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Sexism and Sexualization of Women: East vs West

I really couldn’t help but feel saddened by three recent news stories about the continued attitudes that are so harmful to women. If these media reports are right, Japan’s leadership appears to be way off target, referring to women as baby machines and refusing to apologize for enslaving and raping ~200K women in World War II.

America has a more insidious version of sexism that can harm young minds – exposing children repeatedly to age-inappropriate sexually explicit images and ideas. As we expand our understanding of neuronal plasticity, it is becoming more and more clear that what we see and experience can imprint itself on our brains and literally change the way we think and feel. We spend a lot of time worrying about what we put in our bodies (e.g. avoiding trans fats, food chemicals, etc.) I wonder if we should think a little bit more critically about what we let into our minds?

Here’s what I’m talking about:

Japanese health minister says women are “birth-giving machines”

In a report in which the health minister explained how dangerous the low birth rate is for Japan’s economic future, he suggested that women are a rate limiting factor. There are only so many “birth-giving machines… and all we can ask is for them to do their best.”

There has been an outcry in Japan against the health minister though it’s unclear if he’ll resign.

Japan refuses to apologize for crimes against women

Japan admits its army forced women to be sex slaves during World War II but has rejected compensation claims.

Historians believe at least 200,000 young women captured during World War II were forced to serve in Japanese army brothels.

A large number of the victims – who were known as comfort women – were Korean, but they also included Chinese, Philippine and Indonesian women.

The media’s portrayal of young women as sex objects harms girls’ mental and physical health, US experts warn.

Magazines, television, video games and music videos all have a detrimental effect, a task force from the American Psychological Association reported.

Sexualisation can lead to a lack of confidence with their bodies as well as depression and eating disorders.

For more information on kids and sexualization, see Dr. Stryer’s recent blog post.This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Sniffing sweat might put you in a better mood?

A small pheromone study made a big splash in the media this week, announcing that male sweat contains a chemical that causes arousal in females.

The media’s sensationalization of the study made me feel dubious about the science behind it. I thought to myself, here we go again – some shoddy research and a lot of hand waving… I was determined enough to get the story straight, that I paid my $15 to the Journal of Neuroscience to get my hands on the original data. And I’m glad I did because my suspicions were NOT confirmed.

Claire Wyart et al. at UC Berkeley designed this study well. They took great pains to control the variables, account for confounders, and provide the appropriate environment for the study. “All testing was performed in a temperature and humidity controlled, stainless-steel-coated, 5 x 8 foot room equipped with HEPA (high-efficiency particulate air) and carbon filtration.” Wyart’s team also made meticulous note of previous research on the subject. They also repeated the study just to make sure that their findings were reproduceable. A total of 48 women participated.

In this double blind, placebo-control study they found that exposure to one of the chemicals in male sweat, androstadienone (AND), produced increased cortisol levels, elevated mood, and increased sexual arousal (when combined with provocative videos) up to an hour after the AND was inhaled.

Now, instead of focusing on the enhanced sexual arousal observation (that triggered the media blitz), Wyart suggested an interesting twist: what if AND could be used as a therapy for those suffering from cortisol deficiency (Addison’s disease)? Current standard therapy requires cortisol replacement which may cause peptic ulcers, osteoporosis, weight gain, mood disorders, and other pathologies. But AND is a potential “natural” solution.

Of course, I’m somewhat skeptical of this alternative since Addison’s is generally caused by an autoimmune attack on the adrenal gland cells – and I’m not sure that stimulating what’s left of them (with AND) would result in enhanced cortisol production. Still, Wyart raises an interesting point: what if we could learn how to positively influence the endocrine system with scent stimulation? Could this be a new method of treatment for women with anxiety, depression, or low libido but with far fewer side effects than our current methods?

Well, it’s too early to tell, but I think Wyart’s on to something. As she notes in her research article, AND is only one of hundreds of chemicals found in human sweat, and it is unclear if it is the most potent chemical in the arousal arena. It will be interesting to see if AND is eventually added to perfumes, cosmetic products, and the like as a means of tricking the body into feeling happier, sexier, and more balanced. Science meets aromatherapy? What do you think?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Sex selection: just because we can doesn’t mean we should

As I read the opinion piece in the New York Times about fertility clinics that permit parents to choose the sex of their baby before pregnancy, I was suddenly aware that I had strong feelings about this. As I tried to analyze my indignation, I realized that my emotions came from a place beyond mere reason.

Although technically, this issue could be reduced to a matter of sperm sorting – we all know it’s much more than that. Choosing the sex of your unborn child wanders into an unexplainably uncomfortable territory – swirling unconscious feelings about the value of human life, sexual equality, and the pain of sexism that many have experienced. We have heard the horrible stories about female babies being selectively aborted, or left to die in the elements in India and China, and we wonder if choosing the sex of a baby is somehow part of the same phenomenon.

Why should it matter which sex the baby is? Why is “family balance” cited as a reason to sex select? Perhaps the balance comes from the makeup of the individual personalities in a family, or maybe from parents who plan for the right number of children, not the gender of them.

Personally, I cannot support the practice of sex selection for anything other than sex-linked genetic disease prevention (and even this makes me feel a little uncomfortable, frankly).

I’m curious to know if men and women are equally disturbed by the practice of sex selection… What do you think?

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

Is bleeding after intercourse a sign of cervical cancer?

I’d never really thought about this issue until I read a study from the American Family Physician where some hardy souls sifted through the world literature for the answer to this very question. Their conclusion was that one out of every 220 women experiencing post coital bleeding has invasive cervical cancer.

The general prevalence of cervical cancer (in the US) is about 10 in 100,000.

So, if you’re experiencing bleeding after sexual intercourse, you should follow up with your Ob/Gyn to determine the cause. Also, regular pap smears are important in sexually active women as most cases of cervical cancer have no symptoms at all.

(How common is post-coital bleeding? About 1% of women report this problem.)

This post originally appeared on Dr. Val’s blog at RevolutionHealth.com.

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