InKredulous: Episode #045

Episode 45 of our satirical, skeptical comedy podcast. This episode was recorded live at QED 2018.  Your host is Andy Wilson (@InKredulosi) of the Merseyside Skeptics Society and co-organiser of QED conference.

Appearing are:

  • Ariane Sherine – Journalist, comedy writer and musical comedian Ariane is also well known for her role in the Atheist Bus Campaign.  (@ArianeSherine)
  • Heath Enwright – Veteran podcaster known for Scathing Atheist, God Awful Movies, Skepticrat and Citation Needed. (@heathenwright)
  • Tom Curry – Long time co-host of Cognitive Dissonance and Citation Needed.  (@dissonance_pod)
  • Marsh – The Ockham winning Marsh of the Good Thinking Society, Merseyside Skeptics Society, co-host of Skeptics with a K and co-organiser for QED (@MrMMarsh)

As ever, thanks for listening and for all the lovely comments. Support the MSS, our work and all of our podcasts by making a monthly contribution via Patreon.

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Skeptics with a K: Episode #235

Back pain, blue pills, brain structures, and Blackpool. Plus diving helmets, p-hacking, oversold results, and Doctor Who’s aspect ratio. Speaking via satellite, it’s Skeptics with a K.

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Skeptics with a K: Episode #234

Depressed vaginas, space cars, vestibules, and forest ghosts.  Plus pickled beetroot, sex therapists, Investment Banking, and vulvodynia. Photographed from the waist down, it’s Skeptics with a K.

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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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Skeptics with a K: Episode #233

In this special episode of Skeptics with a K, Marsh and Alice talk about Good Thinking Society’s in-depth new research into crowd-funded cancer treatments, recently published in the British Medical Journal.  And Mike talks about going to the cat cafe.

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Sally Morgan evicted from Celebrity Big Brother

This week, the latest series of Celebrity Big Brother came to an end, with Coronation Street actor and person-I-just-Googled-to-find-out-what-he’s-famous-for Ryan Thomas emerging victorious at the end of the month-long run. While the comings and goings of a Channel 5 reality show might not normally be the kind of event that inspire a skeptic to take to WordPress and tap out a blog, this series did have one particular point of interest for the keen critical thinker.

Billed this year as having an “Eye of the storm” theme, the celebrities (or approximations thereof) entering the house had all been chosen for their controversial past and presence at the centre of a “media storm”. Those celebrities included Sally Morgan – the well-known stage performer who claims to be able to pass messages to audience members from their deceased loved ones – who made it to this year’s final. Show producers explained why they believed she fit the ‘eye of the storm’ criteria:

Sally experienced a media storm after a report suggested she had used a hidden earpiece at one of her performances.

two CCTV cameras

While not even morbid curiosity nor dedication to his craft could convince this skeptical investigator to become a regular viewer of the show, Sally’s involvement has not gone without interest, with tabloid articles regularly setting off various Google Alerts to keep me up to date with day-to-day happenings in the house.

Celebrity Big Brother 2018: Sally Morgan CAUGHT OUT after Rodrigo Alves truth task
– Express, 23rd August 2018

Celebrity Big Brother viewers in hysterics as psychic Sally Morgan fails another prediction
– Metro, 5th September 2018

It could be argued that Sally’s involvement in this year’s Celebrity Big Brother was curiously timed, coming as it does at the start of her regular Autumn tour schedule. Having seen Sally’s performances on a number of occasions, and having been in the vicinity of several others, I’ve seen first-hand the audiences she has been able to draw: on at least one occasion at Liverpool’s Empire theatre, Sally’s audience filled almost all of the seats in the lower stalls, and as many as half of the balcony seats. For a room which boasts a 2,348 capacity, that may have been as many as 2,000 tickets sold. This, I understand, was not atypical for Sally at the time – and given that her tours at one point included in as many as 200 dates per year, her audience reach would have been substantial.

It might therefore seem unusual for Sally to spend the opening of the Autumn period locked in a house with the barmaid from Cheers (no, not that one, the other one). Sally’s tour will still be going ahead, however, starting next week at The Met in Abertillery – which, as best as I could tell, is a venue Sally hasn’t appeared at before (although I could of course be wrong). Being unfamiliar with the venue, and indeed with Abertillery, I thought it worth find out what capacity was, to see how it compares with Sally’s regular venues. According to The Met’s website, the capacity of the biggest room in the facility, The Victorian Theatre, is just 216 seats.

empty theatre seats

As this seemed to be a surprisingly small venue for Sally to be playing, I wondered if this was a one-off, or whether this was typical of her current tour. Interestingly, her Liverpool show this year is not at the Empire Theatre as in previous years, but at the considerably-more-modest Epstein Theatre – boasting a capacity of, according to Wikipedia, just 380 seats.

Curious as to what the rest of her tour looked like, I spent 20 minutes or so on Google, looking up venues Sally will be playing at, and checking websites for their capacity. What I found is therefore based solely on what the venues declare their capacity to be, and where there were numerous rooms on offer or various configurations available I opted for the biggest capacity stated – reasoning that it would be very strange, though not impossible, that a venue understated its maximum capacity.

Taking into account Sally’s Autumn 2018 tour dates as they appeared this morning, her capacities are as follows:

Date Venue Town Capacity
19-Sep The Met Abertillery 216
20-Sep Huntingdon Hall Worcester 330
21-Sep Octagon Theatre Yeovil 622
24-Sep Regis Centre Bognor 357
25-Sep Epstein Theatre Liverpool 380
26-Sep City Hall Newcastle 2135
27-Sep Burnley Mechanics Burnley 493
28-Sep William Aston Hall Wrexham 1200
03-Oct The Radlett Centre Hertfordshire 300
05-Oct Margate Winter Gardens Margate 1400
08-Oct Guildhall Winchester Winchester 620
11-Oct Royal Hippodrome Theatre Eastbourne 500
12-Oct Assembly Hall Theatre Tunbridge Wells 1020
17-Oct Palace Theatre Mansfield 534
18-Oct Phoenix Theatre Castleford 300
18-Oct Pavilion Theatre Rhyl 1031
22-Oct Cork Opera House Cork 1000
23-Oct Town Hall Theatre Galway 393
24-Oct Theatre Royal Waterford 432
25-Oct The Helix Theatre Dublin 1860
26-Oct Ulster Hall Belfast 1000
27-Oct Millennium Forum Londonderry 1000
30-Oct The Grand Pavilion Matlock Bath 550
31-Oct The Orchard Theatre Dartford 956
01-Nov Hazlitt Theatre Maidstone 382
02-Nov Palace Theatre Redditch 420
05-Nov Stockport Plaza Stockport 1314
06-Nov Grand Theatre Lancaster 457
07-Nov New Theatre Royal Lincoln 475
08-Nov Melton Theatre Melton Mowbray 340
14-Nov New Victoria Theatre Woking 1300
19-Nov The Brindley Theatre Runcorn 358
20-Nov The Festival Drayton Centre Drayton 200
21-Nov Queen’s Theatre Barnstaple 680
22-Nov Wycombe Swan High Wycombe 1076

While there are clearly some sizeable venues in there – Newcastle City Hall and The Helix in Dublin in particular – I was quite surprised by how many smaller venues are included in the list. Of the 35 Autumn Tour dates, the average capacity was 732, and the median was just 550 (suggesting the average had been skewed upwards by those Newcastle and Dublin venues).

Equally, I was a little surprised to see the only sold-out shows on the list as of this morning are the 330-seater Huntingdon Hall in Worcester, the 357-seater Regis Hall in Bognor, and the 300-seater Radlett Centre in Hertfordshire. In fact, as of this morning, a the box office informed me that there were still 29 tickets available for the first show of the tour, the 216-seater in Abertillery.

full theatre crowd

All of this may, of course, mean nothing at all – it may be that larger venues weren’t available on the dates Sally needed them, or that Sally wanted to go to smaller towns to reach fans who didn’t want to travel to bigger cities like Birmingham, Edinburgh or Glasgow (all notably absent from her schedule), or that Sally had decided to aim for more intimate venues. However, another plausible explanation is that fewer people are interested in seeing stage mediumship shows these days. It’ll certainly be interesting to see whether Sally’s fifth-place Celebrity Big Brother finish changes that.

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