When I sucked in little league lo those many years ago, well, that affected my sperm.
Sperm doesn't appear to forget anything. Stress felt by dad -- whether as a preadolescent or adult -- leaves a lasting impression on his sperm that gives sons and daughters a blunted reaction to stress, a response linked to several mental disorders. The findings, published in a new preclinical study in the Journal of Neuroscience by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, point to a never-before-seen epigenetic link to stress-related diseases such as anxiety and depression passed from father to child.
While environmental challenges, like diet, drug abuse, and chronic stress, felt by mothers during pregnancy have been shown to affect offspring neurodevelopment and increase the risk for certain diseases, dad's influence on his children are less well understood. The effects of lifelong exposures to dad on children are even more out of reach.
Now, a team of researchers led by Tracy L. Bale, PhD, associate professor of neuroscience in the Perelman School of Medicine Department of Psychiatry and the School of Veterinary Medicine Department of Animal Biology, have shown that stress on preadolescent and adult male mice induced an epigenetic mark in their sperm that reprogrammed their offspring's hypothalamic-pituitary-adrenal (HPA) axis, a region of the brain that governs responses to stress. Surprisingly, both male and female offspring had abnormally low reactivity to stress.
This stress pathway dysregulation -- when reactivity is either heightened or reduced -- is a sign that an organism doesn't have the ability to respond appropriately to a changing environment. And as a result, their stress response becomes irregular, which can lead to stress-related disorders.
"It didn't matter if dads were going through puberty or in adulthood when stressed before they mated. We've shown here for the first time that stress can produce long-term changes to sperm that reprogram the offspring HPA stress axis regulation," said Bale. "These findings suggest one way in which paternal-stress exposure may be linked to such neuropsychiatric diseases."
Past epidemiological studies suggest that germ cells -- sperm and eggs -- are more susceptible to reprogramming during the slow growth period of preadolescence. Therefore, in this study, in order to examine the effects of paternal stress, male mice were exposed to six weeks of chronic stress, before breeding, either throughout puberty or only in adulthood. Examples of stress include sudden move to another cage, predator oder (fox urine, for example), noise, or a foreign object in the cage.
Male mice are ideal for such an experiment because they do not participate in offspring rearing, meaning any external factors outside of germ-cell formation are essentially eliminated.
Researchers found that offspring from paternal stress groups displayed significantly blunted levels of the stress hormone corticosterone -- in humans, it's cortisol -- in response to stress.
To understand the neural circuitry in the offspring, the group also examined changes in gene expression in certain brain regions involved in stress regulation: the paraventricular nucleus (PVN) and the bed nucleus of stria terminals. They found an increased expression of glucocorticoid-responsive genes in the PVN, a change that supports a possible mechanism whereby increased negative feedback sensitivity may be explained.
The researchers also looked at a series of microRNAs (miRs) in the sperm that uniquely contribute to post-fertilization gene expression to examine the epigenetic mechanisms of transmission to the next generation. In both groups of stressed dads, there was a significant increase in expression of nine miRs. These miRs may be targeting the stored maternal messenger RNAs in the egg at fertilization, so that dad's sperm can regulate some aspect of early development to inform his offspring about the environment, according to the authors.
They also point out that a reduced physiological stress response may reflect some adaptive evolutionary benefit passed on to offspring to ensure survival in what is expected to be a more stressful environment.
"Whether such diminished stress reactivity would be detrimental or beneficial to offspring likely depends on the environment into which they were born, as well as genetic background factors," they state in the paper. However, they conclude, the finding that mild stress experience across a lifespan can change in male germ cells provides an important and novel mechanism contributing to neuropsychiatric disease risk.
"Next, we are examining the mechanism whereby these sperm miRs act at fertilization, and then we can think about using them as biomarkers in human diseases," said Bale. "And then we can begin to predict who has been exposed to what, and to think about prevention or treatment down the road."
Facial hair strongly influences people's judgments of men's socio-sexual attributes. However, the nature of these judgments is often contradictory. The levels of intermediate facial hair growth presented to raters and the stage of female raters' menstrual cycles might have influenced past findings. We quantified men's and women's judgments of attractiveness, health, masculinity and parenting abilities for photographs of men who were clean-shaven, lightly or heavily stubbled and fully bearded. We also tested the effect of the menstrual cycle and hormonal contraceptive use on women's ratings. Women judged faces with heavy stubble as most attractive and heavy beards, light stubble and clean-shaven faces as similarly less attractive. In contrast, men rated full beards and heavy stubble as most attractive, followed closely by clean-shaven and light stubble as least attractive. Men and women rated full beards highest for parenting ability and healthiness. Masculinity ratings increased linearly as facial hair increased, and this effect was more pronounced in women in the fertile phase of the menstrual cycle, although attractiveness ratings did not differ according to fertility. Our findings confirm that beardedness affects judgments of male socio-sexual attributes and suggest that an intermediate level of beardedness is most attractive while full-bearded men may be perceived as better fathers who could protect and invest in offspring.
When it comes to sex, people tend to have the same "keeping up with the Joneses" mentality -- they're happier when they're getting more than what they perceive to be normal, according to new University of Colorado research.
Tim Wadsworth, an associate professor of sociology at CU, studied how sexual frequency correlates with happiness.
Like income, the happiness linked with having more sex can rise or fall depending on how individuals believe they compare to their peers, Wadsworth found.
His paper "Sex and the Pursuit of Happiness: How Other People's Sex Lives are Related to Our Sense of Well-Being" was published in last month's edition of Social Indicators Research.
Wadsworth used national survey data and statistical analyses and found that people reported steadily higher levels of happiness as they reported steadily higher sexual frequency. But people who believed they were having less sex than their peers were unhappier than those who believed they were having as much or more than their peers.
"Having more sex makes us happy, but thinking that we are having more sex than other people makes us even happier," Wadsworth said in a statement.
For his research, Wadsworth analyzed data from the General Social Survey, which has been around since 1972.
The survey included questions about sexual frequency since 1989. Wadsworth's sample included 15,386 people who were surveyed between 1993 and 2006.
After controlling for many other factors, including income, education, marital status, health, age, race and other characteristics, respondents who reported having sex at least two to three times a month were 33 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness than those who reported having no sex during the previous 12 months.
The happiness effect appears to rise with frequency. Compared to those who had no sex in the previous year, those reporting a once-weekly frequency were 44 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness. Those reporting having sex two to three times a week were 55 percent more likely to report a higher level of happiness.
When it comes to income, Wadsworth noted, people can infer how much a neighbor is making perhaps by an expensive home renovation, flashy new car or frequent vacations. Sex is much more of a private matter -- but the mass media and other sources provide clues.
For example, Wadsworth said, Cosmopolitan, Glamour, Men's Health, Men's Journal and the AARP Magazine -- with a combined circulation of 30 million -- often report the results of their own or others' sex surveys.
Also, television and movie depictions might play a role, and, Wadsworth writes, "There is plenty of evidence that information concerning normative sexual behavior is learned through discussions within peer groups and friendship networks."
Wadsworth is also a research associate at CU-Boulder's Institute of Behavioral Science, and his research interests include the general study of happiness.
As we've often noted here, most of the time, when conservatives say "freedom," they really mean privilege. This trait isn't limited to social and authoritarian conservatives, but it's often more noticeable with them. Theocrats in particular are less likely (at least among their own) to hide their true beliefs about their own superiority and desire to control others.
Fred Clark of slacktivist has written a fair number of characteristically thoughtful pieces on the anti-choice abortion movement. Earlier this month, he received some pushback for a characterization of abortion opponents:
Last week we looked at an incident involving an evangelical college that fired a woman for having sex outside of marriage — offering her former job to the man she slept with. Examining San Diego Christian College’s double-standard, and the affirmation of that double standard in Christianity Today’s reporting on the incident, I wrote this:
Given the chance to choose between “saving babies” and controlling women, both the magazine and the college instinctively opt for controlling women.
Women who have sex must be punished. …
To defend this, Clark quoted a Right Wing Watch piece on a radio segment with Pat Fagan, a senior fellow at the Family Research Council run by Tony Perkins. (FRC's members can be labeled "conservative Christians," although I'd put it more strongly and call them right-wing theocrats.) In the segment, Fagan discussed an article he wrote on Eisenstadt v. Baird (1972), the U.S. Supreme Court case that "established the right of unmarried people to possess contraception on the same basis as married couples and, by implication, the right of unmarried couples to engage in potentially nonprocreative sexual intercourse." Fagan wrote that "Future generations may rank this as the single most destructive decision in the history of the Court." In the radio segment (audio at the link), he said:
The court decided that single people have the right to contraceptives. What’s that got to do with marriage? Everything, because what the Supreme Court essentially said is single people have the right to engage in sexual intercourse. Well, societies have always forbidden that, there were laws against it. Now sure, single people are inclined to push the fences and jump over them, particularly if they are in love with each other and going onto marriage, but they always knew they were doing wrong. In this case the Supreme Court said, take those fences away they can do whatever they like, and they didn’t address at all what status children had, what status the commons had, by commons I mean the rest of the United States, have they got any standing in this case? They just said no, singles have the right to contraceptives we mean singles have the right to have sex outside of marriage. Brushing aside millennia, thousands and thousands of years of wisdom, tradition, culture and setting in motion what we have. …
It’s not the contraception, everybody thinks it’s about contraception, but what this court case said was young people have the right to engage in sex outside of marriage. Society never gave young people that right, functioning societies don’t do that, they stop it, they punish it, they corral people, they shame people, they do whatever. The institution for the expression of sexuality is marriage and all societies always shepherded young people there, what the Supreme Court said was forget that shepherding, you can’t block that, that’s not to be done.
Points for honesty, I guess, but this attitude is pretty astounding. Two major problems present themselves. First, Fagan's depiction of cultural mores on sex is laughably ahistorical. In the United States alone, as the Guttmacher Institute points out:
The vast majority of Americans have sex before marriage, including those who abstained from sex during their teenage years, according to “Trends in Premarital Sex in the United States, 1954–2003,” by Lawrence B. Finer, published in the January/February 2007 issue of Public Health Reports. Further, contrary to the public perception that premarital sex is much more common now than in the past, the study shows that even among women who were born in the 1940s, nearly nine in 10 had sex before marriage.
The new study uses data from several rounds of the federal National Survey of Family Growth to examine sexual behavior before marriage, and how it has changed over time. According to the analysis, by age 44, 99% of respondents had had sex, and 95% had done so before marriage. Even among those who abstained from sex until age 20 or older, 81% had had premarital sex by age 44.
“This is reality-check research. Premarital sex is normal behavior for the vast majority of Americans, and has been for decades,” says study author Lawrence Finer, director of domestic research at the Guttmacher Institute. “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 12–29-year-olds. It would be more effective to provide young people with the skills and information they need to be safe once they become sexually active—which nearly everyone eventually will.”
(You can read the full study here. And as the joke goes, it's not "premarital" sex if you never get married.)
Consider Victorian Britain as well. It's was one of the most outwardly prudish societies of the past few millennia, especially regarding sex and female sexuality, and yet prostitutionwasrampant. The image did not match the reality. Similarly, Utah, the most Republican state in the nation, and outwardly socially conservative,consumes the most porn in the nation, and "those states that do consume the most porn tend to be more conservative and religious than states with lower levels of consumption." We won't even delve fully into the GreeksandRomans, or the history of marriage, including polygamy or the concept of women as property (which continues somewhat to this day).
Second – Fagan really, truly thinks he should get to control sexual activity, whether it's through "society" or his church or the government. He's outraged by the idea that "single people have the right to engage in sexual intercourse." Furthermore, "society never gave young people that right, functioning societies don’t do that, they stop it, they punish it, they corral people, they shame people, they do whatever." Bluntly, Fagan believes that his fellow citizens – adults – shouldn't be allowed to fuck without his permission.
This is a recurring trait among authoritarians (looked at in most detail previouslyhere) – they truly believe that they should be able to control other people's lives and make decisions that are none of their damn business.
This attitude isn't limited to far-right social conservatives, however. Mitt Romney's campaign remarks about 47% of Americans being 'takers' focused more on economic/fiscal issues (also the idea of a social contract), but weren't that different. Like Fagan, Romney's accusations are grossly counterfactual, and like Fagan, there's a mean streak there – a sense of entitlement, and resentment, and a desire to punish his less-fortunate fellow Americans (certainly if one looked at his budget plan).
We can discuss all this in terms of the stupid-evil-crazy vortex, but the bottom line is that a significant portion of American conservatives are, well, delusional assholes. They believe things that simply aren't true, and they want some of their fellow Americans to suffer. Specifically, they want the Americans who already have less than themselves to suffer. ("Delusional assholes" may sound harsh, and use a more polite term if you like, but "jerks" seems too tame and "bastards," "scumbags" or similar words aren't that much tamer than "asshole." Meanwhile, "delusional" seems hard to contest.) Fagan is more of a theocrat and Romney more of a plutocrat, but both seek to place themselves atop a hierarchy, with most of their fellow citizens below, and they view that as the natural order. Even if one believes that they are nice or well-intentioned, people of this mindset should be prevented from gaining power over others – but I would argue that their desire to domineer others proves that they are not nice or well-intentioned. As we've noted many times before, theocrats aren't seeking freedom, which they already possess –they are seeking privilege, and power over others.
Mister Cuccinelli is running for Governor of Virginia, and he's decided to play the moralist in order to get the votes of the rubes. He could have gotten a conviction for sex with a minor, but that's not so important to him. No, the Cucc doesn't want anyone to get a blowjob.
Virginia Attorney General Ken Cuccinelli II (R) filed an appeallast week after a federal appeals court struck down Virginia’s sodomy law as unconstitutional. Virginia prosecutors had charged a 47-year-old man with soliciting oral sex from a 17-year-old girl — a felony under the disputed law. But whether or not Cuccinelli’s appeal succeeds, his vote to ignore a U.S. Supreme Court ruling when he was a state Senator in 2004 helped create the uncertainty over the provisions.
In 2003, the U.S. Supreme Court’s Lawrence v. Texas ruling held that states may not ban private non-commercial sex between consenting adults. Virginia’s Crimes Against Nature statute, which made oral sex (even between consenting married couples) a felony, was clearly the sort of legislation the Court was referencing.
A year later, a bipartisan group in the Virginia Senate backed a bill that would havefixed the state’s Crimes Against Nature law to comply with Lawrence — eliminating provisions dealing with consenting adults in private and leaving in place provisions relating to prostitution, public sex, and those other than consenting adults. Cuccinelli opposed the bill in committee and helped kill it on the Senate floor. In 2009, he told a newspaper that he supported restrictions on the sexual behavior of consenting adults: “My view is that homosexual acts, not homosexuality, but homosexual acts are wrong. They’re intrinsically wrong. And I think in a natural law based country it’s appropriate to have policies that reflect that. … They don’t comport with natural law.” As a result, the law’s text remains unchanged a decade after the Supreme Court’s ruling.
While the state could have brought misdemeanor charges under other statutory rape laws, the prosecution instead utilized the felony provisions of the Crimes Against Nature law. Because its provisions were never updated to comply with the constitutional privacy protections, the appeals court ruling determined that the law itself is unconstitutional. Even if Cuccinelli wins, the cost in time and money to Virginia will be huge — and could have been entirely avoided had he and the Republican majority in the Virginia General Assembly not been so determined to ignore the Supreme Court.
Pounding headache? Sex could cure what ails you just as well as medication, a new study from the University of Munster finds.
Researchers recruited 800 migraine sufferers and 200 cluster headache sufferers. While findings are preliminary, results showed that more than half of the migraine sufferers said their pain subsided after a bout of passion with their partners. Their research was reported in Cephalalgia, the journal of the International Headache Society.
The researchers suggested that sex triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers, which can reduce, or even eliminate, a headache, The Telegraph reported. While headaches have long been used as an excuse for not having sex, the researchers reported that the male subjects in particular used sex as a “therapeutic tool.”
“Our results show that sexual activity during a migraine attack might relieve or even stop an attack in some cases, and that sexual activity in the presence of headache is not an unusual behavior,” the researchers wrote, according to The Telegraph.
“Sex can abort migraine and cluster headache attacks, and sexual activity is used by some patients as acute headache treatment.”
There is no valid scientific basis for denying same-sex couples the right to legal marriage, or to deprive them of considerable benefits of the institution, according to legal briefs filed with the U.S. Supreme Court by the American Psychological Association and other leading mental health associations.
"Empirical research demonstrates that the psychological and social aspects of committed relationships between same-sex partners largely resemble those of heterosexual partnerships," the briefs state. "Like heterosexual couples, same-sex couples form deep emotional attachments and commitments. Heterosexual and same-sex couples alike face similar issues concerning intimacy, love, equity, loyalty and stability, and they go through similar processes to address those issues."
Denying recognition to legally married same-sex couples stigmatizes them, according to the "friend of the court" briefs filed in the cases of Hollingsworth v. Perry, which challenges California's Proposition 8, and U.S. v. Windsor, which challenges the federal Defense of Marriage Act. Perry is slated to be argued before the court on March 26; Windsor will be argued on March 27.
The briefs cite empirical scientific evidence that demonstrate that "homosexuality is a normal expression of human sexuality, is generally not chosen and is highly resistant to change." Likewise, "there is no scientific basis for concluding that gay and lesbian parents are any less fit or capable than heterosexual parents, or that their children are any less psychologically healthy and well-adjusted," according to the briefs.
"In drawing conclusions, we rely on the best empirical research available, focusing on general patterns rather than any single study," the briefs state. All the studies cited in the brief were critically evaluated to assess their methodology, including the reliability and validity of the measures and tests employed, and the quality of data-collection procedures and statistical analyses.
APA President Donald N. Bersoff, PhD, JD, noted that the association has a long history of supporting equal access to legal marriage based on years of scientific research. "There is no scientific basis for denying marriage to same-sex couples particularly when research indicates that marriage provides many important benefits," Bersoff said. "The research shows that same-sex couples are similar to heterosexual couples in essential ways and that they are as likely as opposite-sex couples to raise mentally healthy, well-adjusted children."
Joining APA in filing the Windsor and Perry briefs were: the American Academy of Pediatrics; American Medical Association; California Medical Association; American Psychiatric Association; American Psychoanalytic Association; and National Association of Social Workers. Also joining the Windsor brief were: the New York City and New York state chapters of the National Association of Social Workers and the New York State Psychological Association. Also joining the Perry brief were the American Association for Marriage and Family Therapy; the California Chapter of NASW and the California Psychological Association.