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Sex and science stuff 04/01/2009

January 4th, 2009

Dr Petra

Here’s a round up of some of the sex and science stories that have caught my attention over the past few days.

The Sun have reported on a forthcoming Panorama programme (due to be aired on BBC 1 tomorrow evening) which addresses sexual abuse of children by children. Unfortunately the headline implies an epidemic of abuse by infants, which detracts from a very serious problem. We are becoming more aware of sexual abuse by children within schools and although it’s not a new phenomena it seems to be something that is on the increase.

It will be worth watching the Panorama programme to see how the issue is treated since although sexual assaults do happen they are rarer than the widespread sexual coercion we frequently see within schools – particularly between teens. Sadly anti-sex education campaigners frequently argue this state of affairs is down to teaching about sex, although evidence suggests it has more to do with children living in a competative and sexualised commercially driven culture where parenting skills and sex education are lacking.

Which is why it’s so depressing that the News of the World (the Sun’s sister paper) does little to help efforts in helping teens by running a story today about providing emergency contraception to teens – it does little to reassure parents, draws attention away from the very problem that’s causing kids to exploit each other, and relies heavily on pressure groups with anti-sex ed agendas rather than spokespeople who might be able to put the story in context. Which is this. If a teen requests emergency contraception they are coming into contact with a trained health professional who can talk to them about their contraceptive needs, encourage them to speak to parents or teachers about what’s going on in their lives, and offer support and protection if they’re being exploited.

The Sunday Times covers sex science with the usual gravitas – by featuring it their ‘life and style’ section. Today they tell us that scientists have discovered ‘true love’ via brain scans. Apparently scanning the brains of couples who’d been together for 20 years indicated around 1 in 10 had the same ‘chemical reactions’ as couples in the first flush of romance. I’ve not read the original research, so I may be doing the study a disservice, but I can’t help worrying that reports of studies like this take research findings and overgeneralise them as a means to reinforce the ideal standard of relationships – (heterosexual), monogamous and long lasting. While this is a refreshing change from previous research that suggests lust only lasts two years, it doesn’t really tell us why 1:10 couples still seem to exhibit these responses. Nor does it tell us much about the other 9:10 couples who may still feel loved up even if their neurological responses suggest otherwise. In fact if we were hoping this research would give us any really useful relationship advice we may be in for a bit of a wait since the researcher in charge of the study recommends we improve our relationships by trying to act more like swans. I did this tonight by flapping around the house and hissing. It hasn’t seemed to have done much good. Funny that.

The Mail has an amazing story about a woman with two complete reproductive systems who has fallen pregnant.

Meanwhile over at The Observer columnist Victoria Coren is clearly doing her bit to support mums who breastfeed in a completely non judgemental way with her CiF piece about Facebook’s policy on preventing women to post images of themselves breastfeeding. I was enjoying Coren’s piece until I hit the sentence “Of course, the mother is a loony as well. Who in God’s name wants to have a picture of herself breast-feeding on Facebook?”. Hmmm, let’s be liberal and defend your right to post a photo of you nursing, but consider you nuts for doing so. That moves the debate so much further on. Not.

The Independent on Sunday’s health news section picks up on a story that’s been doing the rounds in the medical journals for the past few months – the barrier of bureaucracy and it’s negative impact on research. I’m glad the Indy is raising this issue for a wider public audience. It is definitely the case that aspects of ethics and governance regulation are holding up research. However, given the problems caused by unregulated research in the past we do need processes in place to protect the public and researchers. One thing the Indy didn’t pick up on is a contributing cause to the problem of research being delayed by red tape is that every man and their dog working in health and social care is currently being encouraged to research (and publish). That means a lot of people are doing not very good for the sake of ticking boxes and those studies are increasing backlogs in the ethics approval process. It is that element of box ticking we need to tackle as well as the unequal and confusing application of ethics and governance.

The Associated Press
have news of a Newark and New Jersey health initiative where people can get sexual health information via a soap opera broadcast to their mobile phone. This isn’t a new approach as sexual health advice has been delivered via mobile in many programmes such as reminding people they need a new batch of contraceptives, giving safer sex reminders, identifying where condoms can be obtained from, or delivering STI test results. This study aims to compare those who get the soap opera with those who get standard care and see if the film makes a difference in people’s attitudes and behaviour. It sounds like a good idea, although I’m slightly surprised a trial is being described before it starts since outlining what your participants will be doing could well affect the behaviour of those enrolled into your research (or at least their understanding of your study). You can see the film and get additional information about safer sex here. What impressed me about this initiative is that it’s based on research with women about sexual health, and those studies have been applied to create an educational and entertaining resources. Something that those who currently work in sexual health media might well learn from.

That’s all for today, but join me tomorrow when I’ll be revealing my New Year’s new rules for dating.

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