Monday, January 25, 2010

Webster's dictionary is too sexually explicit

This article reads like it's from the Onion, but in fact parents really do seem to have asked their school district to ban the dictionary from the school library because of its definition of "oral sex," and the district complied.

Not only that, but the school district is looking for more objectionable words in the dictionary. ' "It's hard to sit and read the dictionary, but we'll be looking to find other things of a graphic nature," district spokeswoman Betti Cadmus told the paper [the Guardian].' Just ask any 8 year old. Those "graphic" words are the first words a curious 8 year old turns to when they open any dictionary.

What do school officials think the dictionary is for? Kids don't need to look up terms that they have ample information about such as "flower" and "toe". They need to look up ideas that they do not have ready access to, such as sexual behavior, substance use, and intelligence, as a quote from a board member illustrates well:

Board member Randy Freeman, an elementary school teacher and parent to four daughters in Menifee schools... said it's "a prestigious dictionary that's used in the Riverside County spelling bee, but I also imagine there are words in there of concern."

In other words, it sounds like he's never opened a dictionary.

Friday, January 22, 2010

"Hooking up" in the medical literature

Searching pubmed for the term "hooking up" reveals the following (sex-related) articles:

First mention was in 2003 in the Journal of Sex Research, and the most interesting paper by far: "both women and men rated their peers as being more comfortable engaging in these behaviors than they rated themselves. Men expressed more comfort than did women in engaging in these behaviors, and both sexes overestimated the other gender s comfort with hooking up behaviors."

Second mention: 2007, in J Interpersonal Violence about unwanted sexual experiences while hooking up.

2008: 3 mentions.
1. Hookups more likely among extraversion and less likely among low conscientious. [Note: this puts some context behind qualitative study of Bogle that women perceived all "dateable" men as interested only in hooking up: these women may view only high extraversion and low conscientious as dateable, while the low extraversion and high conscientious may have been considered less dateable.]
2. Oral sex seems not to be regretted, just vaginal sex, and especially with a one-time-only encounter or with someone met in last 24 hours.
3. More likely among higher income, white, alcohol users; women less positive reactions.

2009: 3 mentions.
1. The first longitudinal study looking for predictors of hookups (measured in the second wave), but nothing surprising: alcohol, high school hook-ups predict college hookups. Any sex in hookups associated with psychological distress for women but not men.
2. Qualitative study: men also have feelings about casual sex, not all positive, and not all no-strings-attached.
3. Hookups may have higher than normal STI risk, and may undermine sexual self-efficacy.

Interesting to find that there are only 8 articles that turn up. Obviously casual sex is more common in the literature, but the phenomenon of "hooking up" may be more widespread or normative than past casual sex. Certainly the first paper, about students' own attitudes towards casual sex being more ambivalent than their perceptions of their peers' beliefs, may not have been true a few decades ago.

An elderly psychiatrist's theories of casual sex

A recent paper in Dec 2009 found no greater mental health problems among students who "hook up" than students who don't.

I thought of this paper while reading the sex chapter in a book by psychiatrist Frederic Flach (1927-2006) who wrote much on resilience and depression. The thing I find so refreshing about his writing is how theory-based it is. I do not know whether the theories are right, but they allow him to tell a cohesive story in a way that data-driven writing would not.

1. Adolescence is a time for identity formation. Early sex interferes with that purpose of adolescence, and prevents sex from being integrated with their full identity. Sexual pressure may translate into substance use instead of the sex that they're not prepared for.

2. It's good that sexual guilt has been removed, but guilt also had a good effect of keeping people out of sexual affairs that may hurt people's self-worth or sense of personal integrity and lead to depression, such as marital infidelity, premature sex, or degrading situations.

3. The modern era has depersonalized many aspects of life, and people may be treated as statistical objects instead of people. Alienation is not rare. Sex has also been made impersonal in some contexts, but that may be because of the general social phenomenon of depersonalization, rather than something unique to devaluing sex (as some claim).

4. Sex may also be used to alleviate general loneliness and alienation, rather than for sexual purposes, and it's not successful at that. Low self-esteem in fact makes it hard to create a good relationship with trust and love, thus further reducing self-esteem.

5. Based on theories of Erikson and Buber, it's important for sex to occur within a framework of emotional intimacy, love, trust, and sharing everyday activities and life. If the primary sexual outlet is casual sex, "the inevitable enhancement of self-esteem that results from the complete experience does not occur and a slow, progressive waning in self-worth takes place, however it may be denied. Sexual harmony is not rooted in fine technique; rather, its foundation lies in both partners generously sharing with each other their bodies and their souls." (p. 97-98).

What I like the most about this analysis is that it posits distinct theories about what will happen in dynamic way that we can't capture easily with quantitative data. Data has to be extensive in order to capture a primary sexual outlet being casual sex, the absence of love, and a decline in self-worth. Not to mention being able to define and measure love and self-worth in meaningful ways. And the existing quantitative data on casual sex doesn't come close to being able to capture this.

This analysis does imply that given the choice of sex without love or no sex at all, the latter is preferable. Alternatively, it's optimistic, rejecting the idea of love as ever impossible.

Sexual fluidity in males

An extremely rare case of sexual fluidity in males: The Day I decided to Stop Being Gay.

This anecdote is similar to the qualitative study by Lisa Diamond, published in the book Sexual Fluidity, who documented 100 lesbian/bisexual/other women who spontaneously changed sexual orientation over the course of the 10 years after they graduated college.

The theory of sexual orientation that I'm familiar with are that female sexuality is more fluid, and male sexuality is more fixed --- though neither sexuality can be made to change, but rather may change spontaneously --- but this anecdote is an example counter to the view of male sexuality as being relatively more fixed.

He says he has another friend with a similar story. Will people start speaking of "gay until straight-marriage" as they do "lesbian until graduation"? GUS (GUM?) is a better acronym than LUG anyhow.

I wonder how it will turn out for him in 10 or 20 years. I do think that any woman would justifiably hesitate to marry him.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

Next abortion restriction: must name the baby before abortion

Onion News Network: "New Law Requires Women To Name Baby, Paint Nursery Before Getting Abortion". The piece includes many other abortion law spoofs including 3 week post nursery-painting reflection period, a law that requires a woman who gets an abortion to donate a kidney, and pharmacists dispensing birth control in a blood red box with a skull on it while chanting "god have mercy on us" in Latin.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Non-useful graphical display of data: in the comics

Today's xkcd has a fantastic illustration of exactly what non-useful data display is.

Some displays of data are no more informative than the pie chart.

Friday, January 8, 2010

The 5 year pregnancy and other religious methods of dealing with deviance

One of the recurrent issues with religious restrictions on sexuality is how to deal with sexual transgressions. If a married woman's husband away has been away for 12 months, and she gives birth, how does a religion address this? The rabbis of the Talmud 1500 years ago declared that the length of pregnancy was 9 months, but birth can sometimes be delayed by 3 months, resulting in a 12 month pregnancy (Yevamot 80b). Apparently Muslim authorities made similar declarations, saying that a pregnancy can last 2, 4, or even 5 years. Likewise, I've heard of writings that a first pregnancy can be only 3 months long and yield a full-grown baby.

The source in the linked article is decrying this unscientific thinking, but it seems like the best alternative in a religious society that denies a high prevalance of transgression. Everyone knows that pregnancies are 9 months long (+/-), and much less than this will result in a small infant and much more than this is impossible, but declaring that reality fits the moral order rather than admitting the frequency of immorality is definitely more humane than calling people out on transgressions and treating them poorly. Which the editorialist seems interested in doing:

from a moral perspective, how can I provide a jurisprudential loophole for a woman who was probably promiscuous after the death of her husband and then presented her baby, conceived in sin, as a baby of her dead husband by relying on the [notion] of a hidden pregnancy or on a fatwa issued by some [cleric] or religious school? This is what happened on December 14, 1927 at a shari'a court in Mecca. The qadi... ruled that the baby was conceived by the woman's dead husband who had died five years previously.

Obviously the best option is to recognize that it's normal for healthy people to have sex, sometimes when it's against their religion's rules, and to provide a structure so that the best outcomes can prevail: sex ed, contraception, reasonable expectations. When that's not an option, a 5 year pregnancy seems like a great alternative.