Archive for category Sexism

Is your vagina depressed?

Are you femme presenting? Do you sometimes wish more people would have more of an opinion on how you have sex? How often you have sex? How you should behave when you don’t want to have sex? How often you should want sex? How your body behaves when you do/don’t have sex? Whether your experience of sex is real? What ‘real’ sex is and who ‘real’ sex happens with?

Well, you’re in luck! Because over the last year and a half the British media have been telling us all about a “study” which says if you’re not having “enough” sex, your vagina (if you have one) will get depressed and “atrophy”.

Woman's head and shoulders from behind, in grayscale. Her head is dropped down.

As far as I can tell, this all started a little over a year ago when The Sun wrote this headline:

SORE POINT Do you have a ‘depressed’ vagina? This could be why sex is SO painful (and it’s nothing to do with an STI)”. The story resurfaced just a few weeks ago when Higher Perspectives said “New Research Says Lack Of Sex Makes Your Vagina Depressed

The Higher Perspectives article begins “We all know that a healthy sex life keeps our immune system humming, lessens pain and relieves stress. It makes for a happier life. But what happens when we don’t have a sex?”. The article goes on to explain that “research” shows that “Sexual abstinence can make our vagina depressed and this can also lead to vaginal atrophy.”

Do they link to this research? Well, no. And having a look on Pubmed shows no sign of any such research in existence. But they said their claims were “backed in science” it so it must be true, right?

Digging a little deeper, it becomes clear that the media – including The Sun, Maxim, The New York Post and Women’s Health Magazine seem to think a diagnosis of vulvodynia is a synonym for vaginal depression. The Sun even claims that vaginal atrophy is “The horrifying thing that can happen to your vagina if you don’t have enough sex” – again, this begs the question of where they get this claim that a lack of sex can cause vaginal atrophy – and again, this news outlet does not link a reliable source to support the claim.

Two stormtrooper lego figures holding hands stood in front of a sunset over water

They do however, mention that Louise Mazanti, a “sex therapist” from London, has just released a book…More on Louise Mazanti later.

Vulvodynia ≠ vaginal depression

The idea that vulvodynia and vaginal depression are equivalent terms, seems to come from an episode of Sex and the City where Charlotte is diagnosed with the condition (the real one, not the media hyperbole one). She remarks that her doctor prescribed her antidepressants and it’s “hilariously” questioned if her vagina is depressed.

Nearly ten years after Sex and the City finished broadcasting, we collectively know so little about vulvodynia that this misnomer seems to have stuck.

And yet vulvodynia is a significant diagnosis that affects a huge proportion of people with vaginas at some point in their lives.a stethoscope and sphygmomanometer on a white surface

Simply put, vulvodynia is chronic pain (lasting 3 months or more) of the vulvar area. Vulvodynia is a tricky condition to treat, as with many chronic pain conditions, and requires collaboration between doctor and patient to find the right treatment.

One treatment option is a tricyclic antidepressant.

This is where the confusion starts – but antidepressants used in this way are prescribed in far lower doses than required for an antidepressant effect. These drugs are actually used because in low doses they act as pain modifiers. The comparison of vulvodynia to depression is completely inaccurate.

Having “enough” sex?

For some people with vulvodynia, penetrative sex is not possible. Suggesting women have more sex to solve all their medical problems, can actually cause harm far more than it helps. We know that our society tends to view penis in vagina sex as the only “real” sex. The consequences of this are significant – sex between two women is dismissed, oral and digital forms of sex are considered “foreplay” and there is a huge pressure placed onto the idea of “virginity”. And for people with the forms of vulvodynia that make penetration very difficult, this idea can have a damaging effect on their mental health. Across our society “women” are expected to “provide” for their “men” and this includes having sex frequently (but not too frequently). It is easy for people with vulval pain to feel dysfunctional and that can be damaging to their mental wellbeing – not helped when a lack of libido is often termed “female sexual dysfunction” but that’s a rant for another day.

two women holding hands in a field

Vaginal atrophy

These latest stories are particularly keen to mention frequency of (penetrative) sex being a preventative for vaginal atrophy (a thinning of the vaginal walls which the NHS website refers to as vaginal dryness). They claim this is founded in science but give no supporting evidence of this. Vaginal atrophy does happen – but it is scientifically understood to be a response to changes in hormone levels, and therefore is most common during and after the menopause. There is very little a person can do to control it and it is not as “horrifying” as The Sun claims – sexual frequency might enhance blood flow to the area to help delay or prevent this but that is not dependent on penis in vagina penetration. Using dilators, dildos, vibrators or manual penetration and stimulation will help just as well.

Louise Mazanti

So, if there’s no obvious “new” study which triggers this year’s media interest in our sexual habits, why else might this be “newsworthy”?

Perhaps it’s all to do with a new book that Louise Mazanti published earlier this year titled “Real Sex: Why Everything you Learned about Sex is Wrong” alongside her husband Mike Lousada.

Mike was an investment banker before his spiritual awakening led him to retrain as a counsellor and “sexologist” while Louise was a Professor in art and design before her own spiritual awakening and retraining in sex therapy. They both see clients in London and give talks and write books together and separately.

Louise is touted as an expert sex therapist in a number of articles discussing vulvodynia. On her webpage about her “expertise” is the claim that “Louise holds a strong energetic field for you to start exploring your own inner truth, and she can guide you into states of expansion that will give you a new direction in life.”. Louise is “trained in energy psychology [and] esoteric wisdom”.

And apparently that’s good enough to be an expert on the medical health of the vagina, or at least that seems to be the opinion of the media who think vaginal depression is a synonym for vulvodynia.

Read more about vulvodynia:

 

Dr Alice Howarth, PhD

Alice is a cell biologist and cancer researcher who works in the Institute of Translational Medicine at the University of Liverpool. She is the Treasurer of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and co-hosts the popular sceptical podcast Skeptics with a K. In her free time she Instagrams photos of her ridiculous dog, Lupin and watches Buffy the Vampire Slayer ad infinitum. Find her at DrAlice.blog or @AliceEmmaLouise on social media.

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Can the sale of pro-rape T Shirts really be attributed to misfiring design algorithms?

Keep Calm And Carry On spoof shirts on Amazon-1740208Last Friday, a storm erupted when someone noticed Amazon were selling t-shirts bearing offensive slogans like “Keep Calm and Hit Her” and “Keep Calm and Rape a Lot.”

This discovery provoked a strong reaction, leading to outrage on Twitter and critical articles from CNN, The Guardian, The Daily Mail and more.  The slogans were condemned in the strongest possible terms, with criticism directed at both Amazon for selling the shirts and at the US firm Solid Gold Bomb for creating them.

The following day, a blogger named Pete Ashton argued that the slogans were likely generated by computer and “nobody made, or approved, the design.”  He claimed a combination of the Amazon Marketplace, a print-on-demand service, and a simple piece of software could result in the offending t-shirts appearing online without any human approval.

After reading this article, my wife asked me how likely Ashton’s explanation was.  Could a product really go on sale that no-one had ever seen?

I’ve been a web developer for fifteen years, working with many of the technologies required.  The chain of events seems plausible enough to me.  It would be trivial to write a program that took words like “drink” or “carry”, and combined them words like “on” or “beer” to produce thousands of t-shirt slogans.  It would be trivial to use something like ImageMagick to create images of what t-shirts might look like and upload them to Amazon.  I could probably do it in an afternoon.  So the explanation makes sense, but is there any evidence that it’s true?

If the “computer did it” hypothesis is correct, I reasoned, I should be able to analyse the products still on-sale and calculate the original words used to create them.  I can generate a list of slogans with those words and check if they appear on an SGB product.  If every possible slogan is on sale, that supports the theory that this was an unsupervised computer program.  If some are missing, it could indicate a human editor.

I quickly wrote a program that fetched any SGB product featuring the words “Keep Calm and”.  It picked apart the description and recorded which verb had been used and which words terminated the sentence.  Within minutes, I had a list of 759 verbs and eleven terminators.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Circumcision: Genital Mutilation Under Another Name

Today, I want to outline something of a thought experiment – imagine for a moment a society where a baby is born, discovered to be a girl, and because of its gender and the traditions passed down for centuries, the baby is branded with a hot iron leaving a scar that lasts for life.

Now go a step further, and imagine that instead of branded, the baby has the end of her ear lobe cut off, again something this imaginary society only does to females.

It’d be a pretty horrific idea, and anyone suggesting we take on such practices and follow such rituals would be rightly thought not only to be utterly wrong, but entirely deranged, and no law would ever pass which would allow such a mass mutilation to take place.

But, for a moment, imagine that the affected children were instead male, and the part of the body to take a knife to at birth was not the earlobe but the penis… and you’ll find yourself not in some dystopian fantasy but in modern day America, and in parts of the UK and other countries too.

Each year, around 1.2 million male babies in the US are circumcised in medically-unnecessary procedures – and that’s discounting the cases where there is a genuine medical reason to do so, which I have absolutely no problem with. As an analogy, I can accept people having to have limbs amputated should injury or diabetes or gangrene warrant, but I’d advise against it becoming the first thing we do after cutting the umbilical cord.

Right now in San Francisco the issue of circumcision is very much in the news, after local anti-circumcision activist Lloyd Schofield collected enough signatures – more than 12,000 – to put a measure to the city ballot in November 2011, seeking to ban the practice of circumcision. Read the rest of this entry »

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Bad PR: Misogyny on the Bounty

As readers of this site will probably know, I have a bit of a beef when it comes to bullshit PR companies spouting Bad PR, and in particular with a company by the name of OnePoll.com.

OnePoll is an interesting beast – is business model is to pay people around 10p for their participation in a relatively quick online survey, with the idea being that the more surveys you take part in, the more you earn. The upshot of this means the quicker you complete the survey, the faster you can move on to the next one. It also means that when you’re asked a screening question like ‘Are you single or in a relationship?‘, and you can see the name of the survey is ‘Being In Relationships!‘, it’s pretty easy to see that to enter the survey and claim your shiny 10p, you obviously pretend to be in a relationship. Or pretend to be a football fan. Or pretend to be self-employed. Etc. For the sake of your 10p, you enter a load of results which become utterly meaningless.

The speed issue has a knock-on effect elsewhere, too. As I’ve pointed out before, when asked a badly designed question like ‘Which celebrity would you least like to go on holiday with?‘ where the possible responses are from a set list, rather than stopping to think, ‘Actually, I don’t care about any of these people, I’d like to tick the none of the above option, but there isn’t one‘, instead you pick a choice fairly-randomly, fairly-quickly and progress on towards your 10p, and so we get this in the newspapers: Cheryl Cole is celebrity most Brits want to holiday with unlike Katie Price.  I can imagine the most significant factor in these types of questions is often the order the options are presented, rather than their actual content, with a bias towards the options that appear first in the list (that would be my prediction, anyway).

What’s more, to get you started, when you first sign up to One Poll you get something in the region of £2, too – so it feels like a breeze to start really earning. Here’s the kicker though, and of course there is one – before you see a penny of your earnings, you need to accrue £40. At 10p per survey, that’s 400 surveys. I’ve been playing for about months now, and I’m on about £17. So, I can imagine there would be a pretty reasonable fallout rate as people became disillusioned with the process and give up, and thus often OnePoll never have to pay a penny to most of the people they survey. Which makes their business model pretty cheap, then.

Read the rest of this entry »

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Bad PR: Schrödinger’s Cock!

It’s official: TOP Gear host Jeremy Clarkson has the largest penis in show business, according to British women.

No you heard me right – I said he HAS the largest penis in showbusiness, not that he IS the largest penis in showbusiness. As reported in multiple sources last week, including our old friend The Sun:

A survey carried out among 4,000 housewives revealed a large portion of them think Clarkson is the proud owner of a ten-and-a-quarter inch penis.

Unsurprisingly, of course, The Sun went with the headline ‘Clarkson in Poll Pole Position‘. See what they did there? That’s called journalism. Or something.

Apparently, according to this definitely-scientific survey of random women (and I love the specific implication that they were housewives – more of that later), the Top Gear hosting, Daily Mail writing, right wing caricature Clarkson is in possession of a ten and a quarter inch effort, downstairs, with Gordon Ramsey closely following behind him – or at least as closely as his speculated 9 and a half inches will allow, at any rate.

Now, those of you of a more skeptical bent – and I believe there are quite a few of you out there – will have spotted the inherent flaw in this entire piece: no, I’m not talking about the continuation of some rather dodgy and long-debunked myths regarding size, ego and masculinity; or that the numbers involved are ludicrously and comically out of kilter with the real average underpants size of a fella; or even the fact that they’re clearly confused by the fact that Clarkson is a massive cock, rather than that he possesses such. No, I’m talking about the glaring fact that this survey purports to have surveyed people’s opinions and speculations of something which is grounded in fact. At the moment, Clarkson’s piece is entirely safely secreted in his over-tight dad-jeans, and thus while there is a factual answer to the penis problem, there’s only baseless speculation at this stage. Were we able to open the box, we’d be able to put the speculation aside and start dealing in facts.

What we have, in short, ladies and gentleman, is Schrödinger’s Cock. Read the rest of this entry »

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‘Men Don’t Know Anything About Women’ Says Company Who Don’t Know Anything About Men

Look out fellow men, our secrets are out! Not only is Valentine’s Day is swift-approaching, and therefore supplies of the colour pink and badly-drawn teddy bears on overly-sentimental cards bearing the motto ‘I Wuuurrrrrrve You’ or something equally-nauseatingly trite rapidly running out , but now – now of all times! – the Daily Mail has chosen to expose a dirty, filthy, shameful and completely 100% true fact: none of us male folk know anything, at all, about our womenfolk. Nothing. Nada. Nowt.

Seriously, nothing. Age, hair colour, eye colour, general shape – all alien to us men. Really. It’s remarkable we’re even able to pick them out of a police line-up. Although try asking them what the hell they’re doing in a police line-up, and you’re in trouble. Bloody Women. Harumph. Oops, that might have been wildly sterotypically ignorantly sexist towards the end there, and I can’t go around like that…

…because clearly wild, ignorant, sexist stereotyping is the Daily Mail’s job, as evidenced by their stunningly-accurate-and-definitely-not-made-up research on the amount we fellas know about our missuses:

Think he knows you? Think again! How millions of men don’t know their partner’s dress size, date of birth, or even eye colour

Millions of men! Millions of men don’t know their partner’s date of birth! If the UK population is 60 million, let’s simplify things and say that 50% are male (ratios tend to favour a higher female population, bloody women harumph and all that), that’s 30 million men at most, of which millions don’t know their partners’ eye colour! That’s assuming all have partners. And are straight. Realistically, we’re probably talking about 15 or 20 million men who are straight and attached. So the Mail’s ‘millions’ of ignorant men speaks to a real epidemic! What bastards we are!

ORRRR the Mail made it up. Hmm. Let’s read on beyond the headline, and see if we come out the other side. Read the rest of this entry »

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