Tag Archives: sex

Credit: Anchorman, 2004

Training men how to read women might help curb sexually aggressive behaviour

Credit: Anchorman, 2004

Credit: Anchorman, 2004

For many men, judging whether a woman is flirting or just being polite can be difficult. Some might miss out on romances because they couldn’t take a cue, others might make a fool of themselves. That’s how life is — but it becomes a serious problem when this poor judgement call leads to sexual harassment and even rape.

“You know I’m automatically attracted to beautiful — I just start kissing them. It’s like a magnet. Just kiss. I don’t even wait,” Donald Trump in 2005.

Studies have attempted to explain this sort of behaviour. High levels of testosterone, alcohol and an overestimation of a woman’s sexual interest play a key role. One new study suggests this poor judgement stems, in part, from disproportionately assessing a woman’s level of attractiveness instead of following her emotions. Men who have a history of sexual aggression were the most likely to behave this way, the study also found.

Some women with a long history of dealing with overzealous men might be already rolling their eyes, but there’s some good news. Even though previous research suggests that information-based programs don’t help sexually aggressive men mend their ways, the new study found evidence to the contrary. Yes, sexual bullies can be helped if they’re taught to read women better.

Now, that looks like a ten!

Teresa Treat, a clinical psychologist at the University of Iowa, recruited 183 heterosexual or bisexual male students, then asked them to ‘study’ hundreds of full-length photos of female students and gauge their level of sexual interest.

Credit: American Psychological Association

Credit: American Psychological Association

The female students were actually professional actresses who are asked to pose different levels of friendliness, sexual interest, sadness, and rejection. The young women involved in the study varied in attractiveness and clothing (i.e. more or less provocative).

The yardstick group was made up of the researchers themselves, which also included nine undergraduate women. Each author rated the women’s levels of sexual interest just like the male students but used two separate systems. First, they rated sexual interest specifically ignoring attractiveness and clothing, and secondly they rated the provocativeness of their clothing while ignoring sexual interest.

A benchmark for sexual attractiveness was made by averaging the ratings offered by a large group of male students separate from the participants. Yes, ZME women, the researchers sort of endorsed giving women marks. This is a study largely made by women, so you’ll be the judge.

At the end of the study, finding suggest that the male participants relied more on the women’s actual emotional display than attractiveness and clothing to gauge interest. That doesn’t mean they didn’t take attractiveness and clothing into account, though. For instance, the most attractive women, as well as those dressed sexy, were assumed to show more sexual interest, although their emotions didn’t necessarily reflect this.

Those men who self-reported a history of sexual aggression based their judgement to a greater degree on attractiveness when compared to the low-risk men.

After the first round of tests was done, however, these alpha males were shown the light. The researchers gave them crucial feedback instructing them what the ‘correct’ answer ought to be for a series of photos they judged earlier.

The men who received feedback became better at using women’s emotions more, and their dress and attractiveness less, when gauging sexual interest. The results were confirmed by a new task in which the male students were asked to categorize photos of women based on how sexually interested they were. The effect was strongest among low-risk men, but was there in those with a history of sexual aggression as well, albeit to a weaker degree.

Critically, these findings should be taken lightly as there are many limitations to this type of study. The sample size is too small and the benchmark the researchers used might have been inadequate. Working only with testosterone-packed male students who rate women on a daily basis anyway might not be the best focus group either. It remains to be seen if these results can be translated into real-world applications.

“Perhaps the current work can point the way to improved prevention efforts that include both informational and active learning components,” Treat said.

Nothing awkward in this scene from the movie "Lars and The Real Girl."

The next sexual revolution might be that of the human-robot intercourse

Nothing awkward in this scene from the movie "Lars and The Real Girl."

Nothing awkward in this scene from the movie “Lars and The Real Girl.”

This week in Manchester, UK, academics and researchers from all over the world have gathered for the 12th Human Choice and Computers Conference, an event which “works to shape socially responsible and ethical policies and professional practices in the information society.” One of this year’s themes focused on the realities and ethical dimensions of love and sex between humans and machines, and it turned out to be a lively discussion, to say the least.

Advances in artificial intelligence, but also robotic hardware means humanoid robots, known as androids, are no longer the stuff of science fiction. They might be clunky and awkward today, but in the foreseeable future, these machines might appear indistinguishable from humans. These androids will help with chores, keep us company and, some note, will inevitably become sex partners.

Among academics, two distinct trains of thoughts can be distinguished. On one side, there are those like David Levy, an artificial intelligence expert, who are optimistic and think humans will not only have sex with robots but fall in love with them too. Then there are those like Kathleen Richardson, senior research fellow in the ethics of robotics at De Montfort University and director of the Campaign Against Sex Robots, and others, who believe robot sex should be banned because the objectification is against human values.

Michelle Mars and Ian Yeoman are among those who think humans will soon happily have sex with robots. In a 2012 paper, the two present a scenario in which Amsterdam’s Red Light District of 2050 will be “about android prostitutes who are clean of sexual transmitted infections (STIs), not smuggled in from Eastern Europe and forced into slavery, the city council will have direct control over android sex workers controlling prices, hours of operations and sexual services.”

These sexbots would be better than humans and programmed to each individual person’s requirements. The androids will also be always available and will never say ‘no’ to anything. And that’s why Richardson thinks robots for sex are a big problem.

“Empathy is about taking into account what another person is thinking and feeling, and responding appropriately to it,” she said. “Empathy is not about projecting onto, or appropriating someone to use as you want. You can do that with an object. But I don’t want you to do that with a person.”

“Everyone thinks [sex robots are] very exciting to begin with, but when you’re alone and you have to carry a 40Ib robot upstairs, or their programme breaks down and you have to call ‘support’ and go through automated options to speak to an ‘advisor’ to find out why your robot is twitching its head repeatedly—the excitement will quickly fade,” Richardson told Motherboard. “You will realise there’s only other people and we have to find a way to build healthy and loving relationships with each other.”

"This is the future" ... inventor Doug Hines with his sex robot, "Roxxxy". Credit: SMH.au

“This is the future” … inventor Doug Hines with his sex robot, “Roxxxy”. Credit: SMH.au

Notice that Richardson assumes that a sex android can be considered a ‘person’. That’s because sexbots are expected to be used as companions as well, with a programmable personality. Nobody wants to have sex with an awkward robot. Speaking of which, meet Roxxxy — the world’s first sex robot which is “always turned on and ready to talk or play.”

Roxxxy ships for $6,995 and can allegedly learn an owner’s preferences, according to the manufacturer True Companion.

“So she likes what you like, dislikes what you dislike, etc. She also has moods during the day just like real people! She can be sleepy, conversational or she can “be in the mood!” the company’s website reads.

Some of the preprogrammed personalities include:

  • Frigid Farrah – She is reserved and shy
  • Wild Wendy – She is outgoing and adventurous
  • S&M Susan – She is ready to provide your pain/pleasure fantasies
  • Young Yoko – She is oh so young (barely 18) and waiting for you to teach her
  • Mature Martha – She is very experienced and would like to teach you!

They’re also working on a version destined for women — Rocky the male sex robot.

“Rocky is described as everyone’s dream date! – just imagine putting together a great body along with a sparkling personality where your man is focused on making you happy! This is Rocky!”

Sounds like a real gentleman.

Although pre-orders became available last year, it’s unclear whether anyone came in the possession of a Roxxxy unit. Judging from the pics and videos posted online, though, Roxxxy is far from the sex androids of the future. Rather it’s more of an augmented, smarter sex doll. But it’s a start, one that Levy, who is the author of the bestseller Love and Sex With Robots: The Evolution of Human-Robot Relationshipsthinks will unleash a sexual revolution which will better mankind. He believes prostitution, sex crimes, and loneliness will be no more as a result of a robot-utopia.

“The world will be a much happier place because all those people who are now miserable will suddenly have someone. I think that will be a terrific service to mankind,” he says.

Richardson, on the contrary, thinks sex robots will not cure loneliness but only amplify it.

“One of the first impacts of something like sex robots would be to increase human isolation because once you try to tell people that they don’t need other human beings any more, one of the consequences of that is more isolation,” she told Sky News.

Researcher Lydia Kaye, just like Richardson, thinks sex robots will encourage men to think women are nothing more than objects designed exclusively for masculine sexual gratification — something that reinforces the idea that a woman’s body is a commodity.

“Sex robots will create another means through which women will be presented as objects to be used for sexual gratification and mistreatment,” she wrote.

“They will also desensitise humans to intimacy and empathy, which can only be developed through experiencing human interaction and mutual consenting relationships.”

University of Oslo Professor Charles Ess said at the conference in Manchester sex robots “may well be able to offer good sex on demand,” but cautions that they shouldn’t be made identical to humans otherwise “human virtues become endangered.”

 

Expert warns smart-cars will promote sex behind the wheel and distracted driving

Will widespread use of smart cars make roads safer or actually more dangerous? One Canadian expert is raising concerns that as automated systems take up the bulk of navigating tasks, drivers will keep their hands less on the driving wheel…and more on the person (persons?) next to them.

Image via scmp.com

Drop whatever you were doing and rejoice because science has delivered.

“I am predicting that, once computers are doing the driving, there will be a lot more sex in cars,” said Barrie Kirk of the Canadian Automated Vehicles Centre of Excellence.

It truly is a wonderful time to be alive. But, before we go about congratulating and patting each other on the back in satisfaction, is this a good thing? I mean beyond the obvious fact that we all like to get it on.

There is legitimate concern around this question, not because of the cars themselves but because of the drivers. I see people texting or talking on the phone at the wheel — and these aren’t particularly enjoyable activities — every day, driving regular vehicles without any computers to watch the road for them. But if people trust their cars enough to handle themselves in traffic, they’ll throw their phones along with their pants on the back seat before you can say “responsible driving practices.”

“That’s one of several things people will do which will inhibit their ability to respond quickly when the computer says to the human, ‘Take over.'”

Canadian Press obtained several federal emails discussing Tesla’s self-driving cars under the Access to Information Act. In them, officials tasked with constructing the legislative framework for autonomous cars took up the issue in the briefing notes compiled for Transport Minister Marc Garneau after his appointment last fall.

“The issue of the attentive driver is … problematic,” one such email reads. “Drivers tend to overestimate the performance of automation and will naturally turn their focus away from the road when they turn on their auto-pilot.”

The emails cite several pieces of footage showing Tesla drivers doing anything else than paying attention to the road, such as reading a newspaper for example. Other videos show Tesla owners recording flaws in how the car’s autopilot system reacts to changes in road markings.

Therein lies the problem: Tesla itself made it clear that the autopilot system only has limited autonomy and functionality. It’s designed to work in tandem with a human, not to replace him. And people still behave like it’s their personal chauffeur. Transport Canada tested several semi-autonomous vehicles, such as Mercedes’ C-Class or the Infiniti Q50 (but not the Tesla so far,) the documents go on to detail. While they found the systems efficient at what they do, the technology is still in its infancy.

“It really needs to be emphasized that these vehicles are not truly self-driving,” officials said. They predicted that fully-autonomous cars and trucks are “still a few years away.”

Current vehicle safety standards don’t prohibit driverless cars from zooming on Canada’s roadways, and the country is now considering how to regulate such vehicles.

“But last month’s federal budget included money for Transport Canada to develop regulations around automated vehicle design. Those regulations, at least initially, would require that the vehicles are equipped with a ‘failsafe mechanism that can respond to situations when the driver is not available,'” CBC writes. “Ontario also set out some regulations, including a requirement that an expert in autonomous vehicles be in the driver’s seat and able to assume full control at a moment’s notice.”

The “failsafe mechanism” basically means that the car should be able to safely get out of traffic until a human assumes control — and that should be at the center of how we handle this I think. Because that “expert in autonomous vehicles,ready at a moment’s notice” part? I think that’s wishful thinking.

The whole point of having autonomous cars is that no driver is required, and people won’t be willing to wait, clutching the wheel, on the off chance they’re needed. It’s got to go all the way, or at least allow for a window of time in which the driver can analyze the situation, plan his movements and assume control. Assuming that a driver who may not have been paying attention to his or her surroundings can control a vehicle right off the bat is a tall order however, Kirk believes.

“People will not be able to respond in time.”

It’s a good thing that we come face to face with these issues now, before autonomous vehicles truly hit the roads. But they just aren’t here yet, so you’ll have to keep your eyes on the road until they do. And yes, your hands on the wheel, too.

 

Fungus turns frogs into sex zombies, but then kills off whole species

A new study of Batrachochytrium dendrobatidis (Bd), a deadly fungus that affects amphibians worldwide, found that it spreads by making males’ mating calls more attractive to females. The pathogen alters the reproductive habits of different species of amphibians, explaining why frogs and related species continue to disappear across the globe.

“If true—that the fungus is manipulating individuals’ behaviors to facilitate its spread—then this is extraordinary,” says Michael Ryan, a herpetologist at the University of Texas, Austin, who was not involved in the study.

The Japanese frog is one of the few species resistant to Bd. But individuals are still becoming infected.
Image credits to wikimedia user Alpsdake

Bd causes a condition named chytridiomycosis or chytrid fungus disease, which destroys amphibians‘ skins, disrupts their immune systems and ultimately causes heart failure and death. It was first discovered in the 1990s when several species of frogs in Australia and Central and South America went through massive die-offs.

The extinction of hundreds of amphibian species in recent years has been attributed to Bd, and it could potentially affect one third of the amphibian species currently on the planet. While there is no known cure for the fungus, a few species of frogs are known to survive several years after infection — indicating a certain level of adaptation towards fighting it.

But as Bd has been relatively contained up to now and species are being exposed to it for the first time, usually there is little natural defense against the fungus.

“Some people think that amphibian populations are declining primarily due to catastrophic die-offs caused by Bd,” says Bruce Waldman.

“But the story is much more complicated than that.”

Southern mountain yellow-legged frogs (Rana muscosa) killed by the chytrid fungus.
Image via sciencedaily

Waldman and his student Deuknam An studied Japanese tree frogs (Hyla japonica) in the wild to find out how Bd affects species seemingly resistant to it. This amphibian, which inhabits area in central Asia, Korea and Japan, hasn’t been experiencing the massive die-offs associated with the pathogen even though individuals are getting infected.

The team studied and recorded the mating calls of 42 male Japanese tree frogs from June to mid-August 2011 (during the mating season) in the rice paddies of South Korea. Here’s a recording of a normal call:

They looked for things such as the number of pulses per note, repetition rate of pulses, number of notes or total duration of the call. Out of this sample, nine frogs tested positive for Bd. These were slightly larger than their uninfected counterparts (40.17mm on average compared to 39.24mm.)

The team also reported that these males became lethargic, but put more effort into their calls compared to the others– for example, they produced longer songs, a trait which females are known to prefer. Here’s a recording of a Bd-infected male:

If you were a female Japanese frog, your lady-frog-parts would be on fire right now.

“Therefore one would expect the amount of calling to be lower in infected males,” Ryan notes.

“But this is not what the study found—and that’s very surprising.”

This suggests, he adds, that Bd can act like a parasite and turn its host into a zombie. These zombie males then go on to spread Bd further in the population by using their fungus-fueled sex appeal: the females they mate with become infected too, and their offspring inherit the fathers’ susceptibility to chytrid fungus disease.

The team hasn’t been able to figure out how Bd changes the host’s behavior, but they to have a theory. They point out that the force of natural selection may be looming over these males, which put an extra effort into their calls in order to reproduce faster as a way to compensate for their shorter lifespans.

But the end result is that while the infected males certainly get more action, the population as a whole is severely harmed.

“Bd has an impact on frog populations even when we don’t see outbreaks of chytridiomycosis,” says Cori Richards-Zawacki, a behavioral ecologist at the University of Pittsburgh in Pennsylvania.

Richards-Zawacki recently found that the disease causes male leopard frogs in the lab to up their reproductive efforts. Although it might seem that a species has adapted to Bd and shows no clinical signs of the disease, she says, “in reality it’s still stressed by the infection, which is likely to take a less dramatic but still important toll on the population over time.”

Waldman says that these “sublethal” effects can kill off a species even if it survives the initial die-off from the pathogen.

“Some of these populations that were hard hit are coming back, but slowly. Their populations are small, and that leaves them vulnerable to other random catastrophic events that might lead to extinction.”

The scientists looked at only one frog species—and only one of its life history stages, Waldman also notes.

“It shows that Bd continues to be an enigma.”

How women subconsciously fight sexual competition

A new paper published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology examines women’s efforts to guard their mates from sexual competition — especially other ovulating females.

For women, close cooperative relationships with other women offer important opportunities but at the same time raises possible threats — mate competition being one of them. So women have developed mate guarding behaviors to maximize the benefits of these same-sex connections while reducing their risk to the minimum.

It’s all fun and games until the guys get involved.
Image via Quartz

Psychologists from Arizona State University studied how women go about guarding their mates. They found that members of the fairer sex are sensitive to both interpersonal and contextual cues indicating whether other women might be likely (and effective) mate poachers.

And they all have their sights firmly placed on other ovulating women.

The team carried out four studies involving a total of 478 heterosexual engaged or married women. The participants were recruited from Amazon Mechanical Turk, an online crowdsourcing marketplace. In each of the studies, participants were shown photographs of a series of women and then asked how willing they would be, on a seven-point scale, for the women in the picture to befriend their partner.

An interesting thing happened: the participants were more likely to want to put as much distance between their partner and the woman in the photograph as possible if the latter was ovulating. They weren’t told if the person in the picture was ovulating and, in all likelihood, they didn’t even consciously consider the idea, authors note. But studies have shown that humans do subconsciously pick up on the subtle cues that indicate when women are more fertile.

“Research across species demonstrates that social perceptions, cognitions, and behaviors do temporarily shift in response to ovulation, and that these shifts may enhance individuals’ reproductive fitness,” write the authors.

“Similarly, psychological research on humans has demonstrated that (a) women’s perceptions and behaviors shift across their own cycles and (b) men respond to these cyclic shifts.”

It also (unsurprisingly) became apparent to the team that women were especially protective when their mate was desirable to the other subjects, or when their mate found the woman in the photograph to be physically attractive. It’s not all about keeping distance, though. The authors also note that women employ other tactics to keep their partners close:

“Specifically, women with desirable partners reported that they would show increased sexual interest in their partners after viewing a high-fertility target, regardless of how attractive that target was,” the paper reads.

But, sadly, the study didn’t produce any evidence that women’s efforts are rewarded or that “mate guarding” is particularly effective.

The authors also note that the study relies on composite photos of strangers; In real life, when socializing with friends, colleagues, and acquaintances, women may well choose to trust their friends and worry less about ovulating threats.

How pets make you hotter to the opposite sex

A University of Nevada team, led by anthropologist Peter Gray, tested several hypotheses about pets and contemporary courtship or dating rituals. Their study will appear in a forthcoming issue of the journal Anthrozoös.

Image via huffpost

Evolutionary psychology holds that women are more inclined to allocate resources to child rearing, while men tend to spend more time and energy on mating. The team wanted to verify if these tenants hold their own in a real life setting — if for example, women are more responsive to the way their dates treat their pets and men inclined to use their pets to attract sexual partners. Gray and his colleagues predicted that dogs, generally thought to require more attention than cats, would provide more powerful ques to women who would unconsciously size-up their date’s parenting qualities.

In collaboration with the pet store chain PetSmart and Match.com, the researchers sent a 21 question on-line survey to 1,210 single pet owners, 60% of whom were women and 40% men. As far as pets go, some 72% of them were dog owners, and 42% reported to owning a cat.

The study found that:

  • 22% of the men — but only 6% of women — admitted they had used their pet to attract potential dates.
  • 35% percent of women and 26% of men said they had been more attracted to someone because they owned a pet.
  • Nearly half of the women and a quarter of the men said they judged dates based on how the person responded to their pet.
  • 76% of women and 60% of men evaluated dates based on whether their pets like the person.
  • 64% of women and 49% of men said they were more attracted to a person if they owned a rescue animal.
  • 75% of the women and 54% of the men said they would not date someone who did not like pets.

The results are supported by previous studies on pets and dating. In 2008, two French social psychologists had a young man named Antoine approach 240 randomly selected women and ask for their phone number to go on a date. Half the time, he would be alone, and half the time he would be walking a dog named Gwendu. And that little gray dog had a huge impact — only 10% of the women gave Antoine their phone number when he was alone, but three times as many were happy to do the same when he was accompanied by Gwendu.

A new take on dating

During the Better with Pets Summit, scientist Sandra Lyn argued that the millennial generation has a much different relationship with their pets than the baby boomers, and the results of the study suggest she is right: men in their 20s and 30s were more likely to use their pets as “date-bait” than older singles. Millennials also reported being particularly attracted to pet owners and more inclined to evaluate mates by how their dogs and cats reacted to the date. Millennials were also more likely to find pictures of pets posted on on-line dating profiles a turn-on.

All in all, the researchers’ hypotheses about sex differences in the use of pets as signals of mate quality were confirmed. Women were more discriminating than men on eight of the eleven questions related to the use of pets in evaluating dating partners. (There were no sex differences for the other three questions.) Dog owners were more likely than cat owners to use pets as indicators of a date’s attributes, paying closer attention to their pet’s reaction than cat owners, and more likely to say that the way a date treated their own pet mattered and to believe that person’s pet revealed a lot about their personality.

The scientists also asked what the sexiest pet is, and dogs win by a mile. If you want to meet girls, don’t get a rabbit, none of the ladies reported them as being a turn-on.

Study finds most women are gay or bisexual — a personal take

One study, led by Dr. Gerulf Rieger of the University of Essex looked at human sexuality in an effort to understand exactly what makes the gentle sex tick. It recorded the biological responses (a fancy wording for arousal) of a sample of 345 women who watched videos of nude males and females. And the data is quite surprising: 82% of participants responded sexually to both men and women.

Image via Telegraph.uk

Women who identified as lesbians unsurprisingly showed a strong preference for the female form. But what the team didn’t expected was that 74% of the ones who reported their sexual orientation as “straight” were also aroused by the videos showing nude women, in addition to the ones showing only men.

“Even though the majority of women identify as straight,” Dr. Rieger said, “our research clearly demonstrates that when it comes to what turns them on, they are either bisexual or gay, but never straight.”

There are a few flaws that I see with this study though:

For starters, it doesn’t mention including openly bisexual women. Either this was not an option for the participants to choose from, or the data was lost during re-writing (i haven’t been able to locate the original papers of the study yet). Thought the argument could be made that if a large portion of the women identify as bisexual, the findings (i.e. women are bisexual) still stand, i don’t agree with that — the test aimed to find what fires up the imagination and loins of ladies everywhere, but maybe the test just happened to include mainly bisexual or so-called “bi-curious” women on accident; there’s a certain social stigma associated with homosexuality, and faced with a choice between hetero or homo-sexual, many of the participants could have chosen the first one out of the need for social acceptance, rather than personal preference in bed buddies — more and clearer options regarding sexual orientation would have been ideal.

Secondly — and this is not the fault of the study per-say but rather the one leading it — Dr. Rieger has a knack for generalization; 74 percent still needs an extra 26 percent for a whole.

Add this to the fact that previous work of his found that bisexuality in men doesn’t exist at all — again, pretty broad — you kinda start seeing a pattern.

But, just because I personally have some issues with how the study was carried out and Dr. Rieger’s inclination towards headline-grabbing statements, does not mean that the findings are wrong — he may very well be right on target, and there are no biologically heterosexual women out there. I’d definitely like to see more studies that come to test the good doctor’s findings.

And who knows, maybe we’ll find something about the ladies that we all can enjoy. But right now?…Naaaah.

[Journal reference]

Tuatara embryos reveal common origin of the phallus

Ahh, the phallus. In most sexually-reproductive species, half of the individuals lack one, while the other half is constantly trying to share theirs as much as possible with the first group, with varying degrees of success — bragging, fighting or impressing their way to the continuation of the species. Marvelous!

The tuatara. We’re gonna talk about him very soon now.
Image via wikipedia

However, for the importance it has in our lives both culturally — often associated with fertility and virility — and biologically, we don’t really know how it evolved. Did species develop it separately, as the most efficient solution to the problem of sexuality? Did we all get one from a common ancestor but some just kind-of got tired of it and developed other methods of insemination?

,  

Tackling a hard problem

The evolution of internal fertilization was a critical step towards the diversity of amniotes (animals that lay eggs or nurture it inside the mother’s body) we see today. In most cases, this process relies on a critical step: fertilization requires the deposition of male genetic material in the form of sperm, facilitated by the phallus, inside the female’s cloaca (for birds) or vagina (for mammals). Other species, such as 97% of all bird species and some reptiles, rely on cloacal apposition.

One such reptile, the tuatara or Sphenodon punctatus, provided the team with the biological niche they needed to solve the case — though resembling lizards, they are acually part of a separate lineage, belonging to the order Rhynchocephalia.  But there was a little problem; being an endangered species since 1895, they couldn’t use recent embryos to study the reptiles in the early developmental stages they were interested in:

“As the sister group to squamates [lizards and snakes], S. punctatus occupies an important phylogenetic position for resolving amniote genital evolution; however, acquisition of new embryological material is difficult owing to the close management of this species,” the team writes.

So they set out to look for suitable material and found four specimens that were donated to the Harvard Embryological Collection (HEC) in 1909 by Arthur Dendy, who owned the most comprehensive collection of this species. One of these specimens was just what they were looking for.

“We examined the historical records and concluded that of the four S. punctatus embryos sent to Minot [then curator of the Harvard Embryological Collection], one embryo, specimen 1491, is the ideal stage at which to examine the cloacal region for evidence of genital swellings.”

Initiation of amniote external genitalia consistently begins as paired genital swellings.
(a, red arrows) Specimens taken from indicated species.
(b) Illustration of tuatara embryo 1491 from the Harvard Embryological Collection (HEC).
(c,d) This embryo possesses genital swellings (GS) and anterior swellings (AS) adjacent to the cloaca (CL) at a stage comparable with when other amniote species are undergoing external genital morphogenesis.
Image via royalsocietypublishing, credit to authors.

Specimen 1491 was histologically prepared into 8µm thick sagittal sections, but the position of the animal’s body (image b) didn’t allow the team to study the genitals directly, so they reconstituted 82 slides into a 3D model they could analyze.

The model revealed genital swellings between the hind limbs and cloaca. Another, more focused modeling, was built to analyze only the cloacal region, to better understand the relationship between the genital swellings and the cloaca. Here, one swelling is visible right next to the animal’s urogenital opening — called the urodeum — correlating to the right genital swelling in squamates, and another one anterior to the cloaca, also correlating with squamate development in this phase.

“Thus, the reconstruction of the S. punctatus cloacal region reveals the presence of the right genital and anterior cloacal swellings, indicating that although this species lacks an intromittent phallus as an adult, development of a phallus and cloacal lip is initiated in the embryo.”

“In chicken and quail, outgrowth of paired genital swellings initiates morphogenesis of the resultant genital tubercle, which later regresses owing to programed cell death. Our data indicate that the early stages of external genital development occur in S. punctatus embryos, and we suggest that the absence of an intromittent phallus in adult tuatara could result from a similar process of programmed cell death or diminished proliferation at stages later than embryo 1491,” the team concludes.

So what does this mean? Well, embryo development follows some wacky rules. When an organism evolves a new trait, it doesn’t actually loose the genetic information is had up to then, rather it’s being deactivated — this is why atavistic characteristics are sometimes developed. As the embryo matures and grows, it goes through developmental stages that won’t necessarily be retained — such as whale and dolphin embryos developing legs, then loosing them.

“A resolved hypothesis regarding the evolution of amniote external genitalia. Our observations suggest that the phallus evolved once and diversified among amniote lineages. Phylogeny after Chiari et al.”
Image via royalsocietypublishing, credit to authors.

As such, the presence of the genital swellings in an animal that lacks a phallus as an adult suggests that the organ was inherited from one common ancestor, and then developed into all the variations we see today.

“Taken together with previous studies of external genital development, the data from tuatara support the hypothesis that the amniote phallus had a single evolutionary origin that was followed by lineage-specific modifications that underlie the diversity observed in extant amniotes.”

 

flibanserin

‘Pink Viagra’ pill for low libido women seeks FDA approval, but is it safe?

A drug called  Flibanserin, also known under the name of Addyi, is marketed as the first designed to boost a woman’s sexual desire. This week the FDA will decide whether to approve the drug or not, however looming safety concerns could count against Sprout Pharmaceuticals, the parent company marketing the Flibanserin.

flibanserin

Maria Fabrizio for NPR

“Not tonight, honey”

Flibanserin intends to be the first-ever drug to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), a form of chronic low sexual desire, in women. HSDD is affecting 16 million women in the US. The disorder itself, however, doesn’t look much like a disorder, though it appears to have become an official diagnosis in the  International Classification of Diseases used by clinicians and gynecologists. It’s a dubious disorder, to say the least, since there’s no clear biological cause of the disorder or any diagnostic test other than a questionnaire. Basically, if you’re a women who feels no urge to have sex with your partner or anyone for that matter, than you fall in this spectrum. Women with HSDD can still enjoy sex and have orgasms like other perfectly healthy woman. It’s just that they don’t feel like it.

The FDA previously rejected the female libido pill twice since 2010. The decision in 2005 was unanimously against it, mostly because of the side effects which include dizziness, nausea and sleepiness. Taking the drug at the wrong time of day or with alcohol may also cause rare instances of fainting from low blood pressure. Also, women need to take the pill once a day for months before they can see any improvements in their sex drive.

Moreover, critics have voiced concerns that Flibanserin bears little improvements over placebo control groups, which is why it was rejected by the FDA in 2009 and 2013. Afterwards an  advocacy group called Even the Score, sponsored by Sprout, accused the FDA of sexism. Why allow Viagra and other erectile dysfunction drugs, which granted also bear nasty side effects, but not Flibanserin? Apparently, cornered, the FDA  advisory panel approved the drug on the condition that its manufacturer develops a plan to limit safety risks. The vote was preceded by testimony from women who urged the agency to approve the drug and told about their fears of never being able to have sex again.

“I should be able to determine if Flibanserin is worth the benefit of treatment,” said Amanda Parrish, one of more than 11,000 women who participated in a clinical trial of the pill.

“What a relationship-saving eight months that was,” she said.

The issues the FDA has with Flibanserin have less to do with gender bias, and more to do with the drug itself, though. Enthusiasts were quick to point out after the last rejection that there are 20 FDA-approved drugs to treat male sexual dysfunction and a whopping 0 for women, but reality is different. There is no drug currently approved for treating low sexual desire in men or women. What Viagra and other drugs like it do is deal with the mechanics of erectile dysfunction rather than brain chemistry.

Women taking the drug reported experiencing only between one-half and one more satisfying sexual events per month than volunteers taking a placebo.

“The fundamental question is whether these observed placebo-corrected treatment effects outweigh the risks associated with treatment,” the FDA said in its latest review.

How does Flibanserin work?

Flibanserin is a 100 mg tablet taken daily at bedtime that is under review forhelping women with low sexual desire to have more satisfying sexual experiences and less emotional distress. Photo credit: Sprout Pharmaceuticals

Flibanserin is a 100 mg tablet taken daily at bedtime that is under review for helping women with low sexual desire to have more satisfying sexual experiences and less emotional distress. Photo credit: Sprout Pharmaceuticals

Though there isn’t any biological marker that could help diagnose HSDD, brain scans reveal that HSDD women have lower response to erotic material than those of other women. Doctors believe this can be attributed to  imbalances of serotonin and dopamine which can cause a sudden lapse in sex drive.

Flibanserin was initially developed as an antidepressant by a German company called Boehringer Ingelheim.  “It’s a neurotransmitter reuptake inhibitor, like many other approved antidepressants,” says John Thorp who was the principal investigator for flibanserin studies in North America under Boehringer Ingelheim. The drug has since been bought by Sprout. In effect, the drug  increases dopamine and norepinephire and decreases serotonin in the brain, thought to lower feelings of inhibition. Just like Viagra didn’t work as initially intended (to lower blood pressure), so did Flibanserin fail as an antidepressant. On the upside, it seemed to increase libido.

But is “not filling in the mood” worth the side effects? Having sex once or twice a month can mean all the difference for some women. Some critics, however, feel that HSDD isn’t a real disease, but a natural “phenomena of aging, and this drug is trying to jazz up women’s sexuality to meet the hypersexual world in which we live,” Thorp says. “After all, aerobic fitness at 40 isn’t what it was at 20.” Despite there are many women in their twenties classed as HSDD or “not tonight”, most are over forty.

Since it was last rejected by the FDA,  a panel of real women living with HSDD has been assembled so that the agency may better understand their wishes and concerns. If there’s a real disease for which there is currently no treatment, the FDA is obliged to take all steps necessary to alleviate this need. The FDA also requested more safety and side effect information about the drug.

I can understand why some women would want Flibanserin, but I’m not sure about treating sexual desire as a problem, lack of it I mean. This all seems like an over simplification. If you don’t have sex, then you’re in trouble. “What’s wrong with you?” Well people, both men and women, some of them, just stop having sex past a certain age. Maybe that’s normal. Maybe Flibanserin – the whole concept – is abnormal.

“The misrepresentation that everybody should be having it — needs to have it, wants to have it, has a problem if they don’t have it — is to change, really, what sexuality is into more of a medical thing,” says Leonore Tiefer, a psychologist at New York University. “I think that’s a terrible direction for knowledge, for understanding, for society.”

Antechinus swainsonii (formerly known as Antechinus swainsoni). Reproduction Photo by Marnie Rawlinson, Cathy Accurso and Ken Walker © Museum Victoria

Biologists discover two new marsupial species that have sex until they die. Ironically, they’re endangered

A team of biologists from Queensland discovered two new species belonging to a marsupial genus known for mating until it dies – literally. The antechinus marsupials look like pouched mice or shrews, but as cute as they may look, they’re real beasts in the sack. Typically, once the breeding season starts, males embark in vicious sexual orgies that last for 14 hours at a time, and it doesn’t stop for two weeks. At the very end, the males suffers from diseases, internal bleeding, their fur falls off and some get ulcer. Ultimately, all that whole lotta love kills them, and rather painfully too. Though they’ve just been discovered, the new antechinus species are considered endangered by the researchers.

Antechinus swainsonii (formerly known as Antechinus swainsoni). Reproduction Photo by Marnie Rawlinson, Cathy Accurso and Ken Walker © Museum Victoria

Antechinus swainsonii (formerly known as Antechinus swainsoni). Reproduction Photo by Marnie Rawlinson, Cathy Accurso and Ken Walker © Museum Victoria

The new species are the  Tasman Peninsula dusky antechinus (Antechinus vandycki), found near Port Arthur in Tasmania, and the mainland dusky antechinus (Antechinus swainsonii mimetes), found throughout south-eastern Australia. This brings us now to 15 known species of antechinus, five of which are endangered. The findings were reported in a paper published in Memoirs of the Queensland Museum – Nature.

Sex is no joke for these critters: it’s about life and death

Males don’t live past a year, but during their short lives they burn bright. Every winter when food is scarcest, around August-September, the antechinus mating season starts. When this time comes, the males become infused with an overdose of testosterone which drives them on a sex craze. Mating with as many females as possible is the ultimate competition for the antechinus males, which is kinda weird considering the winner is, statically-speaking, the first to die from all the exhaustion. Their prize lies in scoring hundreds of new pups once the females are inseminated. In the animal kingdom, the ultimate glory is passing on your genes, living once more one DNA sequence at a time. But I may have overly romanticized the whole thing; after all, these marsupials shag more often than Tyrion Lannister in a Westeros brothel.

“It’s just this absolutely primal urge,” said QUT mammalogist Dr Andrew Baker.

“There’s orgies of violence and sex and, in antechinus, it happens every year.”

Hope i don't go to hell for this. Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

Hope i don’t go to hell for this. Illustration: Cathy Wilcox

To continue mating until there’s nothing left of them, the antehinus males strip their body of vital proteins and also suppress the immune system so as to free up additional metabolic energy. Effectively, they’re renouncing their long-term survival resources for short-term gains. A few weeks later, there’s little left of the tiny marsupials.

“They’ll bleed internally, they have ulcers, their fur falls off in patches, sometimes they’re stumbling around blind and still trying to mate,” Dr Baker said.

“You kind of get to know some of them and then the males don’t even get to live a year, they only live about 11 months before they all die,”  PhD student Thomas Mutton, said for ABC News.

“It’s kind of sad.

“I think their sex life is quite interesting to humans, it’s certainly a bit different to how we do it.”

So, every year the antechinus population is halved naturally. But, what happens if you add deforestation and loss of habitat to that? Factor in that these animals live exclusively in remote locations, in high altitude and low temperature, and conservation seems even more difficult. The  Tasman Peninsula dusky antechinus is the most vulnerable, with only a couple hundred individuals estimated to live in the forests of the Tasmanian Peninsula.

“I suspect it’s been isolated on the Tasman Peninsula for perhaps millions of years and this rare species is just sitting down there as we speak, in the middle of a small state forest that’s being logged,” Mutton said.

“Its precious old-growth forest habitat is rapidly being removed.”

virtual reality porn

Teledildonics is here: sex toys linked to virtual reality


virtual reality porn

Don’t make that face. It’s not like you didn’t see it coming, after all with each technological step forward porn has always shared the ride. Among the oldest surviving examples of erotic depictions are Paleolithic cave paintings and carvings. Prints became very popular in Europe from the middle of the fifteenth century, and because of their compact nature, were very suitable for erotic depictions that did not need to be permanently on display.  An earthier eroticism is seen in a printing plate of 1475-1500 for an Allegory of Copulation where a young couple are having sex, with the woman’s legs high in the air, at one end of a bench, while at the other end a huge penis, with legs and wings and a bell tied around the bottom of the glans, is climbing onto the bench. The oldest surviving permanent photograph of the image formed in a camera was created by Joseph Nicéphore Niépce  in 1826, porn likely soon followed there after. Imagine what happened once film came along. Nevermind the internet. Though the Oculus Rift is still in beta, and only a handful of developers own one, virtual reality is certain to change how people enjoy porn.

We’re already seeing the first steps: a company called  VirtualRealPorn has partnered with a high-tech sex toy developed called Lovense to sync sex gadgets with virtual reality. They designed and coded VR porn videos and synced them with remote controlled, bluetooth-enabled dildos and rubber vaginas. All so you can feel what you’re seeing. For instance, the Nora sex toy for females, which looks like a creepy rabbit glove, vibrates to match the speed of a male performing in the porn VR video, while a smaller arm vibrates when the two performing actors collide their bodies. Likewise, the Max vagina for men uses air pumps to contract the walls of the toy to match the speed of the female performer.

The Nora sex toy. Image: Lovense

The Nora sex toy. Image: Lovense

“This was an unexpected partnership, but we believe it is a positive development for Lovense,” said founder Dan Liu in a statement. “Our focus is to use sex tech products to solve problems for consumers, but when they approached us, we immediately saw the potential. They are the top virtual porn content producers, and we are a leading teledildonics [computer-controlled sex toys] company, so the partnership felt natural. We are both pioneers in our respective industries.”

That’s quite a lot of trouble just for the sake of masturbation. You need to strap a huge and quite heavy set of VR goggles, then wear some artificial mating devices. Some might feel it’s worth the effort.

“Viewing virtual porn is more work and requires more components compared to viewing regular porn,” says the Lovense founder Dan Liu for Wired. “But viewing regular porn is sometimes too much work, too. It’s not unusual for people to spend a lot of their time finding the right video and a fraction of the time actually getting off.”

Liu started his company after he had a long-distance relationship with a girlfriend in China while he was in the United Kingdom. It was tough to communicate sexually, so he began to explore options for long-distance sex. That’s how he eventually came upon the idea for Lovense’s sex toys.

The Max. Image: Lovense

The Max. Image: Lovense

To use VR porn, you’ll need to install the VirtualRealPlayer  which is currently only compatible with Windows computers and the Oculus DK1 and DK2 headsets. But developers are working on apps for iOS and Android. So far, VirtualRealPorn only made 32 synched videos with an 180 degree field of vision, but it plans on releasing at least one VR coded video per month. It will likely scale with demand and once they’ll find a way to use algorithms that automate the process.

“[We] code all the motions for the toy in each video and integrate them with our video player,” says VirtualRealPorn co-founder Leonor Laplaza. “We’re looking for ways to automate the integration, but for now it’s all done manually.”

The Nora and Max are already pretty high-tech as it is. The original offerings are  synced to work with each other via Skype or a mobile app, geared towards long-distance partners. In fact, there’s even a mod that syncs their throbs and pulses to music.

“The goal was to create an experience that felt completely immersive,” says VirtualRealPorn’s Laplaza. “We dream that teledildonics will enable users to not have to interact at all—or that any of their interaction is reflected in the content.”

But what’s the ultimate technology-driven porn? One can imagine an electroencephalogram that reads brain activity then directs pulses of electricity in key areas of the brain so they fire in a specific pattern. This would trigger a dream like state, effectively immersing you and a partner or just yourself if you want to fly solo in a fantasy land… all in your brain. But I’ll leave that to the field of teledildonics to elaborate.

n early modern Japan, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, euphemistically called ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). Official life in this period was governed by strict Confucian laws, but private life was less controlled in practice. Image: Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), print artist Torii Kiyonaga, about 1785 (detail).

Why the Japanese government is desperately trying to convince citizens to have sex

The land of the rising sun can be extremely confusing to foreigners, but one thing’s for sure: you gotta hand it to the Japanese for being creative. In the face of its worse demographic crisis to date – 1 in 4 people are over 65 years old – the government is experiment with all sorts of methods to boost birth rates. Now, this might not surprise most of you, considering everywhere in the developed world people are getting married much later in life than our parents have. For the Japanese, however, it’s a sensibly different situation. You see, it’s not that they can’t find jobs or resources that will make them feel safe to start a family – the main problem the Japanese have is that they don’t seem to enjoy sex that much anymore. A quarter of the women in Japan think sex is “bothersome”, while 15% of men said they hung up the proverbial samurai sword stating they were no longer interested in sex after having children. Well that’s very pragmatic of them!

Japan today: one in four people are over 65 years old

n early modern Japan, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, euphemistically called ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). Official life in this period was governed by strict Confucian laws, but private life was less controlled in practice. Image: Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), print artist Torii Kiyonaga, about 1785 (detail).

In early modern Japan, thousands of sexually explicit paintings, prints, and illustrated books with texts were produced, euphemistically called ‘spring pictures’ (shunga). Official life in this period was governed by strict Confucian laws, but private life was less controlled in practice. Image: Sode no maki (Handscroll for the Sleeve), print artist Torii Kiyonaga, about 1785 (detail).

According to Japanese officials,  by 2060 the population is expected to go down by a third, and, by 2100, if the trend continues, by 61 percent. Of course, developed nations all over the world are experiencing a similar situation. People are marrying much later or not at all, birthrates are plummeting and single-occupant households are on the rise – that’s if they’re not leaving with their parents at 30. But while in most countries, this trend is dictated by economic considerations and a Peter Pan-ish lifestyle, Japan’s problems seem to stem from a countrywide libido deficiency. The Guardian reports 45% of Japanese women aged 16-24 are “not interested in or despise sexual contact”, while a quarter of men feel the same way. Millions of single Japanese under 40 aren’t even bothering dating. What’s worse is that the sex drive is sharply declining.

Following WWII, Japan experienced a massive baby boom. The number of babies born in the nation in 2012 fell by 13,705 from the previous year to hit a new low of 1,037,101 and while a total fertility rate of 2.0 children per woman will maintain the population at a stable level. Japan’s rate has continued to fall since dropping below 2.0 in 1975.

Following WWII, Japan experienced a massive baby boom. The number of babies born in the nation in 2012 fell by 13,705 from the previous year to hit a new low of 1,037,101 and while a total fertility rate of 2.0 children per woman will maintain the population at a stable level. Japan’s rate has continued to fall since dropping below 2.0 in 1975.

A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34 were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30 had never dated at all.

In the face of such a dire situation, the Japanese government is trying all sorts of counter measures, some genuinely helpful, others hilariously desperate. According to BloombergPrime Minister Shinzo Abe set aside 3 billion yen ($30 million) for programs aimed at boosting fertility, including matchmaking programs. Morinaga Takuro, an economic analyst and famous TV personality, suggests the government should impose a “handsome tax”.

“If we impose a handsome tax on men who look good to correct the injustice only slightly, then it will become easier for ugly men to find love, and the number of people getting married will increase,” he says.

Needless to say it sounds remarkably stupid, although I might be hasty to judge. I’m not so familiar with the situation in Japan, but one can only assume that they’ve tried all sorts of gimmicks to spark the Japanese people’s interest in sex. For instance, Takuro redeems himself and actually makes a valid point that sort of sums up what Japan’s libido crisis is all about.

Speaking to the millions of Japanese men in love with 2D female characters from anime and manga. He expressed, in the Asahi Shimbun, “I want to tell them that human women are also great fun!” Technology, of course, gets blame: virtual worlds, not to mention porn.

Worldwide averages of mean age of marriage, the gap has narrowed only slightly over the past 35 years. The biggest differentiator of marriage age seems to be a country's income, with people in developed countries marrying later. Nordic countries and Western Europe rank among the highest for mean age at marriage at above 30 years. Afghanistan has one of the lowest at 20.2 years. Graph: United Nations World Marriage Data 2012

Worldwide averages of mean age of marriage, the gap has narrowed only slightly over the past 35 years. The biggest differentiator of marriage age seems to be a country’s income, with people in developed countries marrying later. Nordic countries and Western Europe rank among the highest for mean age at marriage at above 30 years. Afghanistan has one of the lowest at 20.2 years. Graph: United Nations World Marriage Data 2012

Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counselor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Like other sex counselors, she’s been through all sorts of therapies to convince clients to go out in the real world and seek partners; everything from tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples.

“Both men and women say to me they don’t see the point of love. They don’t believe it can lead anywhere,” says Aoyama. “Relationships have become too hard.”

Aoyama cites one man in his early 30s, a virgin, who can’t get sexually aroused unless he watches female robots on a game similar to Power Rangers. His case is unlikely to be singular.

[ALSO READ] Why Chinese men are the most single in the world

Besides the obvious problems a low nationwide libido brings with it – aging population, fewer working force etc – there are also other unconventional major social issues. Romantic commitment seems to represent burden and drudgery, from the exorbitant costs of buying property in Japan to the uncertain expectations of a spouse and in-laws. The men have become increasingly unmotivated and are rejecting the pursuit of both career and romantic success. Though well hidden, frustration stenches the air. And these are concerns the rest of the world should carefully follow. Japan might be eccentric, but the rest of the world doesn’t lag too far behind.

 

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First was the limb, then was the penis: study unravels Genitalia Evolution

A breakthrough study authored by Harvard University developmental biologists has finally resolved the mystery of how sexual organs appeared for the first time in vertebrates. According to their findings, shortly after our sea-dwelling ancestors migrated on land, creatures were pressured to quickly evolve genitalia – which they didn’t require up until then. These sexual organs, at least for snakes and lizards, originated from the limbs. The study also found that in mice, the sex organs had genetic origins in the tail bud.  I can smell a joke cooking up.

Where does this thing fit in?

At first, the researchers were interested in studying limb origin and evolution, but as the biological reverse engineering steadily unfolded before their eyes, they came across a more interesting objective – sexual organs. They soon found that if they ran the right tweaks, they could coax  embryonic limb cells of lizards and snakes to turn into genitals; the photos we received to illustrated this post may help you form a better idea of what’s going on.

78785603_image2

Genitalia bud can be seen at the tail end of this house snake embryo

At the heart of this process lies the cloaca, a cavity typically programmed to become the lower part of the gut.  This structure sends out signals to the cells around it in the embryo, telling them to turn into genitals. By moving the position of this signaling source (the cloaca), the researchers were able to grow penises where otherwise would have been a limb or tail.

[RELATED] Ancient 385-million-year old Fish pioneered Sex

“It demonstrates that there is a flexibility with what kind of cells can get recruited during development to form genitalia,” explained lead author of the research, Dr Patrick Tschopp from the Harvard Medical School in Cambridge, US.

“What we were able to show is that if you ectopically transplant this cloaca into either limb or tail bud cells, these cells respond in a way that reflect their development being redirected to a genital fate,” he added.

“In other words, by misplacing a molecular signal you can misguide these cells in their developmental trajectory,” Dr Tschopp said.

In the case of the cloaca, as in real estate, location is everything. You might be surprised to find out that snakes have two penises. Well, now that researchers have thoroughly probed the cloaca, we know for certain why. Because in snakes the cloaca is located so close to their hind legs (or where they should have been), external genital formation is signaled to form in pair – hence the two penises (they only use one penis during mating, though). For mice,  the sex organs had genetic origins in the tail bud, because of, again, the cloaca’s position. Under the same evolutionary process, human genitalia   come from the “tail bud” as well.

The same snake embryo after 11 days, showing the budding hemipenes at the tail end in the centre of the spiral

The same snake embryo after 11 days, showing the budding hemipenes at the tail end in the centre of the spiral

This information was revealed by genetic tracing of the embryonic cells which showed what genes were turned on and off by extracting and sequencing RNA molecules, the messengers from each gene.

Why the snake has two penises

The weirdest part of the study may be, ironically, related to a rooster unfortunate enough to share a nickname with the penis. Roosters don’t actually have a penis, instead it has a hole of some sort. When he mates, the rooster engages in sex by lining up this opening with the analogous one on the hen, sending sperm from his cloaca to hers. This is the case for 97% of all birds on Earth (see ducks at your own risk for some science of the 3%).  When the Harvard researchers grafted cloaca tissue next to the budding limbs of some chicken embryos, they found that the cells in the area began to grow into genitals. This adds weight to a hypothesis that says birds (most of them) used to have a genital tubercle, just like we mammals have, only to degenerate later in their evolutionary development. More importantly, the experiment yet again shows that  something as simple as a signal’s shift in location can drastically influence an animal’s evolutionary path.

“This paper dealt with the longstanding unresolved issue of the origin of genitalia. It turns out that the mouse is the odd one out, it was not similar to the snakes or the chicken.

“This paper provides a new twist to a previous hypothesis that genitals and limbs share a deep homology [shared ancestry], it provides formal evidence of how this co-evolution between the two structures can happen in an organism.”

It’s amazing how many things this study explains in one single paper published in Nature. For instance, it elegantly demonstrates why so many animals have differently shaped genitals. In some cases where animals look almost the same,  taxonomists study genitals  to distinguish otherwise nearly identical species.

“This is a great study,” said Denis Duboule, chairman of the department of genetics and evolution at the University of Geneva, who wasn’t involved in the research. “It’s a very interesting new idea. There are these master signals during development, where cells are told to make a limb, or a pancreas. But in this case the same signal is used, and depending on where it’s sent from, it will touch different cells.”

So you think your sexual fantasies are wild? Let’s find out

Everybody has sexual fantasies, but some may go a bit overboard. Don’t worry, I’m not here to judge. Instead, I’d like to show you a most interesting report. After asking 1,500 Canadian adults with a mean age of 30 about their sexual fantasies,  University of Montreal researchers ranked a list of the most common and atypical of these.

“Clinically, we know what pathological sexual fantasies are: they involve non-consenting partners, they induce pain, or they are absolutely necessary in deriving satisfaction. But apart from that, what exactly are abnormal or atypical fantasies? To find out, we asked people in the general population,” said the University of Montreal’s Christian Joyal, lead author of the study. “Our main objective was to specify norms in sexual fantasies, an essential step in defining pathologies. And as we suspected, there are a lot more common fantasies than atypical fantasies.”

Apparently, men have more fantasies and describe them more vividly than women (big whoop!). More surprising to find may be that a considerable portion of the interviewed women fantasized themes of sexual submission (e.g., being tied up, spanked, forced to have sex). I can sense some red lights flaring, so I need to add that the Canadian researchers also found that, unlike men, women in general clearly distinguish between fantasy and desire. Namely, even those who reported more extreme themes of submission (e.g. domination by a stranger) said they don’t want these fantasies to come true.  The majority of men, however, would love their fantasies to come true (e.g. threesomes). Also worth mentioning is that women fantasize more than men about having sex with their significant other. Men who are already in a relationship, on the other hand, fantasize much more about extramarital relationships compared to women.

“Overall, these findings allow us to shed light on certain social phenomena, such as the popularity of the book Fifty Shades of Grey with women,” Joyal concluded. “The subject is fascinating. We are currently conducting statistical analyses with the same data to demonstrate the existence of homogeneous subgroups of individuals based on combinations of fantasies. For example, people who have submission fantasies also often report domination fantasies. These two themes are therefore not exclusive, quite the contrary. They also seem associated with a higher level of satisfaction.”

Here’s the break down below. It’s worth noting that this data comes from a Canadian populace, as reported in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. A significant difference might be seen in other countries.

Fantasy Women Men
I like to feel romantic emotions during a sexual relationship 92 88
Taking part in oral sex 79 88
Having sex in an unusual place 82 82
Atmosphere and location are important in my sexual fantasies 86 81
Having sex in a romantic location 85 78
Having sex with someone that I know who is not my spouse 66 83
Masturbating my partner 68 76
Being masturbated by my partner 71 72
Having sex with two women 37 85
Watching two women make love 42 82
Having sex with an unknown person 49 73
Making love openly in a public place 57 66
Being dominated sexually 65 53
Giving cunnilingus 36 78
Having sex with a star or a well-known person 52 62
Giving fellatio 72 27
Dominating someone sexually 47 60
Being masturbated by an acquaintance 37 65
Being tied up by someone in order to obtain sexual pleasure 52 46
Masturbating an acquaintance 33 66
Being masturbated by an unknown person 33 63
Having anal sex 33 64
Having sex with more than three people (all women) 25 75
Masturbating an unknown person 28 62
Tying someone up in order to obtain sexual pleasure 42 48
Watching someone undress without him or her knowing 32 63
Having interracial sex 28 61
Having sex with a woman with very large breasts 19 69
Ejaculating on my sexual partner (For men only) N/A 80
Having sex with someone much older than me 34 48
Having sex with more than three people (both men and women) 57 16
Having sex with two men 31 45
Being photographed or filmed during a sexual relationship 32 44
I have fantasised that my partner ejaculates on me 41 29
Having sex with someone much younger (legally) than me 18 57
Petting with a total stranger in a public place (e.g. metro) 20 48
Indulging in sexual swinging with a couple that I do not know 27 40
Spanking or whipping someone to obtain sexual pleasure 24 44
Being spanked or whipped to obtain sexual pleasure 36 29
Having homosexual (or gay) sex 37 21
Having a sexual relationship with a woman with very small breasts 11 52
Indulging in sexual swinging with a couple that I know 18 42
Being forced to have sex 29 31
Having sex with a fetish or non-sexual object 26 28
Having sex with a prostitute or a stripper 13 40
Having sex with more than three people (all men) 28 13
Showing myself naked or partially naked in a public place 17 23
Watching two men make love 19 16
Sexually abusing a person who is drunk or asleep or unconscious 11 23
Forcing someone to have sex 11 22
Wearing clothing associated with the opposite sex 7 10
My sexual partner urinating on me 4 10
Urinating on my sexual partner 4 9
Having sex with an animal 3 2
Having sex with a child under the age of 12 years 1 2
Microbrachius dicki fossils are very common, yet nobody noticed these vertebrates bore differentiated sexual organs. Photo: ROGER JONES

Ancient 385-million-year old Fish pioneered Sex

Paleontologists have identified the first known animals that used internal fertilization instead of spawning – armor-coated swimmers, called antiarchs, which lived around 385 million years ago in lakes in what is now Scotland. The discovery is truly monumental since its the earliest known example of sexual dimorphism or differences in appearance between the sexes in the fossil record.

Sex emerged in a Scottish lake

Microbrachius dicki fossils are  very common, yet nobody noticed these vertebrates bore differentiated sexual organs. Photo: ROGER JONES

Microbrachius dicki fossils are very common, yet nobody noticed these vertebrates bore differentiated sexual organs. Photo: ROGER JONES

Flinders University paleontologist John Long and colleagues were also involved in the discovery of another ancient creature capable of self fertilization; a 380-million-year-old fish they named Materpiscis (“Mother Fish”) that carried embryos inside its body. After studying related fish belonging to a greater group called placoderms, the team found specialized male claspers, which function like a penis, and female genital plates that the fish used to copulate. This latest discovery, a type of placoderm called an antiarch and named Microbrachius dicki, puts vertebrate sex evolution even a step downward.

“We have defined the very point in evolution where the origin of internal fertilisation in all animals began,” Long said.

[ALSO READ] Males may be wired to choose Sex over Food

“That is a really big step.”

Artist impression of an antiarch couple mating. Researchers believe the two had to sit side by side to copulate.

Artist impression of an antiarch couple mating. Researchers believe the two had to sit side by side to copulate.

Long was startled at first by a peculiar isolated plate with a strange tube of bone attached to the rear of a M. dicki fossil specimen. He later realized he was looking at a clasper, which contains grooves that facilitate sperm transfer into the female. After studying other specimens from collections all over the world, Long and team also discovered the female equivalent –  small bony structure at their rear that locked the male organ into place. Early sex was no easy task, however. The strange genitalia geometry means the antiarchs mated sideways, as reported in the journal Nature.

“They couldn’t have done it in a ‘missionary position’,” said Prof Long. “The very first act of copulation was done sideways, square-dance style.”

“The little arms are very useful to link the male and female together, so the male can get this large L-shaped sexual organ into position to dock with the female’s genital plates, which are very rough like cheese graters.

“They act like Velcro, locking the male organ into position to transfer sperm.”

What’s weird is that antiarchs have been studied for well over a century, but it’s only recently that this highly important observation was made. Everybody kept assuming that the ancient fish reproduced in another manner, but evidence speaking otherwise was right there under their noses all the time. Another important insight is that the antiarch’s internal fertilization didn’t last for too long. As fish evolved, they reverted back to spawning, in which eggs and sperm to fertilise them are released into the water by female and male creatures respectively. It took another couple of millions of years before copulation made a come-back, reappearing in ancestors of sharks and rays.

This method of reproduction didn't last very long. Fish soon reverted to spawning.

This method of reproduction didn’t last very long. Fish soon reverted to spawning.

Not everything’s about sex, though. These ancient armored fish were also among the first to evolve important bodily components like  jaws, teeth, paired limbs, and internal fertilization, which we can see to this day. It’s enough to notice your body. Yes, in some weird way, you’re the product of fish sex. Congratulations!

 

"Adaptive behavioral prioritization requires flexible outputs from fixed neural circuits. In C. elegans, the prioritization of feeding versus mate searching depends on biological sex (males will abandon food to search for mates, whereas hermaphrodites will not) as well as developmental stage and feeding status. Previously, we found that males are less attracted than hermaphrodites to the food-associated odorant diacetyl, suggesting that sensory modulation may contribute to behavioral prioritization," the researchers write in Current Biology. Image: Current Biology.

Males may be Wired to choose Sex over Food

Men are from Mars and women are from Venus, or so the old adage goes, but how different are men and women? I won’t go into debates like whether or not men and women are neurologically the same – it’s a far too exhaustive and exhausting subject for such a short article. Clearly, however, men and women are different in biological terms, and going beyond physical differences, there are numerous hormonal interactions that greatly vary between men and women. For instance, men may be wired to go to greater lengths than women to have sex, if we’re to judge from the findings of a recent study which found male roundworms would rather mate than gobble food.

Sex or food? It might not be a matter of opinion

"Adaptive behavioral prioritization requires flexible outputs from fixed neural circuits. In C. elegans, the prioritization of feeding versus mate searching depends on biological sex (males will abandon food to search for mates, whereas hermaphrodites will not) as well as developmental stage and feeding status. Previously, we found that males are less attracted than hermaphrodites to the food-associated odorant diacetyl, suggesting that sensory modulation may contribute to behavioral prioritization," the researchers write in Current Biology. Image: Current Biology.

“Adaptive behavioral prioritization requires flexible outputs from fixed neural circuits. In C. elegans, the prioritization of feeding versus mate searching depends on biological sex (males will abandon food to search for mates, whereas hermaphrodites will not) as well as developmental stage and feeding status. Previously, we found that males are less attracted than hermaphrodites to the food-associated odorant diacetyl, suggesting that sensory modulation may contribute to behavioral prioritization,” the researchers write in Current Biology. Image: Current Biology.

Both feeding and mating are deeply etched into our biology, being essential to survival and reproduction, so choosing between the two can be a tough judgement call. Simple, yet subtle changes to the brain circuitry can make this decision easier, according to the findings of a group of researchers at University of Rochester published in Current Biology.

“While we know that human behavior is influenced by numerous factors, including cultural and social norms, these findings point to basic biological mechanisms that may not only help explain some differences in behavior between males and females, but why different sexes may be more susceptible to certain neurological disorders,” lead author Douglas Portman said in a press release.

The researchers studied Caenorhabditis elegans, a type of microscopic roundworm and favorite lab pet for researchers studying anything from genetics, to diseases, to immortality. It’s important to note that there isn’t a clear distinction between males and females when C. elegans is concerned. The females are actually hermaphrodites, meaning they’re able to self-fertilize, but that doesn’t necessarily stop them from seeking mating partners in males, and as such are considered to be modified females.

The team focused on the roundworm’s sense of smell, which they used to probe their suspicions that male and females are wired differently. The Rochester researchers placed hermaphrodites in the center of a petri dish with some food, with an additional ring of tempting food surrounding them – an obstacle for the males placed at the edge of the dish. The males either had a normal genetic profile – the control group – or overexpressed the chemoreceptor ODR-10, related to the worms’ sense of smell and found to control their decision between food and sex.

The normal males made a B-line for the hermaphrodites at the center of the dish. The hermaphrodites produce ODR-10 receptors, making them more sensitive to food, which explains why they didn’t stray from their food, unlike the males. Given the choice between overexpressing ODR-10 and maintaining normal levels, males opted for the latter 10 to one, researchers say. The findings rang true to the researchers’ predictions – males prefer sex over food. At least male worms, but are we humans any different? This is definitely a lot harder to test, but the conclusions are nonetheless very interesting.

 

Rhode island rape reports compared with three similar states. The vertical line in the timeline is when people took notice of the prostitution loophole. Image: NBER

When Rhode Island accidentally legalized prostitution rapes and STDs dramatically fell

prostitution

In the 1980s, concerned that the state statute on prostitution was too broad and could potentially infringe on First Amendment freedoms, lawmakers in Rhode Island decided to make it more explicit by cutting some articles. They went a bit too far, though, and accidentally removed the section defining the act itself as a crime. It wasn’t until 2003 that courts found that they couldn’t prosecute people for prostitution related felonies. Six years later, legislators corrected the law, but during this time it was found that public health and safety improved dramatically. Namely, gonorrhea among women declined by 39 percent, and the number of rapes reported to police in the state declined by 31 percent.

The economics of legalized prostitution

Rhode island rape reports compared with three similar states. The vertical line in the timeline is when people took notice of the prostitution loophole. Image: NBER

Rhode island rape reports compared with three similar states. The vertical line in the timeline is when people took notice of the prostitution loophole. Image: NBER

The study was reported by Baylor University’s Scott Cunningham and Manisha Shah of the University of California, Los Angeles and provides the first quantitative evidence that legalizing prostitution, even if by accident, can reduce violence against women and prevalence of sexually transmitted diseases. The study’s findings suggest that legalizing prostitution is the best course of action to minimize the risks to society, but some critics argue that prostitution is inherently violent, legal or not, and should be punished in consequence. The debate is whether prostitutes themselves are criminals or victims to pimps and sex traffickers.

The authors, being economists, did not touch on these issues and only focused on reporting data. They found, for instance, that most prostitutes were white and Asian women and that their asking prices fell compared to the black market. It’s important to mention that streetwalking, pimping and trafficking, remained illegal. As such, until the law condemning prostitution as a felony was revised, sex workers were operating their services from home and advertising on the internet.

Some 824 rapes that would have been otherwise reported to police were prevented or 31% less than when prostitution was banned. This sharp decline surprised the scientists involved in the study, but even after running through the date using three separate statistical they found that their results were still valid.

“The human costs are so big, if this is in fact a very real causal effect,” Cunningham said. “I think we have convinced ourselves that we have done everything we can do rule out alternative explanations.”

Debate

Other voices are less convinced. Melissa Farley, a feminist, psychologist and trenchant critic of prostitution, are too detached from what’s going on in the real world that the data fails to account for the fact that prostitutes will continue to be the victims of abuse, whether they operate under pimps or johns. She argues that legalizing prostitution would make it dead easy for traffickers to operate unobstructed and lead to an explosion of sex trafficking and exploitation that could ruin countless lives. A study made in Europe lends credence to her claims.

“Women in prostitution generally describe it as paid rape. That’s what if feels like to them,” said Farley, who feels the study embodies a “reactionary worldview.”

One of the main arguments is that once with rising demand for commercial sex, supply must also follow suit. But is demand actually growing or is it transferred from the black market – where anything can happen? Advocates that call for legalizing the oldest prostitution of the world believe such a counter status quo move will vastly improve working conditions and protect sex workers. Prostitutes could then call the police if they’re abused by a client – something unthinkable at this point – or force the client to wear a condom.

Ronald Weitzer, a sociologist at George Washington University, also argues that a transparent sex market would actually reduce the financial incentive for organized crime. “When something is prohibited, it allows organized crime to gain a foothold,” he said, comparing the sex market to the markets for alcohol during Prohibition or for marijuana and other drugs today.

There are already several countries in the world where prostitution is either legal or decriminalized, like Netherlands and Germany or the state of the Nevada in the US. Each, however, has its own form of regulation. Canada and Israel are currently considering reforms of their own, but this doesn’t make things less debatable in the US or other more conservative, at least publicly, countries.

ZME readers, what’s your take?  As always, please direct your comments below.

Paired photographs of a male body before (a) and after (b) the removal of body hair. The photographs were presented to women in the forced-choice trial. (c) Behavioral Ecology

Do women prefer hairy men? Study suggests menstrual cycle and father’s body hair influence mating preferences

The current western ideal for masculine beauty is hairlessness, as most women today will report they prefer to date men with little or no body hair. A new study suggests that there this preference may have a biological basis after researchers at the University of Turku and Åbo Academy in Finland found that women’s preference for men function of their torso hair depended on their menstrual cycle and also how hairy their fathers were – in Finland at least. Freud would had agreed.

The researchers asked 20 male volunteers, aged 20-32 years, to shave their torso hair. Photos were made before and after and for their trouble each male was awarded a 0.33l bottle of Koskenkorva vodka. These were shown to women who were asked to rate how attractive they found the men for each photo. Prior to this, the women volunteers were polled regarding their menstrual cycle and how much hair did their current partners, as well as fathers, have.

Paired photographs of a male body before (a) and after (b) the removal of body hair. The photographs were presented to women in the forced-choice trial. (c) Behavioral Ecology

Paired photographs of a male body before (a) and after (b) the removal of body hair. The photographs were presented to women in the forced-choice trial. (c) Behavioral Ecology

The findings suggest that women generally prefer men’s body hair levels resembling those of their current partners and fathers. During ovulation, however, women prefer less hairy men.  This suggests that biology plays a major role in altering the direction and strength of   female preference even for traits that are not ‘‘good genes’’ indicators and whose preference may be culturally based. What’s more interesting, however, is that the study suggests that Finish women prefer men with body hair levels close to their fathers, hinting that this preference is heritable.

The results were reported in a paper published in the journal Behavioral Ecology.

ancient_insect_sex

Fossilized insects trapped in the act of mating for 165 million years [SFW]

ancient_insect_sex

(c) PLOS ONE

Fossils that capture a kinetic moment are truly fascinating because they surprise a scene or picture from millions of years ago, effectively acting as a time capsule. Paleontologists have found along the years all sorts of such scenes, be them dinosaurs engaged in battle before an unlikely event engulfed and preserved them or some other preservation in the heat of action. Some capture some weird and intimate stances too. For instance, in northeaster China researchers have found an unlikely fossil: two insects fully engaged in mating. Since its 165 million years old, this makes it the oldest record of insect sex so far.

The insects in question are froghoppers, a group of insect species still alive today. After closely studying the fossils, the researchers were able to determine the insects’ genitalia and mating habits have remained largely unchained since the Middle Jurassic. So, yeah, there’s actually an added scientific bonus to studying insect porn. Jokes aside, these insights are really valuable to entomologists who study modern insect species and paleontologists alike.

As far as mating is concerned, it very difficult to determine the extent of both mating organs and behavior millions of years ago. Fossils that trap ancient beings in close moments such as these, though very few in number, are thus very valuable.

Froghopper genitalia. (c) PLOS ONE

Froghopper genitalia. (c) PLOS ONE

Froghoppers get their name from their formidable ability to jump from plant to plant; some species can jump up to 70 cm vertically: a more impressive performance relative to body weight than fleas. The froghopper can accelerate at 4,000 m/s2 over 2mm as it jumps (experiencing over 400 gs of acceleration). There are some 20,000 species of froghoppers, and are best known to farmers who consider them as pests. They’re also known as spittlebugs because their nymphs are covered in … spit. This secretion is activated by moving or pumping their bodies. Once the bubbles have formed, spittlebugs use their hind legs to cover themselves with the froth. The ‘spittle’ serves multiple purposes.

  • It shields the spittlebugs from predators
  • It insulates them from temperature extremes
  • It prevents the spittlebugs from dehydrating

The study, elegantly titled “Forever Love: The Hitherto Earliest Record of Copulating Insects from the Middle Jurassic of China,” was published in the journal  PLOS ONE

Captain Obvious presents: men and women lie about sex to match gender expectations

A new study conducted by researchers from Ohio University concluded that both men and women will lie about their behavior to match cultural expectations.

captain obvious

Well now, this is a new one – who would have thought people actually lie to have sex? But it gets even better – they used student behavior for this study. The first thing they noticed was that male students were willing to admit that they sometimes engaged in behaviors seen by college students as more appropriate for women, such as writing poetry.

“John, what are your hobbies?”
“Poetry, my darling.”
Likely conversation between John and Mary, two fictional students. Spoiler alert: John doesn’t like poetry, he likes Mary.

In other news brought by Captain Obvious, the same study showed that men are more likely to exaggerate when it comes to their sexual affairs, while women do exactly the opposite.

“There is something unique about sexuality that led people to care more about matching the stereotypes for their gender,” said Terri Fisher, author of the study and professor of psychology at The Ohio State University’s Mansfield campus. “Sexuality seemed to be the one area where people felt some concern if they didn’t meet the stereotypes of a typical man or a typical woman.”

Seriously? People spend time and money doing this kind of research, and come up with this kind of conclusions? Awesome…