Sexy Sex, Newsy News—Week of April 7-13, 2014

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The Future of Vaginas
Perhaps the plight of young women born without vaginas has been keeping you up at night. Perhaps you had no idea that some females are born without vaginas. In either case, have I got a news story for you. Scientists in Mexico, working with a US team from Wake Forest University, have created vaginas where none existed before, using four patients’ own vulvar cells—in a petri dish, these will multiply sufficiently to grow on a kind of scaffold into a vaginal shape, which the scientists then implanted into the teenaged subjects, all born with a condition called Mayer-Rokitansky-Küster-Hauser Syndrome; in rare circumstances, it leaves the afflicted with no vagina at all. The doctors have pronounced this extraordinary new process a success; they women can now menstruate and have sex, and something tells me that this research will be eyed with great interest by more people than just those with MRKH. Will they try this procedure on transwomen, I wonder? Let’s see what the future of vaginas may involve.

We learn about this courtesy the Utah People’s Post, New Scientist, and the Mary Sue, plus some publication that wouldn’t use the word “vagina” in the headline (they said “private parts”), so I’m not giving them any ink.

This Week in Critters
We have two items of animal research for you, one from the wilds and one from the lab, or should I say the Prairie Vole Lounge. Voles are among the most monogamous of mammals, and scientists have been peering at their little brains for years to find out why. So they finally hit on creating a singles bar for prairie voles—why had no one already tried that, I wonder? They work great for humans—and the results were published in the academic journal PNAS and reported to us by National Geographic. “After being paired for 24 hours and consuming alcohol during that time—yes, prairie voles will have a wee drink or two when given the chance—the males in the study often chose to spend time with a stranger rather than their partners in a subsequent three-hour ‘partner preference’ test,” says NatGeo.

Golly, we humans have SO much in common with drunken voles! But get this—the lady voles wanted to cuddle up thereafter, not do the Horny Vole Dance. Though huddling behavior in female voles tend to be about wanting to bond, and after a nice lady vole bonds, she will get laid. So I’m not sure I think this is all the gender difference Mr. Science might find it to be. And the researchers, who conducted this adorable experiment at Oregon Health and Science University, attributed the male/female divide here to the voles’ tendency to deal with stress or new situations via “fight or flight” (fella voles) vs. “tend and befriend” (gal voles).

I confess I wish that sounded a little less like something American scientists would expect to find. But you know I’m a little cranky that way. And they’re telling us that neuropeptides are involved, so it must be true. That’s not the most important thing, though. Is there a YouTube channel? That’s what’s important. I just think drunken voles online will give cats a run for their money.

Anyway, guess what! If all the voles get drunk and stop being monogamous, we can always look to our distant cousins the Azara owl monkeys to keep the home fires burning. Besides being even cuter than voles, these monkeys are interesting because their monogamy seems to be related to the fact that owl monkey fathers stick around and are involved in the care of their young. This might be cause, effect, or neither, but the association is interesting; there’s been recent human research that looks at father-bonding. Anyway, I’m sure there will be some humans who’ll be happy to have these little primates in the family. Thanks, LiveScience, for interesting owl monkey knowledge and a cute, cute pic. I’d practically marry one—I can sure see why they’re so true to each other.

Coming to You From Beautiful Oakland, Home of Queer Porn
Most news stories about porn are a bit laden down with opprobrium, or at least a certain drama. Condom laws! HIV scares! Porn busts up relationships! You know, that sort of thing. So imagine how pleased I was to find a big story on queer porn in one of Good Vibrations’ favorite hometown papers, the East Bay Express (for which I used to write a sex advice column, way back in the day, before they got sold and started publishing Dan Savage instead)! It’s a fabulous look at the growing crew of East Bay alt-porn, feminist, queer, trans* and otherwise Not Mainstream pornographers and performers (I was honored to comment for it, so here I should add “if I do say so myself”). We meet current-generation queer porn icons Madison Young, Courtney Trouble, and James Darling as well as relative newcomers like Betty Blac, who’s in the process of starting her own queer porn company, and Andre Shakti (“‘I moved to California and all of a sudden, I was working with the people who I had read about in my classes, whose lectures I had attended when they traveled to the East Coast, and whose products and books I had sold,’ said Shakti, who minored in LGBT studies in college [and worked at Sugar, sort of GV’s sex-store cousin, in Baltimore]. ‘Everything exciting that is happening within the industry is happening here, right now’”). The East Bay is home to space to shoot as well as live more cheaply than in San Francisco, plus lots of queers bent on televising the sexual revolution.

And of course it’s housed people who made queer porn and alt-sex culture prior to this renaissance, too—I lived in Oakland when I first moved to the Bay Area, SIR Productions filmmakers Shar Rednour and Jackie Strano were Oaklanders until just recently, and the original Parkway Theatre used to host my porno clip shows. I often hear Oaktown compared to Brooklyn, and fair enough. But if that’s the case, Brooklyn, show me some more porn!

Catching Up with Previous Stories
We’ve been paying attention to the spate of stories on bisexuality of late; Salon brings us writer/editor Louise Sloan’s first-person tale “Coming Out of the Bisexual Closet”: After a near-miss with a promising fella, she muses, “[M]aybe the extended family, the kid, the dog, the lesbian exes or the distance scared him off. So many possible date-repellents to choose from. I was crushed. He’d felt like a keeper. … Once I’d moped around a bit, though, I started to think that as failed relationship attempts go, it had been kind of wonderful. I wasn’t any closer to the life partnership I wanted — and had once thought I’d had, after eight years ‘domestically partnered’ with a woman. (Hey, at least the fact that she and I weren’t allowed to marry meant that we didn’t have to divorce.) But I realized that things had gotten to the point where, maybe, instead of protecting one side of myself at the expense of the other, I could start to be … me. Straight, gay, bi, whatever.  Now I just have to figure out how to fit all that into my online profile.”

Chatting with some colleagues recently about the recent “faking it” research, which we discussed last week, they turned me on to yet another study; this one, from the University of Waterloo and reported courtesy of the Daily Mail and Science Daily, learned (or “learned,” depending on how they conducted it) that your partner can tell that you’re faking it. That is, if your partner can communicate and can accurately recognize emotion. Gee, if only everyone could actually do that.

And the Pope is back in the news; as CNN and TVNZ, among other outlets, informed us, Francis has stepped up to take responsibility for clergy sexual abuse. “I feel compelled to personally take on all the evil” of priestly abusers, he said, and spoke of imposing sanctions. Activist organizations of abuse survivors will believe it when they see it, but the words are stronger than any prior pope’s have been, so… step in the right direction for our humble papal rockstar. Ex-nun Mary Dispenza met this news with a strongly-worded op-ed in CNN, detailing her own abuse by a priest and laying out her thoughts about the action that must be taken. “Pope Francis will need to begin at home and release whatever records the Vatican possesses on priests and bishops accused of these crimes, wherever they are in the world. Anything short of this speaks of lip service and platitudes.” We, with so  many others around the world, will stay tuned.

Finally…
HuffPo ran a really terrific piece by Amanda Duberman called “Eight Things America Gets Wrong About Sex.” I am pleased to note that we have addressed all eight things in this column, including the saaaad thing, “We don’t know how to do it very well.” Sigh. But perhaps that’s linked to both the “We Have Sub-Par Sexual Education” thing (um, at best) and “We Have a Schizophrenic Relationship With Porn” thing (sic). It’s studded with fabulous links to studies and other informational tidbits as well. Recommended.

The Guardian asks the $64,000 question: Robots and Sex: Creepy or Cool? Perhaps this, too, has been keeping you up at night. Despite the title, it’s a pretty darned sex-positive take on our future with our mechanical overlords:  “No one reading this ever has to use a sex robot. I plan on preparing for their inevitable taking over of our species, so I’m not going near one. But the overarching point isn’t future-focused at all: it’s about accepting other people’s choices to do what they want with their bodies and obtain sexual satisfaction, without worry of stigma or shame. Using sex robots doesn’t harm anyone any more than using contemporary sex toys. …Conveying shame is giving voice to your discomfort, not highlighting what is actually wrong with any of these non-harmful sexual activities. Indeed, if the activities are harmful, pointing that fact out is more important than mere mockery. We are all grown-ups and should be responding that way in our reactions to non-harmful sex and sexually related activities. Until then, perhaps I’ll consider supporting robots taking over our unnecessarily conservative and judgmental species.”

–Carol Queen, PhD

Dr. Carol Queen

Carol Queen has a PhD in sexology; she calls herself a "cultural sexologist" because her earlier academic degree is in sociology: while she addresses individual issues and couple's sexual concerns, her overarching interest is in cultural issues (gender, shame, access to education, etc.). Queen has worked at Good Vibrations, the woman-founded sexuality company based in San Francisco that turned 35 years old in 2012, since 1990. Her current position is Staff Sexologist and Good Vibrations Historian; her roles include representing the company to the press and the public; overseeing educational programming for staff and others; and scripting/hosting a line of sex education videos, the Pleasure-Ed series, for GV’s sister company Good Releasing. She also curates the company's Antique Vibrator Museum. She is also the founding director of the Center for Sex & Culture, a non-profit sex ed and arts center San Francisco, and is a frequent lecturer at colleges, universities, and community-based organizations. Her dozen books include a Lambda Literary Award winner, PoMoSexuals, and Real Live Nude Girl: Chronicles of Sex-Positive Culture, which are used as texts in some college classes. She blogs at the Good Vibes Magazine and at SFGate's City Brights bloggers page and contributes to the Boston Dig. For more about her at carolqueen.com.

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