Stories tagged sex


A modern blacktip shark: living a modern life on her own.
A modern blacktip shark: living a modern life on her own.Courtesy Albert Kok

*The original headline here was "Immaculate conception observed. In a shark." However, it was pointed out to me that "immaculate conception" and "virgin birth" really aren't the same thing. I changed it, but I resent the implication that I don't know the difference. Just because I get things wrong all the time, it doesn't mean that I was wrong about this. Not, you know, necessarily.

It looks like lady sharks have won another battle of the sexes. The sex war had been fought to a standstill, a stalemate siege, if you will, with the male army relying on the “well, you’ll need us eventually” tactic.

Apparently this isn’t necessarily the case. Deep inside the female Fortress of Celibacy, a devious plan was being hatched: virgin birth.

(Many types of sharks, it should be noted, give live birth, like mammals, instead of laying eggs.)

There have, in fact, been two documented cases of ladies-only shark reproduction. The first was in the Omaha Zoo, where a female hammerhead shark unexpectedly gave birth to a baby shark (called a “pup”) in her tank. Unfortunately, some of the other sharks (of a different species) in her tank immediately ate the pup. Whoops. But DNA tests were done on the… leftover chunks of the pup, I guess, and they showed that the baby did not have a father.

The other case happened in May of last year, with the research results being released this last week (hey, sometimes science stays out all night and gets up late, so give it a break). A blacktip shark named Tidbit had been living at the Virginia Aquarium and Marine Science Center for the last eight years, with no contact with males sharks of her species. When Tidbit died mysteriously last May, an autopsy revealed her nearly full-term pregnancy (the stress-related complications of which were probably what did her in). The shark pup had died as well—and aquarium staff believed that it would have been eaten by the tiger sharks in the same tank anyway had it actually been born—but genetic testing revealed it to be Tidbit’s child, and Tidbit’s alone.

Scientists studying the bizarre pregnancies believe that the pups got all the required chromosomes when the mother’s egg split, and then reunited—a process called "parthogenesis.”

Single-sex reproduction, it’s believed, might be an adaptation to situations when there are too few male sharks in a wild population. It’s rare enough, however, that it would be very unlikely that sharks could survive through pathogenesis alone. The process results in a lack of genetic diversity as well, which could leave individuals vulnerable to congenital disorders.

So, ladies, I salute your ingenuity, but you’re not rid of us yet.

A voice on the phone.
A symmetrical body.
Are you free tonight?
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Sci-ku ™ -- haiku in the service of science!

Drinking makes you think other people are more attractive, a phenomenon commonly known as “beer goggles.”

Men like petite leggy women. Man, I would have liked to have been in on that study. (With apologies to amdayton.)


The East German Women's Swim Team: Members share a laugh between events at the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki.
The East German Women's Swim Team: Members share a laugh between events at the 1952 Summer Games in Helsinki.Courtesy Mark Ryan
As athletes around the world gear up for the upcoming Beijing Olympics, officials in China are setting a sex-determination laboratory to confirm the gender of some of the competitors.

Despite objections by some medical ethicists that the tests are too intrusive, suspected “female” athletes will be checked for external appearance, genes, and hormones. Particular scrutiny will be given to women who are able to find the laboratory at the Peking Union Medical College Hospital without having to stop to ask directions.

The lab is a holdover from previous Olympics when questions were raised about the gender of several “female” athletes from some Soviet Bloc countries. From then on, every woman wanting to compete in the Games had to submit to a sex-evaluation screening that required them to walk naked in front of a committee of doctors. This was replaced in 1968 with chromosome tests. Blanket testing was eliminated in 1999, and now only “suspect” women – like those who leave the toilet seat up - will be tested.

“We must be ready to take on such cases should they arise,” said Arne Ljungqvist, chairman of the IOC’s medical commission. “Sometimes, fingers are pointed at particular female athletes, and in order to protect them, we have to be able to investigate it and clarify.”

Throughout its existence the mandatory testing program has never led to a single confirmed case of males impersonating females to gain an edge in the Games. Several cases of gender suspicion arose in Atlanta in 1996 when eight women failed to pass a genetic test, but they were cleared after it was determined they all suffered from a birth defect that presented no advantage other than being able to parallel park.

Prior to the tests, there’s only been one confirmed case of a male impersonating a female in the Games. In 1936, Hermann Ratjen was forced by the Nazis to compete as Dora Ratjen in the women’s high jump during the Berlin Olympics. He confessed to the subterfuge in 1956 but only after being confronted with rumors that he had been overheard telling a teammate a joke without botching the punch line.


NY Times story
Guardian story

Sociologists have found that Brazilians who watch soap operas, or novellas, have a significantly lower birth rate than those who do not, even after controlling for other factors. They theorize that the glamorous fictional characters in the shows have small families, and their fans, consciously or subconsciously, are following suit.


Why, I’m feeling improved cognition and creativity already!: Now we have scientific proof -- looking at scantily-clad young women makes men smarter.  And hungrier, somehow.
Why, I’m feeling improved cognition and creativity already!: Now we have scientific proof -- looking at scantily-clad young women makes men smarter. And hungrier, somehow.Courtesy Roro Fernandez

So, what’s the opposite of “the dismal science”?

A new study published in the Journal of Consumer Research finds that men, after receiving a sexual stimulus – touching lingerie or even just seeing a woman in a bikini – seek immediate gratification.

Why can’t I ever get chosen for research like this?

(The lingerie, the report is quick to point out, was “not being worn during the test.” Still – dude – awesome methodology!)

Now, what’s all this about “immediate gratification”? I mean, we’ve all seen There’s Something About Mary, right? Well, get your minds out of the gutter, people. What they mean is, aroused men are more likely to try to satisfy any appetite – food, alcohol, money, whatever is at hand. So to speak.

To which men everywhere are saying “You paid how much to figure that out?”

It all has to do with the appetite centers in the brain. Seems it’s all one big giant Id. Once it’s aroused by some stimulus, the man seeks to satisfy it any way he can.

To which women everywhere are saying, “No duh.”

Apparently, the smell of fresh baked bread has the same effect, which would explain why you see so many pie shops right next door to strip clubs.

A group of test subjects tragically misinterprets the research findings: All in the name of science, I'm sure.
A group of test subjects tragically misinterprets the research findings: All in the name of science, I'm sure.Courtesy avlxyz

But, most interesting of all, we find, buried in the article, never explained, never elaborated upon, this little gem:

It wasn't that the men were simply distracted by their sexual arousal, which caused them to choose more impulsively. On the contrary, they exhibited improved cognition and creativity after exposure to sexy stimuli.

While this does not comport with the stupid pick-up lines one hears in bars every night of the week, nevertheless, there it is. I mean, this is science, right? Looking at pretty girls actually makes men smarter! Therefore, we should view beer commercials and the Sports Illustrated swimsuit issue, not as crass attempts to move product by appealing to hard-wired neurological instincts, but rather as a public service, a selfless effort to increase intellectual activity and creative achievement by stimulating men’s brains.

But no. That’s not what the liberal media wants you to hear. Men bad. Men can’t control urges. Men barely better than animals. So what we get are prurient headlines, lascivious photos, and sly innuendo like “seek immediate gratification,” wink wink. Why, it’s enough to…

Gutter. Out. Now!

The number of males being born around the world is dropping. Though still outnumbering female births, the gap is closing. No one knows why.


Palau reef: where the party gets started
Palau reef: where the party gets startedCourtesy zolas box
Over the next few days, the Palau reef in the West Pacific will experience a frenzy of activities as the reefs' coral denizens partake in their annual mating ritual. Although there won't be any of the usual Spring Break antics such as wet t-shirt or bikini contests, excessive drinking, or stupid male shenanigans, one thing there will be is lots and lots of rampant reproduction.

Just after sunset tonight, or perhaps tomorrow or maybe even the next night, billions upon billions of the coral colonies' eggs and sperm will be unleashed in cute little orange and pink packages that will rise to the surface where they'll lose their inhibitions, burst open, dance and intermingle under the moonlight, and develop into billions of coral larvae. If conditions are right the sheer number of the event's participants can sometimes form huge slicks on the surface that can be seen from space. In the end most of the spawn or larvae gets eaten before it develops fully, but since there's so many of them in the first place, it doesn't really matter.

Anyway, a few days later, any surviving coral larvae will float exhausted to the sea bottom in hopes of attaching themselves to some good solid structure where they develop into baby coral polyps, thus adding more coral to the reef, and living happily ever after. Sounds wonderful, doesn't it?

The 300 island archipelago making up the republic of Palau is located 155 miles above the equator about 550 miles east of the Philippines. The reefs in the vicinity are in good condition ecologically, but the annual spawning has attracted scientists from Great Britain, Australia, and the Philippines, who are in Palau to gather "seeding" material for other less fortunate coral reefs.

The research team won't be using spawning material from the open reefs but instead will harvest it from pieces of coral they've collected and keep in a controlled laboratory environment at the Palau International Coral Reef Center. The larvae from the experiment are then transplanted into a suitable environment conducive to reef-building.

With many of the world's coral reef environments suffering from the effects of pollution, over-fishing, and other factors, the researchers hope seeding damaged reefs with the harvested spawn from healthier ones will help restore the fragile ecosystems.

BBC website