounds that included: “It’s bizarre”; “You are walking in Hitler’s footsteps if you allow this”; and “We will have a world of mad scientists.”  Read More…

Cosmo Girl for Women’s Rights

Why Cosmo Is Getting Serious About Its Reproductive Rights Coverage

By Tara Culp-Ressler April 14, 2014 ThinkProgress


photo: Cosmopolitan.com

Photo: Cosmopolitan.com

Lauren Rankin, a freelance writer who focuses on issues of reproductive justice, doesn’t always keep track of her new Twitter followers. But one recently caught her eye.

“A couple weeks ago I noticed that one of Cosmo’s editors, Lori Fradkin, followed me on Twitter… At the time I thought, Cosmo? That’s kind of weird, since I mainly write about reproductive rights,” Rankin recounted.

Then, a couple days later, Rankin was added to a list serv that receives periodic emails about Cosmopolitan.com’s latest reproductive rights coverage — topics ranging from abortion clinic harassment, to the new law in Texas that’s forcing abortion clinics to close, to combating abortion stigma.

Those probably aren’t the topics you’d expect to encounter in Cosmopolitan. After all, the women’s magazine is largely infamous for doling out complicated sex tips — advice that feminist sites like Jezebel have been mocking for years. But so far this year, Cosmopolitan.com has actually published story after story that focuses on in-depth issues related to reproductive rights.

For instance, in an article that went up at the beginning of last week, an OB-GYN practicing in Texas explains what it’s like to provide health care in a state that’s enacted so many harsh restrictions on abortion, which can force some women to resort to dangerous options. “My first hysterectomy as a resident was on a 16-year-old who had an illegal abortion. Her pelvis was nothing but pus,” the piece begins.

Rankin said she’s been heartened by the site’s “legitimate strides” to include more coverage of abortion policy, and impressed that the editorial staff seems to be making a concerted effort to connect with writers who are already working in this issue space. So she emailed Fradkin directly to offer to write for the site, too. She’s published two pieces — one on a middle school’s potentially sexist dress code, and another on a bill in Tennessee that’s seeking to criminalize pregnant women — so far. And Rankin isn’t the only feminist writer who now has a Cosmo byline. Jill Filipovic, a columnist for the Guardian and a blogger at Feministe, has also published several pieces about reproductive rights on Cosmopolitan.com.

“It all comes down to one core value, which is that we are unequivocally for women’s rights. It’s that simple,” Cosmopolitan.com’s editor, Amy Odell, told ThinkProgress when asked about the apparent editorial shift. “We believe every woman should have access to safe, affordable health care, and when that right is threatened, we’re not afraid to tackle those threats head-on.”

Rankin’s interaction with Cosmo’s staff appears to be part of the site’s new strategy. Odell explained that Lori Fradkin, who was hired as the new features editor at the end of last year, has been working on building up a team of writers who can tell “powerful stories” about the impacts of legislative attacks on women’s rights. Rather than publishing straight reports on new abortion restrictions, Cosmo is primarily attempting to find a way to tell personal stories their readers can connect with.

“The reception has been incredible — it’s been enormously gratifying to see such high engagement with our audience around these issues,” Odell said. “One challenge of working on the internet, as all of we online editors know, is getting people to care about hard news as opposed to what Kim Kardashian wore an hour ago. Of course we’re happy to keep readers filled in on what Kim Kardashian is wearing, but we do see stronger social engagement and traffic on stories about women who get harassed at abortion clinics by protesters.”

Other women’s magazines don’t entirely avoid reproductive rights. In 2009, Glamour profiled several women explaining why they chose to have an abortion. The same year, Marie Claire shared the stories of two women who each made different decisions about whether to have a later abortion. Both Marie Claire and and Elle have published a few stories about Wendy Davis’ famous filibuster and Texas’ new abortion law.

But Cosmo’s persistent focus on the issue, and recruitment of freelance writers who are real experts in the space, is something new. It also has the potential to spread abortion rights far beyond the audiences that currently read about that topic. “It’s such a mainstream magazine that could help reach people who might not be aware of the onslaught of attacks,” Rankin pointed out.

And maybe it shouldn’t be that surprising. Despite the perception that women’s magazines and websites never tackle serious stories, publications that cover fashion and beauty also produce content on a wide range of more hard-hitting subjects. It’s also not hard to see why outlets like Cosmo might be interested in experimenting. As magazine sales are slumping, Cosmo is probably trying hard to engage its growing base of digital readers with fresh strategies and new angles.

There are also some signs that the brand is becoming more aware of its reputation for silly sex tips, and is now embracing more of a tongue-in-cheek approach to that content. Ramping up the policy coverage could fit into a larger tonal shift for the publication.

If Cosmo continues to take more of an explicitly feminist approach on issues like abortion, will other magazines follow? If that content really does end up engaging readers better than celebrity news, as Odell suggests, it’s a real possibility that could end up influencing pop culture as a whole. Celebrity women are notorious for shying away from the “feminist” label, but as the movement continues to become more mainstream — for better and for worse — that might not remain the case. Beyoncé has done a lot to reclaim that ground lately, and Cosmo seems to be ready to do its part too.

“I can’t speak for other magazines, but at Cosmo, we are for women’s rights and that’s why it’s so important for us to talk about cases of those rights being infringed upon,” Odell said.

LGBT Hero Priest in Uganda

How One Reverend Is Defying Uganda’s ‘Kill The Gays’ Act

By Carimah Townes  March 30, 2014 Published in Think Progress

Ugandan Rev. Christopher Senyonjo (AP photo)

Ugandan Rev. Christopher Senyonjo (AP photo)

Last month, Uganda made international headlines when President Yoweri Museveni signed the controversial Anti-Homosexuality Act, calling for the imprisonment of gay citizens. But one religious leader refuses to discriminate against people for their sexual orientation, and has become a hero to the country’s gay community.

In defiance of the legislation, commonly referred to as the “Kill the Gays” bill, Rev. Christopher Senyonjo hosts weekly prayer sessions and counseling services to LGBT worshipers and supporters. He also critiques fellow clerics’ “healing” approach to addressing the gay community, whereby church leaders attempt to fix people through prayer. “They said I should condemn the homosexuals,” he said, referring to Anglican leaders in Uganda. “I can’t do that, because I was called to serve all people, including the marginalized. But they say I am inhibited until I recant. I am still a member of the Anglican church.”

Citing questionable evidence provided by Ugandan scientists, the President justified signing the Anti-Homosexuality Act in February by arguing that being gay is a choice. According to the harsh law, first-time offenders can spend at least 14 years in jail, while others can serve lifelong sentences. As a result, LGBT people are ostracized and subjected to violence.

But the country also penalizes people who openly support or discuss LGBT issues. Prior to the law’s enactment, Senyonjo was cut from Uganda’s Anglican church in 2006 for calling on fellow religious leaders to embrace LGBT people. Since then, the cleric has lived as a social pariah, surviving off of “gifts” provided by family and friends. And his situation has became more precarious, as the Anti-Homosexuality Act signed last month states, “A person who aids, abets, counsels or procures another to engage in acts of homosexuality commits an offence and is liable, conviction, to imprisonment for seven years.”

Despite the threat of punishment, Senyonjo’s show of defiance and solidarity has garnered the title of elder among LGBT people in Uganda. During a time when they are forced to hideaway in safe houses or flee the country in fear of persecution, the religious ally is a source of comfort and encouragement to the LGBT population.

Uganda’s Kill the Gays bill has received international backlash. For example, the World Bank delayed a $90 million loan, indefinitely, and Norway, Denmark, and the Netherlands have suspended aid promised to the African nation. However, the United States’ military alliance with Ugandan forces has produced a fragile relationship between the two countries — and has led to inaction from the former.

Contraception vs. Penis Pumps?

Daily Show’s Samantha Bee Nails Hypocrisy of Government Funding for Penis Pumps—But Questioning Contraception Dollars


She even tries a penis pump on her face.
Jodie Gummow – March 13, 2014   Alternet
Samantha Bee

Samantha Bee

One of the effects of ObamaCare is that insurance companies have to cover women’s health care needs including contraception.  This has caused serious congressional debate with Republicans adamant that women ought to pay for their own individual sexual health choices.

Yet, on last night’s The Daily Show, Samantha Bee revealed that unlike the serious congressional debate targeting female contraception and reproductive healthcare in general, Medicare has spent $172 million on penis pumps in the last five years, which the mostly white, older, male members (sic) of Congress don’t seem to have a problem.

“Medicare funds penis pumps at a cost of $362 a penis which has never been debated.  Not once. Never!” Bee said.

Bee interviewed a woman’s health advocate who explained why birth control pills are a medical necessity and often used for a number of non-sexual health issues.

So far this year, Republican legislators have launched close to 40 attacks on government mandated contraception laws.  And yet, our society spends $819 million on Viagara and $771 on Cialis.

“So for a less than a dollar a day a man can restore the glory of his erection. That’s amazing…Women’s selfish desire for sexual health and gynecological exam pales in comparison to man’s need to deal with erectile dysfunction.”

Still, in true satirical fashion, Bee ran a clip of a sexual health expert fervently defending federally funded penis pumps, concluding,  “These are hard working American penises. Should we really be abandoning them at the end of their careers?”

It seems, Bee says, that some members of our congress may have a vested interest in having penis pumps covered by Medicare.

“What would all these grey-haired old Rip van Winkles have to gain by not raising objections to penis pumps? Oh yeah, no, I get it,” she said.

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.