Dan Savage invited me to slap him in person

Verbally, of course.
I’ll be recording an interview for the podcast with him on Wednesday, where we’ll talk about what went horribly wrong in the previous interview. Hooray for getting to geek out about skepticism on the Savage Lovecast! To say I’m excited is a vast understatement.

I have to give it to Dan – he does a good job at admitting when something has gone wrong. A lot of people would just sweep a bad interview under the rug, instead of having someone come on and tsk-tsk at them.

If you hear an annoying high pitched sound, that would be me perpetually squeeing. Sorry about that.

Hey Dan Savage: Did you turn your skepticism off?

Everyone here probably knows that I’m a huge fan of Dan Savage – but this week’s Savage Lovecast was a massive failure.
A guest on the show was Heike Rodriguez, who “teaches Female Ejaculation in West Seattle.” Not exactly sure what that entails, but that’s not the problem. When she wasn’t spewing woo-woo unscientific bullshit, she was claiming women who can’t ejaculate have some sort of emotional issues, and maybe were even raped and don’t remember it.

One of the very first things she says about female ejaculation is “That’s actually a myth. Every woman can do it. Everybody has a G-spot. There’s no argument about that. The anatomy is there for pretty much everybody.”

Uh, false. Researchers still have no freaking clue what’s going on down there. Some think it’s the Skene’s gland. Some think it’s the urethral sponge. Some think it’s the thickness of the vaginal wall. Some think it’s the internal parts of the clitoris. If scientists in 2011 are still arguing over a bit of human anatomy, it’s not as cut and dry as you think.

There’s also the fallacy of “Well I’ve experienced it, therefore it must be there for everyone.” Let’s assume the G-spot does exist in some women, and it’s not just psychological. That doesn’t mean it has to exist in everyone. A lot of human traits are variable – height, weight, breast size. And some people completely lack certain structures – for example, people who are born without wisdom teeth.

Now, you’re not going to be missing something like a heart or a stomach, but the G-spot isn’t exactly necessary for survival. More likely it’s the evolutionary side effect of certain male structures, in which case it would be completely plausible that it’s variable in women.

But to say all women have it, and as definitively as she did? Outright lie.

To illustrate how little Heike knows about sexual physiology, Dan asks her if female ejaculate is urine, and her response is “It’s impossible to pee while you’re aroused. It’s really simple. You can’t pee.”

Again, untrue. Both men and women can pee while aroused. Men can’t pee when they’re close to ejaculating (not the same as arousal) or soon after ejaculation because the bladder neck closes so semen won’t go into the bladder. Totally not the same as “You can’t pee while aroused.”

At this point Dan was tries to call her out on the idea that all women can ejaculate…and that’s where it gets even worse. “It has a lot to do with emotions. [...] It has a lot to do with connecting intimacy with sex. It has a lot to do with letting your emotions flow, with being willing to cry when you feel something intensely. And that’s not something thats really out there as part of sex. And I think that’s why a lot of women can’t do it. Because they haven’t connected their heart with their vaginas.”

Oh bugger off with the new-age hippy bullshit. You have absolutely no evidence to support anything you’re saying, and it’s insulting to say that women who can’t ejaculate are somehow just not being intimate enough.

And when Dan gently calls her out on that, saying that some women are just anorgasmic, she responds that she was anorgasmic because she was raped. And then implies that emotional or sexual trauma are the real reasons why women can’t orgasm or ejaculate.

Again, not an ounce of evidence, and perpetuating the mindset that women are somehow damaged if they don’t react in a certain way. Sorry, but saying “I don’t think women should feel bad” over and over doesn’t make them not feel bad when you say the only reason they don’t squirt is because they aren’t intimate enough or are traumatized.

Even though Dan tried to (too politely) question her claims, I wonder why he even had her on the show to begin with. I thought something smelled fishy when she said “If it’s really painful, then maybe some emotional pain needs to be released.” Yes, “energy.” It must be “released,” or something. A quick glance at her group’s website doesn’t list any sort of credentials for her. The only “credentials” she mentions on the show is being able to ejaculate (good for you) and being a partner of her “co-facilitator.” And the credentials for her “co-facilitator”? He’s a former minister with a Masters in Divinity in degree, and “facilitates” stuff like “dreamwork.”

If that doesn’t set off skeptical red flags, I don’t know what will.

So massive fail, Dan. How are you so skeptical about religion, but invited someone like this on your show? Did no one call in that week and you were desperate to fill the air time? I have a feeling there are at least a couple people in Seattle with actual credentials to back up their sexual information that you could have turned to. Hell, people who can use Google are more informed than she was.

I have a feeling you got a lot of angry calls because of her. I hope we get to hear some of them in the next podcast.

My Skepitcon pin-up calendar photos

I was initially hesitant when JT Eberhard asked me to be a part of the Skepticon 4 pin-up calendar, but now I’m really happy that I did it. Not only is it a great fundraiser for an awesome conference, but I’m alongside amazing women like Rebecca Watson and Greta Christina. Plus, it’s sexy and artsy – like this photo from last year.I definitely had my reservations. I mean, I’m already known for my boobs, and I don’t want to get pigeonholed into some sexy stereotype when I have many intellectual accomplishments. But at the same time, it’s my body, and I don’t want others telling me what I can do with it. If I want to pose nude, then damn it, I should be able to!

These are just the proofs – for the high quality version, you’ll have to buy the calendar.
I’m not embedding them here since full nudity is NSFW, but you can check out my favorite shot here.

Be gentle!

Having sex like a scientist

What does that even mean? According to this person asking Dan Savage for sex advice, having sex like a scientist is not so good:

He’s a scientist, and he has sex like a scientist. He’s not a good kisser, but worse, he flies through foreplay like its his weekend chore list, and goes straight to the fucking as quick as he can. He’s a voracious bottom, which should work out for me, but in the end, I’m always left finishing off alone. He always comes within minutes, and the whole time does nothing sexy, does nothing to help me along. In fact he does lots of stuff that turns me off. I’ve never lost hard-ons during sex until I was with him. I might as well be a cucumber glued to a body pillow, he’d have about the same interaction.

That’s what this person thinks having sex like a scientist is like?! Man, I’m hurt.

Not that professions necessarily affect your sex lives, but this doesn’t even make sense. Science is effectively based on making observations, experimenting, gathering data, and then correcting your theories through further experimentation. Not to mention reading the literature before setting up any experiments. Sounds like a recipe for a great sex life to me.

Now, engineers, on the other hand…

Feminists' selective science phobia

Evolutionary psychology gets a lot of flack from both inside and outside science. And to be honest, a lot of it is well deserved criticism – too much of evolutionary psychology is arm chair philosophizing and overly optimistic adaptationism, rather than hard data.

But I still assert that’s no reason to write off the field as a whole. For one, there are plenty of good studies out there, and it’s often the media that warps results into broad conclusions, not the scientists themselves. Two, it’s a baby field that’s still learning quality control – give it another ten years to refine its standards and come up with improved ways to make measurements, such as advanced brain activity imaging technology. And three, it is completely unreasonable to insist that the brain is magically not under selective pressure like every other thing in nature.

Unless it doesn’t mesh with your philosophy, of course.

Sometimes I hate calling myself a feminist because of who it associates me with. For example, this latest example of feminist sciencephobia from Jill at I Blame The Patriarchy:

Evolutionary psychology rests on the shaky (often enpornulated) hypothesis that modern human social behaviors are actually species-preserving adaptations.

No, it rests on the very strong hypothesis that the brain evolves like any other organ.

Because evolutionary psychology, like all psuedoscience, is administered by jackasses who are heavily invested in patriarchy, the behaviors in question just happen to be the very same behaviors commonly observed to be beloved of patriarchyists. And also of sexists, misogynists, horndogs, militarists, straight people, politicians, consumers of pornography, consumers of “beauty,” racists, godbags, liberal men, Hollywoodists, homophobes, matrimonialists, and other cogs in the megatheocorporatocratic machine. Everybody who loves the current world order loves the romantic myth that it is the result of the random interaction of mindless genes, or biological “design.” Sadly, the world order is actually the result of something way more sinister: the completely arbitrary social construct of the culture of domination and submission.

I should have stopped reading here, but I was impressed. I didn’t think someone could fit so many straw men and ad hominems in a single paragraph! But I know Jill thinks this is her “snarky” “style,” so I kept reading to see her views on the science.

Annie Murphy Paul uses revelations facilitated by evolutionary psychology to make the (tired old) case that women are pretty much prisoners of biology, or, more specifically, of the menstrual cycle. Her apparent thesis: ovulating women are constrained by biological impulse to go to bars, wear tight dresses, and emit musical, magical laughter, whereupon they become attracted to male lantern-jawed superheroes. Non-ovulating women, on the other hand, are practically a different species. They are drab and dull and fail to effervesce or mate, and prefer pansy-ass dudes.

As an evolutionary biologist, I’ve yet to hear an evolutionary biologist who claims people are prisoners of biology. We are, however, not immune to our biology. It’s not insane to suggest that some of our behavior is innate – humans just have the special ability to consciously choose to overcome some of it. That may be difficult for behaviors that are really ingrained in us for evolutionary reasons.

For example, we’ve evolved to crave sugary food because thousands of years ago, that craving would have kept us alive. It’s subconscious – we don’t think, “Gee, I really want that cookie because I may not be able to eat for another week.” It explains why people are inclined to eat too much sugary food now that it’s abundant, but it by no means says we are prisoners to that behavior and that we must eat sugary food until we’re diabetic.

Many feminists would have no problem with that example, but they still proceed to freak out when the same thought process is applied to behavior between the sexes. Even if we did find some difference between the sexes, that doesn’t mean there’s a value difference between those behaviors, nor does it mean we even have to do them.

But no. Jill and feminists like her are just content imagining a world where Big Bad Male Scientists are out to get them:

Paul cites research conducted, unfortunately, by psychologists and “dating advisers,” since who else would know from this shit? One researcher dude juxtaposed menstrual cycle data with the nightly revenues of (a whopping) 18 lap dancers. Awesome.

Research dude: Hmm. I wonder where we could conduct some research on ovulating women?

Grad student dude: How about a strip club? We can totally multitask by working and abusing the sex class at the same time.

Research dude: It’s pure genius! I’ll take full credit.

In this case research dude concluded that not only do strip club clientele discern whether lap dancers are ovulating, but that pervs lavish more cash on ovulating lap dancers than they do on dull old non-ovulating ones. Paul calls this “one of the most arresting studies of male responses to female fertility cues.”

She goes on to miss the point so badly that I’m inclined to believe she’s misrepresenting Geoffrey Miller’s study on purpose to fulfill her paranoid fantasies. As someone who’s actually read the paper in question, allow me to correct Jill (or you know, you could be a good scientist and go read it yourself.):

Female fertility cues! Apparently women who work in strip clubs are not, contrary to what spinster aunts have maintained through the ages, just trying to make the best of their fucked-up sex class status by working themselves through law school or a drug habit or a musician boyfriend. These hotsy-totsy babes are in fact sending their slavering clients “female fertility cues.”

Jill tries to spin it so it seems like the study is saying women become strippers just to send “female fertility clues.” The study says no such thing about the motivation for becoming a stripper: It looks at women who already are strippers, and sees if there’s any differences in the tips they get depending on where they are during their menstrual cycle. They found that men are more likely to tip when women are ovulating. They don’t have a mechanism for the interaction, but speculate on what sort of cues could clue men in. Do the women behave differently? Is there some sort of physical difference men subconsciously notice? Is is a pheromone or other sort of chemical signal? They don’t make any conclusions.

Furthermore, strippers who take birth control pills are “’shooting [themselves] in the foot,’ since [they'll] miss out on the bountiful tips garnered by women in estrus.” That’s right. Sexploitation isn’t about male domination, it’s about human reproduction. Human reproduction is natural. Natural is good. Therefore sexploitation is good.

They are shooting themselves in the foot in terms of making tips. Since they don’t ovulate, they don’t receive the boost in tips. The researchers by no means imply that making tips is obviously the most important thing and birth control isn’t important. Seriously
, where the fuck does she ev
en get the rest of that paragraph other than from an overactive imagination?

She goes on and on about how women can’t possibly have any sort of innate behaviors, or as she calls it, a “primal urge to exude pornulated dudefantasy.” Really, and we’re supposed to take you seriously?

I about lost it when I hit the most glaring Biology Fail of the piece:

But isn’t this just a reiteration of the hysterical women stereotype? Not at all, says one of the kindly dude researchers.

“The traditional and rather patronizing male view was that women are fickle, that their preferences are random and arbitrary. Now it turns out that what looks like fickleness is actually deeply adaptive and is shared with the females of most animal species.”

OK, let’s get this out of the way first: does Dude even realize that ‘most animal species’ are either arthropods or nematodes, depending on which geek you’re talking to? Together they number in the millions. Here at Spinster HQ we were unable to locate any research on, for example, the fickleness of female flatworms. Maybe they like to sport around in spandex when it’s that time of the month, but published studies omit to mention it. So this guy, in his attempt to science-ize an enormously detrimental sexist stereotype, grossly mischaracterizes the scope of the planet’s animalian diversity to further his own anthrocentric worldview.

And also, do not speak to me, dude, of “the rather patronizing male view.” How fucking patronizing is it to argue that ‘fickleness’ is a fucking adaptation shared by all females everywhere? That women’s behavior is, in fact, irrational, only now this irrationality has scientifically proven reasons? This dude is killin’ me!

Spinster HQ didn’t look very hard, nor did they read very closely. The “fickleness” this “dude researcher” is talking isn’t about irrationality, it’s about is Bateman’s principle, which is “the theory that females almost always invest more energy into producing offspring than males invest, and therefore in most species females are a limiting resource over which the other sex will compete.” It’s called that because this “dude researcher” named Bateman first found this trend in fruit flies. You know, arthropods. It’s been found across a wide range of taxa.

Also note how it says “almost.” There are plenty of counter examples of males being the choosy sex. And while there’s evidence going both ways in humans, the point is it doesn’t matter. If science did prove, without a doubt, that female humans invested more energy into reproduction and that caused them to evolve with a specialized set of behaviors, it doesn’t mean we are slaves to that behavior or that it justifies our actions, or the actions of others around us.

The cherry on top of the post was Jill’s bullet point that claims evolutionary psychology cannot explain homosexuality. Even though there are multiple competing hypotheses about the persistence of homosexual behavior. Even if you’re not familiar with evolutionary psychology, that was the second Google result. Way to do your research.

The a priori assumption that evolutionary psychologists are all evil dudes with an agenda to instill 50s era gender roles is frankly paranoid. Ironically, Jill wrote a great post about how feminists need to trust science more. Too bad she’s a hypocrite – this isn’t the first time I’ve called her out on it. “Supporting science” is not the same as “Supporting science only when it doesn’t make you uncomfortable about your world views.”

And you know what? Feminists get the “man hater” stereotype exactly because of posts like that*. I’m a feminist because I’m pro social equality for both sexes. Dismissing researchers because they’re male isn’t equality.

*I should clarify because of a comment below. Feminists will carry that stereotype no matter how rational our arguments are or polite we act just because feminism pisses a lot of people off, and they react harshly out of privilege. But there are too many people who basically are feminists except they still believe that stereotype, because there’s one rotten apple that’s particularly stinky and ruins the label.

Sexy feminism?

Feminism is about choice. Sometimes I think if I repeat that enough, people will get it. This time I’ll let another blogger repeat it for me, since I think she’s spot on:

Feminism (at least my brand) doesn’t oppose sexiness, but it opposes compulsory sexiness.

It’s the difference between putting on makeup to look like your slutty fantasy, and putting on makeup to leave the house. Between wearing heels because they make your ass tight and your legs long, and wearing heels because they’re in your dress code. Between smiling at a sexy stranger and having “hey honey, why aincha smiling” yelled at you. Between having sex because your pussy is wet and your muscles are quivering, and having sex because it’s time to put out.

And I’d go further and say it’s also the difference between being a sex worker because that’s a legitimate career option, and being a sex worker because it’s the only way you can eat. It’s the difference between sexified female bodies being used as porn, and them being used as decorations and advertisements. Maybe most importantly, it’s the difference between women being taken seriously when they talk about sexuality, and women not being taken seriously when they’re not sexy enough.

And I’d add that the opposite is also true. It’s the difference between dressing modestly because it’s comfortable or keeps you warm, and dressing modestly to avoid being jailed or raped because you were “asking for it.” Between liking football and Grand Theft Auto because they entertain you, and liking football and Grand Theft Auto because you don’t want to dare to have stereotypically “girly” hobbies. Between forgoing makeup because you’re too lazy in the morning and forgoing makeup because otherwise you won’t be taken seriously at work. Between choosing nerdy t-shirts because you think they’re funny, and choosing nerdy t-shirts because your friends will heckle you if you wear anything feminine.

Compulsory anti-sexiness is not the solution to compulsory sexiness. There’s not one right way to be a woman.

Pope: condoms not just for gay prostitutes

When the Pope recently decided that condom use was okay when preventing the spread of AIDS, many people were suspicious of the example he used – gay prostitutes. Did that mean it was only okay when there was already zero possibility of pregnancy? Was this the Catholic Church snubbing women yet again?

The Vatican has released a clarification today that condoms can be used to prevent AIDS by all genders and sexual orientations:

The pope’s comments in the book implied that he was referring primarily to homosexual sex, when condoms aren’t being used as a form of contraception. Questions arose immediately about the pope’s intent, though, because the Italian translation of the book used the feminine for prostitute, whereas the original German used the masculine.

Lombardi told reporters Tuesday that he asked the pope whether he intended to refer only to male prostitutes. Benedict replied that it really didn’t matter, the important thing was the person in question took into consideration the life of the other, Lombardi said.

“I personally asked the pope if there was a serious, important problem in the choice of the masculine over the feminine,” Lombardi said. “He told me ‘no.’ The problem is this … It’s the first step of taking responsibility, of taking into consideration the risk of the life of another with whom you have a relationship.”

“This is if you’re a man, a woman, or a transsexual. We’re at the same point. The point is it’s a first step of taking responsibility, of avoiding passing a grave risk onto another,” Lombardi said.

[...]In the book, the pope was not justifying or condoning gay sex, condoms as a means of artificial contraception or heterosexual sex outside of a marriage. He reaffirms the Vatican opposition to homosexual acts and artificial contraception and reaffirms the inviolability of marriage between man and woman.

But by broadening the condom comments to also apply to women, the pope is saying that condom use is a lesser evil than passing HIV onto a partner even when pregnancy is possible.

“We’re not just talking about an encounter between two men, which has little to do with procreation. We’re now introducing relationships that could lead to childbirth,” Martin said.

The Catholic Church hasn’t quite joined us in the 21st century, but making it to the 20th century is a good first step. This decision will save countless of lives, even if it is just a publicity ploy to distract people from their child molestation scandal.

Sooooo, can someone explain to me how the concepts of the “infallibility of the Church” and “papal infallibility” meshes with “changing your mind”?

Hooray, a boy! Meh, a girl

That seems to be the opinion of this expecting grandfather. He’s a lawyer asking a (female) judge for a provisional recess in case his grandson turns out to be a boy.

Should the child be a girl, not much will happen in the way of public celebration. Some may even be disappointed, but will do their best to conceal this by saying, “as long as it’s a healthy baby.” My wife will run to Philly immediately, but I will probably be able to wait until the next weekend. There will be happiness, though muted, and this application will be mooted as well.

However, should the baby be a boy, then hoo hah! Hordes of friends and family will arrive from around the globe and descend on Philadelphia for the joyous celebration.

Joyous celebration about chopping off some skin from a baby’s penis. Thank you, religion.

I think he’s trying to be funny, but he just comes of as a sexist asshole. Seriously, imagine being this guy’s granddaughter and Googling Grandpa’s name years later. Nothing says “I love you” like “Well, I gueeessss it’s okay you’re a girl, though I really wish you were a boy.”

I love the judge’s response:

Mr. Epstein will be permitted to attend the bris, in the joyous event that a son is born. But the Court would like to balance the scales. If a daughter is born, there will be a public celebration in Court, with readings from poetry celebrating girls and women.

Sad it takes an order from a judge to celebrate the birth of a baby girl.

(Via Butterflies and Wheels)

Pope okays condom usage?!

I thought this was going to be a link to the Onion, but it’s real:

After decades of fierce opposition to the use of all contraception, the pontiff will end the Catholic Church’s absolute ban on the use of condoms. He will say that it is acceptable to use a prophylactic when the sole intention is to “reduce the risk of infection” from Aids.

While he will restate the Catholic Church’s staunch objections to contraception because it believes it interferes with the creation of life, he will argue that using a condom to preserve life and avoid death can be a responsible act – even outside marriage.

Asked whether “the Catholic Church is not fundamentally against the use of condoms,” he replies: “It of course does not see it as a real and moral solution.

“In certain cases, where the intention is to reduce the risk of infection, it can nevertheless be a first step on the way to another, more humane sexuality.”

He will stress that abstinence is the best policy in fighting the disease, but accept that in some circumstances it is better for a condom to be used if it protects human life.

Okay, so he still has a antiquated and judgemental view of human sexuality… hell, he is the Pope after all. But this is a huge step in the right direction. The Catholic Church is finally saying that the well-being of humans that are currently alive is more important that the potential human you’re stopping with a bit of rubber.

The theological logic is certainly screwy, like usual – it’s only okay because living gives you the potential to stop sinning later, not because living is more important than wasted sperm. But for right now, I don’t care. This will have a profound effect in AIDS ridden countries in Africa and potentially save many, many lives. Not to mention this basically greenlights all Catholic couples to use condoms. I can see the logic now – “Well, we’re primarily using them to stop AIDS, damn that no-baby side effect!”

Though the cynic in me thinks this is just a PR move to get people distracted from the whole child-molesting scandal. Sorry Pope, haven’t quite forgotten about that.