Saturday, June 09, 2007

Movin' On

Sad news, kids.

I've picked up a new project -- one that I'm really excited about. But it precludes me blogging here at Sexual Evolution. I honestly feel a sense of loss akin to ...well, what I imagine leaving summer camp must be like.

But now, like Candy and Pre before me, I'm closing up shop. I'll still be reading others' blogs and commenting from time to time, and you can still reach me at sexualevolution at gmail dot com.

So long... and thanks for all the fish smart sex talk!

Sunday, May 13, 2007

Nimoy's Nudes

We all know what William Shatner's been up to these days, but who knew Leonard Nimoy (that's Mr. Spock, for those of you whose mothers weren't teenage Star Trek fans) was shooting nudes and showing his work?

Okay, actually lots of people knew. I just wasn't one of them.

Anyway, the Times Magazine piece on his latest work with women of size -- a collection of photos he's been working on for eight years -- isn't too terribly interesting, but it's a good summary of how he ended up taking photos of fat women and how he feels about it. It tries to give the reader a glimpse of fat activism, kind of, but it doesn't really.

I really want to see the photographs now. Luckily some of them are showing in Northampton (apparently the most liberal city in the most liberal state in the country, according to gallery owner Richard Michelson), where I will be in the middle of next week. At first I wasn't sure if I'd be able to get the beau to go with me, but then I remembered: he loves photography. Oh, and naked women.

Saturday, May 12, 2007

I will stand in the rain on the corner...

It’s pouring here, the kind of rain that’s perfect for a first date. Two people who’ve just met, or met last week, or who’ve known each other for years and were suddenly drawn to each other by the immense heat of the past week – they’re out on the town, glowing, giving each other those looks. I saw those looks over and over tonight, before the rain started. “I can’t believe you’re with me,” is what that look says, and to anyone who will pay attention, “look! she’s with me!”

And then the rain starts, and sheer summer shirts stick to wet skin, and suddenly everyone is laughing. Rain like this always feels a little absurd because it seems to come from nowhere, and when it comes it isn’t kidding. You’ve got no chance to prepare yourself for this. Couples on first dates stand together under awnings, laughing and wringing out their shirts, proffering jackets, offering to hold umbrellas, gauging the probability that the rain will let up and considering making a run for it, whatever ‘it’ happens to be. And they’re grinning. They look like drowned rats, and yet somehow they just can’t wipe the smiles off their faces. I hope they take advantage of the downpour – few things are more romantic than making out in that kind of driving rain, especially when it comes on the heels of this kind of heat and humidity. I hope they tell their kids one day about getting caught in a downpour on their first date.

I walked home alone, my umbrella stowed away in my bag, my flip-flops squeak-squeaking as I struggled to keep them from sliding off my feet. Rain like this is meant for running through grass and on blacktop in bare feet and rolled up jeans (or, y’know, underwear), seeing who can make the biggest splash. Poorly drained city streets with god knows what in the stormwater aren’t made for that kind of romping. But city streets in summer storms were made for first dates.

(photo: Amanda a la drowned rat, El Yunque PR. Somehow we managed to forget that it would probably rain in the rainforest. Man, that was an awesome day.)

There’s something fishy going on.

Researchers studying water and aquatic life have found males of several species of fish whose gonads don’t quite match up. In waterways around Seattle, some male English sole have proteins normally only found in females. Male Potomac River bass and sunfish have been found carrying immature eggs. Down in Nevada, male carp in a particular lake – one subject to Las Vegas wastewater runoff – have depressed levels of male sex hormones and smaller than average testes. And in California, male fish off the coast of LA and Orange County have been found with ovarian tissue in their testes. Feminized fish are also found in England, Japan, and Denmark.

The culprit? Many would have you look no further than that little pack of pills on your bedside table. Synthetic estrogens in hormonal birth control trick the body out of ovulating, but they don’t just stay in the body and build up forever. A woman takes her pill with her morning coffee, drinks her eight glasses of water a day, and eventually those hormones get flushed town the toilet. When wastewater is spilled or leaks into waterways (through leaky sewers and pipes, storm drain overflow, or from wastewater treatment centers), those hormones are released into the wild, where they act as endocrine disruptors for fish. The endocrine system regulates growth and development in all animals – disrupt it, and you get animals that don’t develop correctly.

Scientists have found relatively low levels of estrogens in most of the bodies of water examined, but those low levels have been enough to have an impact on the development of aquatic life, and many are concerned for the reproductive future of fish. If you’re not worried (you never really liked fish anyway), think about the worst case scenario: feminization of male fish leads to widespread reproductive failure, declining fish supplies, the collapse of the fishing industry, increased reliance on non-aquatic protein supplies, and not enough land for the necessary increase in agriculture. It would be a problem in the US, but for Japan it would be a disaster, and for non-industrial countries relying primarily on protein from fish it would probably be the beginning of the end.

But we’re not there yet. Doomsday scenario aside, there is something going on with all those estrogens. Many news reports have implied that the bulk of the blame lies with hormonal birth control (and, to a lesser extent, hormone replacement therapy), meanwhile ignoring the vast number of estrogen-mimics in the environment from pollutants. Chemicals contained in many detergents, in bath oils and some cosmetics, and in pesticides act as endocrine disruptors in the same fashion as synthetic estrodiol. Even more pervasively, plastics often contain ingredients that mimic estrogens – one of which, bisphenol A, has been linked to birth defects in humans. These chemicals are often referred to as ‘ubiquitous’ by researchers who realize that the compounds will be found (in varying degrees) in essentially any water test performed.

Hormonal birth control, meanwhile, may be one of the most sustainable inventions ever created – if we use it properly. Because pills are relatively expensive and difficult to distribute (both problems which probably wouldn’t be that hard to overcome), their use in developing countries has yet to become widespread. Giving women and families the option of hormonal birth control (along with condoms and education) could go a long way towards solving the population problem. Otherwise, dwindling resources coupled with increasing populations will likely lead to population control via genocide and war (as in Rwanda; Jared Diamond’s extraordinary book Collapse does a great job of analyzing that scenario).

It’s true that synthetic hormones in birth control are contributing to the feminization of fish. As a first world country, we should take the lead in developing birth control methods that are even more sustainable – both personally and globally. For the time being, women who would prefer birth control sans hormones can consider using a diaphragm or IUD.

Meanwhile, cutting back drastically on our nasty plastic habit would decrease the amount of trash in our landfills, the level of endocrine disruptors in our water, and our over-dependence on petrochemicals. That’s three problems in one fell swoop.

Researchers are working on ways to filter endocrine blockers out of wastewater, and no one is actually suggesting that women should stop using hormonal birth control. Still, the Pill is getting an undue amount of attention in the fish feminization scandal. We (the media, all of it) should put a little more emphasis on the plastics industry and the byproduct of our petrochemical dependence.

(fabulous fish photo by wistine)

Friday, May 11, 2007

Good Magazine: Pornographic Transparency

Over the past week I have fallen in love with Good Magazine -- and this video just solidifies that. Good is a magazine "for people who give a damn", and the current issue features articles on corporate greenwashing, innovative transportation solutions in Europe, and (this is novel) an unbiased look at women married to inmates. Their hard copy is even on recycled paper.

In the video, model/actress Kelle Marie's body is the canvas for a series of factoids about internet pornography. I think the term 'ironic' can be appropriately applied here. Via Fleshbot.

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Pro-Choice Birth-Activist Reproductive Freedom Fighter

Radical doula Miriam Pérez believes that pro-choice activism and birth activism go hand in hand. Those who subscribe to the beliefs of either group don’t generally agree: pro-choicers are so caught up in protecting women’s rights NOT to parent, and midwifery groups so busy diligently advocating for pregnant women, that neither has the time to examine what the other has to offer (and, of course, not all midwives and doulas are pro-choice). But, Pérez points out, “Anti-choice activism and overly-medicalized birthing practices are both based on a lack of trust in women.”

Her Campus Progress article does a great job of pointing out the ways in which the two camps compliment each other. Both movements address “the narrowing scope of women’s choices.” They attempt to offer safety and support to women as they undergo difficult procedures, too often under difficult circumstances. And in both the delivery room and right-wing politics, the woman in question is forced to take a back seat to the fetus she carries. This, to Pérez, is the strongest correlation between birth- and pro-choice activism: “Both are attempts to fight back against rhetoric that prioritizes the unborn fetus instead of the adult woman.” The article also does a great job rounding up the basic facts and figures about home and hospital births.

But oh, these divisions! Pérez is right, birth activists and pro-choice activists have a lot in common. And they have a lot in common with those who advocate for comprehensive sexuality education. All three often have a lot in common with those who lobby for universal health care and for flex-time. When we talk about all of these issues, more often than not, we’re talking about the same thing: reproductive freedom. But abortion is a divisive issue, as are comprehensive sex ed and even universal health care for some. It’s true: allying abortion rights with universal health care would probably hurt the case for universal health care. So instead of getting together and agreeing that we’re all talking about the same thing (more or less), we divide it up into bits and pieces. In the end, though, all of those things affect reproductive freedom. It’s about the right to reproduce – or not – when and how we want, the right to affordable and accessible health care, the right to the knowledge we need to make informed decisions, the ability to make motherhood a viable part of our complex lives if we choose to, and the right (and the NEED) to be heard and supported when it comes to our reproductive choices – whether that means choosing not to continue a pregnancy or choosing to give birth naturally. All the little slivers of the overarching issue, put together, could mean huge advances for women’s equality.

Check out Miriam Pérez’s blog Radical Doula for lots more information on midwifery, reproductive freedom and progressive politics – it’s good stuff!

PS - thanks to Frank for the tip!

Wednesday, May 09, 2007

It's baaack...

Last month a friend called and asked for a quick consult on STI testing. I ran down a list of STIs I thought were relevant: Chlamydia, Gonorrhea, HIV, and herpes, HPV if insurance covered the more expensive and slightly more accurate test. "What about syphilis?" my friend asked, and I felt a little silly for having left it off the list, but (despite the outbreak in season two of Grey's Anatomy) rates of syphilis dropped enormously over the course of the 20th century, and generally speaking it's not something many people need to worry about.

But according to this Washington Post article, rates have been on the rise again in the past three years in Virginia and DC. The article alludes to outbreaks occurring in the gay male community, but the jump in numbers is alarming no matter who you're sleeping with: in the District, it went from a record low 38 reported cases in 2003 to 115 cases in 2006.

Much more info in the CDC Syphilis Fact sheet.