Tag Archives: Gender

No, Scientists Have Not Found the ‘Gay Gene’


By Ed Yong

The media is hyping a study that doesn’t do what it says it does.

A woman works with human genetic material at a laboratory in Munich May 23, 2011. On May 25, 2011 the ethic commission of the German lower house of parliament (Bundestag) will discuss about alternative proposals for a new law on the use of preimplantation genetic diagnosis (PGD). Preimplantation genetic diagnosis (Praeimplantationsdiagnostik) is a technique used to identify genetic defects in embryos created through in vitro fertilization (IVF) before pregnancy, which is banned by German legislation.

This week, a team from the University of California, Los Angeles claimed to have found several epigenetic marks—chemical modifications of DNA that don’t change the underlying sequence—that are associated with homosexuality in men. Postdoc Tuck Ngun presented the results yesterday at the American Society of Human Genetics 2015 conference. Nature News were among the first to break the story based on a press release issued by the conference organisersOthers quickly followed suit. “Have They Found The Gay Gene?” said the front page of Metro, a London paper, on Friday morning.

Meanwhile, the mood at the conference has been decidedly less complimentary, with several geneticists criticizing the methods presented in the talk, the validity of the results, and the coverage in the press.

Ngun’s study was based on 37 pairs of identical male twins who were discordant—that is, one twin in each pair was gay, while the other was straight—and 10 pairs who were both gay. He analysed 140,000 regions in the genomes of the twins and looked for methylation marks—chemical Post-It notes that dictate when and where genes are activated. He whittled these down to around 6,000 regions of interest, and then built a computer model that would use data from these regions to classify people based on their sexual orientation.

The best model used just five of the methylation marks, and correctly classified the twins 67 percent of the time. “To our knowledge, this is the first example of a biomarker-based predictive model for sexual orientation,” Ngun wrote in his abstract.

The problems begin with the size of the study, which is tiny. The field of epigenetics is littered with the corpses of statistically underpowered studies like these, which simply lack the numbers to produce reliable, reproducible results.

Unfortunately, the problems don’t end there. The team split their group into two: a “training set” whose data they used to build their algorithm, and a “testing set”, whose data they used to verify it. That’s standard and good practice—exactly what they should have done. But splitting the sample means that the study goes from underpowered to really underpowered.


There’s also another, larger issue. As far as could be judged from the unpublished results presented in the talk, the team used their training set to build several models for classifying their twins, and eventually chose the one with the greatest accuracy when applied to the testing set. That’s a problem because in research like this, there has to be a strict firewall between the training and testing sets; the team broke that firewall by essentially using the testing set to optimise their algorithms.

If you use this strategy, chances are you will find a positive result through random chance alone. Chances are some combination of methylation marks out of the original 6,000 will be significantly linked to sexual orientation, whether they genuinely affect sexual orientation or not. This is a well-known statistical problem that can be at least partly countered by running what’s called a correction for multiple testing. The team didn’t do that. (In an email to The Atlantic, Ngun denies that such a correction was necessary.)And, “like everyone else in the history of epigenetics studies they could not resist trying to interpret the findings mechanistically,” wrote John Greally from the Albert Einstein College of Medicine in a blog post. By which he means: they gave the results an imprimatur of plausibility by noting the roles of the genes affected by the five epi-marks. One is involved in controlling immune genes that have been linked to sexual attraction. Another is involved in moving molecules along neurons. Could epi-marks on these genes influence someone’s sexual attraction? Maybe. It’s also plausible that someone’s sexual orientation influences epi-marks on these genes. Correlation, after all, does not imply causation.

So, ultimately, what we have is an underpowered fishing expedition that used inappropriate statistics and that snagged results which may be false positives. Epigenetics marks may well be involved in sexual orientation. But this study, despite its claims, does not prove that and, as designed, could not have.

In a response to Greally’s post, Ngun admitted that the study was underpowered. “The reality is that we had basically no funding,” he said. “The sample size was not what we wanted. But do I hold out for some impossible ideal or do I work with what I have? I chose the latter.” He also told Nature News that he plans to “replicate the study in a different group of twins and also determine whether the same marks are more common in gay men than in straight men in a large and diverse population.”Great. Replication and verification are the cornerstones of science. But to replicate and verify, you need a sturdy preliminary finding upon which to build and expand—and that’s not the case here. It may seem like the noble choice to work with what you’ve got. But when what you’ve got are the makings of a fatally weak study, of the kind well known to cause problems in a field, it really is an option—perhaps the best option—to not do it at all. (The same could be said for journalists outside the conference choosing to cover the study based on a press release.)As Greally wrote in his post: “It’s not personal about [Ngun] or his colleagues, but we can no longer allow poor epigenetics studies to be given credibility if this field is to survive. By ‘poor,’ I mean uninterpretable.”

“This is only representative of the broader literature,” he told me. “The problems in the field are systematic. We need to change how epigenomics research is performed throughout the community.”

Complete Article HERE!

What’s Your True Sexual Orientation? The Purple-Red Scale Is Here to Help You Find Out

The Purple-Red Scale

By Nicolas DiDomizio

When reality TV dumpling Honey Boo Boo Child declared that “everybody’s a little bit gay” three years ago, she was unknowingly taking a page out of sexologist Alfred Kinsey’s book. His famous Kinsey scale, which identifies people’s levels of same- or opposite-sex attraction with a number from zero to six (zero being exclusively straight, six being exclusively gay), has been a favorite cultural metric for measuring sexual orientation since it was created in 1948.

But even though asking someone where they fall on the Kinsey scale is now a common dating website opener, the Kinsey scale is far from an all-inclusive system. As Southern California man Langdon Parks recently realized, the scale fails to address other aspects of human sexuality, such as whether or not we even care about getting laid in the first place.

So Parks decided to develop a more comprehensive alternative: the Purple-Red Scale of Attraction, which he recently posted on /r/Asexuality. Like the Kinsey scale, the Purple-Red scale allows you to assign a number from zero to six to your level of same-sex or heterosexual attraction, but it also lets you label how you experience that attraction on a scale of A to F. A represents asexuality, or a total lack of interest in sex “besides friendship and/or aesthetic attraction,” while F represents hypersexuality.

Pick your letter-number combo below:

What's Your True Sexual Orientation? The Purple-Red Scale Is Here to Help You Find Out

Parks told Mic that he came up with the idea for the Purple-Red scale after learning about asexuality and realizing that he was a “heteroromantic asexual, or a B0 on the scale” — someone who is interested exclusively in romantic, nonsexual relationships with the opposite sex.

“I then thought, not only are there sexual and asexual people, [but] there are different kinds of sexual people as well,” he said. “I thought of adding a second dimension to Kinsey’s scale to represent different levels of attraction.” (As for the color scheme, Parks opted for purple because of its designation as the official color of asexuality, while “‘red-blooded’ is a term often used to describe someone who is hypersexual.)

The scale represents all possible degrees of sexual attraction, from those who only want to have sex when they’re in a relationship to those who are ready and rarin’ to go pretty much whenever. For instance, if we use Sex and the City as an example, Carrie would likely be an E1, while the more prudish Charlotte is probably more of a D0 and uptight Miranda an E0. Our beloved bisexual, sex-crazed Samantha? Totally an F2.

What's Your True Sexual Orientation? The Purple-Red Scale Is Here to Help You Find Out

Busting myths about sexual attraction: Back in 1978, Dr. Fritz Klein tried to update the scale to make it more inclusive of a wider range of sexual experiences, as well as sexual fantasies. His final product, the Klein Sexual Orientation Grid, came out a bit clunky, however, and was still based on the assumption that everyone using it was capable of experiencing sexual attraction in the first place.

Parks’ Purple-Red Scale accounts for those who experience sexual attraction at different times in different contexts, as well as those who don’t experience it at all. That’s notable in part because although asexuality is not exactly rare — according to one estimate, approximately 1 in 100 people are asexual, though they might not self-identify as such — it’s one of the most widely misunderstood sexual orientations, with many people assuming that asexuals are just closeted gay people or too socially awkward to have sex.

But asexuality is a legitimate sexual orientation with many unique shades of its own. As the Huffington Post reported back in 2013, many asexual people don’t just identify as asexual. For instance, they can also self-identify as “heteroromantic” (meaning they’re interested in having exclusively romantic, nonsexual relationships with members of the opposite sex) or “demisexual” (meaning they’re open to experiencing sexual attraction within the context of a strong emotional connection or committed relationship).

“Some people don’t want to have sex in a relationship at all, and others view it as the whole point of the relationship,” Parks told Mic. “Yet others typically start off having no feelings but build them up over time. Still others don’t want sex for themselves, but are still willing to have it for other reasons,” such as to procreate or make their partner happy.

That’s why Parks’ Purple-Red scale is so important: It acknowledges the shades of grey in sexual orientation and sexual interest. Both, he explained, are fluid and largely dependent on context.

Why do we need scales in the first place? While the Purple-Red scale is helpful in classifying sexual attraction, some people might argue that we don’t need a cut-and-dry system for classifying our sexuality in the first place. If the burgeoning “label-free” movement of sexual fluidity is any indication, coming up with clinical labels like “E2” or “B0” might be purposeless or even counterproductive to achieving true sexual freedom.

But Parks believes that having a simple tool like the Purple-Red Attraction Scale can be useful, particularly as a way to improve communication in the dating world. “The scale was designed to provide a quick and easy way of scoring a person’s view of relationships on forums and dating sites,” he said. Imagine, for instance, if you logged onto OkCupid and entered your sexual orientation as D5, instead of simply self-identifying as “gay,” “straight” or “bisexual.”

Parks also noted that the Purple-Red scale is a great way to match partners who have similar or compatible sex drives. “Attraction type is every bit as important as orientation,” he told Mic. “We see it all the time: John wants sex, sex, sex, while Jane doesn’t have the feeling right away.”

Because discrepancies in sex drive can cause problems in same-sex and opposite-sex relationships, Parks wants people to use the scale as a way to establish sexual compatibility right off the bat.

“Instead of relying on assumptions like ‘Oh, he’s a guy, go for it!’ or ‘She’s a woman, wait for it,’ people can now use their letters to describe their basic outlook on relationships,” he said.

“Attraction type is every bit as important as orientation.”

Perhaps one day, we’ll live in a world where we don’t need something like the Purple-Red scale to tell us about our own sexuality; a world where we don’t need to fit who we want to have sex with into boxes or spectrums or scales. But for the time being, whether you’re a B2 or an F5 or a D6, it’s cool that we have something like Parks’ scale to help us answer the nagging questions about sexual orientation that our culture keeps asking us to answer — and maybe it can help us find out a little bit more about ourselves.

Complete Article HERE!

The extraordinary case of the Guevedoces

Catherine and his cousin Carla, Guevedoces in the Dominican Republic

Catherine and his cousin Carla, Guevedoces in the Dominican Republic

The discovery of a small community in the Dominican Republic, where some males are born looking like girls and only grow penises at puberty, has led to the development of a blockbuster drug that has helped millions of people, writes Michael Mosley.

Johnny lives in a small town in the Dominican Republic where he, and others like him, are known as “Guevedoces”, which effectively translates as “penis at twelve”.

We came across Johnny when we were filming for a new BBC Two series Countdown to Life, which looks at how we develop in the womb and how those changes, normal and abnormal, impact us later in life.

Like the other Guevedoces, Johnny was brought up as a girl because he had no visible testes or penis and what appeared to be a vagina. It is only when he approached puberty that his penis grew and testicles descended.

Johnny, once known as Felicita, remembers going to school in a little red dress, though he says he was never happy doing girl things.

“I never liked to dress as a girl and when they bought me toys for girls I never bothered playing with them – when I saw a group of boys I would stop to play ball with them.”

When he became obviously male he was taunted at school, and responded with his fists.

“They used to say I was a devil, nasty things, bad words and I had no choice but to fight them because they were crossing the line.”

We also filmed with Carla, who at the seven is on the brink of changing into Carlos. His mother has seen the change coming for quite a while.

“When she turned five I noticed that whenever she saw one of her male friends she wanted to fight with him. Her muscles and chest began growing. You could see she was going to be a boy. I love her however she is. Girl or boy, it makes no difference.”

Child on swing



So why does it happen? Well, one of the first people to study this unusual condition was Dr Julianne Imperato-McGinley, from Cornell Medical College in New York. In the 1970s she made her way to this remote part of the Dominican Republic, drawn by extraordinary reports of girls turning into boys.

When she got there she found the rumours were true. She did lots of studies on the Guevedoces (including what must have been rather painful biopsies of their testicles) before finally unravelling the mystery of what was going on.

When you are conceived you normally have a pair of X chromosomes if you are to become a girl and a set of XY chromosomes if you are destined to be male.

For the first weeks of life in womb you are neither, though in both sexes nipples start to grow.

Then, around eight weeks after conception, the sex hormones kick in. If you’re genetically male the Y chromosome instructs your gonads to become testicles and sends testosterone to a structure called the tubercle, where it is converted into a more potent hormone called dihydro-testosterone This in turn transforms the tubercle into a penis. If you’re female and you don’t make dihydro-testosterone then your tubercle becomes a clitoris.

Foetus at 12 weeks

When Imperato-McGinley investigated the Guevedoces she discovered the reason they don’t have male genitalia when they are born is because they are deficient in an enzyme called 5-alpha-reductase, which normally converts testosterone into dihydro-testosterone.

This deficiency seems to be a genetic condition, quite common in this part of the Dominican Republic, but vanishingly rare elsewhere. So the boys, despite having an XY chromosome, appear female when they are born. At puberty, like other boys, they get a second surge of testosterone. This time the body does respond and they sprout muscles, testes and a penis.

Imperato-McGinley’s thorough medical investigations showed that in most cases their new, male equipment seems to work fine and that most Guevedoces live out their lives as men, though some go through an operation and remain female.

Another thing that Imperato-McGinley discovered, which would have profound implications for many men around the world, was that the Guevedoces tend to have small prostates.

This observation, made in 1974, was picked up by Roy Vagelos, head of research at the multinational pharmaceutical giant, Merck. He thought this was extremely interesting and set in progress research which led to the development of what has become a best-selling drug, finasteride, which blocks the action of 5-alpha-reductase, mimicking the lack of dihydro-testosterone seen in the Guevedoces.

My wife, who is a GP, routinely prescribes finasteride as it is an effective way to treat benign enlargement of the prostate, a real curse for many men as they get older. Finasteride is also used to treat male pattern baldness.

A final interesting observation that Imperato-McGinley made was that these boys, despite being brought up as girls, almost all showed strong heterosexual preferences. She concluded in her seminal paper that hormones in the womb matter more than rearing when it comes to your sexual orientation.

This is still a controversial topic and one I explore later in the film when I meet Mati, who decided from the earliest age that though “he” looked like a boy, Mati was really a girl.

As for Johnny, since he developed male genitalia he has had a number of short term girlfriends, but he is still looking for love. “I’d like to get married and have children, a partner who will stand by me through good and bad,” he sighs wistfully.

Complete Article HERE!

More of the SEX WISDOM of Benjamin Law — Podcast #420 — 06/11/14

Hey sex fans, Benjamin Law-2

Benjamin Law, the author of the critically acclaimed book, Gaysia; Adventures in the Queer East is back with us for Part 2 of his turn on this is the SEX WISDOM show. I’m so glad he has more time to spend with us again this week because he charmed the pants off me last week.

But wait, you didn’t miss Part 1 of this conversation, did you? Well not to worry if ya did, because you can find it and all my podcasts in the Podcast Archive right here on my site. All ya gotta do is use the search function in the header; type in Podcast #419 and Voilà! But don’t forget the #sign when you do your search.

And I’m sure we’ll have another opportunity to hear Benjamin read from his book.

Benjamin and I discuss:

  • Sham marriages and marriages of convenience;
  • Growing gay consciousness in China;
  • Reparative therapy through the power of Christ, Allah, or Yoga;
  • Colonialism and sexual oppression;
  • The resilience of the sexual minority communities throughout Asia;
  • Asia, the gayest continent;
  • Cultural relativism and cultural imperialism;
  • How his travels changed his life;
  • Our queer family is global
  • His next book project.

Benjamin invites you to visit him on his site HERE! And he’s also on Twitter HERE!

Click on the cover art below for more information about Gaysia; Adventures in the Queer East.

Gaysia Adventures in the Queer East


Look for all my podcasts on iTunes. You’ll find me in the podcast section, obviously. Just search for Dr Dick Sex Advice. And don’t forget to subscribe. I wouldn’t want you to miss even one episode.

Today’s Podcast is bought to you by: Fleshlight & FleshJack.

Pesky Pronouns

Name: Lynn
Gender: Female
Age: 19
Location: Eugene, OR
I have a friend who is driving me (us) crazy. She is my age and we’ve been best friends since grade school. Last year I came out to her as a lesbian and she was very supportive and loving. This year it’s her turn. She cut her hair really short and now only wears men’s clothes. Thing is, she’s not gay, or lesbian. In fact, she doesn’t have a boyfriend or a girlfriend. As far as I know she’s still a virgin. She told me that she’s gender queer. I was like, OK cool. Then she changed her name and wanted all her friends to call her by her new gender-neutral name. I was like, OK cool. Now she wants us to use gender-neutral pronouns—they, their, and them when referring to “her.” This just sounds dumb. I want to be loving and supportive of her, like she was for me, but I don’t understand what’s going on. It’s like this whole thing is an act, like she is trying to see how much attention she can get. A lot of our friends have just given up on her, but I don’t want to do that. At the same time it’s like she’s mocking our trans friends who have real gender concerns. Am I being a dick for not wanting to go along with this?

Curious word choice there, young lesbian Lynn. Are you being a dick? Hell, I don’t know. What I can say for certain is, if we were being totally politically correct, we wouldn’t use euphemisms for our genitals in a derogatory way, right? Luckily, I’m not the least bit PC as you will discover from my comments below.gender-fuck

The question you raise in your email is a thorny one and I’m not sure I know how to respond. Gender is the new hot button issue and it is rapidly becoming the litmus test for PC crowd. As you suggest, it sometimes looks as though some folks are just trying to get attention or see how much the traffic will bear.

I’m going to be pretty self-referential in my response because I feel like I’ve been here before. Let me explain.

When I was about your age and into my early 20’s the modern gay lib movement here in the US was just finding its footing. Stonewall had just happened and those of us on the sexual fringe were tying to come up with a new vocabulary with which to talk about ourselves. No one I knew liked the term homosexual for obvious reasons. Some of us, myself included, preferred the term, homophile. The difference being one was about loving, the other was about sex. That term didn’t catch on, but “gay” sure did. I was fine with that, even though it wasn’t my first choice. As I began to take a closer look at my sexual orientation and identity, I became a bit more radical; gay just didn’t cut it anymore. I began to embrace the term “queer.”

look!When I was a boy, the term queer, often directed at me because I wasn’t like the other boys, was hate-filled and hurtful. It stung and I was ashamed. By my mid 20’s, however, I was no longer ashamed. In fact, I was full of a new found fervor that was connected to my new found identity as a sexual outlaw. I know for certain that my radicalness was a little off-putting to some people, even people who wanted to love and support me.

After I passed through my militancy stage, I continued to use the term queer to describe myself as a way of showing the world that I had reclaimed and detoxified the word that once brought me shame. It became my own personal badge of honor.  Maybe you’ve had a similar ark in your coming out, Lynn.

The curious thing is I’ve lived long enough to see the term I fought so hard to reclaim morph yet again. Nowadays, when someone self-identifies as queer, more often than not, it has to do with gender; it no longer has a strong sexual connotation. I feel a little bummed about this because one of my favorite words has been coopted by another group of people.  But that’s the nature of language, right?Gender-Outlaws6

Over the decades since I first began to struggle with who I was and how I would talk about myself to others, I’ve seen numerous fracturing of the solidarity we sexual outlaws might have had. There was a virulent strain of lesbian separatism that cropped up in the mid 70’s. But most of that has dissipated since. And there was the radicalism that came with HIV/AIDS, which turned quiet, unassuming, cocktail sipping homos into fearless street fighters. That too has played itself out. In fact, now that marriage equality is all the rage, some of us old queers are asking if it’s still possible to be a sexual outlaw by just being gay. I fear not. Apparently, gender benders are the new sexual outlaws. OK, my time has past; I get it. I have no hard feelings, but I do have a wistfulness for days gone by.

It’s also been my experience that some of us, and I include my younger self in this category, have an uncanny ability to alienate loads of people with our politics. That can be a good thing, but radicalism can, and often does, alienate those who would naturally be our allies as well as some of those who struggle next to us. There’s nothing more devastating to a popular movement than having a bunch of edgier-than-thou folks setting themselves up as the thought police. When this happens, as it always does, it suggests to me that we are more interested in making a point than making a connection. This is a particularly acute problem for the newly liberated crowd, often found on college campuses. They are flush with indignation as they discover that life is not fair. They tend to use the scattergun approach when doling out their fury regardless if those around them are deserved of their wrath or not.

fuck genderThe current incarnation of the gender liberation movement suffers from a lot of the excesses that other liberation movements have experienced before it—intolerance and dogmatism among them. The thing is, gender-fuck has a long history and an honored place in sexual politics. However, in the past, this has mostly expressed itself in street theater. Nowadays, there is precious little humor among the new gender warriors, and very few of these zealots can laugh at themselves. That tells me we’re all in for a very rough ride ahead.

I know how important a shift in vocabulary is to making the dominant culture see its oppression, but the pronoun thing is just awkward. For one thing, there’s no agreement on what pronouns to use for those who are rallying for gender neutrality. Some people militate for they, their, and them. Others want the even more extreme “ze,” pronounced as the letter zee. And “hir,” pronounced here. As in, “Ze went to the store and bought hirself an ice cream cone.” Well, if you wanna do that to the language go right ahead, but I refuse!

Besides, are we just supposed to use these twisted pronouns when the gender warrior is in our company, or are we to alter our vocabulary even when they aren’t around? Try using they, their, and them when referring to someone who isn’t present. Confusion will reign.gender neutral pronouns

Lynn, I don’t know your friend so I can hardly make a call on whether your friend is being authentic, disingenuous, or histrionic. But I don’t think you should beat yourself up if you draw the line at a pronoun shift. If your friend takes offense, as well your friend might, you could always compromise and use no pronouns ever in relation to your friend. Simply use your friend’s chosen name each time a pronoun might serve you better. In time, this will surely get exhausting for both you and your friend. But maybe this exercise will help your friend see that you are not the enemy and maybe your friend will then cut you a little slack.

Good luck

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