Barres examines gender, science debate and offers a novel critique

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Ben Barres has a distinct edge over the many others who have joined the debate about whether men’s brains are innately better suited for science than women’s. He doesn’t just make an abstract argument about the similarities and differences between the genders; he has lived as both.

Having lived as a woman and a man helped Ben Barres to better understand gender discrimination against female scientists.

Barres’ experience as a female-to-male transgendered person led him to write a pointed commentary in the July 13 issue of Nature rebuking the comments of former Harvard University president Lawrence Summers that raised the possibility that the dearth of women in the upper levels of science is rooted in biology. Marshalling scientific evidence as well as drawing from personal experience, Barres maintained that, contrary to Summers’ remarks, the lack of women in the upper reaches of research has more to do with bias than aptitude.

“This is a street fight,” said Barres, MD, PhD, professor of neurobiology and of developmental biology and of neurology and neurological sciences, referring to the gang of male academics and pundits who have attacked women scientists who criticized arguments about their alleged biological inferiority.

Barres’ piece revived the heated debate about gender inequality in science, garnering worldwide attention including pieces in the New York Times, Washington Post and Wall Street Journal.

Where Summers sees innate differences, Barres sees discrimination. As a young woman—Barbara—he said he was discouraged from setting his sights on MIT, where he ended up receiving his bachelor’s degree. Once there, he was told that a boyfriend must have solved a hard math problem that he had answered and that had stumped most men in the class. After he began living as a man in 1997, Barres overheard another scientist say, “Ben Barres gave a great seminar today, but his work is much better than his sister’s work.”

From Barres’ perspective the only thing that changed is his ability to cry. Other than the absence of tears, he feels exactly the same. His science is the same, his interests are the same and he feels the quality of his work is unchanged.

That he could be treated differently by people who think of him as a woman, as a man or as a transgendered person makes Barres angry. What’s worse is that some women don’t recognize that they are treated differently because, unlike him, they’ve never known anything else.

The irony, Barres said, is that those who argue in favor of innate differences in scientific ability lack scientific data to explain why women make up more than half of all graduate students but only 10 percent of tenured faculty. The situation is similar for minorities.

“It’s leakage along the pipeline all the way,” Stanford President John Hennessy, who last year spoke out against Summers’ original remarks, said in an interview with a Newsweek reporter.

Yet scientists of both sexes are ready to attribute the gap to a gender difference. “They don’t care what the data is,” Barres said. “That’s the meaning of prejudice.”

Barres doesn’t think that scientists at the top of the ladder mean harm. “I am certain that all of the proponents of the Larry Summers hypothesis are well-meaning and fair-minded people,” he wrote in his Nature commentary. Still, because we all grew up in a culture that holds men and women to different standards, people are blind to their inherent biases, Barres said.

In his essay Barres points to data from a range of studies showing bias in science. For example, when a mixed panel of scientists evaluated grant proposals without names, men and women fared equally. However, when competing unblinded, a woman applying for a research grant needed to be three times more productive than men to be considered equally competent.

Further evidence comes from Mahzarin Banaji, PhD, professor of psychology at Harvard. She and her colleagues have devised a test that forces people to quickly associate terms with genders. The results revealed that both men and women are less likely to associate scientific words with women than with men.

Given these and other findings, Barres wondered how scientists could fail to admit that discrimination is a problem. His answer? Optimism. Most scientists want to believe that they are fair, he said, and for that reason overlook data indicating that they probably aren’t.

Unfortunately, this optimism prevents those at the top of the field from taking steps to eliminate a bias they don’t acknowledge. “People can’t change until they see there’s a problem,” he said.

Barres’ colleague Jennifer Raymond, PhD, assistant professor of neurobiology, said she appreciates his speaking out. “Most people do think there is a level playing field despite the data to the contrary,” she said.

Medical school Dean Philip Pizzo, MD, also applauds Barres’ efforts to promote fairness in science. “Dr. Barres is right to challenge individuals and organizations who contribute to known or unknown bias. He compels us to think more critically and honestly and to grow in more positive directions,” Pizzo said.

Barres’ concerns go beyond his own advancement. Pointing to his own large office, replete with comfortable furniture and a coffee table, he said, “I have everything I need.” As a tenured professor, he’s not fighting for himself. “This is about my students,” he said. “I want them all to be successful.”

And he wants science to move forward, which means looking beyond the abilities of white men, who make up 8 percent of the world’s population. The odds that all of the world’s best scientists can be found in that subset is, at best, small, he said.

With that in mind, Barres has been at the forefront of the fight to make science fairer for all genders and races. One focus is eliminating bias from grant applications, especially for the most lucrative grants where the stakes are highest.

Last year, Barres convinced the National Institutes of Health to change how it chooses talented young scientists to receive its Director’s Pioneer Award, worth $500,000 per year for five years. In 2004, the 64-person selection panel consisted of 60 men; all nine grants went to men. In 2005, the agency increased the number of women on the panel; six of the 13 grants went to women. Barres said that he has now set his sights on challenging what he perceives as gender bias in the Howard Hughes Investigator program, an elite scientific award that virtually guarantees long-term research funding.

In his commentary, Barres listed additional ideas for how to retain more women and minorities in science, beyond the standard cries to simply hire more women. He suggested that women scientists be judged by the quality of their science rather than the quantity, given that many bear the brunt of child-care responsibilities. He proposed enacting more gender-balanced selection processes for grants and job searches, as with the Pioneer award. And he called on academic leaders to speak out when departments aren’t diverse.

Barres said that critics have dismissed women who complain of discrimination in science as being irrational and emotional, but he said that the opposite argument is easy to make. “It is overwhelmingly men who commit violent crimes out of rage and anger,” he wrote. “If any one ever sees a women with road rage, they should write it up and send it to a medical journal.”

He continued, “I am tired of powerful people using their position to demean me just because I am different from them. . . . I will certainly not sit around silently and endure them.”

Complete Article HERE!

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Gay people are better at sex, according to science

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By Ryan Butcher

Gay people might have faced generations of persecution, harassment and social torment, but finally, science has dealt them a decent hand: they’re apparently better at sex.

We’re being facetious, of course. But research published this year suggests that the above is true.

A study looking at the differences in orgasm frequency among gay, bisexual and heterosexual men and women suggests that same-sex partners are better at bringing their lovers to ecstasy than their heterosexual counterparts.

This is reliant on the premise that good sex is defined by the frequency of orgasms.

The study, published by a group of researchers, including human sexuality expert David Frederick, assistant professor of psychology at Chapman University, says that although heterosexual men were most likely to say they always orgasmed during sex (95 percent), gay men and bisexual men weren’t too far behind (89 percent and 88 percent) respectively.

On top of that, 86 percent of gay women said they always orgasmed, compared with just 66 percent of bisexual women and 65 percent of heterosexual women.

By looking at the higher likelihood of orgasm for gay men and women – and again, on the premise that good sex is defined by the frequency of orgasms – sex between two men or two women could be better than sex between a man and a woman.

Of course, the other glaringly obvious conclusion from this study is that men in general, regardless of sexuality, orgasm more than women, as pointed out by Professor Frederick, who told CNN: “What makes women orgasm is the focus of pretty intense speculation. Every month, dozens of magazines and online articles highlight different ways to help women achieve orgasm more easily. It is the focus of entire books. For many people, orgasm is an important part of sexual relationships.”

The study also found that women were more likely to orgasm if they received more oral sex, had longer duration of sex, were more satisfied in their relationship, asked for what they wanted in bed, praised their partner for something they did in bed, tried new positions, had anal stimulation, acted out fantasies and even expressed love during sex.

Women were also more likely to orgasm if their last sexual encounter included deep kissing and foreplay, as well as vaginal intercourse.

Professor Frederick also suggested that the reason between the orgasm gap could be sociocultural or even evolutionary.

Women have higher body dissatisfaction than men and it interferes with their sex life more. This can impact sexual satisfaction and ability to orgasm if people are focusing more on these concerns than on the sexual experience.

There is more stigma against women initiating sex and expressing what they want sexually. One thing we know is that in many couples, there is a desire discrepancy: One partner wants sex more often than the other. In heterosexual couples, that person is usually the man.

Either way, although this study is good news for gay and bisexual people – regardless of gender – if there’s one thing it proves it’s that even when it comes to orgasms, the patriarchy has struck again.

Complete Article HERE!

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The Best Sex Takeaways From 2017

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By Leigh Weingus

In 2017, the trends surrounding sex were focused on having an open mind. What does a “normal” sex life look like? And can we redefine virginity for ourselves? There was also a decent amount of science surrounding gender equality in the bedroom (yes, we are talking about the complex nature of the female orgasm here).

While there was more than enough sex advice to go around this year, here are the most valuable bits from 2017.

Thanks to an uptick in social media use and a decrease in face-to-face interactions, new research finds that teenagers are now having sex later than ever. As a result, more people than ever are dealing with anxiety surrounding “late-in-life virginity.” And if you ask sex and relationship experts about it, they’ll tell you “virginity” as a concept is outdated.

“We really must speak more broadly about sex as a whole range of intimate possibilities, not just penetrative sex,” says Debra Campbell, couples therapist and author of Lovelands. “The idea of being a ‘virgin’ is really a bit outdated. It’s something that used to be important for the same socio-economic and religious reasons as marriage, but times have changed.”

How much sex should you actually be having? Studies show that having sex once a week is the “magic” number if you want to get all the benefits (overall well-being and relationship satisfaction), but if the real women we polled are any indication, “normal” doesn’t actually exist.

“Usually the frequency with which we do it comes in ‘spells,'” said one 29-year-old woman. “We’ll do it a bunch for a few weeks and then not as much for a few weeks. I’d say it’s changed since we first started dating. Truthfully, it took a while to actually get to the sex part, so we’d get more creative with what we did. That was really fun, actually. Now that we’re married, we try to find new ways to be adventurous.”

You can sleep in a separate bedroom from your partner—or have different sleep schedules—and still have a great relationship and sex life. Because let’s face it: There’s no bigger turnoff than losing a night of sleep because your partner was snoring or making a lot of noise when they came into your bedroom at 2 a.m.

“This is a fascinating dilemma because the research on sleep and couples clearly shows that we think we sleep better when we’re with our partner, but we actually sleep better when we sleep alone,” says David Niven, Ph.D. and author of 100 Simple Secrets of Great Relationships. “So there’s a very natural tension between the person who feels deprived when their partner stays up four hours later and the person who feels deprived when they are expected to come to bed four hours before they feel ready.”

The female orgasm has long been a mystery, and for years scientists didn’t care to spend time or resources trying to understand it. But the tides have changed in 2017, and a study on over 1,000 women between the ages of 18 and 94 shed some interesting light on what works and what doesn’t.

We learned a lot from that study, but here are some highlights: When it comes to manual and oral sex, about 64 percent of women said they enjoy an up-and-down motion on the vulva, and 52 percent also enjoyed circular movements. Just under a third of women said they liked “side-to-side movements.”

As for the clitoris, three-fourths of women were big fans of a circling motion, switching between different types of motions, and varying the intensity of touch.

Complete Article HERE!

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Why LGBT-inclusive relationships and sex education matters

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By Hannah Kibirige​

Today the Government launched a public consultation on what relationships and sex education should look like in England’s schools. While that might not be the first thing on your Christmas list, it’s been hanging around at the top of ours for a while, and is a vitally important step forward for all young people.

So why is it something we should all care about? Earlier this year, the Government committed to making age-appropriate relationships and sex education compulsory in all of England’s schools in 2019.

Currently, only certain secondary schools are required to teach this subject, and the guidance for teachers has sat untouched since 2000. To say that plenty has changed in those 17 years would be an understatement. Back then, Bob the Builder was Christmas number one, Facebook was just a twinkle in Mark Zuckerberg’s eye, and Section 28 – the law which banned the so-called ‘promotion’ of homosexuality – was still in force.

It was a different world – and the guidance reads that way. It makes little mention of online safety, and no mention at all of LGBT young people and their needs. We have, however, made progress. At primary level we work with hundreds of schools to help them celebrate difference. This includes talking about different families, including LGBT parents and relatives.

Teaching about the diversity that exists in the world means that children from all families feel included and helps all young people understand that LGBT people are part of everyday life. Lots of schools, including faith schools, have been doing this work for years. Different families, same love. Simple.

At secondary level, a growing number of schools are meeting the needs of their LGBT pupils. But Stonewall’s research shows that these schools are in the minority: just one in six LGBT young people have been taught about healthy same-sex relationships, and many teachers still aren’t sure whether they are allowed to talk about LGBT issues in the classroom.

Too many LGBT pupils still tell us that relationships and sex education simply doesn’t include them. As LGBT young people are left unequipped to make safe, informed decisions, most go online to find information instead. It will come as no surprise that information online can be unreliable, and sometimes unsafe.

In schools that teach about LGBT issues, LGBT young people are more likely to feel welcomed, included and accepted. When young people see themselves reflected in what they learn, it doesn’t just equip them to make safe, informed decisions, it helps them feel like they belong and that who they are isn’t wrong or defective. Providing all young people with inclusive relationships and sex education as part of PSHE is a key way to do this.

Every young person needs to feel accepted, understood and included. The Government has recognised that, and is clear that future relationships and sex education will be LGBT-inclusive. Now is our chance to have a say on what that should look like. Now is our chance to give all young people the information and support they need to be safe, happy and healthy, now and in the future.

Complete Article HERE!

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Here’s How Long ‘Sexual Afterglow’ Actually Lasts, According to Science

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Turns out great sex makes you feel good for longer than you think.

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We already know sex is really good for you, and can basically double as medicine. I mean, it increases your immunoglobulin A levels and makes your immune system stronger, protects against certain cancers, helps you sleep betterand it relieves stress and keeps your mental health in check.

That said, it’s no surprise that an activity as healthy and fun as sex leaves you feeling happy and serene, in something commonly known as the sexual “afterglow.”

According to research published in the scientific journal Psychological Science, it turns out that splendid post-coital “glow” is actually all emotional, and comes from the happiness you feel courtesy of the “love hormone” oxytocin.

This actually makes a lot of sense, considering most would argue that a solid romp in the sheets leaves you a sweaty, drained, sleepy mess, even though you feel pretty damn amazing on the inside.

For their research, scientists analyzed the results of two separate studies that each surveyed 100 newlywed couples, where the couples filled out sex diaries for two weeks and recorded how many times they had sex, and how they felt about their relationships in the days following sex.

Not surprisingly, the couples reported increased sexual satisfaction on the days they fooled around, but more importantly, it was discovered that they had higher feelings of intimacy and happiness, a.k.a. the “afterglow,” that lasted for two whole days after a roll in the hay.

Nah, she just got laid.

Furthermore, the researchers discovered that during the afterglow phase, a man’s sperm quality actually decreases, but begins to recover after the third day.

It’s believed that this 48-hour afterglow and the two day decrease in sperm quality work together as an evolutionary remnant intended to keep the happy couple together for at least two days after a good lay, since sperm can only survive for a maximum of two days in the female reproductive tract. And when you can’t bust a high-quality nut for two days, it gives the previously deployed sperm a better chance of reaching the egg.

Did you get all that?

What’s more is that the researchers had the couples reevaluate their relationships four to six months later, and found that those who felt the strongest afterglows were more satisfied with their relationship months later, meaning the better the sex is, the better the relationship. But that’s not too surprising, is it?

“Our research shows that sexual satisfaction remains elevated 48 hours after sex,” says lead author, Dr. Andrea Meltzer. “The afterglow appears to last approximately the same length of time that it takes for peak sperm concentration to be restored.

“And people with a stronger sexual afterglow — that is, people who report a higher level of sexual satisfaction 48 hours after sex — report higher levels of relationship satisfaction several months later.”

To conclude, let’s sum up the entire study into one simple sentence: You feel sexually satisfied for two whole days after sex, and it’s only because you subconsciously want to knock up your lady with your high-quality sperm. The end.

Complete Article HERE!

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