December 26, 2006
A common parasite can increase a women’s attractiveness to the opposite sex but also make men more stupid, an Australian researcher says.
About 40 per cent of the world’s population is infected with Toxoplasma gondii, including about eight million Australians.
Human infection generally occurs when people eat raw or undercooked meat that has cysts containing the parasite, or accidentally ingest some of the parasite’s eggs excreted by an infected cat.
The parasite is known to be dangerous to pregnant women as it can cause disability or abortion of the unborn child, and can also kill people whose immune systems are weakened.
Until recently it was thought to be an insignificant disease in healthy people, Sydney University of Technology infectious disease researcher Nicky Boulter said, but new research has revealed its mind-altering properties.
“Interestingly, the effect of infection is different between men and women,” Dr Boulter writes in the latest issue of Australasian Science magazine.
“Infected men have lower IQs, achieve a lower level of education and have shorter attention spans. They are also more likely to break rules and take risks, be more independent, more anti-social, suspicious, jealous and morose, and are deemed less attractive to women.
“On the other hand, infected women tend to be more outgoing, friendly, more promiscuous, and are considered more attractive to men compared with non-infected controls.
“In short, it can make men behave like alley cats and women behave like sex kittens”.
Dr Boulter said the recent Czech Republic research was not conclusive, but was backed up by animal studies that found infection also changes the behaviour of mice.
The mice were more likely to take risks that increased their chance of being eaten by cats, which would allow the parasite to continue its life cycle.
Rodents treated with drugs that killed the parasites reversed their behaviour, Dr Boulter said.
Another study showed people who were infected but not showing symptoms were 2.7 times more likely than uninfected people to be involved in a car accident as a driver or pedestrian, while other research has linked the parasite to higher incidences of schizophrenia.
“The increasing body of evidence connecting Toxoplasma infection with changes in personality and mental state, combined with the extremely high incidence of human infection in both developing and developed countries, warrants increased government funding and research, in particular to find safe and effective treatments or vaccines,” Dr Boulter said.
One preacher’s message: Have hotter sex
By Brian Alexander
Dec 4, 2006
SAN DIEGO — About 100 evangelical Christian couples stand in the convention hall of a Four Points Sheraton, bow their heads and thank God for their lives and the new day. Then they sing the old-timey hymn “There’s Not a Friend Like the Lowly Jesus.”
I have come here expecting exactly this scene. The occasion is a seminar called “Love, Sex and Marriage,” being given by Joe Beam, a Southern preacher out of the old school, a self-described “book-chapter-and-verse guy,” who runs an outfit based in Franklin, Tenn., called Family Dynamics. So I’m anticipating condemnation of American culture — especially America’s sexual culture — that has made conservative Christians feel besieged.
But then Beam, a portly, silver-haired basso profundo dressed in khaki slacks, a sweater vest and brown tasseled loafers that make him look like a retired country-club golf pro, walks to the front of the room and proceeds to tell the men in the audience how to make their semen taste better.
Sweet stuff works, he says, which provides a built-in excuse because “then you can say, ‘I’m eating this cake for you, baby!'”
Welcome to the world of hot Christian love.
The San Diego Church of Christ is Beam’s sponsoring group today, but as far as he is concerned it could be any conservative Christian denomination. The message would be the same: Married Christians ought to be having more — and hotter — sex.
You could be forgiven for thinking “conservative Christian” and “hot sex” are oxymoronic. The missionary position has a real history, after all. But Beam is part of a burgeoning trend among evangelicals to bring sex out of the shadows, educate believers and relieve their guilt.
“For years, Christian publishing would not publish on sex,” says Michael Sytsma, a Christian sex therapist with the Sexual Wholeness Ministry based in Duluth, Ga. “If they did, it was so heavily edited nothing of value was left. Now, more and more pastors are preaching about it on Sunday, though you still do not see classes in seminaries. We are seeking to do that.”
Sytsma thinks preachers like Beam have seen — and even felt themselves — the impact of the sexual revolution, and realize the church has been left behind as a source of sexual information.
“Sex is a sacred subject,” he says. “The church generally prefers not to talk about it. But that has a dual impact. It keeps it shrouded in ignorance and the implication is that since you are not talking about it, it’s bad.”
God’s ‘most wonderful gift’
Beam sees this attitude every day. Women tell him: “I feel like I am sinning when I make love to my husband.”
“They want help,” he tells the assembled crowd at the Sheraton. At least a score of heads nod in recognition. “It’s hard,” he continues, “to make the transition from ‘sex is bad’ when you are young and single to ‘sex is good’ when you are married.” In fact, “sex is the most wonderful gift God ever gave Christians.”
Beam, who is studying for a sexology Ph.D. from the University of Sydney in Australia, is all about shining the light. He and a few others like him have concluded that conservative Christians can cope with America’s hypersexualized culture by being given permission to pluck much of its fruit.
The information he dispenses is a mix of scriptural interpretation and mainstream sexology. He does not speak in euphemisms or metaphors and his plain spokeness makes a few listeners squirm, at first. But Beam is also part entertainer with a patter that is almost vaudevillian in its timing: “Why can women be multiorgasmic and men not? Well, I’ve decided God just likes you better! … What’s the difference between a woman with PMS and a Doberman? Lipstick.”
The humor and the brazen talk, coming from a man who is not only one of them, but a leader who rubs elbows with James Dobson and Jerry Falwell, gives them permission to relax and hear his message.
It’s a simple one: Sex is good. Good sex makes people happy. It deepens relationships. So it helps marriages last and that pleases God and makes society better.
There are rules many in the secular world reject. You have to be married. You have to be heterosexual. Other prohibitions include no sex with animals, no incest, no lust for people other than your spouse, no adultery (and that includes consensual threesomes and group sex) and no porn, rape or prostitution. You can’t harm the body. And you can’t have sex during a woman’s menstrual period.
If that last one seems like an outlier — there is no particular health reason to avoid sex during menstruation among monogamous, disease-free couples — you don’t understand Beam’s world view.
Scripture is his authority. Like other evangelicals, he believes the New Testament is the literal and infallible word of God. So when the book of Acts says, “You are to abstain from food sacrificed to idols, from blood, from the meat of strangled animals and from sexual immorality,” that’s all he needs to know.
This literalist view cuts both ways. Beam has been attacked by some conservative Christians for his liberal take on certain subjects. Much of what he preaches contradicts the teaching of other sects, such as Roman Catholicism. But he argues that if the Bible does not forbid it, you can do it. So bring on masturbation. Try any position in the Kama Sutra (but refer to drawings, please, not pictures of real people). Wife away on business? Have phone sex. Birth control is good. Even anal sex is OK if (and Beam believes this is a big if) it does no harm to the body.
If you are a married Christian, not only can you do all this, but you should be doing it.
“Christians should be having great sex lives! We should be having better sex than anybody else! So drop your inhibitions at the door of your own house,” Beam urges.
The crowd is obviously ready to do just that.
“Our church has tried to be more open about sex, and to be more real about it,” Mary Wadstrom, a member of the San Diego church and, along with her husband, Jeff, one of the organizers of today’s sessions, tells me half-way through Beam’s lecture. “There are lots of hang-ups ingrained on you every day.”
That’s very clear after Beam takes a break, giving time for attendees to fill out question cards. They’re supposed to be free to ask anything that’s been on their minds. When Beam returns he flips through the cards and says, “I am looking at your questions and let me say, you are a sick group of people!”
Everybody cracks up yet again. He begins reading:
Can you give us some techniques for oral sex?
He does, and, using his hand and arm as props, describes it in detail (“…creating suction and warmth with your mouth, your tongue here…”) complete with sound effects.
Is mutual masturbation OK?
Which sex toys are good, and can we use them at all?
“I usually get the question this way,” Beam answers. “‘What does the Bible say about vibrators?” More laughter. “Can we use a vibrator? Sure you can if you want to.”
What can you do if your wife is having trouble reaching orgasm?
“Try having sex doggy-style and simultaneously masturbating.”
He offers another suggestion: “You’ve heard of the proverbial 69?” Some in the audience return blank stares. He stares back, open-mouthed, and gently mocks them. “Huh? Is that in Acts?”
Unburdened — and eager to get home
The explicitness causes some jaws to drop, but not because people are offended.
“What is new for me is not that kind of talk,” Wadstrom says. The church has had some sexual conversations before, but always in classes segregated by gender.
“What was new is having men and women together in the same room,” she says. “That was very helpful because everybody knows what’s being said to the others.”
Beam’s presentation has a liberating effect on these couples. About four hours later, when it’s all over, many appeared unburdened. Either they were experimenting anyway, and feeling miserable about it, or they were restricting themselves to acts they thought were godly, and feeling miserable about that.
“I was raised to think sex was bad,” 23-year-old Kym Blackburn recalls of her religious upbringing. She forced her husband, Matt, a U.S. Navy enlisted man, to attend, but now he is glad he did. He is awaiting a second deployment to Iraq, and thinks their marriage will grow stronger in the weeks before he leaves.
Jose and Marta Ochoa echo that sentiment. “My whole life I thought certain things were wrong, or not Christian,” Marta, 47, tells me as her husband, Jose, 52, nods vigorously in the background.
He’d spent years asking her for more variation but now, finally, “she understands we can share all this freely and it’s not a sin like she thought. It is gonna happen more!”
That, Marta tells me, makes her very happy.
Then they excuse themselves. They’re in a rush to get home.
Americans weren’t any more chaste in the past
Dec 28, 2006
NEW YORK – More than nine out of 10 Americans, men and women alike, have had premarital sex, according to a new study. The high rates extend even to women born in the 1940s, challenging perceptions that people were more chaste in the past.
“This is reality-check research,” said the study’s author, Lawrence Finer. “Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades.”
Finer is a research director at the Guttmacher Institute, a private New York-based think tank that studies sexual and reproductive issues and which disagrees with government-funded programs that rely primarily on abstinence-only teachings. The study, released Tuesday, appears in the new issue of Public Health Reports.
The study, examining how sexual behavior before marriage has changed over time, was based on interviews conducted with more than 38,000 people — about 33,000 of them women — in 1982, 1988, 1995 and 2002 for the federal National Survey of Family Growth. According to Finer’s analysis, 99 percent of the respondents had had sex by age 44, and 95 percent had done so before marriage.
Even among a subgroup of those who abstained from sex until at least age 20, four-fifths had had premarital sex by age 44, the study found.
Sex stable since the ’50s
Finer said the likelihood of Americans having sex before marriage has remained stable since the 1950s, though people now wait longer to get married and thus are sexually active as singles for extensive periods.
The study found women virtually as likely as men to engage in premarital sex, even those born decades ago. Among women born between 1950 and 1978, at least 91 percent had had premarital sex by age 30, he said, while among those born in the 1940s, 88 percent had done so by age 44.
“The data clearly show that the majority of older teens and adults have already had sex before marriage, which calls into question the federal government’s funding of abstinence-only-until-marriage programs for 12- to 29-year-olds,” Finer said.
Under the Bush administration, such programs have received hundreds of millions of dollars in federal funding.
“It would be more effective,” Finer said, “to provide young people with the skills and information they need to be safe once they become sexually active — which nearly everyone eventually will.”
Wade Horn, assistant secretary for children and families at the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, defended the abstinence-only approach for teenagers.
White House: Wait longer, please
“One of its values is to help young people delay the onset of sexual activity,” he said. “The longer one delays, the fewer lifetime sex partners they have, and the less the risk of contracting sexually transmitted disease.”
He insisted there was no federal mission against premarital sex among adults.
“Absolutely not,” Horn said. “The Bush administration does not believe the government should be regulating or stigmatizing the behavior of adults.” (except when they’re adults of the same sex who want to get married, and then we’re all for “stigmatizing” them right out of existence)
Horn said he found the high percentages of premarital sex cited in the study to be plausible, and expressed hope that society would not look askance at the small minority that chooses to remain abstinent before marriage.
However, Janice Crouse of Concerned Women for America, a conservative group which strongly supports abstinence-only education, said she was skeptical of the findings.
“Any time I see numbers that high, I’m a little suspicious,” she said. “The numbers are too pat.”