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This Long-Lost Study On Victorian Sex Teaches A Very Modern Lesson

By Sara Coughlin

female-sexuality

What comes to mind when you picture Victorian-era sex? Corsets? Marriages of convenience and social bartering? Repression? Maybe, like, a lot of repression?

Turns out, how we view that time in sexual history might be more than a little warped. We can start to get a better idea of what women of the time really thought about sex by looking at the work of Clelia Duel Mosher, MD. Years before Alfred Kinsey was even born, Dr. Mosher was already researching and discussing the sexual tendencies of Victorian-era women. (This, it should be noted, is in addition to her research that proved women breathe from the diaphragm, just like men, and that it was the corset and a lack of exercise that was to blame for many women’s health issues.)

Her sexual survey work started in the 1890s and spanned 20 years, during which time she talked to 45 women at length about their sexual habits and preferences, from how often they had an orgasm to whether they experienced lust independent of their male partners (Spoiler alert: They totally did).

Unfortunately, the report was never published in Dr. Mosher’s lifetime. It’s only thanks to Carl Degler, an author, professor, and historian, that we know of it at all. He stumbled upon Dr. Mosher’s papers in Stanford University’s archives in 1973 and published an analysis of her findings the following year.

As others have noted, Dr. Mosher’s research has played a major role in changing how historians think of Victorian attitudes around sex. Then, like today, a variety of perspectives on the subject existed. While this one report doesn’t sum up everything there is to know about how people had sex at this time, it certainly deepens our understanding of Victorian women, who are all too often painted in broad strokes at best.

Below, we’ve listed some of the most interesting findings from Dr. Mosher’s groundbreaking survey.

Not having an orgasm sucked back then, too.
One of the survey’s respondents said, “when no orgasm, [she] took days to recover.” In what might be an early description of blue balls for the vagina, another woman described a lack of climax as feeling “bad, even disastrous,” and added that she underwent “nerve-wracking-unbalancing if such conditions continue for any length of time.”

Yet another woman had something to say about the 19th-century orgasm gap, claiming that “men have not been properly trained” in this area. It seems that women have been taking their own sexual pleasure seriously for hundreds of years — even if the culture at large hasn’t.

Sex wasn’t just for procreation.
In keeping with Victorian stereotypes, one woman said “I cannot recognize as true marriage that relation unaccompanied by a strong desire for children,” and compared a marriage where the couple only has sex for pleasure to “legalized prostitution.” But several others disagreed completely.

One woman said that “pleasure is sufficient warrant” for sex, while another added that babies had nothing to do with it: “Even a slight risk of pregnancy, and then we deny ourselves the intercourse, feeling all the time that we are losing that which keeps us closest to each other.”

One woman even explained that sex helped keep her marriage strong: “In my experience the habitual bodily expression of love has a deep psychological effect in making possible complete mental sympathy, and perfecting the spiritual union that must be the lasting ‘marriage’ after the passion of love has passed away with years.”

Period sex was pretty cool.
Over a century before we threw around the term “bloodhound” like it was nothing, at least one trailblazing woman believed that sex was always on the table — whether or not it was your Time of the Month. She added that she was fine with getting down at all hours, too: “during the menstrual period…and in the daylight.” If anyone reading this just happens to be this woman’s lucky descendent, we’d like to send her a posthumous high-five through you.

Why This Is More Than A History Lesson
In his analysis, Degler writes that of course “there was an effort to deny women’s sexual feelings and to deny them legitimate expression” back then, but the women who participated in the survey “were, as a group, neither sexless nor hostile to sexual feelings.” They didn’t let any societal expectations or restraints stop them from having those feelings — and acting on them.

Though we may not live with the same barriers (or dress code) that women did back then, it’s reassuring to know that these women defied their time’s moral code to speak frankly about their sexuality. As frustrating as it is, women still deal with stigmas surrounding sex today, whether they’re at risk of being called prudes or sluts, or being discriminated against because of their sexual orientation. This is what we’ll remember most about Dr. Mosher’s work — that, in the face of whatever shame you may be harboring about your own sexuality, or whatever pressures you may be feeling, you are most likely totally normal and definitely not alone. So why hide it? After all, you never know whom you might end up proving wrong a couple hundred years down the line.

The gap between what we learned in sex ed and what we’re learning through sexual experience is big — way too big. So we’re helping to connect those dots by talking about the realities of sex, from how it’s done to how to make sure it’s consensual, safe, healthy, and pleasurable all at once.

Complete Article HERE!

What Does Transgender Mean? Your Guide to Understanding Trans Terminology.

By

what-does-transgender-mean-your-guide-to-understanding-trans-terminology

For this edition of Elle Oh Elle, I’ve enlisted the voice of Monika MHz, a Portland DJ and columnist. Monika is a trans woman, and she’s here to explain how you can make the world a better place by removing transphobia from your life.

Although ultimately impossible to measure precisely, a new study suggests that about 1.6 million Americans are transgender. Too often in the LGBT discussion, we focus on the LGB, and forget about the T.

Let’s broaden our discussion, to include all of our sex-positive brothers and sisters. It is perfectly OK to not yet be familiar with these terms — but as you seek to better understand the trans community, it helps to start by understanding some of the language. Here’s your starter guide.<

Transgender

Transgender is an umbrella term used to describe a person who does not identify specifically with their assigned gender from birth. There’s a big spectrum on this — not everyone falls into an entirely male or female category — meaning the term includes a lot of gray area.

Some people use the term “transgender” to include drag queens and all gender nonconforming folks; others don’t. Some trans folks hate the term; others don’t. “Trans” bridges some of that gap. “When in doubt,” Monika says, “just say ‘trans.’ It’s a baggage-free abbreviation, umbrella, and identity for a large percentage of the community — and won’t be read as offensive or rude. No one is gonna start a hashtag because you called me trans.”

Cisgender

Here’s a simple way to understand what it means to be cisgender:

ELLE: I’m a cisgender female; meaning I identify with the gender assigned to me at birth. I was raised as a female, and I identify as such.

MONIKA: I’m a trans woman. I was assigned male at birth, and I’m a woman. I’m also a DJ and a writer. I’m wicked hot — and you, dear reader, should treat me like people.

FTM, MTF

FTM is an acronym for “female-to-male” that refers to trans men who were assigned female at birth. Conversely, MTF is “male-to-female” and refers to trans women assigned male at birth. Some people find the term uncomfortable and don’t like to use it; others prefer it. You should always ask before these acronyms to describe an individual.

But how do you ask someone a question like this?

“It’s like asking any other personal question,” Monika says. “Don’t drop the bomb in the middle of discussing Stranger Things on Netflix. But if the topic comes up and you are struggling to find the right wording in your head, it’s OK to just ask: ‘I’m sorry, this might be wrong, but do you prefer FTM or is there a better term?’ Just use good judgment, be polite, and you’ll be fine. Always better to ask!”

LGBT, LGBQ, LGBTQA, TBLG

The above acronyms are used in reference to L) lesbian, G) gay, B) bisexual, T) transgender, Q) queer, and A) asexual or ally. But while we lump all these groups together into a single acronym (i.e., “the LGBT community”), it’s important to remember that each part of these acronyms represents a specific identity. Trans is overlooked too often, even as strides are made among the gay, bisexual, and lesbian communities. But some of that is (finally!) starting to shift, ever so slowly.

“Trans folks have been at the front of the LGBTQ equality movement from the start,” Monika says. “Trans women fought on the front lines of Stonewall and the Compton Cafeteria riots. As things got better for LGBQ folks, the T just seemed louder by comparison. Our stories, eventually, cut through the noise and it leads us to where we are now.

“An ‘ally’ is what you call yourself when you use the right pronoun for your trans friend, or when you retweet Laverne Cox. However, being an ally is more than just a few actions. Even if you don’t know a trans person, you can ally.” Write an email to your state and national government officials in support of employment protections for trans folks, or talk to your family about the humanity of trans folks. You can ally all over your family.

Pronouns

Pronouns are the parts of speech we use to describe the gender of people, pets, and sometimes boats and cars (if you’re into that sort of thing). She, he, and — if you’re non-binary, or genderqueer — they. If you don’t know someone’s gender, it’s really easy to just use “their/they.” Try it! People do it with babies all the time.

“Your cat is licking their paws.”

“That person with long hair is waiting for their cab.”

“People do it all the time in general,” Monika says. “Chicago style manual, Washington Post, and many other style guides recognize it as just plain useful. I have a friend who doesn’t like it for formal writing, but they’re wrong. See what I did there?”

Transition

It’s sort of just like it sounds. It’s usually referring to the medical and/or social puberty experienced by trans folks. It’s just like a young cis (non-trans) boy “transitions” from boyhood to manhood during puberty. You might hear someone tell you that they transitioned when they were 16, for example. That would give you some idea of their life experience.

Transphobia

“People often read this as ‘fear of trans people’ and sorta rightly so, given its etymological roots,” Monika says. “However, the way it’s used is more than just the fear or hate of trans people. It’s about the systemic and socially mediated ways in which society mistreats an entire class of people and how that impacts the way trans folks, and trans women in particular, are treated.”

Intersex

“This has nothing to do with being trans,” Monika says. “It’s a generalizing medical term to describe folks born with genetic, reproductive, and sexual anatomy differences that don’t fit the usual definitions of male and female. Some intersex people are trans, and others aren’t, but they are separate things.”

Genderqueer

Genderqueer is a sort of catchall umbrella term often used to describe gender non-conforming and trans folks who don’t feel like they fit into the male or female identity. Not everyone uses it, and some people identify as genderqueer and a woman or a man. It’s a messy world, and language is often inadequate to describe how folks feel.

In one stand-up routine, comedian Whitney Streed sums their experience as such: “I cut my hair [short], I dress and move about the earth in this particular fashion, because I need my gender to be baffling. Like I need it not to scan. I’ve thought about it, and I want all of my catcalls to end in question marks, that’s what I’m going for. I want my gender to be something like a crossword puzzle. Because you are gonna work on this the entire bus ride to work. Just taking in all the clues, thinking about it. You get there, you think to yourself, ‘Did I get all of that right?’ –That’s me! I am the New York Times Sunday crossword of gender.”

Queer

In the same way some sex-positive people like myself refer to themselves as a slut, most younger LGBTQ people are happy to call themselves “queer” in an effort to reclaim the connotations of the word.

“It’s a term some LGBT folks forged out of an anti-gay slur,” Monika says. “Usually only referring to sexuality, I like to use it to describe my sexuality and not my gender. Some people, though, identify as queer rather than trans. [But] it can be very offensive to some people, especially gay men of older generations.”

Cross-dresser

Everyone is a cross dresser and everyone isn’t. Basically it’s all about social context. Women wear suits all the time now, but at a different time we might have called that cross-dressing.

Nowadays, people seem to use it to exclusively refer to men who wear clothing and makeup deemed too feminine for a man. It’s a ridiculous term past its prime.<

Gender identity

Gender identity is defined as the personal experience of one’s own gender. Which seems vague, but that’s fine.

“Sometimes it [gender identity] can feel less solid,” Monika says. “I don’t just identify as Latina, I am Latina. I am a woman.”

To cut through the confusion, just go with the gender an individual identifies as. A person with a vagina who identifies as a man, is a man. A person with a penis identifying as a woman, is a woman.

Trans man

This is a catchall usually used for trans people assigned female at birth who are men. Sometimes they have gone through — or are planning to go through — some medical interventions to enhance their comfort with their bodies.

Sometimes, people use the term to refer to people who don’t identify with manhood. These are individual cases.

Trans woman

See above. This usually refers to people assigned male at birth who are women. “Trans women” is also sometimes used as a term for all trans people who were assigned male at birth.

Tranny

For both uses of trans, is it OK to use the term “tranny”?< "You’re allowed to say any word, sure," Monika says. "But it’s probably ill-advised to skip down the street dropping the 'T' all day. Not only are you likely to ruin someone’s day, but you’ll likely sound like a clueless relic. So, unless you want to be a wanker, hold off on the 'T-word'... unless you’re a trans woman. It’s sort of 'our word.'” Same goes for “transvestite.” It’s archaic, and should be left to the script of the Rocky Horror Picture Show.

“Back in the ’90s,” Monika says, “there were these insufferably fine distinctions drawn between different types of transgender and gender-nonconforming folks. ‘Transvestite’ was a diagnosis from the DSM IV codes for mental illness — that has since been removed — used to describe folks who fetishized cross-dressing. If you identify as a man, and wearing lingerie while jerking off sounds like an ideal Sunday activity, then at that time you would have been considered a transvestite. These distinctions have largely fallen out of use, or fashion, or whatever. No one is really using this term anymore.”

Sex, sexuality, and gender are a larger ingredient to the recipe of a society. And human rights are an integral part of an ethical nation — but it all starts with our ability to communicate with each other. Asking questions, showing compassion, and seeking understanding: this is how we elevate our culture to a better place.

Complete Article HERE!

A waning interest in intimacy; a cross-dressing husband

By Dr. Katie Schubert

As a sex therapist, people sometimes email and call me to ask if I can answer a “quick question” for them. Human sexuality is complicated, and a “quick question” generally has a convoluted answer. However, sometimes I am able to provide a general answer or offer a starting place for those seeking answers. When I polled my students, friends and family about “quick questions” they would like answered by a sex therapist, I was flooded. I narrowed the submissions down to two.

 

INTEREST IN SEX IS GOING, GOING, GONE

I am a 40-year-old woman, married 18 years, with twins, age 15, and a 12-year-old. I am a stay-at-home mom. I spend a lot of time driving the kids to their activities every day. My husband continues to be very interested in having sex, but I couldn’t care less. I’m nowhere near menopause, but I think my hormones are off or something. I have no awareness of desire anymore. What’s happening to me? I still love him very much.

This is a complaint I hear from a lot from women. A recent study published by the National Institutes cross dressingof Health found that the prevalence of sexual dysfunction among all women is estimated to be between 25 and 63 percent. Those figures are even higher for postmenopausal women, at 68 to 86.5 percent. Also, sexual dysfunction is more common in women (43 percent) than in men (31 percent). Further, the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors found that between 26 and 48 percent of women over 40 reported a lack of interest in sex.

To answer your question, you could be experiencing a lack of desire for many reasons. Part of the sex therapy process would be to uncover these reasons and develop ways to increase your desire. Being a stay-at-home mom is a full-time job and exhausting. Are you getting enough sleep? Lack of sleep can lead to reduced testosterone levels, which may contribute to a low libido or feelings of fatigue. Was your libido always low, or has it declined over the course of your marriage? It is not uncommon for a person’s sex drive to change over time. Fluctuations in libido often coincide with stress levels, major changes in your life or your relationship, or hormonal changes. How is your relationship with your husband? Does he make you feel guilty for not having sex? Does he help out enough with the kids and around the house? If you are harboring anxious feelings about needing to have sex, or feeling resentment toward your husband for not helping enough with the kids or house, the last thing you will want to do with him is be intimate.

Sex therapists use a process called sensate focus with couples experiencing situations similar to yours. Through sensate focus, couples are given a series of homework assignments geared toward rebuilding intimacy and trust in a relationship in an environment with reduced pressure and anxiety. The exercises begin with nonsexual massages and gradually work up to sexual touching and intercourse.

The fact that you love your husband is not indicative of how much sexual desire you should have for him. However, loving your husband is a great foundation and will help resolve this issue with more ease.

SURPRISE! WIFE FINDS HUSBAND IN HER BRA

I came home early from work one day last week and found my husband sitting in the family room dressed in my bra and panties and watching a sexually graphic movie on TV. He got really angry that I “caught” him. Is this common? What’s going on with him? I am horrified.

First of all, cross-dressing does not mean your husband is gay, bisexual or transgender. Most men who cross-dress are heterosexual and married and simply enjoy the practice. There are varying estimates of the prevalence of male cross-dressers in the United States, ranging from 2 percent to 10 percent. In a study published in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality (Reynolds & Carson, 2008), researchers found that most of the heterosexual men who engaged in cross-dressing did so to achieve a feeling of “comfort and peace.” Men in the study said they cross-dressed to fulfill a biological, genetic or innate desire.

There have been several studies focusing on the wives of cross-dressers. One of these studies, published in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality (Reynolds & Carson, 2008), found that most wives did not support their husband’s cross-dressing, but rather tolerated it. Generally, the wife’s biggest source of anxiety about their husband’s cross-dressing was that other people might find out.

If you and your husband were to pursue therapeutic services, it is likely that a therapist would first explore the feelings you both have about his cross-dressing. Often issues arise in relationships due to a lack of communication. You may be horrified by his cross-dressing because you do not understand why he does it or what it means about him. If you are given the space to ask questions and he is given the space to answer your questions, you both may feel more at ease with his cross-dressing. In the therapy session, you both may be asked what it would take for you to tolerate his desire to cross-dress. Most of the time, compromises must be made in order for both partners to feel as if their needs are being met. For instance, you may be able to work with your husband to set limits on his cross-dressing activities so you are more comfortable with his behavior.

Rest assured, your experience is not unique. In our society, gender norms are quite black and white. Any sort of behavior that does not fit into our rigid expectations is seen as taboo. The best thing to do in your situation is to learn more about cross-dressing, whether that means reading up on it or seeking the assistance of a sex therapist.

Complete Article HERE!

Sexual Health and Safety 101: Frosh Edition

By Di Daniels

Sexual Health and Safety

Don’t get me wrong, the first week of university is an exciting time and you should be taking advantage of every opportunity to let loose and indulge in your adventurous side—in between the sheets, and otherwise.
With that being said, now that you’re outside of the giant safety net that is your parents’ supervision, you should be taking a few extra precautions to make sure that your transition into the world of sex wherever, whenever, is a safe one.
Now, none of the points I’m about to bring up are anything new or groundbreaking, but the following tips are worth keeping in mind. -Di Daniels

The golden rule of consent

Sex can be an exciting, amazing experience—but never without consent from both parties. The definition of consent is something you must know if you are sexually active or plan to take your first steps into the experience. Consent involves a variety of factors, and it’s important to be well-versed in all of them.

Consent means that both parties have made an enthusiastic, direct, voluntary, unimpaired, and conscious agreement to engage in sexual activities of any kind. Consent cannot be given if either party is impaired by any kind of drug. You cannot use your own intoxication as an excuse for carrying out actions of sexual violence—your “I was so drunk I can’t remember a thing” excuse might get you out of other unpleasant scenarios during 101 Week, but consent for sexual activities is NOT one of them.

You cannot assume the person has said yes because they haven’t said no. You cannot receive consent from a person who is asleep or impaired in any way. Consent can never, ever be given under threat from the requesting party, or if the person is in a position of authority over the person being asked.

Even if you’ve stripped down and teased each other for an hour, if your partner decides they don’t want to participate at ANY point, you must respect that their consent can be revoked at any given time during the activity.

You can find a more extensive definition of “consent” in the University of Ottawa’s new sexual assault policy.

“No” does not mean “I want to be convinced”. “No” does not mean “I’m playing hard to get”. “No” means nothing else but “no”, and the golden rule of all sexual relations is that you must always respect this.

Make safer sex a routine

It’s probably not new information that you should use some form of birth control during any erotic encounters, but even though methods like the pill or an IUD can prevent an unwanted pregnancy, these commonly used contraceptives do not protect you against Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI).

In this light, it’s important to always, always use a condom. Some people don’t disclose or just don’t know that they have an STI, so it’s essential that you put yourself first and use protection. But even these best-laid plans can fail if you don’t use a water-based lube with the condom, as oil-based lube can cause breakage.

If walking into a store and buying condoms over the counter isn’t your thing, go online at Sex It Smart and order free condoms—they literally deliver right to your door, and for those with allergies they also offer latex-free order options. You can also pick some up for free at the U of O’s Health Services.

Not all tests happen in the classroom

After a raunchy week in your new residence, you find yourself itchy, bumpy, or just plain uncomfortable down below. What to do? First of all, try not to feel ashamed about it. The stigma around STIs and other genital infections is still strong on campus, but the reality is that the rates among university students have proven to be on the rise—you are NOT alone in your experience. Even if it feels shameful to do it, it’s important to go see a doctor if you have symptoms and get tested for STIs.

Even if you don’t feel unusual, it’s worth noting that some STIs can lay dormant and cause no symptoms for a period of time, so it’s always a good idea to get checked out on the regular once you become sexually active.

Not sure where to go to discuss your concerns? Lucky for you, the University of Ottawa offers a walk-in clinic, as well as appointments with family doctors, so that you won’t have to go far to get tested. You can also get free and confidential STI testing done at the City of Ottawa’s Sexual Health Centre.

On-campus support

If your 101 Week leaves you feeling uncertain, scared, or anxious about your sex life or sexuality, please seek support—our campus offers so much of it, right at your fingertips.

Student Academic Success Service’s free counselling and coaching service offers counsellors that will help guide you through any turbulence your transition to university may bring. The Women’s Resource Centre offers peer support and guidance from a feminist perspective, as well as free safer sex supplies. The Pride Centre offers drop-in services that provide members of the LGBTQ+ community with a safe space to share experiences with like-minded peers, as well as a service that provides training to those outside of the community on how to become a better ally

Complete Article HERE!

We’re Not Quite ‘Born This Way’

By

newborn

Back in 2014, a bigoted African leader put J. Michael Bailey, a psychologist at Northwestern, in a strange position. Yoweri Museveni, the president of Uganda, had been issuing a series of anti-gay tirades, and — partially fueled by anti-gay religious figures from the U.S. — was considering toughening Uganda’s anti-gay laws. The rhetoric was getting out of control: “The commercialisation of homosexuality is unacceptable,” said Simon Lokodo, Uganda’s ethics minister. “If they were doing it in their own rooms we wouldn’t mind, but when they go for children, that’s not fair. They are beasts of the forest.” Eventually, Museveni said he would table the idea of new legislation until he better understood the science of homosexuality, and agreed to lay off Uganda’s LGBT population if someone could prove to him homosexuality was innate.

That’s where Bailey comes in: He’s a leading sex researcher who has published at length on the question of where sexual orientation comes from. LGBT advocates began reaching out to him to explain the science of homosexuality and, presumably, denounce Museveni for his hateful rhetoric. But “I had issues with rushing out a scientific statement that homosexuality is innate,” he said in an email, because he’s not sure that’s quite accurate. While he did write articles, such as an editorial in New Scientist, explaining why he thought Museveni’s position didn’t make sense, he stopped short of calling homosexuality innate. He also realized that in light of some recent advances in the science of sexual orientation, it was time to publish an article summing up the current state of the field — gathering together all that was broadly agreed-upon about the nature and potential origins of sexual orientation. (In the meantime, Museveni did end up signing the anti-gay legislation, justifying his decision by reasoning that homosexuality “was learned and could be unlearned.”)

To help write his paper, Bailey assembled an impressive multidisciplinary team: It consisted of the psychologists Paul Vasey and Lisa Diamond, the neuroscientist S. Marc Breedlove, the geneticist Eric Vilain, and Marc Epprecht, a historian with a focus on gender and sexuality in Africa.

Their article, which was recently published in Psychological Science in the Public Interest, is something of an all-you-can-eat buffet for anyone interested in the current state of scientific research into sexuality. While it’s loosely organized around the “moral” concerns raised by Museveni, it covers a wide range of subjects. It’s worth a full read, but three main points leaped out at me:

1. There’s a connection between gender expression and sexual orientation that seems to show up just about everywhere. It’s important to note that just about everything in Bailey and his colleagues’ paper has to do with average differences between members of different groups. Nothing in the paper (or this article) should be taken as implying that “all straight people X” or “all straight people Y.” The average man is significantly bigger than the average woman, but plenty of women are bigger than plenty of men; the same logic holds here.

That caveat aside, there seems to be a consistent, robust way in which sexual orientation and gender roles play off of each other and that starts early in childhood for many people. Bailey and his colleagues point out that “Childhood gender nonconformity … is a strong correlate of adult sexual orientation that has been consistently and repeatedly replicated.” For boys, this means that if a child enjoys cross-dressing, playing with dolls, growing their hair long, preferring girls as playmates, and so on, then — true to stereotype — there’s a significantly increased chance that he will grow up to be gay (in cases where all this is accompanied by gender dysphoria, or discomfort with their natal sex, there’s a chance he could also end up identifying as transgender).

Broadly speaking, these sorts of differences between (pre-)gay and (pre-)straight people persist into adulthood. Among adults, “Research indicates that heterosexual men have greater interest in occupations and hobbies focusing on things and less interest in those focusing on people, compared with heterosexual women.” For gay men and women, the pattern flips: Gay men are more into people-things than their straight brothers and dad, while gay women are more into object-things than their straight sisters and moms. This blending of stereotypically gendered behavior seems to extend to “gestures and walking,” “speech,” “physical presentation,” and “even facial appearance.”

Fascinatingly, “the link between gender nonconformity and nonheterosexual orientation has been found in a wide variety of cultures,” the authors write, and seems to manifest itself in similar ways just about everywhere. To take one example, the researchers quote from a book chapter called “Os Entendidos: Gay life in São Paulo in the late 1970s”:

In the Guatemalan Indian town of Chimaltenango, two men lived together as lovers, wearing typical Indian clothing in an outwardly traditional Indian adobe house. The house, however, was decorated in a manner strikingly different from the other Indians. It was meticulously and elaborately decorated, a characteristic frequently found in homosexual subcultures … The occupation of the lovers was that of stringing pine needles in decorative strands, traditionally used in Guatemala for holidays and other festive occasions, and supplying flowers for weddings. In essence these two men were florists, involved in the arts of embellishment, which in larger societies are universally linked with homosexual subcultures.

Because of this striking consistency in the (again, average) differences between how straight and gay people present themselves around the world, the researchers suspect that whatever’s going on here can’t be explained solely by suggesting gay people are simply fulfilling — or being socially coerced into — culturally expected roles:

Before leaving the topic of gender nonconformity, we address a commonly raised question: Might the gender-atypicality of adult homosexual men and women simply reflect a culturally influenced self-fulfilling prophecy? In other words, given that society expects homosexual individuals to be gender atypical, and given that LGB communities often support and facetiously celebrate such gender atypicality, perhaps some homosexual people adopt gender-atypical characteristics to conform to their own stereotypes. Because of the evidence we have reviewed — indicating that gender nonconformity often begins before a prehomosexual child even has a sexual orientation or is aware of cultural stereotypes, and that the link between gender nonconformity and nonheterosexual orientation has been found in a wide variety of cultures — we think it is highly unlikely that gender nonconformity in LGB populations represents a self-fulfilling prophecy due to cultural beliefs. It is possible, however, that cultural stereotypes sometimes amplify gender nonconformity among LGB people. Many LGB individuals report that they have always been fairly gender-typical in dress, appearance, and interests. It is possible that as these individuals come to identify as LGB and participate in the LGB community, they adopt aspects of gender-atypicality.

So if they’re right, what does explain these average differences? No one’s quite sure. But it seems like for the average human, sexuality and gender presentation are intertwined in important ways.

2. The best evidence for a nature-over-nurture explanation of sexuality comes from an accidental quasi-experiment involving surgically removed penises. Bailey and his colleagues ran through a bunch of the different ways researchers have tried to puzzle out what makes some people gay, others straight, and others bisexual: brain and hormone and genetics studies, among other areas of research. All these fields have added interesting nuggets, but it’s clear from the study that the researchers are most excited by a coincidental small pile of research they call “the near-perfect quasi-experiment.”The participants in this quasi-experiment might not share the researchers’ enthusiasm. All of them were natal males who were either “born with malformed penises or lost their penises in surgical accidents.” Between 1960 and 2000, Bailey and his colleagues write, “many doctors in the United States believed that such males would be happier being socially and surgically reassigned female,” and that’s what happened to these kids: They were raised as girls, wearing “girl” clothes, doing “girl” things, and so on. (Alice Dreger does a wonderful job explaining this practice and how it came to change, in part due to activism she herself helped to spearhead, in her book Galileo’s Middle Finger.)

Bailey and his colleagues examined the seven such cases that have been written up in the literature. Of the seven, they found, six of the unfortunate subjects came to eventually identify as heterosexual males at the time they were followed up with; the seventh still identified as female and said she was “predominately” into women.

If socialization were a significant part of the sexuality equation, the odds that not one of these natal males would grow up to be attracted primarily to men are just about nil, statistically speaking. “These results comprise the most valuable currently available data concerning the broad nature-versus-nurture questions for sexual orientation,” write the researchers. “They show how difficult it is to derail the development of male sexual orientation by psychosocial means. If one cannot reliably make a male human become attracted to other males by cutting off his penis in infancy and rearing him as a girl, then what other psychosocial intervention could plausibly have that effect?”

So does that clinch it? Sexuality is, in fact, innate? Not quite …

3. “Born this way” is probably wrong, but it doesn’t matter. Think back to the reason Bailey decided to co-author this paper: Uganda’s homophobic president was asking for “proof” that homosexuality is inborn. Bailey and his colleagues don’t think it would be accurate to claim to be able to deliver him that proof. At the moment, they write, when you look at the (somewhat limited) twin research that has been conducted — studies on twins being the best large-scale way to tease out nature-nurture questions — it looks like about a third of the variation in sexual orientation in human beings comes from genes; 43 percent comes from environmental influences a given set of twins don’t share (random factors that cause their brains and bodies to develop differently, such as different experiences); and 25 percent from environmental influences they do share (their general upbringing, developing in the same uterine environment, and so on).

Putting things a bit more straightforwardly: Identical twins share the same genes and the same womb, and yet when one is gay, the other is usually straight. That means things likely aren’t set at birth. Those environmental factors — mostly nonsocial ones, the researchers think — do matter.

So it’s complicated, and there’s also a sex divide: Bailey’s current view is that male sexual orientation is probably more or less set by birth, but for females, who in general exhibit a bit more fluidity with regard to sexual orientation, postnatal factors could be important. For humanity as a whole, “born this way” is probably a bit too pithy a summary of what’s going on, at least in light of the current evidence — which could change as we come to better understand the brain, genetics, and hormones. (Note: I updated this paragraph post-publication to mention the sex difference, which is important and comes up throughout Bailey and his colleagues’ paper.)

But as the authors hint, people often misinterpret this as meaning sexual orientation is a choice, or is something one person (presumably a creepy older adult) can teach another one (presumably an innocent, otherwise-straight child). That’s not the case. It’s important, they argue, to keep in mind a simple distinction: The sentence “I choose to have sex with partners of my own sex” makes sense, while the sentence “I choose to desire to have sex with partners of my own sex” doesn’t. No one chooses what they desire. The authors make this point nicely with a quote in which Einstein sums up one of Schopenhauer’s views: “Man can do what he wills, but he cannot will what he wills.” The opposite of inborn isn’t chosen.

It’s perhaps no surprise that in the last part of their paper, Bailey and his colleagues come out strongly against the harsh anti-gay laws Museveni passed. There’s scant evidence, contra Museveni’s claims, that homosexual people “recruit” otherwise-straight children into their subculture, or that sexuality is otherwise socially learned. Museveni’s resistance to evidence might be a useful lesson: People seeking to demonize and stigmatize other people’s identities and behaviors probably aren’t particularly interested in the science underlying those identities and behaviors, anyway. They tend to be far more animated by political opportunism or fear or disgust than a desire to truly understand the full, fascinating range of the human experience.

For the rest of us, born this way might be useful shorthand, but it doesn’t capture the full picture — and we can handle the nuance.

Complete Article HERE!