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Screw Science: The Futuristic Sex Tech Aiming to Penetrate Your Bedroom

From fully customizable vibrators to bioelectronic headsets, smart sex toys are on the way up. But does personal pleasure necessarily make for better health?


Pleasure is personal, mostly because it has to be, and not least because female scientists continue to face grinding discrimination regardless of their area of research. And when it comes to sexual health, breakthroughs are few and far between: in spite of increasing documentation of associated health risks, birth control hasn’t really been reformulated since the 60s, and last year’s much-anticipated release of Addyi, a pill meant to fix female sexual dysfunction, only worked for ten percent of the women who tried it.

It’s clear that sexual emancipation has not yet been freed from the bedroom. In spite of its roots in scientific misogyny—the vibrator was developed in the 19th century to cure women of hysteria, after all—a swathe of new devices have people looking hopefully to sex tech (or sextech, as it is also known) as the answer to systemic gaps in sexual health. History, it seems, is coming full circle; where the 1960s saw the vibrator de-medicalized and uncoupled from science, today’s consumer market is beginning to see pleasure and health unified in the pursuit of wellness. Yet what we call “sex tech” is tied more to the lucrative sex toy industry—worth $15 billion this year—than it is to scientific institutions, with much of its promise linked to idea that personal pleasure makes for better health.

These days, more people than ever understand that a woman’s ability to understand what turns her on and why is a crucial step in developing a healthy perspective on her sexual life. So it makes sense that we’re seeking out masturbatory experiences that are more tailored than your average stand-in phallus. It’s the driving force behind the popularity of devices like Crescendo, the first-ever fully customizable vibrator, which raised £1.6 million in funding to date and shipped out over 1,000 pre-orders after a successful crowdfunding round.

Designed to cater to the inherent complexities of female arousal, the vibrator can be finely customized, equipped with six motors and the ability to be bent into any favorable shape. An accompanying app allows users to control each motor individually; it remembers favorite behaviors, provides pre-set vibration patterns, and responds to mood-setting music.

“We were inspired by the concept of tech designed for the human, rather than the human having to adapt their behaviour to tech,” says Stephanie Alys, the co-founder of Crescendo creators Mysteryvibe. “Human beings aren’t just unique in terms of our size and how we’re put together genetically, but also in terms of what we like. What turns us on can be different from what turns another person on.”


Mysteryvibe’s flagship product is the Crescendo, a customizable sex toy.

But in spite of the life-improving promises of consumer sex tech, the reality is that official, peer-reviewed studies remain crucial to reforming policy and education. Founded by Dr. Nicole Prause, Liberos Center is one of the few sex-centric research institutions in the United States. Much of its work investigates the relationship between psychology, physiology, and sex, with an emphasis on the hard data that is often lacking in sex tech.

Liberos presses on in a particularly antagonistic climate; the American government is famously skittish about sexual content. Sexual material is banned from government-funded computers, says Prause, making it difficult for researchers to, say, screen porn to test subjects as part of a study on arousal. She adds that congressional bodies actively seek to pull funding from research that addresses the topic head-on—four recent studies that had already been awarded funding were re-opened for assessment because of their sexual content.

“People report having certain types of experiences all the time,” says Prause. “But they’re often poor observers of their own behaviour, and don’t see anyone’s behaviour but their own. They don’t really have that external perspective, which is why I think it’s important to take both a psychological and laboratory approach. For example, in science, people haven’t been verifying that orgasm actually occurs. So we’ve been developing an objective way of measuring that, and of measuring the effects of clitoral stimulation—on how to best capture the contractions that occur through the orgasm.”


Liberos is also investigating the effect of transcranial magnetic stimulation (TMS) and direct current stimulation (tDCS) on sexual responsiveness. Both are non-invasive treatments, meaning anyone seeking a cure for low libido may not require anything more than the use of a headset. TMS holds potential for long-term changes to a person’s sex drive; the technique, which uses a magnetic field generator to produce small electrical currents in the brain, has already been used to treat neuropathic pain and otherwise stubborn cases of major depressive disorder. DCS, on the other hand, uses a headset to deliver a low-intensity electrical charge, stimulating the brain areas where activity spikes at the sight, or touch, of a turn-on.

If using the brain’s electrical signals to control the rest of the body sounds like a dystopian fantasy, the reality is that these medical treatments aren’t far off. Bioelectronic firms are now backed by the likes of Glaxosmithkline and Alphabet, Google’s parent company, and similar applications have already been established for hypertension and sleep apnea, while chronic conditions like asthma, diabetes, and arthritis are targeted for future development.

According to Dr. Karen E. Adams, clinical professor of OBGYN at Oregon Health and Science University, anywhere from 40 to 50 percent of women experience varying degrees of sexual dysfunction. Medication that targets neurotransmitters, like the SSRIs used to treat depression and anxiety, can fluctuate in efficacy depending on the unique makeup of the person using it.

Combined with the trickiness of locking down the nebulousness of desire (and lack thereof), it’s no wonder that Addyi, a failed antidepressant pursued because of its unexpected effect on serotonin levels in female mice, was a flop. Non-sex-specific studies have shown that electrical stimulation can be more adaptive to the brain’s constantly-shifting landscape than medication that interacts with its chemistry. For the 90 percent of women who found Addyi to be a sore disappointment, bioelectronic treatments could soon offer an alternative solution to low sexual responsivity.

“By giving women information about their bodies that they can decide what to do with, we’re enabling more female empowerment,” says Prause. “And by allowing women to decide which aspects of sex they want to be more responsive to, we’re giving people more control, and not with charlatan claims. We actually have good scientific reasons that we think are going to work, that are going to make a difference.”

Yet the field’s burgeoning successes are only as good as the social environment they take hold in. Sociopolitical hurdles notwithstanding, money remains a significant roadblock for developers, as the controversial nature of sex research has many investors shying away from backing new projects in spite of consumer interest. Whether they’re seeking government funding or VC investments, sex start-ups and labs alike are often forced to turn to crowdfunding to raise money for development.

“It’s pretty unsurprising that heavily female-oriented tech products do so well on crowdfunding sites; these are solutions to problems faced by half of the population, that are overlooked by a male-dominated industry where male entrepreneurs are 86 percent more likely to be VC funded than women,” says Katy Young, behavioral analyst at research firm Canvas8. “But the audience is clearly there—Livia, a device which targets nerves in order to stop period pains, raised over $1 million on Indiegogo.”

Outdated sex ed programs, which emphasize procreation and normalize straight male sexuality without addressing female sexual development, are ground zero for unhealthy social perspectives on sex. Acknowledging that change can’t just come from devices alone, New York’s Unbound, a luxury sex toy subscription service, is teaming up with “campus sexpert” app Tabù to bring both sex education and affordable masturbation tools to colleges across the country.

“There’s a national discussion right now surrounding consent, which is 100 percent needed and super important,” says Polly Rodriguez, CEO and co-founder of Unbound. “But for women to be able to engage in sex and address consent as equals, they need to learn about female pleasure—they should understand their own bodies so that when they are engaging in sexual activities with someone else, they know what feels good to them, they know how to communicate that, and they don’t feel uncomfortable about it.”

It’s tempting to buy into the idea of tech as freeing: that the increased presence of smart devices in our lives will help us form healthier habits and a better understanding of our ourselves, or that the availability of medically-approved tech will be a panacea in the intricately fraught landscape of female sexual dysfunction—which is as socially determined as it is biological, and as cultural as it is psychological.

But sex tech is still far from being paradigm-shifting. Its success will be dependent not only on consumer dollars but on government policies and public attitudes; at a level of engagement this intimate, tech is only any good if people feel free to use it.

Complete Article HERE!

What BDSM might teach us about affirmative consent

By Brain & Behavior

A new study by Northern Illinois University psychologists suggests that evidence for the effectiveness of the “Yes Means Yes” affirmative-consent movement, which has taken hold on many college campuses nationwide, might be found in an unlikely subculture—the BDSM community.

Black BDSM

While some critics of BDSM associate it with sexual aggression, and particularly violence against women, the subculture has had long-standing norms of affirmative consent, the researchers said. Their study found BDSM practitioners also report lower levels of rape-supportive beliefs than individuals surveyed from outside the subculture.

The psychologists used an online survey to measure the level of rape-supportive beliefs of 185 individuals from three groups—college students, random online respondents and BDSM practitioners.

BDSM practitioners reported significantly lower levels of “benevolent sexism,” “rape myth acceptance” and “victim blaming”— elements of what feminists and other researchers have proposed as being part of a larger rape culture that tolerates and even glorifies male sexual aggression against women.

Benevolent sexism is a chivalrous but also sexist attitude toward women, casting them as pure but fragile. Rape myths are inaccurate beliefs about rape, such as “women secretly want men to sexually dominate them” or “women incite men to rape by flirting with them.” Victim-blaming attitudes shift full or partial blame for sexual assault to the victim, such as “she was asking for it.”

The study was led by Kathryn Klement, an NIU doctoral student in psychology. A summary is available online ahead of print publication in the Journal of Sex Research.

Klement said the idea for the research survey was prompted by criticisms of the “Yes Means Yes” movement and related affirmative-consent policies and laws. The movement challenges sexual partners to explicitly communicate with each other about their desires prior to sexual activity.

In 2014, California began requiring college campuses to use an affirmative definition of consent. Many college and university campuses, and several other states (including Illinois), have adopted similar policies or laws. While the movement aims to stem the prevalence of sexual assault, it hasn’t been universally embraced.

“Affirmative consent contrasts with what we see in movies, TV shows and other media that often portray sex without communication,” Klement said. “Some critics have said ‘Yes Means Yes’ would make sex less sexy.”

The researchers hypothesized that BDSM practitioners would have lower levels of rape-supportive beliefs because of the subculture’s longstanding norms of affirmative consent through negotiation, when participants establish boundaries for sexual and BDSM activities and “safe words” to curtail or end activity.

“We wanted to look at attitudes in a subculture where consent and negotiation are normalized and accepted, yet people aren’t having less sex,” Klement said. “It made sense that this group of people might be more egalitarian, even though that seems paradoxical in a community that’s basically based on power exchange.”

The study, which controlled for age differences, indeed found significantly lower levels of rape-supportive beliefs among BDSM practitioners on three of six measures (with no significant differences among the survey groups on the remaining three).

“Negotiating about sex beforehand doesn’t make it any less sexy,” Klement said. “Consent is the critical element that separates healthy sexual encounters from assault.”

Klement said this point is especially important in light of other recent research, which shows college men and women report some differences in how they indicate and interpret consent from their sexual partners.

Co-authors on the NIU study include Ellen Lee, an NIU doctoral student in psychology, and Brad Sagarin, an NIU psychology professor who conducts research on the science of BDSM. Sagarin said that while the study clearly found an association between BDSM and lower rape-supportive beliefs, more research is needed to determine why that correlation exists.

“This was a correlational study, so we don’t know for certain why members of the BDSM community report lower levels of rape-supportive beliefs,” he said. “Nevertheless, it’s a first step in understanding another potential benefit of affirmative consent.”

In addition to how the study’s findings might relate to the practice of affirmative consent, Sagarin said there is another takeaway.

“The BDSM community has historically been stereotyped,” he said. “When you see a sexual sadist on TV, he is typically not a good guy.

“I think this study helps break the stigma of BDSM practitioners as bad or damaged people,” he added.

Complete Article HERE!

UA Report: Few Studies Look at Well-Being of LGB Youth of Color

Studies that do look at gay, lesbian and bisexual youth of color tend to focus on negative outcomes, a UA-led report finds.

By Alexis Blue


While research on lesbian, gay and bisexual youth has increased in recent years, these studies often fail to look at the experiences of young people of color, according to a new report in the Journal of Gay & Lesbian Mental Health.

This omission may lead to wide gaps in understanding the experience of sexual minority youth who also are part of a racial or ethnic minority, says University of Arizona researcher Russell Toomey, lead author of the report.

Russell Toomey

Russell Toomey

Studies that do look at gay, lesbian and bisexual youth — also known as sexual minority youth — of color tend to focus on negative outcomes, such as sexual risk-taking behavior and alcohol and tobacco use, rather than normal developmental experiences. This is according to researchers’ review and analysis of 125 reports on sexual minority youth of color, age 25 and younger, published since 1990.

“Adolescence is a time of identity development — when we figure out who we are — and most of the research really hasn’t paid attention to the fact that the youth have multiple identities that they’re juggling at the same time,” said Toomey, assistant professor in the John & Doris Norton School of Family and Consumer Sciences in the UA College of Agriculture and Life Sciences.

“Studies focus on young people’s sexual identity but they totally ignore racial or ethnic identity, which is also becoming very salient and important during adolescence,” Toomey said. “Very few studies have merged those two and examined how an LGB-identified person might have to navigate sexual identity in the context of their culture or vice versa.”

Toomey conducted the literature review with collaborators Virginia Huynh, professor at California State University, Northridge; Samantha K. Jones, researcher at the University of Missouri; Sophia Lee, a graduate student at San Diego State University; and Michelle Revels-Macalinao, a graduate student at California State University, Northridge.

Given that lesbian, gay and bisexual teens are coming out at younger ages and given that the nation’s demographics are changing, with the U.S. Census Bureau projecting that the nation’s Hispanic population will nearly double by 2050, it’s critically important to consider the intersection between sexual orientation and race-ethnicity, Toomey said.

Also important, Toomey said, is looking at the normal, everyday experiences of teens with multiple oppressed identities.

“The literature’s focus has really been on understanding negative outcomes among LGB youth of color, and we’re not focused on any of their normative experiences as people,” he said. “This particular adolescent population has really been framed as a ‘risk population,’ and we need to start to understand their experiences with family and school contexts to really understand how to prevent or reduce some of those negative outcomes.”

Toomey and his collaborators also found that the experiences of women and transgender individuals were largely invisible in the reports they analyzed, with the majority of studies looking solely at men. This signals another area where more research is needed.

“It will help us to understand the complexities of young people growing up in the U.S. today if instead of ‘siloing’ their experiences we try to examine their holistic experience,” Toomey said. “Paying attention to the multiple layers of youths’ lives will help us to better understand how to reduce disparities in health and well-being by targeting intervention and prevention in more culturally appropriate ways.”

Complete Article HERE!

American Men Are Pretty Happy With Their Penises



For understandable reasons, society’s conversation about body satisfaction tends to focus on women. Women, it can safely be argued, face a lot more social pressure to look good all the time, to feel ashamed of their bodies, and to harp on minor imperfections.

Men aren’t immune from all that, though. And one particularly painful area where it manifests, according to sexual health researchers, is in insecurity about their penises. This can lead to some bad outcomes. As a team led by Thomas Gaither, a urologist at the University of California, San Francisco, point out in a new study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior, “Case reports have shown men undergo risky procedures, such as silicon injections, to lengthen their penis and increase penile girth.” In addition, “Genital piercings, silicone injection, and subcutaneous implant are increasingly common and are associated with numerous complications.

Gaither and his colleagues wanted to better understand how men view their penises, so they conducted what they say is the first nationally representative survey using a newly developed scale called the Index of Male Genital Image, or IMGI. It consists of 14 statements ranked on a score of 1–7 involving penis length, girth, and so on — a score of 1–3 is coded as “dissatisfied,” while 4–7 is coded as satisfied. They got results from 3,996 men, the sample drawn from 18-to-65-year-olds who weren’t institutionalized.

Comparing those who landed in the “satisfied” (greater than 4.0) versus “unsatisfied” (4.0 or lower) buckets when the scores were averaged, the researchers didn’t find any statistically significant differences in penile satisfaction when it came to age, “race, marital status, education, location, income, or sexual partners.” Penile (dis)satisfaction appears to be pretty much constant across these categories.


A total of 3433 (85.9%) reported an average greater than 4 per item on the IMGI and thus were classified as satisfied. Men reported highest satisfaction with the shape of their glans (64%), followed by circumcision status (62%), girth of erect penis (61%), texture of skin (60%), and size of testicles (59%). Men reported dissatisfaction with the size of their flaccid penis (27 %), length of erect penis (19%), girth of erect penis (15%), amount of pubic hair (14%), and amount of semen (12%). Men reported neutrality with the scent of their genitals (44%), genital veins (43%), location of urethra (42%), color of genitals (40%), and amount of pubic hair (36%). Of note, those who were extremely dissatisfied (score of 1 or 2) reported dissatisfaction with their flaccid penis (10.0%), length of erect penis (5.7 %), and girth of erect penis (4.5%).

There were some decent-size differences in terms of the sexual experiences of men who were satisfied versus dissatisfied with their penises. Those who were satisfied were less likely to be sexually active (73.5 percent versus 86.3 percent), and engaged in less daily and weekly sexual activity. There were also slight but statistically significant differences in the percentage of dissatisfied versus satisfied men who reported having had vaginal or receptive oral sex (85.2 percent versus 89.5 percent, and 61 percent versus 66.2 percent). The obvious question here is what’s causing what: To what extent are men who are dissatisfied with their penises less likely to seek out sex as a result of their insecurity? A correlational self-report study can’t answer that, nor can it answer whether these mens’ likes and dislikes were shared by their sexual partners.

It’s interesting that a sizable minority of men reported dissatisfaction with their testicle size or glans shape. On the one hand, in a survey like this you are explicitly asking about certain features, so these responses don’t mean that they are wandering around obsessing over this stuff. (It would be another thing entirely if you asked men to generate an open-ended list of body features they didn’t like and these kept popping up.) But on the other: It’s an interesting comparison to what women go through, because it highlights the fact that at least some of the things both men and women worry about probably aren’t, in fact, of much import to anyone else. If you’re a guy, the odds that a partner is going to care that much about the size of your testicles or the “shape of your glans” — that’s something I can honestly say I had never even thought about before reading this article, and which the researchers note “has little anatomic variability” — are probably pretty low.

More broadly, the main takeaway, as a first-pass attempt at understanding this stuff, is that men mostly feel pretty happy with their penises. Which can maybe explain the epidemic of unsolicited photos.

Complete Article HERE!

We’re Not Quite ‘Born This Way’



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!