Interesting News (4/15/12)

More interesting news!! (it never ends)

Today, sexual prudery makes the US less healthy and less happy – no duh!! Sounds obvious to me, but Alex Henderson really breaks down some sexual health and wellness statistics and compares the US to five other European nation-states in this AlterNet piece. His entire point, which is illustrated brilliantly, really gets at some themes I like to talk about at length… especially our cultures absolute need for sex education and access to sexual health services – awesome!!

And also, just because I agree with someone’s findings doesn’t mean I’m not gonna comment on their questionable research methods. Therefore, I give you a study that claims that “Homophobes Might Be Secretly Attracted To People Of The Same Sex” (agreed!!) but uses some rather suspect methods to get there.


1. Love this – “5 Countries That Do It Better [than the US]: How Sexual Prudery Makes America a Less Healthy and Happy Place” by Alex Henderson (here, published 4/12/12)

In this piece, Alex argues that “sexual attitudes in Europe are the stuff of the Christian Right’s nightmares — yet many of those societies are better for having more open attitudes toward sexuality.” However does he support this? Well, read on!!

“To extreme social conservatives of the far right, the word ‘prude’ is not an insult — it’s a badge of honor. ‘Prudes,’ they would argue, should be upheld as exemplary role models because a sexually repressive society is also a society with fewer unplanned pregnancies and fewer sexually transmitted diseases. But not only do the facts not bear that out, they also demonstrate that the exact opposite is true. Countries that embrace many of the things social conservatives detest (comprehensive sex education, pro-gay legislation, nude or topless beaches, legal or decriminalized prostitution, adult entertainment) tend to be countries that have less sexual dysfunction than the United States, not more. And when one compares sexual attitudes in the United States to sexual attitudes in Western Europe, it becomes evident that there is a strong correlation between social conservatism and higher rates of teen pregnancy, abortion and sexually transmitted diseases.

The Christian Right would consider the following five European countries to be quite ‘permissive’ when compared to the United States. All of them make a strong case for social liberalism and sexual openness.

(pictured: googling “sex US” came up with this image… no idea)

The Netherlands: The Netherlands has a reputation for being one of the most pro-sex countries in the world, and it isn’t hard to understand why. From comprehensive sex education to legal prostitution (Amsterdam has one of Europe’s most famous red light districts) to nude and topless beaches, the Netherlands is a social conservative’s worst nightmare. On top of that, the Netherlands was the first country in the world to legalize gay marriage (the Netherlands legalized same-sex civil unions in 1998 and gay marriage in 2001). But while Rick Santorum would no doubt view Amsterdam and Rotterdam as a modern-day Sodom and Gomorrah, the reality is that all that sexual openness is having positive results in the Netherlands. Sociologist Amy Schalet (author of ‘Not Under My Roof: Parents, Teens and the Culture of Sex’ and a professor at the University of Massachusetts) has done extensive sex-related research on the United States and the Netherlands, often asserting that Americans would be much better off if they had the sexual openness of the Dutch.

And the data bears that out. The United Nations reported that in 2009, the Netherlands had a teen birth rate of 5.3 per 1,000 compared to 39.1 per 1,000 in the United States that year (teen birth rates provided by the United Nations, the Guttmacher Institute, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Advocates for Youth and other organizations typically look at females in the 15–19 age group). Advocates for Youth has reported that the Netherlands had an abortion rate of 8.8 per 1,000 in 2006 compared to 14.8 per 1,000 in the United States in 2007 (abortion rates, as a rule, are based on the number of abortions per 1,000 women aged 15–44). And Advocates for Youth has also reported that in 2009, the United States had three times as many adults living with HIV or AIDS as the Netherlands (0.2 percent in the Netherlands compared to 0.6 percent in the United States). Also, in 2006, there were roughly 13 cases of gonorrhea per 100,000 Netherlands residents in the 15–19 age group compared to roughly 458 per 100,000 in the United States that year. So when it comes to sexual health, the United States is clearly dropping the ball compared to the Netherlands.

Switzerland: In 2011, there was some relatively good news in the United States: The teen birth rate had fallen to 34.3 in 2010, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). That was a slight decrease from the abovementioned 39.1 per 1,000 in 2009 and 41.5 per 1,000 in 2008, and a major decrease from 61.8 per 1,000 back in 1991. The bad news: That is still much higher than countries in continental Western Europe, including Switzerland (where the teen birth for 2008, according to U.N. statistics, was only 4.3 per 1,000). In other words, the United States had almost ten times as many teen births as Switzerland in 2008. Further, Switzerland had an abortion rate of 6.4 per 1,000 women in 2008 compared to 19.6 in the United States that year (abortion is legal in Switzerland during the first trimester)…

Spain: Sexual attitudes in Spain have changed dramatically since the death of dictator Francisco Franco, aka El Generalissimo, in 1975. Nude and topless beaches are not uncommon, gay marriage was legalized by the Spanish parliament in 2005, comprehensive sexual education starts from an early age, prostitution is widely tolerated (Madrid’s red-light district on Calle de la Montera is right up the street from a police station) and porn companies are not prosecuted for obscenity the way they are in the United States and Great Britain (Barcelona is the home of Private Media Group, the largest porn company in Europe).

Abortion remains controversial in Spain; it wasn’t until 2010 that Spain officially had abortion on demand, which the country’s new prime minister, Mariano Rajoy, opposes (before 2010, abortions were legally performed in Spain only if a doctor said a pregnancy posed a physical or psychological risk to a woman). But many Spaniards agree that the most effective way to reduce the number of abortions is through easier access to contraception and more sexual information, not less. And a climate of sexual openness appears to be keeping Spain’s teen pregnancy rates relatively low. According to UNICEF and others, Spain had, in 2006, a birth rate of 12.1 per 1,000 females in the 15–19 age group compared to 41.9 in the United States that year. However, it’s important to remember that within the United States, teen birth rates can vary considerably from state to state; the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reported that in 2008, the states with teen birth rates exceeding 60 per 1,000 included Mississippi, Oklahoma, Arkansas and Texas (all Bible Belt states, where the Christian Right has aggressively pushed abstinence-only sex education), while the teen birth rates tended to be much lower in New Jersey (24.5 per 1,000), Vermont (21.3 per 1,000) and Massachusetts (20.1 per 1,000). But even the most Democratic-leaning states in the United States have higher teen birth rates than Spain, where the teen birth rate was 12.2 per 1000 in 2009…

France: Christian Right activists who rail against abortion in the United States will never admit this, but the reality is that extreme social conservatism results in more abortions, not fewer abortions. And a comparison of the United States and France illustrates that point. In France’s public schools, the types of abstinence-only sex-ed programs that America’s Christian Right has promoted (especially in Bible Belt states) are unheard of; France’s public schools make sure that French youths learn everything they need to know about sex, and that includes proper use of contraceptives. Plus, under France’s universal health care system, teens can obtain condoms free and confidentially. And all of those things reduce the number of unwanted pregnancies and therefore reduce the number of abortions. According to U.N. statistics, France had a teen birth rate of 7.8 per 1,000 in 2006 (compared to the United States’ abovementioned 41.9 for that year). The U.N. has also reported that in 2008, France had an abortion rate of 16 per 1000 in 2008 (rather than the United States’ 19.6 per 1,000 that year)…

Germany: Someone who wants to make a strong argument in favor of more sexual liberalism needs only to compare the United States and Germany, a country that has comprehensive sex-ed programs, legal prostitution and same-sex civil unions (Germany still doesn’t have gay marriage, although many German politicians have been coming out in favor of it). Germany also has, according to Advocates for Youth, one-sixth the HIV/AIDS rate of the United States (in 2009, 0.1 percent of Germany’s adult population was living with HIV or AIDS compared to 0.6 percent of the American adult population). Germany’s teen birth rate for 2007 was 9.6 per 1,000, and in 2010, Germany had a rate of eight abortions per 1,000 compared to the United States’ 19.6 per 1,000 in 2008…”

Alex goes on and includes greater detail about each nation-state, but you can check out the original piece for more (it’s here). Point being is that the statistics speak for themselves – sexual education and access to sexual health services seem to correlate with fewer teen births, lower STI infection rates, and greater health overall. Social liberalism in terms of other peoples’ private sex practices seems to contribute to enhanced social well-being overall as well.

Given all this, again I ask: how can knowing more stuff and being more fully enabled to make informed decisions about sex and sex-related stuff (both before and after said sex has occurred) be a bad thing?

This re/invokes some of the musings I was having yesterday in regard to a very significant series of questions a wonderful PVV reader sent me (here)…

(pictured: googling “sex Europe” came up with this image… also, no idea)

2. It seems that someone one has finally figured out what I’ve been saying since I was a surly 10th grader – “Homophobes Might Be Secretly Attracted To People Of The Same Sex…” why else would they care so much? (original post here, 4/9/12)

“Homophobes are a group of people who have a negative feeling towards homosexuality, but new research claims that people who express hatred of gays are secretly more likely to be attracted to the same sex.

Researchers from the University of Rochester, the University of Essex and the University of California in Santa Barbara have discovered that homophobes are actually attracted to the same sex but they do not admit it because they grew up with authoritarian parents who forbade such desires. They found this when they conducted a series of psychology studies.

The researchers assert that people who define themselves as straight and who hate homosexuality are often attracted to the same sex. They believe that homosexual people remind them of similar tendencies within themselves.

‘Individuals who identify as straight but in psychological tests show a strong attraction to the same sex may be threatened by gays and lesbians because homosexuals remind them of similar tendencies within themselves,’ said Netta Weinstein, a lecturer at the University of Essex, in a statement…”

I completely believe this – hate takes a lot of energy, and there is no way anyone can care enough to “hate” something unless they also (perhaps secretly) love it. I think about all the things that I’ve “hated” in my life. Generally, “hate” occurred in my younger days; and really, these instances of hate were more about envy, secret liking of things I wasn’t “supposed to” like, and extreme preoccupation.

Today, I don’t “hate” much of anything so much as I am deeply irked by things that are intensely problematic in my view (that’s an smarty doctor grown-up way of saying “hate” haha). For example, I am greatly bothered by anything that infringes upon others’ right to free expression (even if I hotly disagree with whatever may be being expressed). This is mostly because I am greatly bothered when my right to free expression is infringed upon. In other words, I hate something being done because I don’t want it being done to me. Kinda the same energy loop, dontcha think?

But anyway, in spite of the fact that I pretty much agree with these findings, I’m not quite sure about the experiment that was conducted in order to reach this determination. Consider:

“Researchers conducted four separate experiments in the United States and Germany, with each study involving an average of 160 college students. To explore participants’ explicit and implicit sexual attraction, the researchers measured the discrepancies between what people say about their sexual orientation and how they react during a split-second timed task.

During the experiment, students were shown words and pictures on a computer screen and asked to put these in ‘gay’ or ‘straight’ categories. Before each of the 50 trials, participants were subliminally primed with either the word ‘me’ or ‘others’ flashed on the screen for 35 milliseconds. They were then shown the words ‘gay,’ ‘straight,’ ‘homosexual,’ and ‘heterosexual’ as well as pictures of straight and gay couples, and the computer tracked precisely their response times. A faster association of ‘me’ with ‘gay’ and a slower association of ‘me’ with ‘straight’ indicated an implicit gay orientation.”

Four groups of 160 college students? Just college students? This is a type of selection bias whereby a limited sample results in limited findings – though certainly college students offer an important perspective and an N of 640 (4 X 160) is rather impressive, we’re still getting nothing more than limited, skewed information. Have you been to a college campus recently? Do 640 of those characters represent you at all? I have been to plenty of college campuses very recently and, though I love every one of you kiddos, you definitely don’t speak for me.

This is exactly the reason why a lot of Alfred Kinsey‘s work is critiqued (selection bias). He mostly interviewed college-affiliated and/or college-educated folks via snowball sampling for much of his work… which resulted in a really limited slice of the population, especially in the 1940s. Unfortunately (unfortunately in terms of Kinsey, as I greatly admire his work), it is a legitimate critique.

Further, a lot of this queuing and priming is reliant upon subjective-things-that-are-supposedly-being-objectively-quantified. What exactly is a picture of a “gay couple”? A “straight couple”? Even the language used here is problematic and reliant on far too many social constructions, be they cultural or sub-cultural or regional or nationally or whatever, to ever really point to anything.

This study also may be problematic in terms of cultural differences – what means “gay” or anything else in Germany may be different in the US. Hell, “gay” even varies regionally across “America.” Though the researchers may have attempted to control for these sorts of errors, I’m not reading anything about that in this summary.

And finally, what about individual ability? What if you just happen to be slower on the trigger finger than this experiment deems ok? Are you then “implicit[ly]” gay? Does this then mean that everyone who maybe does stuff a little slower is also (secretly) gay??? That’s reeeaally problematic too, btw.

Yeah… doesn’t make much sense.

But in the end, the researchers got this: “Across all the studies, participants with supportive and accepting parents were more in touch with their implicit sexual orientation, while participants from authoritarian homes revealed the most discrepancy between explicit and implicit attraction.

Researchers found that homophobic people are actually attracted to the same sex. They claim that these individuals risk losing the love and approval of their parents if they admit to same sex attractions, so many people deny or repress that part of them…

‘This study shows that if you are feeling that kind of visceral reaction to an out-group, ask yourself, ‘Why?” says William Ryan, professor at the University of California in Santa Barbara. ‘Those intense emotions should serve as a call to self-reflection.'” (read the full study write-up/post here)


What do you think?

(thanks to KC for bring this article to my attention – you mind bender!!)

(pictured: googling “homophobia” came up with this image)

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