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Visualizing Sex as a Spectrum

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Infographic reveals the startling complexity of sex determination

Infographic by Pitch Interactive and Amanda Montañez

By Amanda Montañez

Sex and gender pervade nearly every aspect of our lives. Each time we use a public restroom, shop for clothes, or fill out a form, we are insistently reminded that we must be either male or female; men or women; boys or girls. Even things that ostensibly have nothing to do with sex or gender—what we eat, for example, or the books we read—are often sold to us as if they are necessarily feminine or masculine.

Some of these conventions currently face challenges, some more polarizing than others. On the milder end of things, enterprising online retailers promote gender-neutral clothing for babies, and city transport authorities mercifully abolish the phrase “ladies and gentlemen” from public announcements. And on the other side of the controversy scale, U.S. state legislators debate so-called “bathroom bills,” which would prohibit transgender individuals from using public restrooms corresponding to their gender identity. This dispute has prompted some venues to offer a gender-neutral restroom option, or simply to do away with gender distinctions altogether in their facilities.

Much of the public discourse in this arena centers on gender rather than sex, presumably because gender is understood to be somewhat subjective; it is a social construct that can be complex, fluid, multifaceted. Biological sex, on the other hand, appears to leave less room for debate. You either have two X chromosomes or an X and a Y; ovaries or testes; a vagina or a penis. Regardless of how an individual ends up identifying, they are assigned to one sex or the other at birth based on these binary sets of characteristics.

But of course, sex is not that simple either.

The September issue of Scientific American explores the fascinating and evolving science of sex and gender. One of the graphics I had the pleasure of working on breaks down the idea of biological sex as a non-binary attribute, focusing largely on what clinicians refer to as disorders of sex development (DSD), also known as intersex.

The project was originally conceived as a data-driven graphic exploring the spectra of sex and gender. I wondered, for instance, what data could tell us about the frequency of transgender and non-binary identities, what proportion of the population is intersex, and how that value might break down into rates of specific DSDs.

I hired the researcher Amanda Hobbs to look into these questions, and what she came back with, rather than answers, looked more like a series of new questions. The search for solid data on transgender and intersex populations proved challenging, and was confounded by a variety of factors. For example, surveys often lump transgender in with gay, lesbian, and bisexual identities. And DSDs, in addition to being variously defined by different entities, sometimes go undetected or emerge unexpectedly, either during sexual development or later in life.

The project abruptly transformed into an exercise in visualizing complexity. First, it seemed imperative to define a few terms. Sex, gender, and sexuality are all distinct from one another (although they are often related), and each exists on its own spectrum. Moreover, sex cannot be depicted as a simple, one-dimensional scale. In the world of DSDs, an individual may shift along the spectrum as development brings new biological factors into play. The density of science underlying this phenomenon compelled a shift towards intersex as the primary focus of the visualization.

Now that my task was clear, I set about assembling the content of the graphic and putting it down on paper. In part, this process clarified how much I could include, as the complete list of known DSDs and their various manifestations proved unwieldy for a single spread in a print magazine. I ended up with a visual outline of sorts depicting a diverse selection of conditions and their convoluted pathways of development over time. Although not an especially pretty sketch, it captured the sense of intricacy the topic demanded.

Visual outline

Next I consulted with Dr. Amy Winsiewski, a DSD specialist at the University of Oklahoma, who was kind enough to review the content of my sketch for accuracy. And finally, I called upon the visualization experts at Pitch Interactive to help bring the project to life.

[caption id="attachment_2328558" align="aligncenter" width="600"] Sketch

Once the aesthetic of the graphic had been established, I continued to refine both the text and design elements, guided by feedback from my colleagues who helped identify areas that were unclear or difficult to follow.

The finished print graphic

Detail of the finished print graphic

The resulting visualization is a source of pride for me, as I hope it is for everyone who contributed to its development. (You can see a larger version here in the September digital issue.) Design and visual communication feats aside, I believe the content itself is of critical importance from a social and policy perspective.

DSDs—which, broadly defined, may affect about one percent of the population—represent a robust, evidence-based argument to reject rigid assignations of sex and gender. Certain recent developments, such as the Swedish adoption of a gender-neutral singular pronoun, and the growing call to stop medically unnecessary surgeries on intersex babies, indicate a shift in the right direction. I am hopeful that raising public awareness of intersex, along with transgender and non-binary identities, will help align policies more closely with scientific reality, and by extension, social justice.

Complete Article HERE!

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Following in the footsteps of Viagra, female libido booster Addyi shows up in supplements

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By Megan Thielking

Following in the footsteps of its predecessor Viagra, the female libido drug Addyi has snuck into over-the-counter supplements that tout their ability to “naturally” enhance sexual desire.

The Food and Drug Administration announced a recall Wednesday of two supplements marketed to boost women’s sex drive. The supplements Zrect and LabidaMAX — both manufactured by Organic Herbal Supply — actually contained flibanserin, a medication approved by the FDA in late 2015 to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder in women. It’s the first time federal officials have recalled a product contaminated with the drug.

“It’s the latest example of brand-new drugs being found in supplements,” said Dr. Pieter Cohen, a physician at Harvard Medical School who studies dietary supplements.

The problem has long plagued the male sexual enhancement supplement market. Viagra has turned up in dozens of over-the-counter pills that never declared they contained the drug. The FDA regularly checks supplements shipments for the presence of Viagra, and has added flibanserin into their scans since the drug was approved.

“FDA lab tests have found that hundreds of these products contain undisclosed drug ingredients,” said Lyndsay Meyer, a spokesperson for the agency.

The massive dietary supplement industry is largely unregulated. The products can be sold without a prescription in supermarkets, supplement stores, and, increasingly, online. The products currently being recalled were sold on Amazon through February.

And while supplement makers are not allowed to claim that their products cure or treat a particular condition, they are allowed to make general claims that their products support health or, in this case, promote sexual desire.

“There’s nothing that you can actually put into the pill that lives up to advertised claims, so there is this temptation to introduce a pharmaceutical drug that attempts to meet those claims,” said Cohen. Organic Herbal Supply, which is recalling its products, did not respond to a request for comment.

The FDA said it has not received any reports of adverse events tied to either of the supplements. But Cohen said they are far from safe — and argued a lack of regulation will allow those risks to remain.

“We have no idea the harms being caused by these products. As long as these products can be sold as if they improve your sexual health, there’s going to be no stopping this,” he said.

The amount of undeclared flibanserin in a supplement could vary widely from one pill to the next, as has been the case with Viagra. It’s also possible the drug could be introduced into a supplement along with other potentially libido-boosting compounds, exacerbating those effects.

“We don’t know what danger this poses because these combinations have never been studied before they’re sold to unsuspecting consumers,” Meyer said. Consumers can report adverse events tied to these or other dietary supplements to the agency online.

Cohen said the message from the recall is clear: “Consumers should just completely avoid sexual enhancement supplements. They either might be safe and don’t work, or they might work but are likely to be dangerous.”

Complete Article HERE!

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How to Have a Sex Life on Antidepressants

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When quitting isn’t an option, is it possible to overcome the sexual side effects that come with an SSRI?

By Shannon Holcroft

So, you’ve finally filled the antidepressant prescription that’s been acting as a bookmark for the most recent novel you’re feigning interest in. Somewhere between missing your own birthday party and watching everyone else have fun without you, you gave in. After a few medicated weeks, things are starting to look up. Except for your sex life, that is.

Just last week, you were tied to a kitchen chair enjoying an amazing (albeit rather mournful) few minutes of escape through sex. Today, getting naked seems less appealing than all the other pressing tasks you have new-found energy to complete.

“Is it the meds, or is it just me?” you wonder as you deep-clean the fridge with new vigour. After some soul-searching, it becomes clear that you’re still the same person—just with fewer festering foodstuffs and a lot less crying.

“It must be a side effect,” you decide. But months after filling your prescription, your genitals are still giving you the physiological equivalent of 8d2cc2c1a43108301b149f7f33e1664d.png

Why Antidepressants May Be a Downer for Your Sex Life

“[Sexual dysfunction] is a difficult, frustrating, and very common issue with this class of medications,” says Jean Kim, M.D., clinical assistant professor of psychiatry at George Washington University.

Twelve percent of American adults reported filling an antidepressant prescription in the most recent Medical Expenditure Panel Survey. Not just for clinical depression, but for all kinds of off-label conditions like chronic pain and insomnia.

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) are the most commonly prescribed antidepressant class. And between 30 percent and 50 percent of individuals taking SSRIs experience sexual dysfunction. Desire, arousal and orgasm may be affected by changes in function of neurotransmitters like serotonin and dopamine; the very mechanisms through which SSRIs treat depression.

How to Work Around the Side Effects

When fighting to survive a potentially fatal mental illness, there are often more important concerns than getting it on. It’s frequently not an option to stop taking life-saving medication to avoid side effects. So what’s a sexual being to do?

Despite SSRIs being pretty pedestrian, there’s no concrete answer to addressing sexual side effects. “Unfortunately, not much is reliably effective to deal with this [sexual dysfunction],” Dr. Kim notes.

This may sound pretty gloomy, but there are plenty of things you can try to bring sexy times back around. “Don’t hesitate to bring up the issue with your prescribing clinician, as there might be some helpful interventions available,” says Dr. Kim.

Here are other ways to work around the sexual side effects of antidepressants:

1. Time It Right

“Some literature advises trying to have sexual activity when the serum level of a daily antidepressant might be lowest in the bloodstream,” says Dr. Kim. In other words, the ideal time to get it on is right before you take your next daily dose.

If your dosing schedule makes it tough to pencil in sexual activities, chat with your clinician about changing the time of day you take your meds. In many cases, there’s room for flexibility.

“This would not work much with some SSRIs that have a longer half-life like fluoxetine (Prozac),” Dr. Kim adds. Those taking antidepressants that exit the body quickly, like Paxil and Zoloft, could be in luck.

2. Switch It Up

Switching to a different medication, with the support of your prescribing clinician, may make all the difference. Certain antidepressants have a greater incidence of sexual side effects than others. Commonly prescribed SSRIs associated with a high frequency of sexual dysfunction include paroxetine (Paxil), sertraline (Zoloft) and fluoxetine (Prozac).

Besides exploring the SSRI class, venturing into atypical antidepressant territory is another option. Buproprion (Wellbutrin) is an atypical antidepressant observed to present the lowest sexual side-effect profile of all antidepressants.

It may take some trial and error, mixing and matching to identify what works best for you, but it will all be worth it when you can [insert favorite sex act here] to your heart’s content again.

3. Augment

Some treatment add-ons may act as antidotes to SSRI-induced sexual dysfunction. “Supplementing with other medications that have serotonin blocking effects (like cyproheptadine [Peritol] or buspirone [Buspar]) or enhance other neurotransmitters like dopamine (like Wellbutrin) might help,” says Dr. Kim. She is quick to note that these findings are yet be confirmed by “larger-scale randomized controlled clinical trials.”

“Another common strategy is to prescribe erectile dysfunction drugs like sildenafil (Viagra) and the like for as-needed use before activity,” says Dr. Kim. Viagra has been found to reduce sexual side effects, even if you’re not in possession of a penis. In Dr. Kim’s clinical experience, “[Viagra] seems to help in more than a few cases.” Discuss with your doctor before adding any more medications to the mix.

4. Exercise

Now’s the time to take up aquacycling, indoor surfing sans water or whatever fitness fad tickles your fancy. Keeping active could be the key to preventing sexual dysfunction caused by SSRIs.

“Sometimes sexual dysfunction is not just a primary SSRI drug side effect but part of underlying depression/anxiety as well,” Dr. Kim explains. “Anything that helps enhance overall blood circulation, mood and libido might be helpful, such as exercise.”

Complete Article HERE!

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10 Things You Always Wanted to Ask an HIV-Positive Guy

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I’m a gym homo. I love Neapolitan pizza. I hate scary movies. I have six tattoos. I take cock like a champ. And, I’m HIV-positive.

After living with HIV for four years, I’ve heard the same questions over and over. Sometimes I wish I could present quick, pre-packaged answers — a list of “saved phrases” on my phone — but then I remind myself how desperately I asked questions during that first impossible week after getting my test results.

So today, I’m answering the questions that everyone secretly wants to ask an HIV-positive guy. What would you like to know?

1. Do you know who infected you?

I don’t. Most HIV-positive guys I’ve talked to do not know who infected them.

Few people intend to give someone HIV. There are random crazies, but most guys are just doing what I was doing — fucking around, having fun, and assuming everything is fine. You can give someone HIV without knowing you’re positive.

The virus has to “build up” to a certain point in your body to trigger an HIV test, which means you can test negative and still have transmittable HIV.

There’s an ugly myth that HIV-positive folks recreationally go around infecting others. That’s a lie regurgitated by fearmongering, anti-fact, sex-negative, poz-phobic people. It’s likely that the man who gave it to me did not know he had it. I feel for him, whoever he is, because at some point after playing with me, he got news that no one is ready to hear.

I do not, but don’t take that as an indicator of what most HIV-positive guys do. Many HIV-positive men become more diligent about condom use after seroconverting.

In the age of PrEP, condoms are no longer the only way to protect yourself (or others) from HIV — or the most effective. PrEP — a once-a-day, single-pill regimen that has been proven more effective than regular condom use at preventing HIV transmission — is something I urge all HIV-negative guys to learn about.

I play bare. I accept the risks of catching other STIs and STDs as an unavoidable part of the sex I enjoy. I get a full-range STD check every three months, and sometimes more frequently.

3. How did sex change for you after becoming positive?

Since seroconverting, I have more — and better — sex. Forced to see my body and my sex in a new light, I started exploring fetishes and interests I had never tried. In my early days of being positive, I played every week with a dominant. Today, I’m a skilled, kinky motherfucker.

4. Has anyone ever turned you down because of your status?

Many times. When I was newly positive, those refusals really hurt.

I remember one occasion that was especially painful. I was eating Chinese food with a friend and started crying at the table because several guys that week had turned me down on Grindr.

He let me cry for a few minutes, then said, “HIV is something in your blood. That’s all it is. If they can’t see how sexy you are because of something in your blood, they’re boring, uneducated, and undeserving, and you can do better.” He was right.

5. How old were you when you tested positive?

I was 21. I didn’t eat for a few days. I slept on friends’ sofas and watched movies instead of doing homework. Somehow I continued acing my college classes.

I walked down to the Savannah River every night to watch cargo ships roll through, imagining their exotic ports — Beijing, Mumbai, Singapore, New York — and their cold passage across the Atlantic. I wanted to jump in the black water every night but I knew some drunk tourist would start screaming and someone would save me.

I made it through those months, and I’m glad I did. The best of my life came after becoming positive.

6. What does “undetectable” mean?

“Undetectable” is a term used to describe an HIV-positive person who is diligently taking their meds. In doing so, they suppressed the virus in their body to the point that their viral load is under 200 copies/m — unable to be detected on a standard HIV test (hence, “undetectable”). Put simply: the virus is so low in your body that it’s hard to transmit.

“Hard” is an understatement. The PARTNER study monitored 767 serodiscordant (one positive, one negative) couples, gay and straight, over several years. In 2014, the results showed zero HIV transmissions from an HIV-positive partner with an undetectable viral load to an HIV-negative partner.

Being undetectable means the likelihood of you transmitting HIV is slim to none. It means you’re doing everything scientifically possible to be as healthy as you can be, and you are protecting your partners in the process.

7. Have you had any side effects from the meds?

Yes, but side effects today are mild in comparison to what they were in the past. AZT was hard on the body, but we’re past that. New HIV drugs come out every year. We’re in a medical age where new treatment options, such as body-safe injection regimens, are fastly approaching realities.

On my first medication, I had very vivid dreams and nightmares, an upset stomach for a week or two, and I developed weird fat deposits on my neck and shoulders. I switched meds a year in and couldn’t be happier.

There are options. Talk to your doctor if you have shitty side effects and ask about getting on a different medication.

8. What’s it like to date after becoming HIV-positive?

It’s just like dating for everyone else. There are losers and jerks, and there are excellent, top-quality guys I love. My HIV status has never impeded my dating life.

I’m non-monogamous, polyamorous, and kinky, and I think these characteristics drive away interested guys faster than anything else. My status never comes up. I put my status loud and clear on every profile, and I say it directly before the first date. If you don’t like it, don’t waste my time — I have other men to meet.

9. How do you respond to HIV stigma?

It’s an automatic turn-off. Disinterested. Discard pile.

I have active Grindr and Scruff profiles (and a few others). Each profile reads: “If you’re afraid of my HIV status, block me.”

I’m not interested in someone who, in 2017, walks around terrified of HIV. Learn your shit, guys. Learn about how HIV is prevented. Get on PrEP. Use condoms.

Educate yourself and learn how it’s treated, and what the reality of living with HIV is like today (it’s so mild and easy that I forget about it, TBH).

Yes, you should take necessary steps to prevent HIV. However, you don’t need to live your life in fear or abstain from having sex with people merely because they’re positive. I no longer believe HIV is the worst thing you can catch. Hep C is way worse. Scabies is pretty miserable. And bad strains of the flu kill people.

HIV? It’s one pill (or a couple of pills) a day. Yes, you will have it forever. Yes, you will face stigma for having it. But, the people who stigmatize you are ignorant and out-of-date. Dismiss them.

10. What would you tell someone who just tested positive?

Welcome! You inadvertently joined a club you didn’t ask for, but the membership includes some of the greatest minds in history, so you’re in good company. The virus felled many of the greatest campaigners for LGBTQ rights and freedoms that ever lived. They struggled so that you can get up in the morning, pop your pill, and live a long life.

Those who lived and died paid your initiation fees. They fought, protested, rallied and organized so that you can be here — so that you can stick around and enjoy your fabulous, queer life. Always respect their sacrifice and dedication.

You are loved. You will find love. You will find impossibly good-looking men who want to fuck you (or want you to fuck them) who don’t give a shit about your HIV status. And if it’s in the cards, someday you’ll marry one of those fellas.

You have brothers and sisters who share this quality with you. In the words of Sister Sledge, we are family.

Complete Article HERE!

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Do Nice Guys Have More Sex?

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Surprising Attributes Lead to Luck in Bed

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When it comes to sex, we are quite the shallow bunch: Something as simple as the smell of your sweat, the dilation of your pupils or the proportion of your waistline can make all the difference.

Yet science also shows that personality traits matter at least some of the time, both in the long-term partners we choose and our shorter-term, umm, relationships.

So say you want to have more sex — hypothetically, of course. Should you offer flowers or act aloof?

The answer is complicated. Here’s just some of what science has figured out about the mating game and personality. The findings are as diverse — and as seemingly contradictory — as we humans.

Nice Men (and Women) Can Seal the Deal

Recent research published in the British Journal of Psychology showed that altruism may put you in the best position (ahem) to find a willing partner. The results of two trials conducted by Canadian researchers showed that men and women who scored higher on altruism also said they were more desirable to the opposite sex.

Men who scored higher on altruism also reported more sexual partners, and more casual hook-ups compared to female participants. If altruistic participants were in long-term relationships, those altruistic men and women said they had more sex over the last 30 days.

Researchers didn’t just take their word for it. Watch the video above for more.

Honesty Is Sexy

Let’s be real. Humans are drawn to other humans they find physically attractive. But there may be more going on than simple hotness, according to a study published in the journal Personality and Individual Differences.

Researchers from China divided 120 study participants into into three groups. Before the experiment began, all of these participants, 60 men and 60 women, were asked to rate 60 random Google photographs of Chinese women. The faces were unfamiliar to the study participants, and all the women in the photos had neutral expressions.

Two weeks later, the study participants were asked to look at the photos again. But this time, one group of participants was given the same photos with descriptions of positive personality traits such as decent and honest. Another group was given the photos that now contained negative personality traits including evil and mean. A third group was given no information about personality.

The researchers found no difference among the groups during the first cycle of the experiment. But in the second cycle, those photos that contained positive descriptions of personality traits scored high on attractiveness. Those with negative descriptors scored lowest.

The researchers say “what is good is beautiful,” and this so-called “halo effect” shows that desirable personality traits are reflected in facial preference.

But We Like The Dark Side, Too

Men (and women) may say they like nice humans, but sometimes what we do tells a different story. When it comes to mating, both sexes seem to be drawn to (cue the theme from Jaws) “The Dark Triad.” That psych-speak for the personality traits of Machiavellianism, narcissism and psychopathy.

We know it’s true: Mean girls and bad boys can be pretty popular, at least for a while. It seems the Dark Triad may boost short-term mating prospects for men, and, importantly, women too, despite being “fundamentally callous, exploitative traits that deviate from species-typical cooperation,” explains Dr. Gregory Louis Carter, a lecturer in Psychology at York St John University.

Narcissism, for example, is related to good physical and mental health and longer life while Machiavellianism is linked to social flexibility. Psychopathy results in impulsivity and sensation-seeking, which can be extremely seductive, he says.

So men and women who score high on the Dark Triad scale may appeal to because they are confident, persistent, have a higher-ranking status and look pretty darn good.

The ‘Big Five’ Traits That Mean More Action

If you want to learn about your personality traits, most psychologists suggest looking at the “Big Five.” That’s a group of descriptors that include openness, conscientiousness, extraversion, agreeableness, and neuroticism. Taken together those Big Five can influence our health as well as our sex lives.

In a study of newlyweds, researchers from Florida State University shed some light on how a couples’ personalities influenced how often newlyweds had sex. Although the study did not look at non-married individuals, there is a good chance the results would hold true, says co-author Dr. Andrea Meltzer, Assistant Professor of Psychology at Florida State University.

The study included data on 278 newlywed heterosexual couples, all of whom were married less than six months. They kept a two-week journal detailing their life and how often they had sex. The couples also took a Big Five test to figure out their individual personalities.

Here’s what they found. There was absolutely zero link between the man’s personality traits and how often the couple had sex. But higher levels of the traits of agreeableness and openness among wives led to more frequent sex.

“Openness refers to the willingness to explore new idea and experiences,” says Meltzer, adding these folks tend to like art and abstract ideas, often try new and different foods, and love novelty.

Agreeableness means you can get along well with others and maintain social harmony. These folks are often perceived as kind, generous, and trustworthy, she says.

No surprise that husbands and wives who scored low on neuroticism were more satisfied with their sex lives. But husbands who scored low in openness also were more satisfied with their sex lives. Maybe these guys just weren’t into novelty.

Make ‘Em Laugh

Humor always ranks near the top of seemingly any list of what men and women find attractive in each other.

Some research shows that humor gets us hot because it may reveal intelligence, a creative bent, and robust genes that equate to not only good health but also good parenting traits.

Although humor is almost universally appealing, there are sex differences. “Women want to be made to laugh more than men,” says Carter. “Men want to be able to induce laughter, though probably not in the bedroom.”

Complete Article HERE!

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