by Rich Juzwiak / gawker.com
Director Gabriela Cowperthwaite recently told the New York Times that she approached her documentary Blackfish as a journalist with an open mind. The resulting film, which is about killer whales in captivity (specifically at SeaWorld and focusing on the 32-year-old orca Tilikum, who’s killed three people), is nonetheless damning enough that it reads like animal liberation propaganda. We hear numerous testimonials from former SeaWorld trainers on the negative effects of keeping these giant, sensitive creatures penned. We see hidden-camera footage of SeaWorld guides feeding park guests incorrect information about orcas’ lifespans and fins — the dorsal fins of captive killer routinely collapse, or flop to the side, which is rare in the wild. We see footage of brutal whale-on-human attacks. We hear nothing from SeaWorld itself.
(The corporation’s general counsel told the Times that SeaWorld declined to be interviewed for the film “because they doubted the material would be used in good faith.” SeaWorld also declined interviews for David Kirby’s book Death at SeaWorld, which was released last year.)
The film is not all straightforward condemnation – it highlights the irony at the heart of the anti-captivity movement. If SeaWorld hadn’t offered the general public an up-close look at these animals that were previously misunderstood as killing machines, killer whales wouldn’t have captured the sympathy of so many humans. It was largely through orca captivity that humans learned just how harmful captivity can be. The film spends a lot of time on former trainers’ accounts of bonding with these animals. Captivity may be widely denounced by scientists, and it may produce behavior that we just don’t see in the wild. For example, there have been two recorded human attacks by killer whales in the wild; in 2006 ABC reported that there had been nearly two dozen in captivity. However, the human-whale shared experience is not without joy, and Blackfish reasonably documents that.
Historically, polyandry was much more common than we thought.
by Alice Dreger / Northwestern University / theatlantic.com
For generations, anthropologists have told their students a fairly simple story about polyandry — the socially recognized mating of one woman to two or more males. The story has gone like this:
While we can find a cluster of roughly two dozen societies on the Tibetan plateau in which polyandry exists as a recognized form of mating, those societies count as anomalous within humankind. And because polyandry doesn’t exist in most of the world, if you could jump into a time machine and head back thousands of years, you probably wouldn’t find polyandry in our evolutionary history.
That’s not the case, though, according to a recent paper in Human Nature co-authored by two anthropologists, Katherine Starkweather, a PhD candidate at the University of Missouri, andRaymond Hames, professor of anthropology at the University of Nebraska. While earning her masters under Hames’ supervision, Starkweather undertook a careful survey of the literature, and found anthropological accounts of 53 societies outside of the “classic polyandrous” Tibetan region that recognize and allow polyandrous unions. (Disclosure: I first learned of Starkweather’s project while researching a controversy involving Hames and he is now a friend.)
Indeed, according to Starkweather and Hames, anthropologists have documented social systems for polyandrous unions “among foragers in a wide variety of environments ranging from the Arctic to the tropics, and to the desert.” Recognizing that at least half these groups are hunter-gatherer societies, the authors conclude that, if those groups are similar to our ancestors — as we may reasonably suspect — then “it is probable that polyandry has a deep human history.”
Rather than treating polyandry as a mystery to be explained away, Starkweather and Hames suggest polyandry constitutes a variation on the common, evolutionarily-adaptive phenomenon of pair-bonding — a variation that sometimes emerges in response to environmental conditions.
by Annalee Newitz / io9.com
We call those deadly spiders with the red hourglass shapes on their abdomens “black widows” because they eat their mates as part of the sex act. But black widows are far from the only spiders who sexually cannibalize, and some insects and fish do it too. It’s just a natural part of some animals’ reproductive process. So why use a term like “widow” for a creature who has no notion of marriage, and who is part of a species that evolved to eat or be eaten during sex? That’s what British biologist Emily Burdfield-Steele and her colleagues wanted to find out.
Their hypothesis was that people, including scientists, were grossly misunderstanding spider reproduction because they couldn’t stop anthropomorphizing the creatures involved. Instead of seeing a natural spider sex act, they kept seeing “widows” and “male sacrifices.” Those are decidedly human ideas. To find out whether this anthropocentric bias was pervasive, the biologists conducted a survey of 47 scientific papers about sexual cannibalism, to see how the act was described. Not surprisingly, they discovered a lot of non-scientific (and inaccurate) terms like “rapacious” and “voracious” attributed to the females; the males were called “unwilling” and “suicidal” in some cases. They created a fascinating chart of the most popular human-centric terms used to describe the spidery experience of sexual cannibalism.
In their paper published earlier this month in Animal Behavior, the researchers describe what you’re seeing in this chart:
Frequency of terms used when describing male and female behaviour of sexually cannibalistic species considered separately for (a) studies in which cannibalism occurs before and/or during copulation (26 papers) and (b) studies in which cannibalism occurs only during and/or after copulation (17 papers), excluding reviews. See the appendices for references and excluded words. The frequency for each sex is the number of articles the term appears in, in the context of describing behaviour. Words were also classified by three independent observers as active (a), reactive (re) or neutral (n). Terms marked with an asterisk were classified differently by at least two of the parties and so could not be given an overall classification.
It’s fascinating to see how the females are more often described as “attacking” or “predatory” if they eat their mates before or during sex, versus afterwards. Maybe eating somebody after sex doesn’t strike us as being quite so aggressive?
BLOOMINGTON, Ind. — American men and women rated sex as highly arousing and pleasurable regardless of whether condoms and/or lubricants were used, according to a study led by Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington researchers and published in The Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Data were from the 2009 National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, which involved the administration of an online questionnaire to a nationally representative probability sample of U.S. adults. Results showed that men and women consistently rate sex as highly arousing and pleasurable with few differences based on condom or lubricant use. More than twice as many women than men were unsure whether the condom was lubricated — 26.6 percent vs. 11.4 percent — or from what material it was made — 23.6 percent vs. 8.9 percent.
“This may be because men are more likely than women to purchase condoms and to apply condoms,” Herbenick said. “However, it’s important for more women to become familiar with the condoms they use with their partner so that they can make choices that enhance the safety and pleasure of their sexual experiences.”
Additionally, no significant differences were found in regard to men’s ratings of the ease of their erections based on condom and lubricant use.
“The U.S. continues to grapple with high rates of sexually transmitted infections, HIV and unintended pregnancies,” Herbenick said. “We need to understand how people make choices about the products they use, or avoid using, and how these products contribute to the safety and pleasurable aspects of their sexual experiences. This is particularly important as the products themselves evolve and become more mainstream in American society. We also need to understand what men and women know, or don’t know, about the products they use so that we can better target public health education messages to individuals and groups.”
“The epidemiologic studies assessing human sexual function and behavior in the U.S. that were started 60 years ago by Kinsey are continued now by Herbenick and Reece. Gathering sexual data regarding condom use is highly relevant,” said Irwin Goldstein, M.D., editor-in-chief of The Journal of Sexual Medicine. “Understanding current condom use offers health care providers an opportunity to educate those people uncomfortable with condoms but for whom lack of use may lead to significant sexually transmitted infection health risk.”
A PDF of “Characteristics of Condom and Lubricant Use Among a Nationally Representative Probability Sample of Adults Ages 18-59 In the United States” is available at firstname.lastname@example.org or online in the Wiley Press Room for media with log-in access. (To request a login, click here). It will appear in the February issue.
The study was supported by Church & Dwight, Inc., the maker of Trojan Brand condoms and vibrators. Co-authors include Vanessa Schick, Nicole Smith and Brian Dodge, Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the IU School of Public Health-Bloomington; Stephanie Sanders, The Kinsey Institute for Research on Sex, Gender and Reproduction and Department of Gender Studies, College of Arts and Sciences at IU Bloomington; and J. Dennis Fortenberry, M.D., IU School of Medicine.
by Dennis Romero / laweekly.com
An Eastside state legislator was quick to propose fixing an 1872 rape law that got a defendant a new trial for having sex with a woman he duped into believing he was her boyfriend.
California’s Second District Appeals Court yesterday said L.A.-area suspect Julio Morales should get a new trial because the old law does not specifically protect unmarried women from rapists who impersonate their boyfriends. The letter of the law only protects married women from people who would impersonate a husband in order to get sex:
News of the ruling yesterday was a sensation. Folks couldn’t believe that married woman could be protected by such “rape” under the law while an unmarried one couldn’t.
The court urged the legislature to fix the law’s language.
Jimmy Gomez, who represents the Eastside and neighborhoods such as Echo Park and Silver Lake, today said he would “vow” to fix the “archaic” law.
A statement from his office:
The reversal of the rape charge is based on a seemingly-archaic law in the California penal code that states: any person who fraudulently obtains the consent of another to sexual relations escapes criminal liability unless the attacker masquerades as the victim’s spouse…. After hearing of the legal travesty that could allow a rapist to walk free, Assemblymember Gomez vowed to fight for a change in the law that would assure that never again will a rapist be able to walk away from their crime.
Prosecutors in the 2009 case allege that Morales climbed into bed with an 18-year-old who had been drinking and fell asleep at a house party.
He started to have sex with her and when she came to she thought he was her boyfriend, according to authorities. At one point she said she realized he was not her boyfriend and tried to push him off but he resisted. He ultimately left.
A first trial ended in a hung jury. A second ended with a conviction. Morales already served his sentence — 3 years — for the rape.
The appeals court cited the letter of the law, which states that rape in such a circumstance is limited to a situation …
… [w]here she submits, under the belief that the person committing the act is her husband, and this belief is induced by any artifice, pretense, or concealment practiced by the accused, with intent to induce such belief.
by Jack Neff / adage.com
Kimberly-Clark Corp. would like to start a conversation about vaginas.
On Jan. 7 its U by Kotex brand is launching a “Generation Know” campaign featuring 30- and 15-second TV spots. While the spots dance around the “V” word for the sake of getting past network standards, they support a much franker series of online videos and a GenerationKnow.com website styled as a sort of social network for discussing vaginal health.
Work from WPP’s Ogilvy & Mather, New York, leads the effort for the nearly three-year-old offshoot of the venerable Kotex brand. U by Kotex reversed a decades-long decline for the franchise by using offbeat, colorful designs, new packaging and a campaign that broke the conventions of feminine-care marketing.
Now, the brand is taking a step further by talking more directly about the anatomy it serves. The Generation Know effort addresses such “vaginal health myths” as the idea that using tampons means girls lose their virginity, or that the products can get lost in their bodies.
“One might view this work as provocative,” said Melissa Sexton, integrated marketing planning director at K-C. “But it’s provocative not for the sake of being provocative, but because that’s the way the honest conversation needs to happen.”
The TV ad uses testimonials from women young and old to address such myths as the virginity issue or the notion that “everyone will know” when a woman has her period. The online videos delve deeper, including a mini-documentary (below) where video blogger Kat Lazo confronts women on the street with diagrams and questions about vaginas.
“We get the love we decide we deserve…”
By: Natalie Wolchover / lifeslittlemysteries.com
While female sexuality appears to be more fluid, research suggests that male gayness is an inborn, unalterable, strongly genetically influenced trait. But considering that the trait discourages the type of sex that leads to procreation — that is, sex with women — and would therefore seem to thwart its own chances of being genetically passed on to the next generation, why are there gay men at all?
Put differently, why haven’t gay man genes driven themselves extinct?
This longstanding question is finally being answered by new and ongoing research. For several years, studies led by Andrea Camperio Ciani at the University of Padova in Italy and others have found that mothers and maternal aunts of gay men tend to have significantly more offspring than the maternal relatives of straight men. The results show strong support for the “balancing selection hypothesis,” which is fast becoming the accepted theory of the genetic basis of male homosexuality.
The theory holds that the same genetic factors that induce gayness in males also promote fecundity (high reproductive success) in those males’ female maternal relatives. Through this trade-off, the maternal relatives’ “gay man genes,” though they aren’t expressed as such, tend to get passed to future generations in spite of their tendency to make their male inheritors gay.
While no one knows which genes, exactly, these might be, at least one of them appears to be located on the X chromosome, according to genetic modeling by Camperio Ciani and his colleagues. Males inherit only one X chromosome — the one from their mother — and if it includes the gene that promotes gayness in males and fecundity in females, he is likely to be gay while his mom and her female relatives are likely to have lots of kids. If a daughter inherits that same X-linked gene, she herself may not be gay, but she can pass it on to her sons. [Why Are There Gay Women?]
But how might the “gay man gene” make females more reproductively successful? A new study by Camperio Ciani and his team addresses the question for the first time. Previously, the Italian researchers suggested that the “gay man gene” might simply increase androphilia, or attraction to men, thereby making the males who possess the gene homosexual and the females who possess it more promiscuous. But after investigating the characteristics of 161 female maternal relatives of homosexual and heterosexual men, the researchers have adjusted their hypothesis. Rather than making women more attracted to men, the “gay man gene” appears to make these women moreattractive to men.
“High fecundity, that means having more babies, is not about pleasure in sex, nor is it about promiscuity. The androphilic pattern that we found is about females who increase their reproductive value to attract the best males,” Camperio Ciani told Life’s Little Mysteries.
Turns out, the moms and aunts of gay men have an advantage over the moms and aunts of straight men for several reasons: They are more fertile, displaying fewer gynecological disorders or complications during pregnancy; they are more extroverted, as well as funnier, happier and more relaxed; and they have fewer family problems and social anxieties. “In other words, compared to the others, [they are] perfect for a male,” Camperio Ciani said. Attracting and choosing from the best males enables these women to produce more offspring, he noted.
The new study will appear in an upcoming issue of the Journal of Sexual Medicine.
Of course, no single factor can account for the varied array of sexual orientations that exist, in men as well as in women. “It is quite possible that there are several influences on forming a homosexual orientation,” said Gerulf Rieger, a sexual orientation researcher at Cornell University. He noted that environmental factors — including the level of exposure to certain hormones in the womb — also play a role in molding male sexuality. But as for why genetic factors would exist that make men gay, it appears that these genes make women, as well as gay men, alluring to other men.