All posts filed under: Sex

How the Science Wars Ruined the Mother of Anthropology

Part I: Margaret Mead’s Original Sin When I was about 23, I embarked on a lone trip around the Vanuatu Islands. I eventually wound up on the isolated Maskelyne Island, quite a few days away from civilization in the Western sense of the word. A man had just died and many suspected that witchcraft was involved in cursing his food. For a week I attended the extensive funeral ceremonies, dove on the reef in my spare time, and drank kava with the locals at night. It all sounds very romantic, but the truth is that there was something quite off-putting about being surrounded by hundreds of people from a different culture; an unusual state of loneliness begins to creep in, accompanied by a deep desire to connect with something – anything – from Western culture. Climbing aboard the cargo vessel Big Sista to hitch a ride to Espiritu Santo, I remember hearing a Taylor Swift song on the radio. I’ve never appreciated Taylor Swift so much. However, my journey did leave me with a newfound and abiding …

A Plea To Trans Activists: We Can Protect Trans Rights Without Denying Biology

International Transgender Day of Visibility falls annually on March 31, though even the most casual observer must wonder if we still need a day to mark it. In the three years since Caitlin Jenner transitioned there has been an explosion of transgender visibility. What might be lacking is an International Day of Transgender Understanding. Western society has been keen to affirm trans people, and that is to be welcomed, but it has been slower to think critically about the wider impact of legislative change, and particularly the effect on women and their right to organise and associate as a biological sex. Muddled thinking about sex and gender, and what it means to be male or female, also threatens the credibility of transsexual people who transition to escape the chronic and debilitating effects of gender dysphoria. I know that struggle first hand. I can recount the standard trans narrative of discomfort with my sex from a very early age. Throughout childhood I yearned to be female but concrete reality displaced my wishful thinking, and instead I …

Why Do Men Rape?

One of the keys to understanding the underlying visions of conservatives and progressives is to observe how they interpret crime. Progressives tend to believe that people are not born to be criminals; one way or another, crime is perceived to be a reflection and consequence of the structure of society and the unfortunate place in that society that the criminal occupies. Property crime is typically explained as a result of the unemployment and inequality produced by capitalism, and of the rigid property rights that prevent people from sharing resources more equally, as they might have done in the pre-societies described by Jean-Jacques Rousseau in his Discourse on the Origin of Inequality. Conservatives, on the other hand, are more likely to see crime as the result of a decaying of social morality, and are quick to point out that there was less crime during the darkest days of material deprivation during the Great Depression than there is today. According to the conservative worldview, self-interested people can be relied upon to trample others to get their own way, …

Blockchain and Sex

Blockchain is often described as a solution in need of a problem. Despite being eight years old few people transact in bitcoin or other cryptocurrencies. Outside of its success as a speculative investment, cryptocurrency has seen little adoption and has become more akin to investing in gold than a trading currency. Yet this may soon change as an Australian start-up company is developing a cryptocurrency tailored for the needs of the adult industry. Australian startup company “intimate” has created a cryptocurrency to meet the specific needs of the adult industry. Recently, I interviewed Leah Callon-Butler intimate’s co-founder who said: Crypto is still an infantile technology and it will be some time before we realise the equivalent Web 2.0 of blockchain. Given our team’s deep expertise in both crypto and adult – and the rampant institutional bias and social exclusion that exists within the sex industry – we knew that this would be the perfect use case as a proof of concept for a decentralised solution. Many people do not realise that the problems in the …

‘The Apartment,’ Authority, and Consent

This essay contains spoilers. What can a film made in 1960 tell us about the sexual mores of the present? I found myself pondering this question as I rewatched Billy Wilder’s award-winning drama The Apartment recently. The year of its release is important: as The Guardian’s Andrew Pulver notes in a recent appreciation, the story unfolds during a peculiar cultural moment “on the cusp of the permissive era”; prevailing norms were being questioned rather than taken for granted, and the uncertainty casts the characters adrift in a confusion that almost kills them. But this uncertainty, and the consequent effort with which the characters must navigate shifting standards, offers a complex portrait of human sexual relations and courtship. This is a topic of particular pertinence to our own cultural moment and it makes The Apartment a fascinating artefact worth revisiting. The Apartment‘s intellectual value and emotional urgency are generated, in large part, by the contrast between the film’s two main characters and their surroundings. The traits that make Shirley MacLaine’s Fran Kubelik lovable are those that leave her alienated …

Why I’m Uneasy With the #MeToo Movement

For many women, the breaking of the Weinstein scandal has been a moment of catharsis and deferred justice. In the wake of the appalling revelations of rape and abuse, women were invited to detail their own experiences of sexual assault on social media under the #MeToo hashtag, and the subsequent outpouring of testimony was held up by some campaigners as proof that America is indeed a culture in which women are routinely victimised, and men are routinely complicit. Celebrity journalists and Hollywood stars have been named and shamed; denunciations have proliferated and shamefaced apologies have been offered; unsubstantiated spreadsheets listing alleged offenders have been circulated and leaked; and glittering careers and reputations are being reduced to powder overnight. But as someone who has experienced what many would perceive to be a sexual assault, the momentum of the #MeToo movement makes me uneasy. Before I explain why, I should tell my story and the lessons I learned along the way. Those lessons were painful and the price I paid was steep, but I emerged from the …

Why Feminists Must Understand Evolution

I am a feminist but I am not here to offer opinions, nor to enter into an intra-feminist debate. For all their various ideological differences, all feminists basically advocate the same things: for women and men to have the same rights and duties as citizens, and for women and men to enjoy the same freedom to decide what to do or not to do with their lives. I am here to present empirical evidence which ought to interest feminists, and which can help to explain human behaviour. It is my goal to explain why the causes of male and female difference are not merely cultural or the product of patriarchal indoctrination. Separate athletic competitions and distinct medical disciplines of gynaecology and urology testify to the most obvious biological differences between men and women. But the scientific method − a co-operative, critical, and self-correcting process which has midwifed huge technological and medical advances − can also help us to understand more subtle differences between the sexes in interests and aspirations. And it is understanding what we …

Sex and the Seductions of Social Explanation

A review of Inferior: How Science Got Women Wrong and the New Research That’s Rewriting the Story, by Angela Saini. Beacon Press (May 30 2017) 224 pages. I saw a funny cartoon: a man lies hopelessly drunk in a gutter while, slumped next door, his bulbous-nosed friend utters the punchline: “He’s been celebrating not having the alcoholism gene again.” This was a long time ago, when I was a researcher in a university psychology department, and the cartoon was pinned to the door of a senior colleague working on the social psychology of alcoholism. He was a man, it’s safe to say, who didn’t like genetic explanations for human behaviour. Over the years I’d largely forgotten about the cartoon, as well as most of what I once knew about psychology. The memory came back to me in recent months, however, as the long-simmering question of what kind of explanations we should give when we turn our attention to ourselves, to questions of human behaviour, has boiled over. Once again there is a partisanship for certain types …

Misunderstanding a New Kind of Gender Dysphoria

A year ago, as a result of a blog post I wrote, I began offering consultations to parents of teens who had announced “out of the blue” that they were transgender. Each week, several new families made contact with me, and their stories are remarkably similar to one another. Most have 14 or 15-year-old daughters who are smart, quirky, and struggling socially. Many of these kids are on the autism spectrum. And they are often asking for medical interventions – hormones and surgery – that may render them sterile, affect their liver, or lead to high blood pressure, among other possible side effects. The parents are bewildered and terrified, careful to let me know that they love their child and would support any interventions that were truly necessary. They speak to me of dealing with their fear for their child in terrible isolation, as friends and family blithely celebrate their child’s “bravery.” I am overwhelmed by the sheer volume of parents who call me. I find it difficult to listen to their stories – each …

Is Sex a Dirty Word?

In Birka, Sweden, Viking bones from grave B581 until recently were categorized as “anomalous” where “…the gender of the skeleton appeared at odds with the martial objects buried with it.” (emphasis added).5,12 Contemporaneously, in Lewes, East Sussex, England, the Priory school has ordered girls to don trousers in order to make the school uniform gender neutral. Piers Morgan, prominent UK TV figure, and Priory school sixth form “Old Boy,” has said, “Let boys be boys and girls be girls, and stop confusing them in this ridiculous way.”30 Commenting upon gendered language, Arwa Mahdawi stated, “We are more aware of the problems of gendered language than ever and, as the use of the singular they demonstrates, we are taking steps to fix it. At the same time, however, we seem to be creating a gendering of language as the popularity of words such as mansplain and girlboss demonstrate.”19 The term “gender” is misapplied, gender neutrality questioned, and “gendered language” on the rise. So what does all of this have to do with sex? This paper will …