Welcome, Savage Lovecast listeners!

As a longtime fan of the Savage Lovecast, I had an absolute blast recording the podcast with Dan. If you found my blog through it, I assume you came here because you found me vaguely interesting.* I talk about a little bit of everything here – mostly atheism, feminism, science, and sex – but here are some posts you’ll probably enjoy:

If you want a more in depth analysis on how crappy current G-spot research is, check out my recent post. And if you want more information on the survey by Dr. Darrel Ray that showed atheists feel less guilty about their sex lives, Greta Christina has a wonderful summary article here.

Thanks for stopping by my little corner of the internet!

Current readers – You can find the podcast here.

*Though it’s entirely possible you came here to tell me to stfu and not infringe on your Dan Savage time, which is totally fine since I feel that way about some guests too.

Why is the G-spot still such a mystery?

A couple of weeks ago I called out a woman on Dan Savage’s podcast who asserted that we know exactly what the structure of the G-spot is, that all women have it, and that every woman can ejaculate. I called her out because scientists haven’t reached a consensus on the G-spot. They’re not sure what the heck it is, how variable it is in women, or if it even exists at all.But calling her out made me wonder: Why is the G-spot still such a mystery?

To put it simply? The current research sucks.

And that’s not just my personal opinion. The Journal of Sexual Medicine did a big review of G-spot research at the end of 2010 (1). Their conclusion?

Although a huge amount of data (not always of good quality) have been accumulated in the last 60 years, we still need more research on one of the most challenging aspects of female sexuality.

For those of you who don’t speak science-ese, allow me to translate: A lot of this data is crap, and therefore we don’t know what’s going on.

After even the briefest overview of the literature, you start to understand why we’re so confused. For example, let’s look at two very popular G-spot papers from very different camps.

First, the “It’s all in your head!” camp. This is the less popular view, but there are some researchers who think the G-spot is nothing more than the placebo effect. The main study they have supporting this was done by Andrea Burri in 2010 (2). They did a twin study and claimed to find no genetic correlation for the G-spot – that is, if a woman had a G-spot, her twin was not more likely to also have a G-spot. It spread like wildfire in the media, and was even picked up by xkcd:

Except this study was a piece of crap.

For one, they did absolutely no physiological studies. How did they know if a woman had a G-spot, then? Why, they simply asked them! In the most leading, biased way possible (emphasis mine):

“Do you believe you have a so called G spot, a small areas the size of a 20p coin on the front wall of your vagina that is sensitive to deep pressure?”

If we ignore how poorly worded that question was, it still is not going to test genetic correlation of having a G-spot. Relying on personal opinion for physiological data is frankly ridiculous – would we determine how many lobes a liver has by asking people what they believe to be true? What they’re actually testing is if someone’s personal opinion about G-spots is genetic! Someone could think she doesn’t have a G-spot, but still have the exact same physiological reactions as her sister.

The other huge flaw of the study was that it didn’t take into account sexual practices. What if one twin only has sex in the missionary position, while the other is purposefully trying out stuff to reach her “so-called” G-spot? It’s wrong to assume that all types of sex produce the same time of stimulation. The researchers seemed somewhat aware of this, because they excluded bisexuals and lesbians…because they tend to have more digital sex.

Wait, what? So you have a group of people having the type of sex that, from conventional wisdom, is more likely to stimulate the “G-spot” – and you leave them out? Why not test to see if that conventional wisdom is actually right?

Well, maybe because the lead researcher isanxious to remove feelings of “inadequacy or underachievement” that might affect women who fear they lacked a G-spot.” That’s certainly a noble cause, since women shouldn’t feel inadequate if they lack a G-spot…but it also certainly biases your research if you’re searching for a particular answer to support your world-view. Not to mention just swaps the stigma onto women who are told they’re being delusional based on crappy data.

I’ve been harping on the G-spot deniers, but the research on the other side is just as bad. I looked up the paper by Florian Wimpissinger that’s often cited as showing that female ejaculation is way more similar to semen than urine (3).

Yes, I had a good giggle that his name was Wimpissinger.

Anyway, this study looks very impressive on the surface. They did ultrasounds that found prostate-like structures in women! And urethroscopy that found a duct-like thingy! And biochemical analysis that showed it wasn’t urine! Doesn’t that sound fancy and

Except they did a crappy job at those things.

Their ultrasound was so blurry and inconclusive that the article is immediately followed by a letter from concerned researchers saying “Dude, you totally misread that ultrasound. That’s a smudge, not prostate tissue.” And their response is basically “No, we’re right!” Not the best sign.

Maybe a prostate-like thingy.

But you know what’s a bigger problem then their possibly blurry ultrasound?

They had a sample size of two women who could ejaculate, and no control women.

Sample size of two.

No controls.

So while you can say some women may have a prostate-like structure (assuming their ultrasound doesn’t suck), you can’t say they all do. Because you tested two women out of 3 billion. What do the non-ejaculators look like? What do the women who think they don’t have G-spots look like? Humans are highly variable – height, skin color, breast size – the same could definitely apply to G-spots.

This is especially important in their biochemical study. They took ejaculate and urine samples from both women and compared them to the ejaculate from men using biochemical assays. They didn’t have a urine sample from men or non-ejaculating women to compare it to as a control. And for the second woman, they didn’t even do 5/9 of the tests! So basically they have a couple tests that vaguely show female ejaculate is more ejaculate-like than urine-like. I say vaguely because they didn’t do any sort of statistical analysis to see if this is significant or due to random chance – probably because they have a freaking sample size of two.

So from looking at these two important studies, it’s crystal clear why we don’t know what’s going on yet. The research just isn’t high quality.

But why haven’t scientists figured this out by now? How is it that we can track every individual cell in a developing worm, but we can’t tell if a structure is there or not in women? How is it that we know genetic variation at millions of sites in the genome across human populations, but we don’t know structural or physiological variation of an often discussed phenomena?

For one thing, the G-Spot is probably complicated. If I had to put my money on a hypothesis, I’d guess the G-spot is actually a combination of structures – maybe the Skene’s glands, the internal part of the clitoris, prostate-like tissue, or vaginal thickness. And I’d guess that it’s variable across women – either due to genetics or hormonal context during development. And when something is complicated, it’s a bit harder to figure out.

Part of the problem of getting a really good study is that sexual science is somewhat of an echo chamber. Almost all of the research is published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine, and almost all of the reviewers of papers are part of the same little group. They don’t have random molecular biologists reviewing their papers and weeping at their sample size, or screaming “Why didn’t you just do a mass spec run?!” There’s a reason why this stuff isn’t getting published in PNAS, Science, or Nature – maybe partly due to blushing editors, but mainly due to quality.

Another problem is that a good study of something complicated calls for thousands of samples – and it’s not easy to find thousands of women willing to participate in such a study. That’s not just because of puritanical views, though that’s definitely a contributing factor. Women have been historically mistreated under the guise of medicine, especially within the realm of sexual medicine. Treatments for hysteria, forced sterilization – those things may be in the past, but they still linger in people’s memories.

But even if you had the best scientists and a thousand volunteers, a lot of it boils down to the politics of science – especially the politics of the science of sex. In the US, the type of research that’s being done is the type of research that’s being funded – mostly from the government. And when you look at these studies, almost none of them are coming from the US – the two I mentioned were from the UK and Austria. Our puritanical views make it less likely that a massive G-spot study is going to be funded to put this question to rest.

I’m not trying to be overly patriotic, but the US produces some of the highest quality scientific research in the world. And when it’s too scared to finance the investigation of women’s sexuality, it’s no wonder we’re left in the dark.

Yet somehow there’s no shortage of money so men can keep having erections. Funny how that works.

So the next time someone claims to know exactly what a G-spot is – especially when they’re trying to sell you something – think of the science behind it. And remember, it’s okay for science to say “I don’t know – yet.”

1. Jannini, EA et al. (2010) Who’s Afraid of the G-spot? Journal of Sexual Medicine. 7:25-34.
2. Burri, AV et al. (2010) Genetic and Environmental Influences on self-reported G-Spots in Women: A Twin Study. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 7:1842-1852.
3. Wimpissinger, F et al. (2007) The female prostate revisited: perineal ultrasound and biochemical studies of female ejaculate. Journal of Sexual Medicine. 4:1388-1393.

I’m a sucker for terrible Christian movies

I want to see this so badly:

From the video description:

“The Waiting Game is about a guy who saves himself for marriage only to have his fiance leave him on their wedding day. He must now decide if it’s worth it to wait again.”

What the movie is really about: only getting married because you want to bang someone. Lovely Christian ethics at work!

Horrible morals aside, this film looks unintentionally hilarious – almost like an atheist parody of waiting for marriage. I’m not going to lie – I lol’d at the Ted Haggard cameo and “You need Jesus! With Jesus comes the wisdom of how to drive!” But it’s real, and they’re looking for people to fund the movie.

I’m torn. Is it okay to want 2 million dollars to go to a pro-abstinence movie if it will inspire ironic godless viewing parties?

(Via Friendly Atheist)

Omfg Tim Minchin!

Yesterday I went to the Sasquatch music festival out in Eastern Washington. It’s held at the Gorge Amphitheater, which is a ridiculously beautiful venue.
Photo of concert stage in front of mountainsThough I shortly nicknamed it “The Gouge.” Seriously, $5.25 for a coke? $10.00 for a beer?! The worst part was you were stuck buying bottled water even if you brought a water bottle, because the only drinking water station constantly had a line of 100 people. And there were no signs indicating the hand washing water was actually recycled water, so tons of people were unwittingly drinking water people had rinsed their peed-on hands in. Ewwww.

I’m not going to lie – while I also wanted to see Flogging Molly, The Flaming Lips, and Modest Mouse, the thing that really motivated me to go was Tim Minchin. And I was in the front row!

Tim Minchin playing the piano He was absolutely hilarious and charming, like always. He played a mindblowingly witty new song, but I don’t want to ruin it for any of you who are going to see him play live when he’s touring the US next month. Speaking of which, I have tickets to see him in June, and I don’t regret buying them at all. Especially since he only played for 45 minutes, which is not enough Minchin for me.

Close up of Tim MinchinThis photo is just to rub in how close I was.

The rest of Sasquatch was hit or miss. I had never seen Reggie Watts or Mad Rad before, but they were both very entertaining. The Flaming Lips were fucking horrible. I was so disappointed, since they’re one of my favorite bands. They picked one of their most subdued old albums to played from, had way too much dialog and set up between (or even during) songs, and had to resort to constant begging to get the audience to cheer. Everyone was falling asleep, and you could watch hundreds of people leaving. The lead singer couldn’t even hold a note that night. Eventually we left too – it wasn’t worth sitting through that horrible show to make it to Modest Mouse.
To make matters worse, apparently The Flaming Lips inspires everyone to light up a joint, so I was sitting downwind of a nasty stream of marijuana smoke. Ugh.
And good god, THE HIPSTERS! I don’t think I saw anyone who wasn’t a white 18 – 25 year old dressed in ironic 80s clothing with neon Native American facepaint and feathers in their hair. Are you kidding me? Though I quickly learned the only thing worse than hipsters are drunk and high hipsters, which was pretty much everyone at Sasquatch except me. Thank you, drunk hipster chick who elbowed me in the face during Mad Rad. Maybe it would have been more enjoyable if I was willing to blow a day’s paycheck on beer.
…I’ve officially become an adult, haven’t I?*
Oh well. Tim Minchin! Squeeeeeeeeee!
*Not true. I would have found all of this annoying even at age 18.

I have one last bribe

The fundraiser for Camp Quest ends on May 31st, and Team Awesome is still behind PZ by about $1,800 dollars. But I think we can do it, especially since many of us are resorting to bribery if we win:

* Since PZ Myers has offered to shave his beard into a hideous ’80s mustache if he wins — and really, you should donate to our side for that reason alone — Adam Lee at Daylight Atheism has agreed to grow a beard if Team Awesome wins. Thus preserving Atheist Blogger Beard Homeostasis, and preventing the world as we know it from collapsing into some sort of hideous beardly space-time nexus.

* Matt Dillahunty at The Atheist Experience TV program will do one episode of the show in drag.

* JT Eberhard of WWJTD? will shave his head… and wax his legs.

And what will Greta Christina do? I hear you cry.

* Greta Christina — she said, with a quiver of dread in her voice — will do karaoke.

Let me be very clear about this: I have never done karaoke. I have never wanted to do karaoke. I am a karaoke virgin. But if Team Awesome wins the Camp Quest fundraising challenge, I will pop my karaoke cherry. And I will get it on video, and post the video to this blog and to my Facebook page.

I’m throwing my own embarrassing bribe into the ring, though preventing PZ from performing beardocide should be motivation enough to donate to Team Awesome.

If Team Awesome raises more money than PZ by June 1st, I will attempt to learn how to ride a bicycle, and videotape the whole inevitably hilarious experience.

Yes, I never learned how to ride a bike. Yes, people (especially my family) like to tease me about this all the time. Yes, I feel ashamed when a 4 year old zips past me on the sidewalk without training wheels. No, you’re not the first person who came up with the joke “It’s just like riding a bike! …Oh.”

I say attempt in my statement because I can’t assure you that I will succeed. A boyfriend tried to teach me how to ride a couple of years ago, and I failed miserably. Partially because he gave up on me – yes, I was that bad. But I will attempt, and either way I promise you will get hilarious footage.

But only if you donate to Camp Quest. I’d say so children can learn to be skeptical and ride bikes, but I have no idea if they ride bikes at camp.

And if you don’t donate before May 31st? You will have to suffer through a 80′s porno mustache on PZ. Not to mention an even bigger ego – who knew that was possible?

So do it! Donate!

This certainly isn’t comforting

I don’t usually like bringing up especially personal stuff here, but I just couldn’t resist blogging this. For reasons I don’t care to explain at the moment, I made an appointment with UW’s mental health clinic. While you can request a referral online, you still need to do a phone screening before you can go in. Basically they need to know what you need help with (eating disorder? depression? substance abuse?) and how severe your problem is (stressed out graduate student, or ready to jump off the George Washington Memorial Bridge?).

Don’t worry, I’m not in the latter.

I decided to Google the name of my screener before calling. I’m not sure why – maybe I thought seeing a smiling photo attached to a name would calm some of my nerves. But the opposite happened when I read her bio:

[Screener]*, M.Ac. has worked in the field of crisis intervention, with a specialization in suicide prevention, since 1993. She earned her master’s degree in acupuncture from Northwest Institute of Acupuncture and Oriental Medicine in 2002, and has completed her certification as a yoga instructor (RYT ® Yoga Alliance, 200 hours). Integrating an understanding of Traditional Chinese Medicine and Yoga with training in mental health issues, [Screener] offers a holistic and culturally sensitive approach to crisis intervention. [Screener] is a certified counselor in the state of Washington.

My reaction was pretty much exactly this:
Are you fucking kidding me?I guess I shouldn’t be surprised. I was well aware that the graduate student appointee insurance covers acupuncture. It’s just a little unsettling when you’re trying to cure your own crazy, and you find out you’re going to be talking to someone who graduated from woo-woo university. Maybe this is culturally insensitive of me, but I don’t want Traditional Chinese Medicine – I want Proven Scientifically to Work Medicine.

After a little more digging, I realized 5 out of 14 of the clinic’s staff mention using spirituality or Buddhist teachings in their therapy. I’m not sure if this ratio is good or bad for a public university. I understand that there are religious students on this campus who could benefit from this…but it makes me a little unnerved. I was already uncomfortable about going in – I don’t want someone who’s not going to understand where I’m coming from.

I wonder how I can say “I am a raging atheist, please give me someone whose treatments are based on rationality” without getting that marked down as a symptom.

*Yes, I realize it’s very easy to figure out who this person is. I just don’t want people to find this post when searching for her name…or for her to get a Google Alert when I’m going to have to deal with her. I will remove comments that post her name.

The Unbelievers: New Atheism and the Old Boy’s Club

I highly recommend this article by Victoria Bekiempis at Bitch Media. It’s one of the most well-rounded, unbiased, well-researched article about the gender problem in the atheist movement that I’ve seen written by an outsider. And it has a fabulous graphic:An evil looking robot with three heads, of Dawkins, Harris, and Dennett, towering in front of an exasperated tiny female atheist with a picket signI particularly like the closing paragraph:

So let’s reframe. For every mention of Hitchens, counter with a mention of Hecht. For every theory that male atheists are purer or more confrontational, let’s ask why we gender the philosophy of nonbelief to begin with. The ranks of atheists who don’t fit the popular profile are increasing, and with more attention paid to who isn’t a white male author with a fancy-pants book contract, the public face of nonbelief may begin to look as diverse as atheism’s adherents actually are. And if the work of women like Hecht, Jacoby, McCreight, and Gaylor indicates anything, it’s that there’s a need for atheist voices from all genders and sexes to—very rationally—make themselves heard.

And no, I don’t just like it because my name somehow got squished between fantastic women I admire. I like it because it reiterates a point I’ve always made: The awesome female atheists are out there and doing things deserving just as much attention as Dawkins, Hitchens, Harris, and Dennett. We just need to start mentioning them more.