And she wears this shirt and sings, "if you like to read the science, fap for me!" to the tune of "if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!"

And she wears this shirt and sings, "if you like to read the science, fap for me!" to the tune of "if you're happy and you know it, clap your hands!"

With the McCain campaign using so much anti-science speech in their campaign, I thought maybe there was a way to counter-campaign. This was the best I could come up with. Maybe we could get people to be more pro-science if they could have an orgasm every time they considered it. What do you think, huh?

Originally posted: 10-26-08

Sometimes, I’m not sure about what is wise to share about myself and what isn’t, especially since when I say things on my website or twitter or facebook, my words go out to a lot of people, many of whom I don’t even know. Hi people I know and don’t know! (Picture me, tmipussywaving wildly.) This post may become TMI. However, it is TMI about my sweet vulva, so you may or may not want to read it.

Anyway, a subject has come up in a couple places in the last three days that I’ve been tempted to really discuss, but the thing that holds me back is that I don’t like talking about certain aspects of myself. I know this may be shocking to some of you who are used to me saying pretty much anything the moment I think it, but there are a few things that I don’t talk about. This is one of those precious few things. So what has been such a big deal that I’m suddenly concerned about what people will think? Labiaplasty!

I have actually considered this surgery. When I first had the idea presented to me, though, it wasn’t at the peak of the current movement like so many others, instead, it was at my first ObGyn appointment. I was 19, I was terrified, I had never willingly shown any intimate part of my body to a man before and what is his suggestion after all of these other concerns? Surgery.

Now, my labia are not freaks. They are, however, asymmetrical and they’re larger than average. I do not have a couple of monstrous growths protruding from my crotch like some prehensile tendrils getting ready to grab you. I also have another problem that isn’t entirely related, but worthsurprise mentioning only because it has been a concern discussed alongside the possibility of labiaplasty when doctors have decided it was time, yet again, for the girlparts owner’s manual discussions that we women get to have about once a year. My girl parts aren’t exactly laid out like they should be. I have a tilted cervix (something that is a bit common) and my urethra has a minor flaw. This flaw isn’t horrific, either, except that it makes me prone to getting frequent urinary tract infections. I get those a lot. They hurt, it isn’t fun. As a result of all of this, discussions about surgery on my crotch has been a frequent theme to my doctors appointments.

Out of all the Gynecologists that have surveyed my Netherlands in my adult life, two out of five have suggested that my labia are too large. Five out of five have suggested I be attentive to my urethra and three out of five have suggested that, eventually, I will have to have reconstructive surgery on my urethra. Of course, when these conversations happen, while things are all cool and calm on the outside, in my head I’m going, “THEY’RE TALKING ABOUT PUTTING A KNIFE ON MY GIRL PARTS!!!! AHHHHH!!!!!”

So here’s a weird fact about me. My job relies heavily on what my body looks like. My job relies on my pussy! My job relies on my vulva, but, I’m extremely self conscious about it. People see my vulva on a regular basis, yet, I worry about it a lot.

This doesn’t mean that I’m unnecessarily concerned. There’s a vast difference between having a medical problem, like with my urethra, and having a vanity problem, like with my labia. That doesn’t make the problem with my labia any less of a problem, for me, though.

Let me tell a little story about something that happened as a result of my labia:

As mentioned before, my labia are not outside the realm of normal, they’re just larger than average. That happens, sometimes. Because of this, I dislike wearing underwear. The next important element of the story for you to be aware of is that I like to wear fishnets. I’ve been sporting fishnets for, oh, five or six years, now. I think they’re fun. One day, I went to a party with friends while wearing, not just any pair of fishnets, but one of my fancy pairs. These were known as threadbare fishnets. That is to say, instead of being the kind of fishnets you are used to seeing, with large, dark lines against someone’s skin, these fishnets were made of fine, stretchy threads. These threads are thinner than even the thread that I most often use in my sewing machine. The effect of these fishnets was interesting because, due to the pattern, if you looked at my legs as I stood up, my legs looked normal, but if you looked at my legs at an angle, they looked really fat. It was an odd optical illusion that entertained myself and a friend of mine for at least a little bit of time that night.

The major part of the story, though, didn’t happen until after the party. Once I got home, I was still all glammed up in my fishnets, my mini-skirt (with built-in shorts) and some shiny top. I invited my friend inside for a small chat and I, feeling like the floor was a better place for me, sat comfortably on the floor and talked and stretched my legs. Suddenly, without warning, I felt a horrible sensation on my labia, like it was simultaneously being bitten and pulled at the same time. I instantly knew what was happening. My threadbare fishnets were trying to EAT MY LABIA!.

As many of you may already know, there are two kinds of being eaten alive in this world: There’s the good kind, that some of us can’t get often enough, involving gentle play and an orgasm or two, and there is the bad kind, the kind involving woman-eating violent fishnets. I shrieked. I can’t describe what it must have sounded like, because I wasn’t really listening to myself. I also quickly stood up, which I immediately discovered was a bad move. See, when I was sitting, the fishnets were stretched out farther because my legs were spread. Thus, the gaps between the threads were larger. However, when I stood up, my legs were brought together, the gaps were smaller, which made them CLOSE around my LABIA. I’m pretty sure that my shrieking got louder, but I still wasn’t listening to myself, so I couldn’t really tell you for sure. At this point, I did the one thing that anyone might do when they’re being eaten alive by woman-eating leggings. I tore at them. Right in front of my friend, I reached under my skirt, up through the shorts leg, hooked my finger into one of the fishnet holes and ripped. Then I did it again. After a third rip, my labia was finally free and I was reduced from the shrieking-panicking victim of a fishnet attack to the whiny heap on the floor, trying not to cry. In case you must know, my friend still loves me, but she doesn’t love me enough to ban me from my fishnets.

So, not only are my labia big enough that I’ve heard doctors question them, they’re fat enough that a pair of fishnets considered them to be dinner.

This issue doesn’t stop there, though. I was just using all the previous rambling to lead up to something else. This:

Video: You Don’t Need Labiaplasty

The link for this video was posted on facebook by my friend, Heidi Anderson.* She’s had to kind of struggle with this issue and I’ve been mostly making little comments and sitting on the sidelines without jumping in with what I know because, well, it is tough to be objective when your own junk is involved, you know?

If you have the time, watch the video. I don’t want to be accused of distorting what someone said because someone misunderstands what was said. If you don’t want to watch the video, I’ll quote the important parts below so I can properly respond to them, but I’m not going to type the whole transcript to the video (that’s pretty time-consuming). All the quote boxes below are statements made in the video:

I just want you to know, you do not need labiaplasty!

Firstly, I really dislike it when total strangers tell me what I do and don’t need. How could anyone other than myself, my doctor and maybe the few guys I’ve had sex with even know if I need labiaplasty? What if my labia were so large that they were uncomfortable? They aren’t, but given the experiences that I’ve had and my one bad fishnets experience, I can totally see how other people might have problems with discomfort. Several other girls I know have shared experiences where their large labia caused hygiene issues. It wasn’t that they were unclean, it was that the extra folds of skin around their vulva creates reservoirs for fluids to collect in. Fluids collecting in a single area on our bodies for even just a couple hours can cause problems with smell, irritation and possibly an increased chance for infection.

It’s called labiaplasty. Does that sound fun?

“Copulation” sounds like some sort of bizarre surgical procedure, but I have heard lots of rumors that it is very fun. Something having a specific name doesn’t make it fun or not fun. Something being fun or not fun is also not an indication of if it is important or not.

Scar tissue forms after there’s been an incision and can be very painful when, um, you give birth and it rips.

This would be an understandable concern if a woman intends to give birth after her labiaplasty, but it is also a concern that she should discuss with her doctor. We do need to hold doctors accountable for this risk, and encourage them to make sure to mention it to their patients. If her concerns about her body still outweigh this possible consequence, then it is unreasonable to use it as a complaint against her decision to fix something she sees as wrong with her body.

All vulvas are beautiful!

Tell that to the people who are born girls but want to be boys. To them, their vulvas are a mistake. Every body may be beautiful, but we’re not always beautiful because every one of our body parts is beautiful. Sometimes, being comfortable in our own skin means making our own skin conform to the standard we set. For some, that’s as simple as putting our hair into a ponytail; for others, they may want a change that is more dramatic.

Furthermore, while I appreciate the desire to make everyone feel comfortable with their body, it is also important for people to know when something is wrong. Thus, we should probably acknowledge things that might make a vulva less than beautiful. There are many medical conditions that can affect how a vulva looks and functions. Many of these conditions will happen to most adult women. It is important to recognize beauty in ourselves, but not at the expense of possibly ignoring other important issues that women may face regarding their health. That includes women who may be more prone to infections due to some anatomical problem. Knowing this makes me very uncomfortable with the popularity of declaring that every vulva is beautiful. I’d suggest changing the theme to ‘every wanted vulva is beautiful,’ but that would defeat the purpose of the video and it feels like I’m stealing a campaign slogan from Pro-Choice rallies.

There are as many vulvas in the universe as there are stars in the sky or snowflakes in the winter.

Forgive me for being pedantic, but, no, there aren’t.

You can get Tee Corrine’s ‘Cunt Coloring Book’ …

I feel conflicted. Part of my head is wondering if there’s a penis coloring 51uyhtaz5wl_sl500_aa300_book, too, and if I can get that along with the ‘Cunt Coloring Book.” Part of my head wants this book just because it is a book full of crotch. Part of my head thinks the other parts of my head are weird and really wants to move out of this obviously crowded apartment in my skull.

The video also discussed Betty Dodson, who is worth discussing another time, but probably not really here. I dislike the use of her as a tool in this video’s discussion. Without the ability to lay out all of the facts about labiaplasty to Dodson herself and allowing her to respond, it is unfair to even mention her in this context at all. That being said, I still want to address this comment:

… rather than hide her body for the rest of her life, and rather than cut off pieces of her body, she went on a journey of self-discovery toward self-love. And it’s really important to think about that. To think about that, you know, you can either go down the road, down the road of self-hate and self-loathing, or go toward self-love.

I dislike how this part of the video implies that modifying one’s body is a statement of self-hate. If someone has a problem with their body, it doesn’t mean that they hate themselves. If I feel like I’m fat and I exercise more to fix that problem, I don’t hate myself and wanting to fix that problem isn’t a testament of hate. Likewise, if I feel like I want to decorate myself and get a tattoo, getting a tattoo doesn’t mean that I hate my body. If I have a scar on my side and I think it is ugly, getting it removed is not a statement of self-hate. If I shave my vulva and armpits, it doesn’t mean I hate myself. If my friend gets breast implants, that doesn’t mean she hates herself. If someone gets their labia reduced in size, this doesn’t mean that they hate themselves. All of these examples are people’s way of improving themselves. Just because other people don’t approve, doesn’t mean that these people hate themselves. Saying that it is about self-hate is a destructive statement! If you’re concerned that people hate themselves, why would you make a statement that might make them feel guilty for changing themselves? That’s absurd! To me, these statements are hurtful to my peers and, if I choose to change myself, to me as well. I can understand the body-positive theme, but I can only identify with it if it truly is a body-positive theme, not if it is a body-positive theme that is exclusive because people don’t like a certain type of modification.

You know, a lot of the time, when we think about where have we seen images of women’s vulvas, it’s pretty much only in either doctored, digital images, that have been altered or photoshopped, or, it might be pornography. And, the people that are in pornography, they may be beautiful, but they’re selected for framing a certain, stereotypical look, of a very young, pre-pubescent vulva.

If your video isn’t already enough to scare people into thinking like you do, the good old pedophile scare will surely do the trick! No, mainstream porn is not trying to frame a pre-pubescent vulva. Being in the adult entertainment industry, this is one of the most irritating claims that we have to deal with. People don’t want my vulva because it looks like a child’s. People want my vulva because 1) it is attached to me and 2) it happens to be a vulva. Furthermore, do you know what vulvas in mainstream porn look like? Anatomical drawings of vulvas! That’s right, just head on over to your Gynecologist’s office and ask to see their anatomical posters. You know what you’ll find? The same thing that you find in porn. I’m pretty sure doctors aren’t trying to portray pre-pubescent vulvas, either. There isn’t really isn’t evidence for the pre-pubescent claim about porn (and shaving, since that’s usually where you see the pre-pubescent claims made, in discussions about shaving), it was just something that someone said and everyone who had a complaint against porn latched onto it and didn’t let go. It wasn’t bad enough to shame people for considering modifying their bodies, must we also make people feel guilty over porn because someone said the porn stars are intended to look like children? And what about women who really do, just by nature of how genetics work, have vulvas that look young, is it really necessary to make them feel uncomfortable? Isn’t it just as bad to make someone feel guilty for that as it is to make someone feel guilty for having large labia or some other variation in their snatch?

There are all different kinds of vulvas, …

This is true, and I’m not going to argue against that. It is true that people shouldn’t worry if their vulva doesn’t match what they see in porn. Their vulva should have the same basic parts as they might see on a poster in a doctor’s office, but they also shouldn’t worry if their proportions are not the same, unless the level of disproportion is causing a problem.

Complaining about your labia being too big is kind of like complaining that your dick’s too big.

This is completely untrue. Not only do labia and penises have completely different functions, a penis that is too big is not considered ‘ugly.’ The video was intended to make women feel more comfortable with their vulva (though, I don’t like the approach), even if it didn’t match a standard of beauty because someone, somewhere, decided that large labia are ugly and because some people seem to think that’s the only reason possible for a labiaplasty. Furthermore, if a penis is too big, there’s not much of a solution that doesn’t make it dysfunctional. If labia really are too big and someone rationally decides they need to have their labia reduced in size, then there are options for them that a person with a large penis doesn’t have.

I think that consumer culture makes a lot of money off of telling us that there are things that we can buy that will make us feel better about ourselves.

Making money off of something doesn’t make it innately evil. Also, there are things we can buy that make us feel better about ourselves. The wisdom in the purchase does not lie on if there is someone making money off of it or not, it is in if what we think we know about what we’re buying is really true. I feel better about myself after I take a shower with soap and water. Just because people make money off of the water for my shower and my soap, doesn’t mean that they’re bad. Of course, they’re motivated by money, but that is also not necessarily a great and evil thing, in itself. If someone makes money off of me addressing a medical issue, that, also, doesn’t mean that the person making money is evil for making money. It is only evil if I am deceived when I spend money for something that doesn’t accomplish what it claimed. That isn’t to say that greedy people don’t do evil things, that’s a whole other matter. There are greedy people who have done evil things that were made easier through capitalistic government (I say ‘capitalistic’ and not ‘capitalist’ because of the hazy nature of the definition of ‘capitalist’), this does not mean, though, that all economic decisions within a capitalistic society where decisions can be consumer-based are bad.

I feel it is important to point out that at the beginning of this video, there was a pitch for some websites. This is all well and good, but one of those sites has the specific purpose of selling things related to sex. This video, itself, is created along with the opportunity to sell things to make people feel better about themselves.

If you don’t love your body, that’s ok, but, you’re not going to love it any more if you start cutting pieces of it off.

This is not necessarily true. In reality, how happy someone is with the outcome of any procedure has more to do with their reasoning for the procedure and surrounding conditions. Studies on breast augmentation patients have shown a more positive attitude about their breasts post-surgery (the part that mentions the post-op breast attitudes is about half way down the page, most of the article highlights other issues with cosmetic surgery, which affects this discussion in both directions). The same study says that about half of those women still show signs of being aware of how their breasts look (as in, they still check themselves in the mirror and try to enhance the look of their breasts using their clothes), but the study doesn’t compare that number to behaviors of the general population (I wonder how many people who have tattoos check out how their tats look in the mirror). However, another study showed that people who have Body Dysmorphic Disorder don’t often have an improved body image when they undergo cosmetic surgery. Sadly, people have taken this study and related studies and ran with them, not recognizing that Body Dysmorphic Disorder only accounts for a certain percentage of cosmetic surgery patients. In other words, applying the results of that study to the general public is not just absurd, it is bad science. When we turn this issue over and look at it from the other side, we find this study, which shows us that body image issues have little influence on decisions about plastic surgery. In other words, people’s reasons for getting cosmetic surgeries are not because they hate themselves, somehow. There still needs to be more study in this area, but what we have so far seems to say that it is quite possible that cosmetic surgery can and does make some people feel better about their bodies, but that it might not have a positive effect on people who have severe body image issues related to conditions like Body Dysmorphic Disorder (and they don’t make up the largest portion of people obtaining cosmetic surgery).

There are major, major risks.

I will note that while the video says that, they only highlight one major risk that isn’t a concern for other cosmetic procedures. The risk they mention, the scar tissue, is only a concern if the woman gives birth to a child and it can be addressed easily through doctor-patient communication.**

At the 6:48 point in the video, there is the most awesome part of this video, ever. If that section was all that this video contained, I would think it was wonderful. I love that woman simply because she transformed from being all about one concern (that she needed more information about) to focusing on what really is a more important thing for women and that is open and honest and consensual sexual behavior. I don’t want to type out the transcript here because I really want you to go watch it. She lists a bunch of things that you can do with a vulva.

Nobody should make money off of your fears and self-hate.

That really depends on what your fears are about. Making money off of your self-hate would be a concern, but I already addressed the problem with equating labiaplasty with self-hate and I still think people should be ashamed of creating that association. Fears, though? There are entirely healthy reasons to spend money on protecting yourself from things you’re afraid of. In reality, that is something we should examine on a case by case basis. If I’m afraid of dying because I’m at risk for diabetes, it is entirely reasonable for me to spend money on things that will help me keep my body under control as long as I’m making sound, informed decisions. It is totally healthy, too, for me to buy condoms if I’m concerned about getting pregnant or a disease. There are fears that we should address and it is not immoral for others to make some money off of those fears if they’re offering me a way to avoid the thing I’m afraid of. Sometimes, those fears may be related to body image. It is wrong to demonize that and, as a result, risk excluding those who may make choices that are incongruent with some standard for decisions that someone sets because they dislike that people have an option for changing their body through surgery.

If there’s someone in your life who’s asking you to do this, you really need to consider what their role in your life is, because, they’re asking you to put your body at risk to have less sensitivity in one of your most sensitive areas. And, really, are they loving you for who you are? If they ask you to do this to cut off your labia, what else are they gonna ask you to do? When will it end?

Hello, slippery slope fallacy!

If someone is suggesting this surgery to a friend or loved one, it seems more rational to consider why the surgery is being suggested. When the surgery has been suggested to me, for example, it was because the doctors were concerned about discomfort. In reality, when considering a procedure like this, it is the health of the vulva and person as a whole that needs to be examined. Just because someone mentions this surgery doesn’t mean that they lack consideration for how sensitive you are for sex, sometimes there are other concerns that are worth considering. Also, I’ve looked pretty hard and not found a single study that has stated that other people are a major influence for this surgery other than a few that mention that girls who opt for this surgery are more frequently uncomfortable showing their vulva to their partner. I show off my vulva for part of my living and *I’m* uncomfortable showing my vulva to my partner (when I have one). That isn’t uncommon and that doesn’t mean that my partner or anyone else’s partner is pimping out this surgery to vulnerable women around the world. I’m not sure I understand why this part of the video commentary was included.

The risk of loss of sensation is not an entirely wrong thing to discuss. Sometimes, though, too much sensitivity in an area really can be a bad thing. Labia being sensitive was why getting mine pinched in my fishnets was so painful. It was a funny moment, in retrospect, but certainly not enjoyable. If someone’s labia are causing them discomfort, it is certainly the case that they should feel free to consider the cost and benefit of this procedure. It should be completely acceptable for them to weigh out the possibilities and some women are probably going to prefer losing some of their sensation so they’re not uncomfortable all the time because their labia gets caught in their jeans or something. Also, it isn’t as if they are completely cutting out all the nerve endings that they have in their vulva. I think that if we’re going to discuss and consider this procedure, it should be clear to the patient as well as the doctor what is gained and what is lost. Are they going to lose orgasms to this procedure? That’s unlikely unless the labia were their primary means of obtaining orgasm. Will they lose sensation? Yes, they probably will. Is it worth losing that sensation to make them more comfortable in some other way? That’s up to the patient to consider, not for everyone to campaign against and demonize.

I have no intention of getting a labiaplasty anytime soon. They’re expensive and I can tell by my own work that my labia function just fine. After 13 years, my urethra is in basically the same condition, so it doesn’t look like that will be operated on anytime soon, either. For now, my vulva is safe. If I decide that I want to change that someday, though, it will certainly be an informed decision and I hope that anyone else considering labiaplasty or any other medical decision, will also make sure that their decisions are well-informed and suitable for their own situation.


I <3 my vulva.

*Heidi Anderson is the writer of The Fat One in the Middle and the internet mom of She Thought.

**Also note: I tried to find a plastic surgeon to ask a related question about solving this problem. Because different types of scars produce different mobility in the affected regions, I have to wonder if the cut and closure type could be altered in this procedure in order to make the affected region stretchier. Would it be possible to create a wavy incision (and, thus, closure) that could allow for more flexibility in the labia after the procedure? In my head, it would work almost like creating a curved cut and zig-zag stitch on stretchy fabric to keep from losing the fabric’s flexibility. I could be wrong, though, so I would really, really, really like some input from a cosmetic surgeon on this.

notwhattheypngDebates surrounding the emergency contraceptives have existed since the dawn of the technologies that have led to Emergency Contraceptives and professionally issued abortifacient. With the FDA’s approval of Ella One, or ulipristal acetate, the debate is back in full force and myths about Emergency Contraceptives abound and are so common that even the mainstream media has the most important facts about them all wrong.

In order to correct the errors, though, people need to understand a few things about common emergency contraceptives. First, it is important to know that abortifacients and emergency contraceptives are not always the same thing. While some emergency contraceptives can be used as an abortifacient, most emergency contraceptives are intended to prevent pregnancy altogether. They’re a kind of last line of protection when other forms of protection have failed. They aren’t intended for the abortion of an existing pregnancy.

Why does this confusion exist? Well, mostly because the most famous of emergency contraceptives, RU 486, also known as mifepristone, is used as an abortifacient in the US, but is not allowed for use, by the FDA, as an emergency contraceptive as it is used elsewhere. The side-effects of RU 486 are harsh compared to other drugs and on very rare occasions, can be dangerous and have contributed to people viewing it negatively. The varying uses of the drug around the globe have led to people confusing other drug uses with that of RU 486, leading to the common assumption that emergency contraceptives can be used interchangeably as abortifacients. The problem is reinforced by a few cases where severe reactions to the drug have led to injury and a few deaths. These deaths have increased tension over debates about the drug, even in instances where it was lack of post-treatment that led to the deaths. The debate over RU 486 is important within the reproductive rights movement today and should not be ignored. However, it also should not become a part of the issues related to emergency contraceptives.

Aside from the confusion over terms related to emergency contraceptives, there is also a general misunderstanding about emergency contraceptives, how they function and their effectiveness. So, how do they work? Well, each one works differently:

Levonorgestrel, known as Plan B in oral form, uses progestin to prevent pregnancy. Sometimes it is combined with an estrogen regimen in order to improve effectiveness. Plan B can be used as late as 120 hours after sex in order to prevent pregnancy, even though the recommendation is commonly said to be 48-72 hours. This difference in suggested time frame has to do with the effectiveness of the contraceptive over time. Just as with any emergency contraceptive, the sooner it is used, the more likely it is to be effective and the most effective time frame for the use of this method is within 72 hours, though it still can be used up to 120 hours after sex. Levonorgestrel is also used on the Mirena intrauterine system as a contraceptive/emergency contraceptive. The side effects for Levonorgestrel are unpleasant, including flu-like symptoms, irregular menstruation and breast soreness.

When combined with estrogen, Plan B is called the Yuzpe regime. Like with Plan B alone, the most effective time frame to use this method is within 72 hours. Studies have shown that progestin-only methods are far more effective than this regime and so it is less common for the Yuzpe regime to be used. Neither Plan B or the Yuzpe regime is effective in terminating established pregnancies. The side-effects of this regime are the same as with Plan B.

When used as a contraceptive, the aforementioned controversial drug, Mifepristone, prevents ovulation and implantation. Working to inhibit the effects of progesterone has led to it being useful in the treatment of various related medical conditions, like endometriosis, uterine fibroid tumors, and other medical conditions. If the drug is used after implantation, it is considered an abortifacient. Unlike the other methods, RU 486 has a lot of very unpleasant side-effects. These side effects have contributed to intensifying the debate around the use of the drug, even though reductions in dosage reduce the side effects when it is used as an emergency contraceptive. The range and severity of side effects have contributed so much to the stigma attached to the drug that it often overshadows the most common purpose of the drug in debates, even though studies on many of the effects are limited. Alongside the flu-like symptoms the other drugs also have, RU 486 also causes abdominal pain, excessive cramping, excessive bleeding, incomplete termination of pregnancy and pelvic inflammatory disease. These other side-effects are not necessarily common, but have frequently been highlighted in the news and in the campaign against the drug being used.

The newly approved drug, EllaOne, is about as effective as other emergency contraceptives. EllaOne, though, does not actually contain progesterone, but, instead, inhibits progesterone’s effect on the system. Unlike other emergency contraceptives, EllaOne’s side effects are limited. Side effects include abdominal pain and bleeding.

In all of this, another point should be clarified about the use of emergency contraceptives. Many people seem to think, and this is reinforced in the news, that the effectiveness rating of an emergency contraceptive is in relation to the use of the drug. this is not the case. Unlike with other drugs, when they are tested to see if the drug improves a medical situation or not, emergency contraceptives are a preventative drug. As a result, the effectiveness of the drug is measured like other prevention practices. We know what the rate of pregnancy is with unprotected sex, overall. Using that, we then compare the rate of pregnancy with the use of the emergency contraceptive to the rate of pregnancy without contraceptives. This gives us information on how effective a drug is in preventing pregnancy.

When it comes to reproductive choices, contraceptives play a very important role in women’s lives. It is important to understand what we are doing to our bodies when we use a particular birth control method and exactly what the terms people use mean when we hear about the debates that are related to reproduction. Women need to study their bodies and their options and even if they have no intention of ever getting pregnant, it is very helpful to understand the entire menstrual cycle as well as early stages of pregnancy so that you know what is going on with your body when you make reproductive choices.

Yesterday, Heidi Anderson posted a link to this interview on her facebook:

Hijab, Niqab and Nothing

She commented that she was glad to hear their points of view, and I completely agree. It is important for us to see what is going on with some of these issues and that we are careful when we address them, so that we’re not stomping on the rights of others. I feel it is important, also, to address some of what was discussed in this interview, too, because there were opposing viewpoints and we need to analyze them so we can best form our ideas on how they relate to what is going on in the world. Right now, parts of Europe and Canada are dealing with political issues related to women wearing veils, with many people pressuring the government to make laws regarding things that cover the face. While the proposed laws are not specific, necessarily, to the nijab and hijab, it has been very clear throughout this movement that the purpose was to remove the veil from Muslim women. In order to offer the best insights and criticism that I can, I have transcribed the entire interview and included it in my response in the quote boxes. This allows you to see the context of what I am responding to.

From CBC television

Sumayyah: My name is Sumayyah Hussein, I’m 24 years old. I started wearing a hijab when I was a child, I can’t really remember when. And, uh, I wear it because I believe it is something that my creator wants for me and I also believe it is a benefit to myself.

Sonia: My name is Sonya Khan, I’m 32. I am originally from Botswana (?) and I don’t wear a nijab or a hijab.

Sheikha: Hello, my name is Sheikha El-Kathiri, I am 20 years old. I have been wearing the niqab for one year and I do it to please my creator and as part of completing my faith.

Throughout this post, I’m going to try not to address the religious aspect of this unless I feel it is important to the overall issue. I’m pretty open about being an atheist, so I naturally am going to disagree with their use of a headpiece in order to please a deity that I don’t think exists. Regardless, it is their right to do so and I will defend their right to do so as passionately as I would fight for my rights not to. Freedom is a two-way street and I don’t really mind if there’s a Ferrari or two going one way as I drive my Nash Rambler the other way. As long as they’re not running people over, we can share the road.

Reporter: Now, let me ask you, straight up, what most people would want to know is, why do you feel it’s necessary to hide your face?

Sheikha: By covering my face I’m honoring myself and I’m presenting myself to the world um, as a sum of my character, as a sum of my personality, my contribution toward society, and, um, it’s just a little bit that I’m doing to enable me to go through this pass, eh, path of spiritual discovery. And it’s something that I really feel glad and happy and I feel so wonderful for having done it. And it’s just a spiritual choice.

I can identify with this. Feeling wonderful is precisely why I do the things that I do as well.

Reporter: Why do you feel ‘wonderful’ for having done it?

Sheikha: It just exemplifies the fact that I’m an honored muslim woman, I am an honorable woman who has her own opinions, she has her own voice, I have my own personality, I have my character, I have everything that’s wonderful about me, the way I contribute to society, and, um, my beauty is a wonderful part of me, as well, but I don’t feel that I have to display it all for the world.

I think that we along with our peers decide if we are honorable or not. If I feel like I am an honorable person because I remembered to buy my friend a soda when I promised, then that’s good for me. This isn’t to say that we can’t mislabel ourselves as honorable, that does, apparently, happen. Many horrible people in history have considered themselves to be honorable when they were absolutely evil people. However, those examples don’t really take away from people who give themselves the label for other reasons. So, wearing her veil is a way that she tells the world that she is honorable. As long as her other actions are consistent, I have no problem with this.

I remember when I was growing up and we had to maintain a certain level of modesty because of our religion. I truly felt that if what I had been taught were true, then I was a better person for covering myself up. I did want to fit in with my peers, but I didn’t, because I wanted to be the best person I could be. I was sad when I discovered that what I once thought were true could not possibly be. I think the experience, though, allows me to understand where women come from when they adhere to dress codes brought about by religious ideas.

I think it is important that Sheikha’s perspective be shared with the world in a way that they understand, though, because I’m pretty sure most people don’t. You know how people chastise women for showing too much? In our culture, even now, we hold each other to a certain standard regarding our dress. We claim that showing one’s vulva is an act of intimacy that should only be done with certain people and that the more people we show our vulva to, the less of a person we are. It is a very silly thing to think, objectively, but people don’t really look at these things objectively. Furthermore, many women shy away from showing their bodies off. Many women refuse to show cleavage, even, much less breasts and vulva, because they’re simply not comfortable and they want to reserve those parts of themselves for someone more specific. Sheikha’s line of thinking is really not that much different, she’s just included more body parts.

Reporter: Is that the function of the hijab, when you wear it?

Sumayyah: It’s basically a message that says that ‘I would like you to judge me based on who I am and what I do and it’s not based on you know, the way, the way I look.’ And, uh, it’s, I mean people may not like that, but, it is a fact that men and women are perceived differently.

Sheikha and Sumayyah, I felt, were the ones with the best points to make in this discussion. If this is really their message with their attire, there is very little to even complain about.

I will say that I think this approach to addressing the problem of judgment is not very helpful. If my goal is to change the way people think about me, to get people to measure me by acts and not just looks, would it not be more helpful to help them learn to look past looks instead of hiding from them? That is my way of dealing with the same problem, but I can see how other people may take a different approach.

Sheikha: If I wasn’t wearing the veil, for example, to me, a-a-a, a man coming up to me and just chatting me up, ah, might be normal, but to me, I might not like that.

Out of all the reasons I have ever seen for someone covering themselves up, not wanting someone to talk to you has probably got to be the most rational. It probably helps, to an extent. I would guess that, given male sexual response patterns, some men will still get chatty and the veil isn’t going to stop them. I hope there is a back up plan for this girl.

Reporter: I’m interested in the concept of, of, it’s, it’s to make men behave better toward you. Is that what I’m hearing?

Sheikha: My covering does not exempt a man from his responsibility, as a man, to behave himself, as you say; to conduct himself in a morally befitting manner. Just because I cover myself doesn’t mean I’m doing it to make his job easier.

I like how, in the interview, the emotions of this woman are so effectively conveyed through what she says and her tone. The veil is there, but her communication is more effective at this moment than at any other time. She is entirely right, of course. Oftentimes, the veil is defended as something that is used to keep men at bay, but it is clear that none of these women feel that this is the case. I can also see how such an accusation would be harmful to women, overall. It is just as bad to consider that the niqab and hijab are factors with a relationship to sexual crime and aggression from men as it is to consider scantily clad women to be a factor with the same relationship. Just as a woman dressed in a bikini is not asking for someone to violate them, a hijab or niqab isn’t a man’s sexual babysitter.

Reporter: Let me put to you what Jack Straw actually said, he said, “Communities are bound together partly by informal chance meetings between strangers, people being able to acknowledge each other in the street or being able to pass the time of day together. That’s made more difficult if people are wearing a veil, that’s just a fact of life.”

I think the only thing that can be concluded from this is that Jack Straw is socially inept. People are very good at communication, in a variety of ways. We use body language and posture, tone of voice and word choices. If communication is restricted in one way, we are able to compensate. If Mr. Straw has a problem with communication in this context, he’s the one who needs to worry about coping.

Sheikha: Uh, I don’t agree with that, at all. I don’t feel that just because I cover my face, why is that a barrier for you to treat me as a human being? To, uh, relate to me as a human being, as somebody with opinions, with personality, with things that they can bring to the table?

I like Sheikha. I think her statement here applies universally. It doesn’t matter what you wear, your attire should not be a barrier to other people treating you like a human being. There is no reason for people to be treated poorly based on what they do or do not put on their faces or their bodies.

Sumayyah: You know, Muslim women who, who choose to dress this way, do that because they feel, you know, cover this way, first of all, because they believe that God wants that of them and they believe that God is, God knows better for them than they know.

Sonya: Does it say in the Quran that you’re suppsoed to wear a hijab? I, I don’t think …

Samayyah [talking over Sonya]: Yes, it does, it does, it does, she just read it.

Sonia: … it says, directly, you have to wear a hijab. I don’t think that is a clear statement or understanding but a lot of, uh, I think philosophers of Islam, Scholars, are saying, ‘this is exactly what you need to wear.’ There is no clear understanding on that matter. So, …

Samayyah [talking over Sonya]: I think there is a clear understanding, there’s a very clear understanding.

Sonia: if you rethink, there’s literally? You’ll read all scholars saying the same thing? I disagree.

Samayyah: No, I didn’t say that, I didn’t say that …

Sonia: A lot of scholars will say dress [unintelligible].

Samayyah: … but there is, there is, there is a majority and a minority.

I’m happy that, for all of the editing, this little exchange was left in the interview. Religions have a tendency to evolve and change within a culture, as does the interpretation of religious doctrine. I dislike that someone feels that they can’t know what is best for themselves or themselves in relation to those around them, I think that concept is a hindrance to human development. My opinion, though, shouldn’t matter to the bigger issue. Instead, each of these women’s rights is far more important than my stance on how they get there.

Reporter: But the face can be open, there’s nothing wrong with that?

Samayyah: The face is not necessary.

Reporter: Do you believe that?

Sheikha: Um, yeah, I wasn’t wearing it before and now I am. Um, other peep, there are people who do believe that the face is obligatory. But, I think that, it’s their choice, in the end.

Reporter: Sonia, what do you think the message is when you see a veiled woman.

Sonia: [unintelligible] question. OK, I’m living in Canada, I’m wearing a hijab, I’m covering up my face. Am I going to be someone who will bring people together, Jews, Christians, Muslims? I don’t think so. Am I going to be the one who will be a philosopher bringing new ideas to the table, actually getting people to get involved in the community? I think you’ll create more barriers. It’s not you, it’s them. It’s, as in, the people around you. Their stereotypes, their perceived notions. All I’m saying is, as a Muslim, you’re a missionary at heart. You’re supposed to actually attract people towards you, not repel them.

I know many people will disagree with me, but I dislike Sonia’s take on this. If someone else sees the hijab as a barrier and doesn’t think these women can contribute to society, then they are the ones with the problem that needs fixed. Sheikha has already shown that she can speak intelligently about her beliefs, no matter how others feel about them. I may disagree, but I can at least see that, based on what she has said here, she’s not likely to use her beliefs to interfere with others. I’m one-fucking-hundred percent cool with that.

Reporter: Well, let me bring this to you, and this is the English translation, not the Quran, “Tell the faithful women to lower their gaze and guard their private parts and not display their beauty except what is apparent of it and to extend their scarf to cover their bosom.” Is that, are you not being faithful to the Quran?

Sonia [interrupting]: Yes, It does not say to cover any particular part except for the bosom. So, I think it is about the humility of it and there’s no, um, kind of implication of what, exactly, what [unintelligible] do you need to wear. We need to integrate, we need to assimilate, and we need to be able to move from one culture to the other without looking like something out of a different era.

The world would be a terribly boring place if we were all the same. I don’t want to see Muslim women get rid of their veils because they want to assimilate or because the law tells them to. If Muslim women get rid of their veils, I want it to be because they have reached rational conclusions about their faith and their world that lets them feel free to uncover their face and exist, without guilt, free of a veil. If they feel that their freedom is best exercised with a veil, then let them have it. What matters most is not that they look like everyone else.

Sheikha: I don’t think it creates any barriers. I don’t think you have to assimilate in all ways, I think you should assimilate in, in um, the basic human ways of goodness and helping others, but you shouldn’t have to assimilate in your dress because, what is dress? It’s just superficial.

I only partly agree with Sheikha, here. Dress is superficial, yes. We are the same person no matter if we are wearing clothes or not. However, our clothes are a way in which we tell the world about ourselves. Our clothes are an expression. Just as her clothes are her way of telling the world she is “an honored Muslim woman,” my clothes are my way of telling the world that I’m … I’m … eh … not like most other people.

Sonia [interrupting]: No, it’s not. People always percieve you by what you wear. No one, I’m not talking about your communication, for example, if I’m non-muslim, I will judge you, I will put a label on you, and I’ll walk away because how …

Sumayyah [interrupting]: How’s that, how’s that our fault, though?

Sonia: It’s not your fault, but I think the world has changed and as a Muslim, you need to represent Islam as an encompassing thing, not an exclusionary thing. You’re excluding people, in your world.

I want to like Sonia, but I’ve got such mixed feelings about her. I think her intentions are good, but her reasoning is bad and leads to poor conclusions. What we wear does not make us exclude people. If I put a bow on my head, if I wear fishnets, if I dress in a manner that is not congruent with the modest world, I’m not excluding people. If I do those things, though, others may avoid me. It is they who are being exclusive. The same goes for when Sheikha wears her veil. She’s not the one who is excluding people by wearing her veil. It is those who have been conditioned to see her as an outsider who are being exclusive. It is not Sheikha’s responsibility to compensate for those people. She can, however, be an example to them and teach them that her veil is not what represents her, as a person. It is simply one thing she uses to express herself.

Reporter: Sumayyah, you want to say something to that?

Sumayyah: I think you need to give people a little bit more credit, like, people are really, they’re not that stupid. Like, I mean …

Reporter: You mean the public at large?

Sumayyah: Yeah, just because someone is covered up a certain way, it doesn’t mean that everyone is going to see them as someone that is completely weird.

Reporter: But is there discomfort, can you feel discomfort from people who are not Muslim, who don’t understand?

Sumayyah: If I meet someone who doesn’t know anything at all about Islam, and has no stereotypes, they’re going to be very friendly with me. It’s the baggage and it’s the stereotypes that make people, you know, defensive and prejudiced and so on. I know people are walking, looking at me, don’t agree with me, that’s totally acceptable.

Reporter: How do you know?

Sumayyah: I know, because I know, that the, the way that they look at me.

Reporter: How do they look at you?

Sumayyah: OK, there are a few people who give dirty looks and stuff like that, I’m used to it. Most people are just, they’re just curious, they don’t know, you know, which is fine, too, I wish they would come ask me, I would love to explain it.

I think that Sumayyah’s suggestion is a good idea. Open communication between two groups, without conflict, is a great way for the two groups to learn from each other. I would imagine that as long as people weren’t trying to strip Sumayyah of her identity, she’s be happy to help break down barriers that exist between her and others. The same goes for whoever she’s interacting with. We often miss out on helping people better themselves by trying to break down the parts of them that we choose. Instead of working toward peace, itself, we bypass that goal and aim for the things people most closely identify themselves with. I may not like the principals taught by Sumayyah’s religion, but I can appreciate that she wants to break down barriers and wants peace. Peace is a great goal to have.

Reporter: Essentially, what Jack Straw was saying, and a lot of people are saying, now, you know, ‘how can I trust you, how can I get a feel for what you’re saying, if I can’t see the entirity of your face?’

Sheikha: Well, let me ask you a question, how do you get a feel for what somebody’s saying when you talk to them on the phone? And we use telephones, like, constantly nowadays, people use the internet.

Sheikha said this perfectly. I have nothing more to add. Neither does the reporter.

Reporter: Do you believe you’re equal to a man?

This question kinda came out of nowhere. Earlier, there were related questions about the behavior of men toward women. The reporter seems to be scratching at equal rights issues and trying to tie them to the issue of the veil. I think this misses the point. If you want to talk about Muslims and Women’s rights issues, you need to talk to the women dealing with the actual Women’s rights issues. If these women don’t feel they’re facing those issues, there’s no point in confronting them over it, especially since they were there to talk about their veil.

Sheikha: Oh, the thing is that, I do believe I’m equal to, to a man.

Sonia [interrupting]: Why don’t men wear the same, kind of, equivalent? If men are equal to women …

This is a fantastic question. I really wish they had put it in a more appropriate place or if it were asked in a less confrontational manner. How about, what is the purpose of the attire that women are asked to wear and men are asked to wear? There are some obvious responses that can be given to this question, as well. Compare this question to why women have to wear shirts, in most western cultures, and men do not. Why is that? Until we have perfected our justification, we’re just being hypocrites by using that as a weapon. Yes, women and men are treated differently in what they have to wear based on instruction by their religion. Sadly, Western society also treats men and women differently based on what society says we can wear. Part of that is due to sexual signaling in breasts. We can’t help that, though, and women’s lips are also a source of mild sexual signaling when they become redder during arousal and we don’t cover them. That being said, these differences in how women are treated are very likely a symptom of a greater problem, and not the problem itself.

Reporter [interrupting]: Why is that? What does, why do you think that is that men are not required, presumably, God, we can all agree on this, God made all of us. He made your face, my face, a man’s face. Why would he require a woman to cover some aspect of herself and not a man?

I’m guessing that the reporter is guilty of compartmentalization. She doesn’t connect the issue she’s addressing with the one that already exists and affects her own clothing choices. Sumayyah gives a good, relevant response:

Sumayyah: Covering yourself is, is something that’s natural to us, we cover parts of ourself that we think is not for public consumption. And if people differ on what that modesty is, I that’s totally fine and honest about you and I don’t have a problem with it. And, the issue with equality and dress, I mean, men, men also have their, their own, their own dress code that they, they can’t just, they can’t just you know, walk around wearing whatever they want.

Reporter: So, if Jack Straw, were, if you were in his office, and he said, “Would you mind removing the veil so I could talk to you, in the presence of another woman?” What would you, what would you say?

Sheikha: I would say, ‘I do mind, why does it bother you, that I have to remove it in front of you. Can’t you communicate with me as a normal human being? I don’t think that, um, the fact that I’m wearing a veil prevents you from communicating with me, as a normal human being, in a normal way. Um, and, I don’t see why you have to, um, get me to do this thing, to take off my veil. Perhaps, from you, it’s something you feel strongly about you, you want me to do it for your comfort, your own benefit. But, I don’t think it really is bothering you, I don’t think it is. And it definately doesn’t bother me.

It is perhaps a little unfair for her to claim it doesn’t really bother Straw. I think it probably does bother him. However, if this encounter with straw really did happen, it would be Jack Straw’s issue to deal with, not Sheikha’s. Jack has no right to interfere with other people when he’s simply uncomfortable.

Reporter: Sonia, your last word, what do you think about the issue of veils and when someone is fully veiled?

Sonia: I think it’s, it’s, time to question things in life, it’s time to think of ourselves, not as ‘me,’ but as a community based on our responsibility as Muslims in the Western world. I think we need to just be more responsible, to actually improve the image of Islam and be more integrated.

I can agree with everything that she said with the exception of the very last part. Muslims don’t need to integrate to make themselves better or to make the image of themselves better. Stressing peace, love and charity to others in whatever garb they happen to feel comfortable in would help us all tremendously. I can’t imagine it would be easy to be a peaceful person from a religion who is the most readily associated with the most violent religious act in recent history. That’s a tough image to change. It also doesn’t help that, even now, their peers in their own religion are threatening people’s lives over things as simple as drawings. In order to counteract that problem, we need to see lots more Muslims openly representing peace and fighting against their fellow Muslims who are advocates of violence and we need those Muslims to be much, much louder than their violent peers.

I should admit, here, that I dislike dogmatic religions, that makes writing this response much harder than it might otherwise have been. I would not shed a tear if Islam itself faded away into the ether. That, however, doesn’t mean that the followers of Islam will leave religion entirely or that they will give up damaging dogma. Dogma that harms us doesn’t have to be from religion and religions have a terrible habit of replacing each other. Thus, I admit here, my bias may be my disability in viewing these issues.

Reporter: Sumayyah, what do you think?

Sumayyah: Frankly, I think it’s ridiculous to say that people have a bad image of Islam because of the way that people look, because someone has a long beard or someone’s covering her head, or even her face.

I find myself rooting more for Sheikha and Sumayyah during this interview than for Sonia. I agree with Sumayyah, here, it is ridiculous. Sadly, some people do have a bad image of Islam because of the way people look. To blame Islam for that, though, is pretty ignorant. I can’t blame my neighbor for me seeing them differently for them wearing long, polyester leisure suits while I like to wear short skirts and fishnets anymore than society should blame Islam for us being biased against the veil.

Reporter: And that stereotypical connection may come up in what you’re wearing?

Sumayyah: Exactly, but the fact that, the fact that there’s a stereotype doesn’t mean that I have to give up what I believe. If I believe something is right, I’m gonna do it. You know, I think that people need to accept the fact that people differ, you know, their opinions are different. They’re going to believe different things, they’re gonna think that, you know, something is better for me, or, you know, another person will disagree. I mean, honestly, I don’t see what the big deal is.

I think it is important to note, here, that having different beliefs are fine as long as those beliefs aren’t causing someone to behave in a way that harms others. I agree that people need to accept the differences between themselves and others. However, sometimes those differences really are harmful. When those differences are harmful, that’s when we can step in and criticize and try to do something about it. For example, I like that there is a movement to defend Freedom of Speech against Muslims who want to silence those who draw figures of Muhummad. That defense is important, regardless of if others are offended. At the same time, I’m also glad that this interview has been done so that Muslim women can defend their right to wear the veil in a society that threatens to ban them from wearing it in many situations. Each fight is equally important and it is differing belief systems that have created the need for them.

Sheikha: My priorities, in life, are different than someone else because my priority is spiritual first and foremost. And also, um, when I cover, my, I-I’m perfectly, uh, fine with myself, like I, I’m not ashamed of myself. I have very high self-esteem, and I’m fine with the way I look, I’m fine with my body, and, um, I just think that if I’m fine with it, then, everyone else shouldn’t feel badly towards me. I understand your concern, and I’m very, um, you know, I thank you for your concern, if anybody is concerned, but I’m fine.

Reporter: I want to thank you all, very much, for coming in and talking, and I’m sure you’re all very anxious to break the fast, today, and go eat.

Yeah, I want chocolate.

When I asked on both facebook and twitter what people wanted to see me write, yesterday, there was one joke about a sci-fi story and the rest of the responses were all requests to address the Nature vs. Nurture debate on how it relates to Human Sexuality. Apparently, everybody who reads what I write operates on the same brain wave.

As it turns out, there’s part of a chapter in the book I’m writing that addresses exactly this topic. Thus, instead of re-writing all the same stuff, I thought I would take the important parts of that section and share it with you. Since I’m reading some material on related subjects that are somewhat new to me, there’s a chance that this section of my book may undergo some changes soonish, so don’t worry about running into exactly this again if my book ever gets published. Since these are parts of my book, it is long and some of it is less than entertaining. Thus, I’ve added these links to this blog post, just in case you don’t feel like reading much, today, so that you can skip ahead of the technical aspects and get directly to what you may be interested in. The first two sections offer a decent background of information to what is concluded, so it may help to read them. However, I know many people just don’t have the time and energy, so you can feel free to skip ahead for either a reasonable read with the third section or simply a short answer in the concluding portion. Everything after the following links is a part of a chapter in the book I’m working on. Enjoy!

In order to address the question of how an individual arrives at their sexual being in adulthood, it is important to touch upon the root debate of most of human behavior. The discussion of nature versus nurture. Or, the age-old debate over if watching Barney, constantly, for 12 years of a person’s childhood will really fuck him up or if he was destined, from birth, due to personality presets, to spend his life dressing like some sort of dino-Cher hybrid rocker and singing corrupted versions of songs by Peter, Paul and Mary.

For this chapter, the concept of Nature is defined as those behavioral traits that are developed only because they are caused by innate characteristics, uninfluenced by how one is raised or their socio-cultural environment. In other words, nature is mostly about inheritance, or if I got it from my Mama, as the musician Will I Am, would put it.

Nurture is defined by external influences which not only influence behavior and intelligence, but creates it. Nature includes factors such as parental upbringing, teachers, peer groups and other social structures as well as cultural influences such as leadership, politics and art concepts that an individual is exposed to, like the aforementioned crappy song.

History and Nature vs. Nurture (AKA, Barney the Evil Dinosaur’s Influence Dilema or BEDID)

Nature versus Nurture is a debate that has existed since the beginning of recorded history. I know, many philosophy courses will teach that it began within Greek philosophy, but I would have to disagree. There has been too much evidence that early cultures held various ideas on what infludence the world has on an infant’s life and if there were certain behavioral presets that resided in an infant from birth. Original sin, for example, wasn’t really a new concept when the Catholics begain claiming that an infant still possessed guilt from the actions of their believed ancestors. In fact, the premise of all branches of Christianity is that people die because Eve ate some fruit. Regardless of if the religion believes in the passing on of guilt, they still believe in the passing on of punishment and that the role of the offspring is to behave accordingly or be taught to. I can understand this, though. My great grandmother’s mother once said, “if you crank that noisy tinker-toy one more time, I’m going to ground you for so long that your grandchildren’s grandchildren will feel it!” As we write this, I’m shut in my bedroom with only this document as my company and none of my friends are allowed to talk to me. I clearly have no choice but to blame my Great-Grandma Doll.

Many early tribes at various parts of history and from many places have considered infants to be a non-life until they were older, which also provided a justification for infanticide, in some cultures. to them, infants were expendables which must be trained as a child to fill the roles of adulthood. Other tribes seemed to believe in a kind of pre-programmed destiny, which would allow for the selection of Shamans or the detection of infants with bad spirits. This could also be a way for a tribe to explain how defective infants could be born. Some tribes, though, taught that children possessed certain spiritual values from birth and that they could be influenced by others once they are born, indicating that they believed in nature and nurture as guiding behavior.

Examples of attitudes about infants and pre-determined personalities include how followers of some forms of Buddhism believe that the Lutus Sutra, dating back to around 100 or 200 AD, holds doctrine that instructs on the Dalai Lama. Though the tradition of the Dalai Lama has only existed for a baker’s dozen, plus one generations, the concept of reincarnation presented by related Buddhist texts imply that an infant’s mind is a preset consciousness which existed in a previous life, an idea that has been around for nearly two thousand years or more. These same religions, though, have various branches, some of which hold beliefs which claim an infant must go through a process of guidance in order to gain personhood. Given that most branches of Buddhism promote the concept of constant progression, though, it is clear that nurture hasn’t completely been dismissed from any branch as part of their belief system.

The practices of infant sacrifice in ancient cultures at least indicate that the infant has some value to the spiritual world. References to child and infant sacrifices in the Bible imply a value in the infant, even if that value is for purposes of inheritance and their projected value as an adult. Infants and children at that time existed in a culture where their futures were determined for them due to their standing within their culture. A son of a Pharaoh, for example, was believed to be destined to be a Pharaoh and the son of a landowner was often destined to be like his father. The killing of such a child also meant that the futures of the parents would be more difficult, without offspring to care for them in their old age. Because of this, killing a person, even an infant, due to their predicted destiny and in an attempt to change the future, was not unheard of. The story of Oedipus, where is father hired a servant to kill him, is probably the most famous example of one such alleged attempt. It is a story dating as far back as 500 BC, but likely having evolved from earlier myths.

This informal debate that incorporates concepts such as destiny and an essentially hard-wired concept of personality has been carried throughout mythology for ages, even when not brought into formal debates. Movies like Back to the Future and other Sci-Fi movies featuring timeline distortions play with ideas related to how static or plastic a destiny or personality is. Biff Tannen, in Back to the Future, keeps the main aspects of his personality no matter which timeline he is presented in, even with dramatic changes in his life. The variations in behavior that are presented in the movie are present because it is implied that his power allowed him to be a bigger asshole, just a bigger asshole that probably fucked Marilyn Monroe. Still, other modern media present cases for just the opposite, highlighting a belief that we can be altered based on experience, sometimes regardless of age.

Religions that broke off from the above often altered their approaches and beliefs toward children and infants, showing that they disagreed with the pre-existing theories. These cultural conditions are examples of beliefs in nature and nurture and conflicts in thought about nature versus nurture affecting children in their time, though there were not labels for the concepts back then.

Over time, the nature versus nurture debate has become more active and acquired its own terminology (bestowed upon it by Francis Galton, cousin to Charles Darwin), but has existed as an active philosophical debate since before Aristotle, who used the term “tabula rasa” to describe the concept of an infant being born without any intelligence or potential and needing socialization in order to build his or her character.

With advancements in science that have led to a greater understanding of the brain and human behavior, the discussion has been ongoing, though it has evolved some for those who are perhaps more specialized in behavioral sciences.

I know, you’re waiting for the sex, but there is more discussion to have before we get to the fucking conversation about fucking.

Behavioral Science and Neurology (AKA Shit Those Scientists Say about Shit We Do)

One of the current major influences in understanding the Nature versus Nurture debate is our continuing understanding of Behavioral Science. Behaviorism, specifically, has allowed us a peek into mechanisms that influence our behavior. These concepts aren’t entirely new, as some of the founding concepts were observed by Aristotle in his three laws of association:

The Law of Similarity: The idea that like objects and concepts will be associated or categorized together in our mind. For example, games involving the up and down motion of a controller for the Wii console are frequently associated with masturbation because the motion is the same.

The Law of Contrast: The idea that opposing objects and concepts are associated. This is such a strong tendency that you can readily find it as themes in art. Good and Evil, Heaven and Hell, Fire and Ice, and for Paula Abdul, this meant bringing together herself in a slinky black dress and a cartoon ferret, posing as a wolf in the video, Opposites Attract.

The Law of Contiguity: The idea that things that occur or are witnessed close together are associated. Masturbation is usually associated with ejaculation or orgasm because one often occurs one after the other. This law, clearly, is one of the main mechanisms for understanding cause and effect.

And related to Contiguity is:

The law of Frequency: The more frequently we associate two things happening near each other, the more we associate those things with each other. For Mormons who were taught to sing hymns when they got an erection (as instructed by Elder Boyd K. Packer), just one instance of singing, Joseph Smith’s First Prayer, after an erection won’t necessarily lead him to think dirty thoughts. However, several instances of singing that song following the onset of an erection could create the embarrassing situation, for him, of thinking about erections whenever he hears the song (and, based on what we know about operant conditioning, a possible erection).

Behaviorism has developed into a much better understanding of human behavior, since then, giving us an understanding of things like latent learning, classical and operant conditioning, desensitization and sensitization, observational learning, modeling behavior, instinctive drift, sign tracking, fixed action patterns and habituation and dishabituation.

Latent learning: A learning process that is not demonstrated by behavior nor necessarily conditioned or intended, but which can become apparent as a condition, situation or setting changes in order to display that something has been learned. For example, living in a neighborhood may not involve an active attempt at understanding the layout of a neighborhood, but a person may display an understanding of that layout when they have to give instructions to another person about how to get to their house from a location they don’t normally travel from.

Classical and Operant Conditioning: The training or learning of a behavior either through learning and associating by consequences (operant conditioniong – an action-consequence training or cause and effect) or by forcing an association between stimuli, one that has a response already present and one that does not so that the one that does not have a response ultimately begins to stimulate the response of the one that did (classical conditioning).

Desensitization, Sensitization, Habituation and Dishabituation: Sensitization happens when a repeated exposure to a stimuli increases the response one has to it. A new mother may become more responsive to her infant’s cry, as time progresses, instead of less responsive. Desensitization or habituation, on the other hand, is a decrease in a response to a stimuli after repeated exposures. In a noisy gym, for example, one may become less distracted by the noise and it may become a ‘background’ as one becomes accustomed to the constant sound. Dishabituation can happen when something new occurs to make an individual suddenly return to their original response pattern. In the noisy gym, then, someone pinching one’s ass may make the gym suddenly seem noisy again.

Observational Learning and mimicking: When an individual sees a behavior and then that leads to them learning that behavior. In other words, when a young monkey sees an adult monkey poke a hole into a large leaf and then masturbate with it and that young monkey then mimics the behavior and learns to do the same, the observation which creates the knowledge leading to the new behavior is observational learning. AKA, monkey see, monkey do.

All of learning behavior works, though, because of a foundation of the individual’s behavioral make up. That is to say, if there weren’t already present behavioral characteristics, latent learning, conditioning and all of the other aforementioned behaviors could not work. In order for latent learning to occur, observations have to be made and information has to be retained. Classical conditioning can’t happen if there isn’t an initial stimuli that has a response already present and the ability to associate two proximate events has to also be there in order for it to work. This foundation is present because of our basic neurological make up.

This brings me to a sad fact about research in human sexuality. The best research into the brain and human sexuality that has occurred so far is actually happening now. Historically, the study of sex has been a precarious place for scientists to go. Thus, the study of human sexuality in fields ranging from anthropology to neuroscience has only just scratched the surface on things that we really need to know about. Our understanding of neurology is such that the processes that lead from you thinking about moving your arm to the actualization of that thought can be described in great detail by nearly anyone who has studied the nervous system. However, descriptions of how the Sympathetic and Parasympathetic nervous systems function to control arousal and sexual functioning are very basic regarding male sexual behavior and only barely discussed regarding female sexual behavior. Basic information about human anatomy, including how the clitoris is constructed and if the g-spot is or is not a part of this organ are vital to understanding not only female sexual arousal but how the brain relates to it. Since debates about female anatomy are ongoing, there is going to be a huge gap in this part of my discussion.

Since the brain controls so much of our body and we can directly trace conditions in the brain and behavior (for example, we know that certain parts of the brain are active when we’re using language and that other parts are active when we are drawing a picture) it is safe to conclude that conditions in the brain will affect and/or lead our sexual behavior. We do know much about some aspects of this relationship, even if they are mostly developmental. We know that the pituitary gland plays an important role in our sexual development and that a woman’s endocrine system and her brain interact in a cycle that not only controls her menstruation but allows her moods to be affected by it (which can affect her behavior). We also know that a man’s endocrine system does something similar, but less obvious (and less studied) that may also be affected by how often he has ejaculated. Involuntary sexual responses, such as vasocongestion (genitals filling with blood during arousal, causing swelling and color changes in females and erections in males, are controlled by our most primitive processes, ones that are shared by other vertebrates (and our common ancestors), with nerves located near the base of our spinal column. As we evolved and our nervous system expanded upon itself, with higher systems allowing for more complex behavior. The higher brain can then further influence our sexual behavior, complexifying it and allowing for more flexibility in our sexual behavior. So, while other animals may masturbate, the behavior of masturbation to complex fantasies involving rubber boots and Ghostbusters porn is, as far as we know, unique to humans.

Making this Discussion Come Together

Almost form the beginning of the development of Evolutionary Theory, there has been a conflict over the cause of certain sexual behaviors centering around the existence of homosexuality. There is, for example, the alleged quest for the ‘gay gene,’ and questions arise over why masturbation would be a useful habit within the context of evolutionary theory. These conflicts exist primarily due to a misunderstanding of evolutionary theory and genetics.
Searching for a gay gene is not unlike searching for a crooked eyebrow gene. The fact is, there probably isn’t one. The reason there isn’t one is because groups of genes work together to create conditions for phenotypes, or physical characteristics, to exist. Thus, while there is no crooked eyebrow gene, there are genetic combinations that create the tendency for a crooked eyebrow to exist on a person. To further complicate matters, when it comes to psychology and genetics, we can find correlations between genetic lineage and psychological conditions, we can’t necessarily track down a specific gene that leads to that behavior. This is because not only is it the case that multiple genes may play a role in a particular trait being expressed, but, oftentimes, these combinations of genes only allow for a precondition to exist that can lead to something being expressed. Thus, we often hear geneticists say that we have an increased chance of a condition, not that we will have that condition with some certainty.

Chances are, there probably are genetic factors involved when it comes to a person being gay. There isn’t, however, a ‘gay gene,’ and the genetic factors involved that lead to someone being gay could be genes related to other aspects of an individual and the person being gay could just be a side-effect.

It wasn’t entirely flawed, though, for people to look for a gay gene. There are genetic factors that lead to many physical variations in human sexual features and taking a step from those genetic conditions to the possibility is not a gigantic leap. As of 1993, there were over 70 observed irregularities in sex chromosomes alone (Hoyenga & Hoyenga). These irregularities often are discovered due to physiological problems, so the leap from genetic understanding of some sexual abnormalities to attempting to look for a gay gene was, perhaps, misguided from the beginning.

The story of the development of sexual preferences isn’t over with just the discussion of genetic factors, though. Critical stages in development, such as when differentiation begins to occur in fetal development and then later, during puberty, has been known to bring out variations in genitals for individuals. Hormonal factors also could play a tremendous role. There is evidence that the slightest variation in a woman’s hormone levels during pregnancy can increase the odds that her offspring is gay or bisexual. Also, variations in hormonal fluctuations during the sexual development of a child may play a role in if that child is gay or not. Investigations into these possible causes are ongoing and more information is being uncovered all the time.

The most famous findings regarding sexual preference were related the discovery of correlations between sexual preferences and certain variations in parts of the hypothalamus. Beginning with a study by D. Swaab in 1990, who found the difference in size between the suprachiasmatic nucleus in homosexual men and the SCN in heterosexual men, there was a sudden increase in the interest in differences in brain anatomy between homosexuals and heterosexuals. While these studies haven’t yet pointed to a cause for homosexuality, they have paved the way for looking for a possible set of causes and they at least show that sexual preference probably has anatomical causes and isn’t a ‘choice,’ as many have claimed.

Outside of sexual preference, there are many other sexual behaviors that have been called into question within the context of the Nature versus Nurture debate. Masturbation is one of those behaviors. It doesn’t take much study to learn that masturbation, especially masturbation to the point of orgasm, can have many immediate benefits, including improvement in mood. However, masturbation doesn’t usually allow for the spreading of genetic material in a way that produces offspring. Thus, there are those who claim that masturbation is not natural. Of course, that’s like saying cutting a potato isn’t natural because french fries don’t produce new little potatoes. Sperm that is sitting in a man’s testicle, you know, waiting for their little hike down the urethra, deteriorate pretty rapidly compared to sperm from many other species of animal. This deterioration means that as time passes, when ejaculation doesn’t occur, the ratio between viable and non-viable increases. Thus masturbation could simply just be a way to clear out the older sperm to make way for the newer, more viable sperm.

So far, most of what I have discussed about sexuality can easily be dropped down into the “nature” category of this discussion. However, there is evidence that much of our sexual behavior could be molded by nurturing. From courting rituals to cross dressing, culture plays a tremendous role in how we put ourselves on display, sexually.

In studies on sexual fetishes, most fetishists have reported that their attraction to their focus (material types, shoes, certain behaviors) began at an early age, close to the onset of puberty or right before. Interestingly, variations in sexual orientation is often reported to begin around that time as well. This puts researchers in a precarious situation when it comes to developing theories about these kinds of sexual behaviors. A commonly accepted theory is that these youth have developed a strong association between their arousal and their preferred stimuli. As early as the 1960s some evidence that arousal responses to non sexual objects can be conditioned. In 1966 and 1968, Rachman and Hodgson used classical conditioning to create sexual arousal in men triggered by the showing of pictures of boots. Similar studies have not been done to test fetishes in youth, due to ethical concerns, so these studies done on adults are used to offer some insight into possible explanations. Given the tendency for youth to be easily influenced by conditioning, it is very likely that behavioral scientists are right in claiming that atypical sexual behavior in adults can be developed early on by various forms of learning and association. In fact, every learning type mentioned earlier could possibly be a mode of learning for an atypical sexual response. Combining that with the human tendency to recall extreme emotional states more readily than things that happen with little emotion, and a case of arousal that is timed with a certain behavior or condition could easily, in theory, lead to a youth becoming sexually fascinated by it.

As more studies are done on this ability to condition responses and people become more open about their sexual practices, the possibility of people being conditioned to be homosexual or to participate in atypical sexual behaviors has gradually been uncovered. A possibility, of course, does not mean that this is necessarily always the cause. But in our modern culture, where sexual preferences are seen as grounds for discrimination from some social groups, this kind of information can be used against those who are not strictly heterosexual in arguments to deny them privileges that heterosexuals enjoy. This, along with many ethical concerns, makes some researchers hesitant to venture farther into the territory of studying some possible factors in nurturing that could alter sexual preference.

Is there a conclusion here?

When it comes to human sexuality, both nature and nurture come into play in creating the sexual beings that we ultimately become. From our genetic predispositions to how our peers affect our development, our childhoods tend to be one long trek into adulthood that is neither pre-programmed or completely molded by external factors, this trek includes the blossoming of our sexual nature. It has been difficult for us to reach an understanding of this due to the variety of factors that come into play during our development. Barriers such as a misunderstanding of the Law of Parsimony, claiming that the simpler explanations for a behavior are preferable to the more complex ones, as part of behavioral science have also slowed down our ability to examine development more fully. The Law of Parsimony, itself, is a great idea. It is the Occam’s Razor of behavioral science, but many take it to mean that there should be only one explanation for a given behavioral event and behavior, like other elements of science, don’t need just one route to get to the same end. Just as evolution has led to flight in multiple types of animals through different developmental paths, our psychology can be shaped through different paths to lead to the same result.

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