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Sex and science stuff 12/10/09

October 12th, 2009

Dr Petra

Here’s another roundup of some science/sex stories that have caught my attention recently.

Firstly, here’s a big round of applause for Good Housekeeping magazine (UK). GH may not be the typical title you’d associate with cutting edge sex advice, but they’ve recently published a fantastic and sex positive discussion of intimacy for older women. It includes a review of sex toys, discussions about the politics of medicalising female lack of desire, and pointers for communicating about sex. My only criticism is the feature didn’t make it clear that sexual desire does vary and while we want to encourage those women who’re interested in sexual pleasure to explore this. We don’t want to imply older women who’re not so sexually motivated are somehow deficient.

For women who do experience sexual problems, the Kinsey Institute have a fascinating podcast at their Kinsey Confidential website. It’s about vaginal pain during sex. This is a common but often very distressing problem that sometimes could be simply down to a lack of lubrication, but could also be a sign of a more serious issue – like an STI or a scar following stitching of a vaginal tear caused during labour. Sadly it’s not unusual for women to continue having sex even when it hurts them for fear of losing a partner or because they don’t feel they have any option but to carry on. Some hope things will just get better, or believe if they make themselves have sex they’ll learn to live with pain. The Kinsey podcast tackles what can cause pain – and what you can do about it.

Meanwhile, it seems one of our MEPs doesn’t do evidence. European MP for London Mary Honeyball (Labour) recently posted a blog complaining about her concerns of the Metropolitan Police’s suggestion to close the trafficking unit. There’s a lot of independent research from the social/health sciences that acknowledge trafficking exists, but simultaneously disputes the prevalence for trafficking often provided by anti prostitution campaigners. Concerns have been raised that the focus on trafficking has drawn attention away from the health and social needs of prostitutes. Unfortunately Mary Honeyball not only does not appear to have considered this literature, when it’s pointed out to her by one of the UK’s most respected academics Honeyball completely disregards* her. This isn’t unusual for politicians, but often it happens behind closed doors. You can see the whole exercise played out on Honeyball’s blog – and the comments that follow.

* Amended 18/10/09
– this post originally said Ms Honeyball ignored the evidence, which she has questioned in her blog (see link above). As an academic pointed Ms Honeyball in the direction of more balanced scientific data but Ms Honeyball’s response was to dismiss it, ‘disregard’ seems a more appropriate description of her actions.

Moving on from misunderstanding to misrepresentation, Ben Goldacre has the chilling story of Dr Diane Harper who was woefully misquoted by the Daily Express over the HPV vaccine. Harper raised some reasonable questions about related issues to HPV – such as how people understand what the vaccine does and how it’s been marketed in the states. But this was spun into her allegedly saying the jab was as bad as the cancer it’s designed to treat. Which isn’t true, and which she didn’t say.

Sadly it all rang warning bells with me as I had a similar experience last year when The Scotsman decided to cast me as an anti-HPV vaccine spokesperson without speaking to me and selectively reporting a blog I’d written previously when it seemed like the vaccine was going to be compulsory in the UK. I’d raised similar questions to those mentioned by Diane Harper, but at no time questioned the safety of the vaccine or told people not to have it. I only discovered I’d been cast in an anti vaccine role when I was called by other journalists to discredit it. Which of course I refused to do. It’s shocking that journalists are willing to misquote and misrepresent in order to present false stories in the papers. Particularly since these will cause untold worry to parents and teens.

Still on serious news, there’s a depressing story about a planned demonstration against Gender Identity Disorder (GID) as a clinical diagnosis which seems to have alienated many of the Trans people it was organised to show support for. It seems an enthusiastic supporter suggested a demonstration to highlight how being transgendered is not a mental illness, and to do away with the diagnosis of GID and surgical interventions for those who wish to change their sex. Unfortunately when these concerns were raised the organiser of the demo didn’t listen and pressed ahead – despite not being trans themselves. As you might expect some members of the trans community are not impressed and are now recommending people don’t support the demo which they feel has become more oppressive than liberating. A summary of events can be found at Aunty Sarah’s blog, and this second post (also from Sarah) which includes a letter for circulation against the demo – planned for October 17th. It’s sad to hear people being ignored, although helpful to hear criticism, as it enables those who may have planned to support the event to ask questions about it.

Cory Silverberg has some useful tips for parents who are worried about addressing the topic of porn with their children. Parents are understandably concerned about how to talk about this issue and either avoid discussing it, or sometimes can be so negative children are upset or made to feel guilty. It is an emotive topic but Cory handles this with his usual sensitivity.

Finally zoologist Mark Carwardine had a somewhat intimate encounter with a rare kakapo parrot. It makes me really appreciate how much easier it is to research the sex lives of humans. Although I have now officially adopted the kakapo as my mascot (btw if you also become a fan of the kakapo after seeing this clip you can support their protection programme here).

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