Life as an Extreme Sport

Does How We Lose Our Virginity Shape Our Entire Sex Life? In a Word, No.

This morning’s sensationalist headlines are claiming that new research, published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, says that how we lose our virginity will shape our entire sex life.

For more than one of us, I’m sure, that’s the kind of headline that makes eyebrows climb and perhaps a slight whispered “oh, god, no.” And certainly, statements that the authors are making about this study seem to indicate that there’s reason to worry:

“While this study doesn’t prove that a better first time makes for a better sex life in general, a person’s experience of losing their virginity may set the pattern for years to come,” said author Matthew Shaffer, who suggested that thought and behavior patterns may be formed the first time we have sex and then guide future experiences.Taken from Lindsay Abrams’ coverage inThe Atlantic.

Shudder. But, in her coverage, Lindsay Abrams’ notes that there is one massive flaw in this study: none of the participants had been having sex all that long, and all of them were between the ages of 18-22. And, in fact, that’s enough of a flaw that I went and dug up the rest of the study, to see just how accurate the notion that first sexual experiences do actually influence our future sex life, happiness, pleasure, and so forth.

The good news is, the study is so fundamentally flawed no one should do more than roll eyes at it, and sigh as you watch Jezebel and other pop culture sites cover the study results while sending up some sort of Lena Dunham-esqueHat tip to Lindsay for the cultural reference. My age appears to be catching up to me. panic flare.

Let’s take a look at the numerous issues in this study. First (and more than one person would argue foremost), the sampling size is horrible: all participants were undergraduates recruited from psychology courses at the school, who were offered both extra course credit for participation and entered into a raffle to win gift cards. For better or worse, students do self-select themselves into courses based on interests, personality types, etc – a lack of hard scientists, for example, may have significantly skewed the data presented, as I’m sure did the promise of extra credit and financial reward. Likewise, the final numbers (206 women and 113 men) may have been more balanced had there been more effort at reaching a more balanced study population.

But balance is off here in more than one way: all study participants were required to have had their first sexual experience (“losing their virginity”) be a heterosexual experience. Was your first time with a same-sex partner? Are you bisexual? Any non-heterosexual students need not apply – apparently how your sex lives are shaped is too complicated.

And oh, hey, were you raped?

Hate to break it to you, but that’s an automatic disqualification from the study – even though all of the headlines you’re going to see about this are going to imply that the fact you were raped is going to irrevocably and forever shape your sex life.

So once the researchers had their voluntary, heterosexual, 18-22-year-old students for this study, where the median length of sexual activity was 2.27 years, the researchers then asked the students to self-report their sexual habits and experiences… for the following two weeks.

Oh. OH. So, you’re going to extrapolate from heterosexual college students who have been sexually active for, on average, slightly more than two years, and then make assumptions about the sexual lives of everyone? For the rest of their entire lives? Based on two weeks?

Well, apparently the researchers behind this study think that’s a perfectly reasonable study goal. Me? I’d like to talk to the editors for the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy. We need to talk about study design and worthwhile results to publish. I’m pretty sure we need to start with the fact that when a paper discussion says

this study focused on the role this milestone event may [emphasis mine] play in future sexuality

or asserts that the two-year experience of ethnically homogenous, heterosexual college kids is representative of the entire span of human sexuality, forever, the appropriate response is not “accept,” but something between “revise and resubmit” and “reject.”

Found Those Million-odd Pieces

Oh, I was doing so well until I wasn’t. But at least when I wasn’t, I was really committed to it.

I’m not sure what threw the anxiety into overdrive today, but by about 10am I was a quivering mess. And once again, it wasn’t so much the potential diagnosis as it was not knowing what was going to happen in the afternoon. I suppose my primitive brain assessed threats and figured that not knowing this afternoon was a more immediate concern than what may come from that test.

As for the biopsy itself – well, I had been tempted to live tweet it. Let’s all be grateful I didn’t, as I would have had to expose you to proof I’m a sailor’s daughter (I certainly swear like it), and then probably just would have slipped into somewhat mindless screaming. It seems that my cervix is as contrary as the rest of me, and a procedure that should have taken five minutes took closer to 25, and involved seeing stars at several points – and not the fun kind.

Never have I been so grateful for the deep breathing practices of my religion.

Of course, all this means is that the first step is done. The ob/gyn was honest: she’s not sure what’s going on, but the ultrasound images are concerning. The next step is the biopsy results, and from there we’ll figure out options. The results themselves won’t be in for a week, perhaps more at this time of year. I’ll call Thursday and she’ll either have the results or know when I should expect them.

Which yes, means that at minimum I have several more days of riding the roller coaster of anxiety, wondering if my bitchiness is the inherent or stress-induced variety, and trying not to overreact too much in the opposite “experience all the things” way.

Yet Another Rape Apologist in a Position of Power

It’s been a banner year for rape in the media, and apparently December just felt left out. Joining the likes of:

is Orange County Superior Court judge Derek Johnson, who said that the following litany of amazing things when refusing a heavier sentence for a man convicted of rape by a jury of his peers:

I spent my last year and a half in the D.A.’s office in the sexual assault unit. I know something about sexual assault. I’ve seen women who have been ravaged and savaged whose vagina was shredded by the rape. I’m not a gynecologist, but I can tell you something: If someone doesn’t want to have sexual intercourse, the body shuts down. The body will not permit that to happen unless a lot of damage is inflicted, and we heard nothing about that in this case. That tells me that the victim in this case, although she wasn’t necessarily willing, she didn’t put up a fight. And to treat this case like the rape cases that we all hear about is an insult to victims of rape. I think it’s an insult. I think it trivializes rape.State of California, Commission on Judicial Performance

Of course, in some ways it’s unfair to lump Johnson in with the above quotes, because his ruling actually happened in 2008. That’s okay, though — there’s an awful lot of horrible that’s been spouted off in the past, too, and he’s just clearly gravitating towards his own:

  • Stephen “rape causes women to ‘secrete a certain secretion’” Freind (1988 Rep, R-PA);Freind’s Rape-pregnancy Theory Refuted
  • Henry “the facts show that people who are raped—who are truly raped—the juices don’t flow, the body functions don’t work and they don’t get pregnant. Medical authorities agree this is a rarity, if ever” Aldridge (1995 Rep, R-NC);Lawmaker Says Rape Can’t Cause Pregnancy
  • Clayton “if ‘[rape] is inevitable, just relax and enjoy it” Williams (1990 Texas Republican gubernatorial nominee);Texas Candidate’s Comment About Rape Causes a Furor
  • James Leon “concern for rape victims is a red herring because conceptions from rape occur with approximately the same frequency as snowfall in Miami” Holms (Federal Judge, 1997);In Judicial Twist, Republicans Seen Stalling Bush Pick
  • John C. Willke, a physician who was once president of the National Right to Life Committee, whose statement is astonishing and bears repeating in full:

    Finally, factor in what is is certainly one of the most important reasons why a rape victim rarely gets pregnant, and that’s physical trauma. Every woman is aware that stress and emotional factors can alter her menstrual cycle. To get and stay pregnant a woman’s body must produce a very sophisticated mix of hormones. Hormone production is controlled by a part of the brain that is easily influenced by emotions. There’s no greater emotional trauma that can be experienced by a woman than an assault rape. This can radically upset her possibility of ovulation, fertilization, implantation and even nurturing of a pregnancy. So what further percentage reduction in pregnancy will this cause? No one knows, but this factor certainly cuts this last figure by at least 50 percent and probably more.Rape Pregnancies Are Rare

People being horrible about rape, since forever.

With thanks to Katie J.M. Baker for her Jezebel post Fuck You, Rape Culture, which served as a comprehensive list of spoken justifications for rape that made the news this year.

Stop Yelling If You Want Me to Listen

Last week, I had the pleasure of attending the World Stem Cell Summit, and as is habit when I attend conferences, I tweeted my reactions to various panels I attended. Alexey Bersenev asked if I would elaborate on my rather frustrated tweeting from the panel on “The Role of States in Regulating Stem Cell Therapies,” and I agreed (although I didn’t specify the timeline of when that would happen, obviously).

This panel was a regulatory session, as were most of the panels that I sat in on. It was moderated by Kirstin Matthews, from Rice University, and the panelists were Keri Kimler of the Texas Heart Institute; Mitchell S. Fuerst, a lawyer who has represented Regenerative Sciences (Regenexx/Dr. Chris Centeno et al.) in their lawsuit with the FDA; and Leigh Turner, a bioethicist from the University of Minnesota.After needling some people about conflicts of interest earlier this year, I suppose it’s necessary to once again point out that I consider Leigh a friend and colleague, and unsurprisingly, agree with his views regarding stem cell treatments and regulations. I don’t really think that biases me against being yelled at, but hey – some people just want an excuse to nitpick.

Paul Knoepfler was also in the audience for this panel session; in his brief write-up, he called the discussion between Fuerst and Turner a “particularly interesting and vigorous debate.”

I am going to go a little bit further than that, and say that I think it was actually a really lousy panel and debate, largely because Fuerst opted to engage in what is often referred to as conversational terrorism. He relied on every “trick” in the book, including a full range of ad hominem attacks, attempts at misdirection, constant interruption and talking over both Turner and Kimler, dismissing valid criticisms with the repeated statement of “that’s not germane to this discussion,” and perhaps the one that got under my skin the most, utter loud bombast, as if shouting at the audience will simply intimidate them into agreeing with you.

In my case, it does quite the opposite. This is probably in part because I’m female, and a lot of men seem to feel that shouting loudly at a woman will intimidate her into silence, going away, or acceding to demands. Mostly it just makes me cranky and likely to yell right back — something I managed to avoid doing at the panel, largely because during the Q& A period much of the audience got up to ask Turner and Kimler questions that they were unable to address during the panel due to Fuerst’s behavior.

Turner was able to talk during the panel — at least at times — and address some of the interesting and contentious issues around the role of states in regulating stem cell therapies, and I was able to learn some more about the topic. But Kimler barely spoke, and this is too bad — she was there as a patient advocate, and given her background and experiences in Texas, with their medical board and their recent stem cell guidelines, I would have liked the opportunity to hear and understand more about the position(s) that she supports.

By engaging in bad behaviour, Fuerst undermined the position he supports regarding state and federal oversight of stem cell regulations and denied the audience not only the opportunity to learn about his position in a non-confrontational manner, but the opportunity to learn from the other two experts invited to speak.

And just to be clear, this is not behaviour unique to Fuerst. In fact, it was on display in September during the Texas Tribune Festival’s panel on whether or not the state’s stem cell policy was good for Texans.I suppose a genuinely cynical person could try to argue that it’s really Turner that’s inciting people to these levels of bombastic over-talking, but having spent time with him I can assure you that he is indeed the epitome of Canadian politeness. I find that if someone — in the World Stem Cell Summit case, Fuerst — cannot present their argument in a calm, coherent, and rational manner, I’m going to dismiss everything they say as not worth my time, if not outright invalid.This, for what it’s worth, is not something a panelist should try for, period, and it’s really something you want to avoid if your audience includes the media. I’m certainly not the first writer-type to find it irritating to be yelled at rather than engaged with. If ya can’t keep your temper under control and engage with your fellow panelists — and the audience — with the respect that they should be afforded (and that you want afforded to you), then don’t agree to sit on the panel in the first place. It just wastes everyone time, and that’s frustrating, for everyone involved.

When We Know “It’s a Catholic Country” Isn’t An Excuse

A severely ill woman is admitted to the hospital. Doctors assess that without an abortion, she will die.

Oh, you think this is about Savita Halappanavar, don’t you?

Well, it is and it isn’t. Savita Halappanavar is a horrific story making the rounds now; a young woman admitted to an Irish hospital was suffering a miscarriage but told that doctors couldn’t perform an abortion until after the foetal heartbeat ceased, even though the pregnancy was clearly ending (as Ms. Halappanavar was fully dilated and her water had broken; at 17 weeks there is no way the foetus could have been delivered and survived). Why couldn’t the doctors perform this medically necessary procedure — one that is actually allowed, in the Republic of Ireland, if there is a real and substantive risk to the life of the mother?Other sources via Wikipedia, sorry: Charleton, Peter; McDermott, Paul Anthony; Bolger, Marguerite (1999). Criminal law. Dublin: Butterworths. p. 518 and Herring, Jonathan (2012). Medical law and ethics (4th ed. ed.). Oxford: Oxford University Press. p. 308. Well, according to staff at University Hospital Galway, because Ireland “is a Catholic country.” So instead of performing a medically necessary procedure, doctors, nurses and medical staff at Galway Hospital watched as Savita Halappanavar suffered for over two days before the foetus died. At this point, they evacuated her uterus — and it was too late. Septicaemia had set in; three days later, Ms. Halappanavar suffered multiple organ failure and died.

That takes us back to the severely ill woman who was admitted to the hospital in December of 2009. A Catholic hospital in Arizona, St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. This young woman was 11 weeks pregnant and suffering from pulmonary hypertension. Sister Margaret McBride was the on-call member of the hospital ethics committee, and part of the care team that approved the abortion necessary to save this young woman’s life, even though abortions are not typically performed at Catholic hospitals.And, in fact, the hospital eventually lost their Catholic affiliation over this choice, because they refused to agree to never perform abortions again, placing the health and well-being of the pregnant woman over obsolete and medically inaccurate Catholic doctrine.

A Catholic nun at a Catholic hospital was able to make the decision that the living, breathing, suffering woman in front of her should not die because of a fatal complication of pregnancy. She did this even though the hospital guidelines specifically forbid abortion even to save the life of the motherAs noted here. Guidelines that are more strict than those in the Republic of Ireland. And while Sister McBride was automatically excommunicated under the Catholic concept of latae sententiae, she was also returned to a member in good standing of both the Catholic Church and her religious order.

So then, this isn’t about Savita Halappanavar or that unnamed Arizona woman; this is about that medical team. This is wondering: what is the excuse of every single member of the medical team at University Hospital Galway? I think at this point, we’re all waiting.