The flaws in the science of sex differences

Article: The flaws in the science of sex differences

One of our biggest pet peeves is our society’s automatic acceptance — the giddy embrace, even — of the theory that men are from Mars and women are from Venus, with nary a space shuttle between them. We’ve written before on the lazy scientists who are suckers for a sexy headline about the “innate” differences between men and women, while touting the seemingly lone, reasonable voice of neuroscientist Lise Eliot in her book “Pink Brain, Blue Brain: How Small Differences Grow into Troublesome Gaps — and What We Can Do About It.” Fortunately, there are now a few other voices of reason voice that have jumped into the fray as of late: First, Barnard professor Rebecca Jordan-Young in her new book “Brain Storm: The Flaws in the Science of Sex Differences”; and then “Delusions of Gender: How Our Minds, Society and Neurosexism Create Difference” by academic psychologist Cordelia Fine. Slate has a great review of “Brain Storm” here, and below is Publisher’s Weekly succinct starred review of it:

The world's gender inequality

Article: The world's gender inequality

The World Economic Forum recently came out with their 5th annual Global Gender Gap Report for 2010, which, according to Time magazine (Oct 25th issues), ranks 134 countries on “a percentage-based metric that calculates how much they have closed their gender gaps in education, politics, health and economic opportunity.”

No, he's not trying to turn you gay

Article: No, he's not trying to turn you gay

We are completely hooked on the dating research blog OKTrends because of how often it reminds us that the world is, in fact, a sane place — no matter how many of our politicians think that gay people shouldn’t be allowed to teach in schools or die for their country or get married or raise kids. The latest installment of research — based on OKCupid’s 3.2 million gay and straight users — is another perfect example, debunking some of the most common (and hostile) gay myths out there. For example, take the myth that “the gays” are on a mission to “convert” your precious little Johnny:

Finding the silver lining in porn addiction story

Article: Finding the silver lining in porn addiction story

So the lurid headline in — natch — The Washington Times reads “More women lured to pornography addiction,” but we decided to find the silver lining in this news. The gist of the piece is that new research shows that women, and even — gasp! — Christian women are finding themselves “addicted” to pornography because it’s so much less risky to check it out online. (And for the record, our quote-marks around the word “addicted” aren’t meant to question the reality of pornography addiction, but rather to question The Washington Times’ definition of said addiction.)

Anal, orgasms, and advertising

Article: Anal, orgasms, and advertising

One of the most popular and commented-on posts of our home site,, is about strap-on sex. It’s not exactly a point of pride for us. We’re much more about the happy feel-good feminist relationship posts. And we worry that this prominent butt-sex mention is what keeps the advertisers away (of course, it could be the vibrators we peddle in our sidebar). But then we see Bank of America and Bing ads right along side Slate’s article “Riddle of the Sphincter,” about the correlation between anal sex and orgasms for women, and we can’t help but think “No fair!”

College gals finally close the marriage gap

Article: College gals finally close the marriage gap

As recently as the ’90s, Em was horrified to hear her college roommate say that she was at school to get three letters: MRS. It was said kind of tongue-in-cheek… but not completely. The ironic thing was that back then, having a college degree actually meant that a woman was less likely to get married…and…

How to study sex without being a sucker

Article: How to study sex without being a sucker

As regular readers of this blog will know, one of our pet peeves is when scientific research about sex and love gets twisted and “re-interpreted” and boiled down and sexed up to make a juicy magazine or newspaper headline. (And yes, we have definitely been guilty of this tendency ourselves, at times. You try resisting when a guy in a lab coat studies sex in socks!) Which is why we love the newish column in the NY Times Style section by Pamela Paul, called “Studied.” Each week Paul takes a new study that is making the rounds — this week it was research showing that economically dependent men are more likely to cheat on their female partners — and attempts to unpack it. And — get this — Paul doesn’t necessarily take the each study’s findings at face value. Isn’t that what they used to call “journalism”?

The REAL stuff white people like

Article: The REAL stuff white people like

StuffWhitePeopleLike (TED Conference? World Cup? Picking their own fruit? Genius!) is one of our favorite blogs in the universe — seriously, it ranks right up there with FAILblog, even if it’s a bit of a one-note joke (but every time we leave it be for a few months, we go back and are reminded of its utter brilliance). Anyway, the dating site OKCupid, on its surprisingly fascinating OKTrends blog, decided to throw caution (not to mention fears of pandering to racist stereotypes) to the wind and examine the real stuff white people like… as well as the stuff that Asians, blacks, and Latinos like. They did this simply by parsing the data on all the personal ads in their system. The concept is both clever as well as a little bit stomach-turning.

One-night stands can so lead to beautiful relationships

Article: One-night stands can so lead to beautiful relationships

Before we started writing about sex, we had no idea that so many scientists and researchers spent time so much time studying our sexual proclivities. These days we have trouble thinking of anything sexual that hasn’t been qualified and quantified and written up in a science journal.

The power of teenage love

Article: The power of teenage love

We both went to high school in New Jersey (just a few towns away from each other, it turns out). During those late 80s days, Lo fell in love and had sex within a loving, committed, romantic relationship. Meanwhile, Em remained a virgin and sometimes ate her lunch in the bathroom. We both ended up excelling in high school, engaging in many extra-curricular activities, and going to well-respected universities.

Ask Men survey gives us hope, defies beer ad stereotypes…mostly

Article: Ask Men survey gives us hope, defies beer ad stereotypes…mostly

When we read that had surveyed tens of thousands of guys about everything from sex to suits, we were a little nervous. Would the results indicate that men — at least, the ones who read — exactly like the beer commercials say they are? We are pleased to report that our worst fears were not realized. Well, most of them. 46% of men said they’d dump a girlfriend if she got fat. But we’re going to look on the bright side and focus on the 54% of men who wouldn’t. Some other stats from the sex and dating portion of the survey:

When we lie online, at least we do it consistently

Article: When we lie online, at least we do it consistently

It’s not exactly breaking news that people lie like rugs in their online dating profiles. “Recent” photos are a couple years (at least) out of date; the weight someone lists is kind of like that pair of jeans they keep around, hoping they’ll fit again; and the height listed would probably be accurate if the person was standing on a box, like Tom Cruise in his wedding photos.

10 ways giving up on perfection may save your (sex) life

Article: 10 ways giving up on perfection may save your (sex) life

Recent studies show that the personality trait of perfectionism is linked to poor physical health and an increased risk of death — in particular when it’s what psychologists call “socially prescribed perfectionism,” i.e. where you feel like other people expect you to be perfect (as opposed to “self-oriented perfectionism,” when you impose the high standards on yourself — apparently not quite such a health risk). Then again, is it possible to completely separate what you think others expect of you and what you expect of yourself? Where does one end and the other begin?

Dubious sex studies of the week

Article: Dubious sex studies of the week

Okay, we know we’ve been guilty in the past of drumming up sex research into juicy, slightly misleading headlines. But we’re trying to be better people, we promise! (In our defense, who can possibly resist reporting on a study claiming that wearing socks leads to better sex?) In the meantime, here are some recent “scientific” headlines that gave us pause…

The headline: “Women Freeze Eggs to Wait for ‘Mr Right.’” The reality: This story is based on a study of fifteen women. Can you even call that a “study”? Sounds more like a girls’ night out gossip session to us.
The headline: “Shopping Is Bad for Men’s Fertility.” The reality: Trace amounts of BPA have been found in cash register receipts — and BPA is known to suppress male hormones in the body. Okay, yes, BPA is bad. But it’s bad for all of us — men, women, and especially children and babies. But “Licking Cash Register Receipts Bad for Babies” isn’t nearly as catching.

New study says fetuses don't feel pain before 24 weeks

Article: New study says fetuses don't feel pain before 24 weeks

A report by the Royal College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, which was commissioned by the UK’s Department of Health, has found that fetuses don’t feel pain before 24 weeks (and probably not after for some time) for two reasons: 1) the brain is not formed enough to perceive pain, and 2) the fetus is unconscious.

Kids of lesbian parents may fare better than their peers

Article: Kids of lesbian parents may fare better than their peers

A new study analyzing long-term data on kids from birth to adulthood just came out that suggests children of lesbian parents do better than their peers.

How to use science to improve your marriage

Article: How to use science to improve your marriage

Since the 19th century, scientists have been proving that marriage is good for your health. But as recent research has shown, it’s not as simple as tying the knot to ward off the Grim Reaper. It turns out that “it is the relationship, not the institution, that is key,” as marriage historian Stephanie Coontz tells the New York Times. Good marriages are good for your health; bad marriages, not so much. And even within happy, loving marriages, the way that you handle conflict can impact your health. In other words, you may be head over heels in love, but if you fight dirty, then you’re a cigarette habit to your partner’s heart. (Literally: One recent study showed that a stressful marriage can be as bad for the heart as a regular smoking habit.) Some other interesting tidbits from the NYT magazine article that nicely summarized the recent research in this field:

“Despite years of research suggesting that single people have poorer health than those who marry, a major study released last year concluded that single people who have never married have better health than those who married and then divorced.”
“Married people are less likely to get pneumonia, have surgery, develop cancer or have heart attacks. A group of Swedish researchers has found that being married or cohabiting at midlife is associated with a lower risk for dementia. A study of two dozen causes of death in the Netherlands found that in virtually every category, ranging from violent deaths like homicide and car accidents to certain forms of cancer, the unmarried were at far higher risk than the married.”
“The results [of a recent test] showed that the women in unhappy relationships and the women who remained emotionally hung up on their ex-husbands had decidedly weaker immune responses than the women who were in happier relationships (or were happily out of them).”

A pre-Kinsey Victorian sex survey

Article: A pre-Kinsey Victorian sex survey

photo of Clelia Mosher from the Stanford University Archives

The March/April edition of Stanford Magazine has a fascinating article on Dr. Clelia Mosher, a Victorian-Era scientist, researcher and Stanford professor who conducted the first known sex surveys of women, decades before Kinsey (who’s considered the pioneer of sex research). Even though the sample size is small and represents mostly white, middle-class, educated women, it still goes far in revealing that Victorian repression was an ideology that was pushed on women rather than a reflection of actual views or practices of the time. Below are some highlights from the piece, but the whole thing is worth a read if you’ve got the time.

Green shopping: genuine change, or just another search for status?

Article: Green shopping: genuine change, or just another search for status?

So, do you look for labels such as “recycled,” “organic,” or “biodegradable” when you shop? Many of us do… but debates still rage over the overall impact of promoting green shopping as a means to lighten our collective footprint. Some argue we should meet people where they are… and that means addressing our self-image as consumers. Others counter that such tactics only maintain a status quo based on unsustainable resource inputs, and that we should be pushing for less consumption… particularly in the developed world. Such approaches may not only improve environmental quality, but also make us happier, as we’re not consumed by the need to get and spend.

Naked News: Gender-bending chickens, homophobic hicks and gay mountain weddings

Article: Naked News: Gender-bending chickens, homophobic hicks and gay mountain weddings

In sci-fi news, NPR has a fascinating article on gender-bending chickens.
In no-duh news, research has found that better health means a better sex life, especially later in life.
In yay-gay! news, five same-sex couples were married in Mexico City last Thursday, the first such ceremonies since a law went into effect this month legalizing same-sex marriage in the Mexican capital.

How do you define "had sex"?

Article: How do you define "had sex"?

Go ahead: try to answer that question. It’s tougher than you think. Does it mean intercourse? Then how do gay people “have sex”? Does it involve penetration? Then what about those who only climax from external stimulation? Does it involve orgasm? Then what about all the women who’ve had sexual relations with a second party but never climaxed? Does oral sex count? Not since the Clinton days. Well, the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University recently studied this gray area by conducting a random, telephone survey of 204 men and 282 women, mostly hetero, living in Indiana, ranging in age from 18 to 96 — and found no consensus. The L.A. Times summarized the findings like this:

Green companies: sustainability may be in the eye of the beholder

Article: Green companies: sustainability may be in the eye of the beholder

Quickly: which company is greener? UPS or DHL? Stonyfield Farm or General Mills? Google or News Corp.? You may think all of these are no-brainers, but, in two of the three cases, your perception may not align with reality… at least in terms of action related to climate change. A new study, MapChange 2010, finds that, in many cases, there’s little alignment between real action by a company, and its “green” public perception.

Naked News: Tell-alls, sexless invertabrates & salacious dictionaries

Article: Naked News: Tell-alls, sexless invertabrates & salacious dictionaries

Not only does Jenny Sandford not stand by her man, she writes a tell-all memoir about his “hiking the Appalachian Trail” that’s due out this Friday.
One — count ‘em, one — study shows abstinence only programs may delay when kids start having sex, BUT they have no effect on condom use once kids do.

NOW can we give up abstinence-only programs?

Article: NOW can we give up abstinence-only programs?

You might have seen the headlines this week that read “Rise in Teen Pregnancy Rates.” Of course what’s missing from that title is the fact that these are not real-time figures they’re talking about. The 3% rise in teen pregnancies among 15-to-19-year-olds increased between 2005 and 2006 — the first jump since 1990. We’re sure there are multiple causes for the jump, but you cannot discount the impact of 1.5 billion dollars worth of abstinence-only programs pushed over the past 10 years, especially during the two Bush terms — programs that have been proven time and again not to work.

The 4 myths of online profile pictures

Article: The 4 myths of online profile pictures is a free online dating site (with, btw, a weirdly all-male staff, save for the one woman on their about page whose title is, even more disturbingly, “office chick”). They cataloged over 7000 photographs (with average attraction ratings and aged 18 to 32) on their site, analyzing 1) facial attitude (Is the person smiling? Staring straight ahead? Doing that flirty lip-pursing thing?), 2) photo context (Is there alcohol? Is there a pet? Is the photo outdoors? Is it in a bedroom?) and 3) skin (How much skin is the person showing? How much face? How much breasts? How much ripped abs?) — and they found some interesting, myth-busting things. It’s actually a fascinating article with cool charts and graphs that’s worth a look, but here’s the quick gist of the data:

Women with photos flirting directly at the camera get more messages than those smiling
But flirting away from the camera is the worst thing a woman can do for generating responses (same goes for men)