39 Women's Sexuality News Articles
from 2018 1st Half
Click on the links below to get the full story from its source
3-21-18 Dad power: The surprising new science of fatherhood
When Anna Machin realised science was skewed towards mums, she set out to change that - and discovered fatherhood comes with a raft of changes to the mind and body. THE birth of Anna Machin’s first child didn’t go to plan. “Unfortunately, I suffered a haemorrhage, and it was a bit touch and go for a time,” she recalls. Her newborn daughter was shuttled off for specialist care, while Machin herself, who had passed out, received emergency attention. “I didn’t really see anything, whereas my poor husband, who was in the room, saw everything – blood flowing everywhere, about 30 members of staff rushing around, alarms going off… it was very, very dramatic.” Afterwards, Machin was offered support and counselling. But no such offer was extended to her shaken husband. “And, actually, he was the one who needed it,” she says. This was evident when, even a year later, he was unable to talk about the birth, or even think about it, without crying. Overlooking fathers in this way is harmful to these men and their families, says Machin, who is an anthropologist at the University of Oxford. “It struck me as unfair,” she says. Close relationships, between parents and children, lovers or friends, are Machin’s specialist subject. So back at work after her daughter’s birth, her thoughts turned to new fathers. Like any academic, she began by digging through the research. Yet while there was plenty to be found on mothers, Machin was amazed to find barely any research on fatherhood. The little there was seemed to focus on the negative impact of teenage or absent fathers. “There was nothing, absolutely nothing, about your average, standard dad who is around – divorced or not – who still sees his children and invests in them.”
3-21-18 Male birth control pill passes a safety test
Men didn’t have worrying side effects from the prototype contraceptive. A once-daily capsule safely suppressed reproductive hormones in men, making it an appealing candidate for a male birth control pill, according to a small study. After about a month of treatment, a new prototype pill called dimethandrolone undecanoate, or DMAU, had reduced levels of hormones including testosterone that are necessary for sperm production. During that time, none of the 83 men who completed the treatment suffered troubling symptoms that can arise with a dramatic drop in testosterone, researchers reported May 18 at the Endocrine Society’s annual meeting. “Scientists have been working on a male contraceptive for decades,” says Monica Laronda, a reproductive endocrinologist at the Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, who was not involved in the research. “DMAU shows great promise.” Surveys show that many men are interested in forms of contraception besides condoms and vasectomies, she says, and men “would prefer a pill.” Other methods, including topical gels, are also being developed. Hormonal contraception works for men much as it does for women — by manipulating levels of certain hormones so that the body backs off on making its own. In men, extra testosterone suppresses the brain’s release of luteinizing hormone and follicle-stimulating hormone, which stops testicles from making testosterone as well as sperm (SN: 9/2/17, p. 20). Once the treatment ends, the body goes back to producing reproductive hormones and fertility returns.
3-19-18 Sex doll 'brothel': Paris council to decide on future of Xdolls games centre
Paris councillors are due to decide on the future of a business where clients are charged €89 ($109; £78) to spend an hour with a silicon sex doll, local media report. Communist councillors and feminist groups have been calling for the closure of Xdolls. Currently, Xdolls is registered as a games centre, but opponents argue it is effectively a brothel. Owning or operating a brothel is illegal in France. Xdolls is located in an anonymous-looking flat in the French capital and opened last month. Clients are mainly men, though some couples also visit, owner Joachim Lousquy, who formerly managed e-cigarette shops, told Le Parisien newspaper. Xdolls has three rooms, each containing a silicone sex doll measuring about 1m45 (4ft 7in) and worth several thousand euros. Customers make their booking and payment online, and the exact address is kept secret. Not even the neighbours are aware of the nature of the business, Mr Lousquy says. Lorraine Questiaux, lawyer and spokesperson for a Paris feminist association, says "that in France, every year, there are 86,000 women raped".
3-15-18 Exercising during pregnancy can make your labour shorter
Exercise is linked to a 10 per cent decrease in labour time, suggesting that regular aerobic activity plus strengthening exercises, make it easier to push. Regular exercise throughout pregnancy can shorten the duration of labour, according to the first clinical trial to test the effectiveness of prenatal physical activity. Women who undertook regular aerobic, strengthening, and pelvic floor exercises spent an average of 50 minutes less time in labour. Ruben Barakat at the Technical University of Madrid, in Spain, and his colleagues randomly assigned 508 women who were between 9 and 11 weeks’ pregnant to receive either general antenatal health counselling or a regular exercise class. Women in the exercise group took part in three weekly, hour-long classes, which included aerobic activity, muscle strengthening, coordination and balance exercises, stretching and pelvic floor strengthening, as well as relaxation. Those in the counselling group were advised of the health benefits of exercise, but did not attend the same classes. Of these women, 325 went on to give birth vaginally. Labour lasted an average of nearly 8 and a half hours in the women who only received counselling, which dropped to 7 and a half hours in the women who’d exercised.
3-15-18 Fertility failures
Two fertility clinics in Cleveland and San Francisco experienced simultaneous refrigeration failures on the same day last week, potentially damaging thousands of frozen eggs and embryos and prompting worried phone calls from hundreds of patients. The mysterious equipment malfunctions began at University Hospitals in suburban Cleveland, where an unexplained rise in temperature at a storage tank jeopardized as many as 2,000 frozen eggs and embryos. Hours later, an embryologist at the Pacific Fertility Center noticed that the liquid nitrogen level in one tank was low and hurriedly transferred the embryos to another facility. At least one couple is suing the Ohio clinic after being told their embryos are no longer viable. Dr. Kevin Doody, former president of the Society for Assisted Reproductive Technology, said the simultaneous failures appeared to be “just a bad, bad, bad coincidence.”
3-14-18 'I want to explain arranged marriage to white people'
When Pakistani designer Nashra Balagamwala produced a board game about arranged marriage, most news reports about her wrongly assumed she was dead against it. Actually her position is far more nuanced. And one goal is to explain to people in the UK and elsewhere how it works. "People in the West often confuse arranged marriages with forced marriages," Nashra Balagamwala says, on the phone from Islamabad. "They go by a lot of what they see in the press. The acid attacks. The so-called honour killings. The complete absence of choice. My game was not meant to be part of that dialogue." Balagamwala's board game, Arranged!, is far from an advert for arranged marriage. Its central character is a matchmaker "auntie" eagerly trying to chase down three girls while they attempt and outwit her and delay marriage. Players create distance from the auntie, and impending marriage, by drawing cards with commands like "You were seen at the mall with boys. The auntie moves three spaces away from you." Other cards that put auntie off include "Your older sister married a white man", or "The auntie finds out you used tampons before marriage." (Many in South Asia believe that a tampon is an indication of sexual activity.) Balagamwala says the game has a dual purpose. One is to start a dialogue among South-Asian families on what is expected of women. "I wanted to create an innocent platform where families could talk about some of the silly aspects of my culture, in a non-confrontational way. Like how a 'good girl' knows how to make a good cup of chai and doesn't have male friends. "Secondly, I wanted to explain arranged marriage to white people, so they could better understand the nuance of South Asian traditions."
3-13-18 Malfunctioning fertility clinic tanks may put eggs at risk
Thousands of frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged after temperatures rose in two malfunctioning tanks at fertility clinics in California and Ohio. Thousands of frozen eggs and embryos may have been damaged following the malfunctioning of a fertility clinic storage tank. When the tank at the Pacific Fertility Center in San Francisco stopped working properly on 4 March, temperatures inside rose. A spokesperson told the Washington Post that “several thousand” eggs and embryos were affected – around 15 per cent of the total stored there. Reportedly, 400 people had all their stored eggs and embryos in the malfunctioning tank, while a further 100 had at least some tissue affected. Over the same weekend, a similar incident occurred at University Hospitals Fertility Center in Cleveland, Ohio, where around 2000 eggs and embryos are thought to be affected. It is currently unclear to what extent the tissue involved in these incidents may have been damaged or if it is still fit for use in treatments. A couple with embryos stored at the Cleveland clinic filed a class action lawsuit on 11 March.
3-7-18 Allow lesbians to use ‘three-parent’ baby IVF to have children
Mitochondrial replacement techniques should be used to help same-sex female couples have children genetically-related to both partners, says Alex Pearlman. Advances in assisted reproduction technology are never without controversy. Questions of ethics and policy plague each innovation, along with concerns about safety and efficacy. But once a technology is available to the public, finding new uses for it is never far behind. Mitochondrial replacement techniques (MRTs) are the latest example. These involve combining genetic material from the nucleus of one woman’s egg, DNA from the mitochondria of another woman’s egg and a sperm. After a long wait, doctors at Newcastle University in the UK have been licensed to use this to produce somewhat misleadingly named “three-parent babies”. At least two such babies are expected to be born this year. In these cases, the technique was chosen because mothers risked passing on serious diseases from the mitochondria in their eggs. Now discussion has inevitably turned to other potential applications. Perhaps most prominent is the idea of helping same-sex female couples produce genetically related children. In the absence of other means to share genes between two eggs, and despite the low level of genetic relatedness between the mitochondrial donor and the child (about 0.2 per cent), MRTs seem an obvious way to fulfil this need. For same-sex female couples, other options have ranged from not having their own children at all, to only one parent being related to the child, such as where one donates the egg and the other carries the fetus.
3-1-18 India breastfeeding magazine cover ignites debate
An Indian magazine that published a picture of a model breastfeeding a baby as its cover photo has sharply divided opinion on social media. The cover of Grihalakshmi, which is published in Kerala state, depicts model Gilu Joseph staring straight into the camera with a baby at her chest. The text above reads "Moms tell Kerala - don't stare, we want to breastfeed". This is thought to be the first time an Indian magazine has published a cover image of a woman breastfeeding. But the fact that the model is not herself a mother has caused some discomfort and generated debate. Grihalakshmi's editor said the magazine wanted to raise awareness about the need for mothers to be able to breastfeed in public. "A month ago, a man shared a picture of his wife breastfeeding on Facebook to start a conversation about letting mothers feed in public spaces. But the result was that the woman was subjected to cyber-bullying from both men and women," Moncy Joseph told the BBC's Ashraf Padanna. "That is why we decided to dedicate our latest issue to breastfeeding mothers." Many women in India who wear the traditional sari breastfeed in public, using the garment as a means of covering themselves. But this option is not available to women who do not want to wear the sari. Many people posted on social media in support of both the magazine and the model.
2-14-18 Valentine’s Day seems to cause a mini baby-boom 9 months later
National Health Service data reveals that around Valentine’s Day there is a 5 per cent rise in the number of babies conceived in England. It’s only a small bump, but data from NHS England has shown that there is a rise in conceptions around 14 February. An analysis of data from 2015 found that, in an average week in England, 15,427 babies are conceived. But in the week around Valentine’s Day, this figure rose by 5 per cent, to 16,263. Love seems to linger in the air for a little longer too – the following week, more than 16,300 babies were conceived. (Webmaster's comment: Love? It's the desire to breed. Pure and simple.)
2-13-18 In search of surrogates, foreign couples descend on Ukraine
Ukraine, one of Europe's poorest nations, is fast becoming the place to go for people desperate to find a surrogate to have their baby. The money on offer is drawing in many young women, but there are fears they could be exploited. Ana* was 18 years old when she found out about surrogacy from a television news report. She had just finished secondary school and had plans to work in a hotel in her small western Ukrainian town, where tourists come to see a medieval castle. That job pays $200 a month, but for carrying someone else's baby, she learned, she could earn up to $20,000 (£14,000). Ana's family is not poor by local standards. Her mother is an accountant and has always supported her. But she says she was drawn to surrogacy because she "wanted to have something more", to be able to afford "expensive things" - house renovations, a car, appliances. Ana stirs her latte nervously as she talks. Although hundreds of women are doing it, surrogacy is still not talked about openly in Ukraine. Foreign couples have been coming to this corner of Europe in droves since 2015, when surrogacy hotspots in Asia began closing their industries one-by-one, amid reports of exploitation. Barred from India, Nepal and Thailand, they turned to Ukraine, one of the few places left where surrogacy can still be arranged at a fraction of what it costs in the US. "We have so many childless couples coming to our country - it's like a conveyor belt," says Ana, who asked for her identity to be protected. (Webmaster's comment: 45 years ago I knew a young woman who loved being pregnant. She sold her womb for a lot of money to couples who needed a surrogate. She was very liberated. I hope life has treated her well.)
2-12-18 'I couldn't mourn my grandmother because I had my period'
Although still a sensitive subject in many Indian families, menstruation had never been taboo in mine - until an emotional reunion revealed a generational divide. "Does anyone have a tampon?" I asked as I left the bathroom. Several members of my family, who had been chatting animatedly over mugs of hot sweet tea, were abruptly silent. We were all packed in a modest hotel room in Rameswaram, an island off the South Indian state of Tamil Nadu. The unnatural moment of stillness was instantly noticeable for two reasons - the sudden peal of rain beating against the windows, and the fact that there is rarely silence when my family, who live on three continents and talk every day on WhatsApp, get to be together. My aunt, who had been lying casually on her hotel bed, stood up to reach for her handbag. She pulled out a sanitary towel and handed it over to me. "This will tide you over until we can stop by a pharmacy," she said. And looking rather sadly at me, she added: "You know what this means, don't you?" I didn't. "You won't be able to come to the temple." I would have to wait with the driver outside the temple. "There are certain times when human beings are considered ritually impure, as upon contact with a dead body, or excreta and so on. Women are considered so during periods," he says,
2-12-18 Cambodia deports seven tourists accused of producing pornography
Cambodia has deported seven of the ten foreign tourists charged with producing pornography. The group was arrested in January after images emerged of people appearing to imitate sex acts at a party in Siem Reap in the country's north-west. Seven of them, from the UK, New Zealand and Canada, were granted bail last week and have now left the country. Three others - from the UK, Norway and the Netherlands - will face trial for allegedly organising the party. All 10 deny the allegations against them, saying they had not been nude and did not produce any pornographic material. The seven people that have been deported were ordered to leave Cambodia as part of the bail decision and not return, although the charges against them have not been dropped, reports said. Images of the event posted on an expat-run website showed several couples clothed or in swim wear on the floor of a villa, apparently acting out sexual positions.
2-9-18 100 Women: I want to break the stigma of painful sex
One woman's story of a decade of wrongly diagnosed sexual pain has inspired a play - and with it, the hope that other women with sexual dysfunction can be helped. It was on a cold winter's day just over a year ago that actress Emily Francis heard an item on the radio that moved her to tears. "I felt desperately sad listening to Callista's story. This problem with her vagina had destroyed her life. She'd lost her relationship, become depressed... it felt tragic," she says. Callista, a fashion stylist in San Francisco, had been speaking to BBC 100 Women about her long journey to finding a cure for unbearably painful sex. When Callista first tried to use a tampon aged 12, she experienced a searing pain at the opening of her vulva. For years after that, even while she was sitting down or going about her day she would experience a burning sensation between her legs. When she touched her vulva, she says the pain was much more intense and it felt like she was being cut. Callista finally worked up the courage to talk to a doctor about it when she was in her 20s. They did an examination and said she looked perfectly normal and that the pain must be psychological. So she went to see a counsellor, who told her the same thing. Eight years later and after seeing 20 different doctors, Callista finally found herself in front of a specialist who told her she had congenital neuroproliferative vestibulodynia. It meant she was born with 30 times the normal amount of nerve endings in the opening of her vagina - and she was able to have surgery to cure it. "I felt so angry that she was told the problem was all in her head for so long," she says. "Why was this girl's life allowed to be so marred by something so simple in an era of modern medicine?"
2-7-18 Training parents to work in hospitals benefits premature babies
When the parents of premature babies in intensive care units are trained in basic nursing care and put to work, their infants put on weight more quickly. Parents of premature babies in intensive care units can be put to work providing basic nursing care – not to save hospitals money, but because it may help the babies get better. Newborns who get parental care seem to put on about 8 per cent more weight over a three-week period. While most hospitals let parents stay with their babies in intensive care, they are often treated as visitors, says Karel O’Brien of Sinai Health System in Toronto. Her team has investigated offering training to parents of premature babies, so they can take on some of their child’s care while in hospital. This included feeding, giving oral medicines, taking their temperature, and completing charts. However some care, including giving injections, was reserved for medical staff only. In a study of about 1800 babies born seven weeks early or more, the team found that after three weeks, babies whose parents underwent this training gained on average an extra 2 grams of weight a day when compared with similar babies at other hospitals. To provide such care, participating parents had to be at the hospital for at least six hours per day, five days a week, and hospitals had to be able to give them somewhere to sleep. It’s possible that parents are more likely to opt for this if they’re more attentive or committed in other ways, so the training and care itself may not be the cause of the babies’ improved weight-gain.
2-5-18 Breastfeeding mother sells milk to fund hospital bills
A young mother in China is selling her breast milk on the street to raise money for her sick daughter's medical bills. In a video posted by Pear Video on the Miaopai video website, the mother and her husband explain they need to raise at least 100,000 yuan (roughly £11,250) for one of their children, who is in an intensive care unit. It's been viewed more than 2.4 million times and has had more than 5,000 comments since it was shared on China's social media platform Sina Weibo. The video was filmed in Shenzhen's Children's Park - situated centrally in Shenzhen, a major city in the Guangdong province of China. The mother says she is selling her breast milk to raise money quickly, because one of her twin daughters is in the intensive care unit at the Bao'an District People's Hospital in Shenzhen. Her husband explains that the couple owe the hospital "hundreds of thousands of yuan" and "the doctor said that once she's cured, we should prepare to pay at least 100,000 yuan (roughly £11,250)". But one person criticised the negative comments, saying: "This is the love of the most helpless parents… those who are saying nasty things online should think that if this was your child, would you care about maintaining face, or your child's life?" (Webmaster's comment: Remarkable courage and support for her child given the world's taboo regardling breast feeding!)
2-2-18 Pregnant women have to navigate a minefield of painkiller advice
I'm pregnant and sick of confusing advice about whether painkillers can harm developing fetuses - what should women like me do? Pregnancy isn’t the most comfortable time of a woman’s life. I’m halfway through mine, and have already experienced plenty of headaches, stabbing pains and cramps. So it is worrying that research is continually finding that mild painkillers, such as paracetamol and ibuprofen, could pose risks to developing fetuses. The latest study suggests that ibuprofen seems to pass through the placenta with ease, and wreaks irreversible damage on a female fetus’s developing ovaries. A girl is born with all the eggs she will ever have, according to prevailing wisdom, so any impact on her egg reserve will last a lifetime, potentially affecting her future fertility and the age at which she experiences menopause. The study tested the effects of ibuprofen on ovarian tissue from aborted fetuses, so it is far from an exact replica of real pregnancy. But it’s not the only research pointing out the danger of everyday painkillers. It is already well known that ibuprofen can interfere with a fetus’s blood supply during the late stages of pregnancy, and has been linked to miscarriage in early pregnancy. As a result, doctors recommend that pregnant women avoid taking ibuprofen. But how many pregnant women know this? The drug is cheaply, easily available and many people probably think little of taking a tablet or two for mild pains. A 2013 study of new mothers in the US and Canada found that around 28 per cent had taken ibuprofen at some point in their pregnancy.
2-2-18 Brain genes hint at why Zika doesn’t always cause microcephaly
One in 10 babies exposed to the Zika virus during pregnancy develop abnormally small heads. A study of twins in Brazil suggests gene activity may decide which. Just one in 10 babies exposed to the Zika virus during pregnancy get the brain damage that causes microcephaly – abnormally small heads. Now there’s a first clue about what stops this from happening in the rest – their gene activity. Blood samples were taken from three pairs of non-identical twins in Brazil. In each of these pairs, one baby had brain damage and the other didn’t. Stem cells were then made from their blood cells, and matured into brain cells, allowing researchers to see how the brain cells naturally differ between the twins. They found that, in the babies that developed microcephaly, the brain cells seem to innately make less of three particular proteins. The genes that encode these proteins are all known to be involved in normal neural development. When the team exposed these brain cells to Zika virus, they were also more susceptible to infection than ones made from the blood of their twins. It may be possible to use this finding to develop a test for pregnant women that will tell them if their fetuses are particularly susceptible to Zika infection and microcephaly, says Mayana Zatz of the University of São Paulo in Brazil.
2-2-18 First UK three-parent babies could be born this year
Two cases have been approved in the UK for using a three-parent baby technique to make healthy babies. The technique has already been used in China and Ukraine. Three-parent babies could be born in the UK this year. Two cases have been approved by the UK’s Human Fertilisation and Embryology Authority (HFEA) to take place at Newcastle’s Fertility Centre at Life. The births will not be the first using this technique – that milestone was reached by John Zhang and his colleagues in New York, as revealed by New Scientist in 2016. Since then, other pregnancies and births have been reported in Ukraine. However, the UK is the only country so far to have officially approved the use of a mitochondrial replacement therapy (MRT) technique, and only to prevent children from inheriting severe mitochondrial disorders. Following this approval, the Newcastle team were granted a license to perform the procedure in 2016, and it has now been revealed that the HFEA has since approved two specific cases. Since the approvals were granted in August and October last year, the procedures may have already taken place. A spokesperson for Newcastle Upon Tyne Hospitals NHS Foundation Trust said the Trust cannot confirm whether this is the case, in the interest of protecting patient confidentiality.
2-1-18 The fight to ban a 'humiliating' virginity test for newlyweds
A movement to stop newly-wed brides from a nomadic tribal community having to take a virginity test has begun in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, and campaigners are determined to put an end to the "humiliating" practice, reports BBC Marathi's Prajakta Dhulap. Anita*, 22, says the ordeal of her wedding two years ago still reduces her to tears every time she thinks about it. Like the other women in the Kanjarbhat community - made up of around 200,000 people and mostly found in Maharashtra - Anita was forced to undergo a "virginity test" on her wedding night in order to ascertain whether or not she was "virtuous". The test is seen as an integral part of any wedding conducted within the community and is enforced by the highly influential panchayat (local village council). The couple are given a white sheet and taken to a hotel room rented by the village council or one of the families. They are expected to consummate the marriage while the two families and council members wait outside. If the bride bleeds during intercourse she is seen as a virgin, and if she does not, the consequences can be severe. Grooms are allowed to annul their marriages if their wives have not "proven" their purity, and the women in question are publicly humiliated and even beaten by family members because of the "shame" they have caused. This continues despite many experts having debunked the theory that a woman always bleeds the first time she has intercourse. "There can be many reasons a woman will not bleed the first time she has sex," Dr Sonia Naik, a Delhi-based gynaecologist, told the BBC. "If the woman in question has done a lot of sports or has masturbated there is a chance she will not bleed. Also a gentle partner can help prevent bleeding even if it is the first time the woman is having penetrative sex."
1-31-18 Zika may not be the only virus of its kind that can damage a fetus
Tests on pregnant mice show two other flaviviruses also cause deadly harm in the womb. Zika virus may not be the black sheep of the family. Infections with either of two related viruses also cause fetal defects in mice, researchers find. Some scientists have speculated that Zika’s capacity to harm a fetus might be unique among its kind, perhaps due to a recent change in the virus’s genetic material (SN: 10/28/17, p. 9). Others have argued that perhaps this dangerous ability was always there. It just wasn’t until the 2015–2016 epidemic in the Western Hemisphere that enough pregnant women were affected for public health researchers to identify the association with fetal defects (SN: 12/24/16, p. 19). But new work suggests this capacity is not Zika’s alone. Pregnant mice infected with West Nile or Powassan virus — both flaviviruses, like Zika — also showed fetal harm. Over 40 percent of these infected fetuses died. But among pregnant mice infected with one of two other mosquito-borne viruses unrelated to Zika, all of the fetuses survived, scientists report online January 31 in Science Translational Medicine. The research underscores that “many viruses, including some similar to Zika, can infect the placenta and the cells of the baby,” says George Saade, an obstetrician-gynecologist and cell biologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch at Galveston. “This list keeps growing and highlights the risks from viruses that we are not very familiar with.”
1-31-18 Time for the UK to stop dithering and add folic acid to bread
With yet more evidence in favour of fortifying flour with folic acid to help avoid serious birth defects, it's time the government acted, says Geoffrey Webb. It sounds simple. Taking supplements of folic acid before conception and in early pregnancy can massively reduce the risk of a fetus developing a neural tube defect (NTD) – when the spinal cord or brain doesn’t develop properly – that can result in spina bifida or anencephaly. And yet, advising women who might become pregnant to do this hasn’t been effective at reducing NTDs in the UK and Europe; supplements probably need to be taken before conception to be effective and not all pregnancies are planned. Fortunately, there is another approach that works. Most flour, and hence bread, in the US and Canada has been fortified with folic acid, also known as vitamin B9, since 1998. This was followed by an immediate fall in NTD cases; for example, in Canada rates halved between 1996 and 2000, from 1.69 to 0.86 cases per 1000 live births. Over 80 countries, but none in Europe, now fortify in this way. Some, such as Australia, have opted for even higher levels of fortification than the US. This backdrop is why groups like the UK’s Food Standards Agency, Scientific Advisory Committee on Nutrition and the British Medical Association have been recommending mandatory flour fortification in the country for two decades. The devolved governments of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have also recently urged the UK government to take that advice. If the UK had brought in fortified flour at the same time and level as the US, this would have prevented more than 2000 pregnancies affected by NTDs, which resulted in stillbirths, miscarriages, terminations, or the births of babies with disablities.
1-30-18 Babies’ kicks in the womb are good for their bones
A computational analysis of fetal kicks brings scientists closer to understanding how the jabs are important for skeletal growth. One of the strangest things about growing a human being inside your body is the alien sensation of his movements. It’s wild to realize that these internal jabs and pushes are the work of someone else’s nervous system, skeleton and muscles. Someone with his own distinct, mysterious agenda that often includes taekwondoing your uterus as you try to sleep. Around the 10-week mark, babies start to bend their heads and necks, followed by full-body wiggles, limb movement and breathing around 15 weeks. These earliest movements are usually undetectable by pregnant women, particularly first-timers who may not recognize the flutters until 16 to 25 weeks of pregnancy. These movements can be exciting and bizarre, not to mention uncomfortable. But for the developing baby, these kicks are really important, helping to sculpt muscles, bones and joints. While pregnant women can certainly sense a jab, scientists have largely been left in the dark about how normal fetuses move. “It’s extremely difficult to investigate fetal movements in detail in humans,” says Stefaan Verbruggen, a bioengineer formerly at Imperial College London who recently moved to Columbia University in New York. Now, using relatively new MRI measurements of entire fetuses wiggling in utero, researchers have tracked these kicks across women’s pregnancies. The results, published January 24 in the Journal of the Royal Society Interface, offer the clearest look yet at fetal kicking and provide hints about why these moves are so important.
1-30-18 Mediterranean diet linked to higher chance of successful IVF
A study of nearly 250 women in Greece suggests that a Mediterranean diet might increase the chances of successfully having a baby via IVF fertility treatment. A study of nearly 250 women in Greece suggests that eating a Mediterranean diet might increase the chances of successfully having a baby via IVF fertility treatment. Nikos Yiannakouris, at Harokopion University of Athens, and his team analysed the diet of 244 women for the six months before each of them underwent IVF for the first time. They found that those in the group who ate the most Mediterranean diets were around 66 per cent more likely to get pregnant and give birth to a live baby than those in the group whose diets were relatively less Mediterranean. A typical Mediterranean diet contains a high amount of vegetables, fruits, olive oil, beans and cereal grains, moderate amounts of fish, dairy products, and wine, and only a small amount of red meat and poultry. Yiannakouris suggests that a healthy diet and lifestyle is just as important for men as it is for women when looking to conceive. “Previous work from our research group among the male partners of our study has suggested that adherence to the Mediterranean diet may also help improve semen quality.”
1-26-18 The female price of male pleasure
The world is disturbingly comfortable with the fact that women sometimes leave a sexual encounter in tears. When Babe.net published a pseudonymous woman's account of a difficult encounter with Aziz Ansari that made her cry, the internet exploded with "takes" arguing that the #MeToo movement had finally gone too far. "Grace," the 23-year-old woman, was not an employee of Ansari's, meaning there were no workplace dynamics. Her repeated objections and pleas that they "slow down" were all well and good, but they did not square with the fact that she eventually gave Ansari oral sex. Finally, crucially, she was free to leave. Why didn't she just get out of there as soon as she felt uncomfortable? many people explicitly or implicitly asked. It's a rich question, and there are plenty of possible answers. But if you're asking in good faith, if you really want to think through why someone might have acted as she did, the most important one is this: Women are enculturated to be uncomfortable most of the time. And to ignore their discomfort. This is so baked into our society I feel like we forget it's there. To steal from David Foster Wallace, this is the water we swim in. The Aziz Ansari case hit a nerve because, as I've long feared, we're only comfortable with movements like #MeToo so long as the men in question are absolute monsters we can easily separate from the pack. Once we move past the "few bad apples" argument and start to suspect that this is more a trend than a blip, our instinct is to normalize. To insist that this is is just how men are, and how sex is. This is what Andrew Sullivan basically proposed in his latest, startlingly unscientific column. #MeToo has gone too far, he argues, by refusing to confront the biological realities of maleness. Feminism, he says, has refused to give men their due and denied the role "nature" must play in these discussions. Ladies, he writes, if you keep denying biology, you'll watch men get defensive, react, and "fight back." (Webmaster's comment: In others words just accept the fact that many men (40% or so) are brutes and live with it - OR ELSE!)
1-23-18 Drug that fools the womb could help stop painful periods
A drug tested in mice tricks the womb into thinking there is low oxygen, which promotes healing and prevents excessive bleeding during menstruation. Heavy periods may soon be a thing of the past. A drug that tricks the womb lining into repairing itself during menstruation could help people who suffer from excessive bleeding. Each month, in the absence of pregnancy, the lining of the womb breaks down. This causes bleeding, which persists until the lining is repaired by a delicate balance of hormones and chemical processes. However, some women experience heavy periods, or menorrhagia, with prolonged bleeding that can be accompanied by painful cramps and anaemia. This can be treated with surgery and hormonal drugs, but often results in unwanted side effects. Now, an alternative solution might be on the horizon. Recently it was discovered that women with heavy bleeding have lower levels of a protein called HIF1. HIF1 activates specific genes when oxygen levels drop – something that happens in the womb during a period. This process appears to promote healing of the lining. Jackie Maybin at the University of Edinburgh, and her colleagues have shown in mice that a drug called DMOG tricks the womb lining into thinking that oxygen levels are low, which increases HIF1 activity. This promotes repair of the lining and reduces bleeding.
1-22-18 Twitter users share tips on escaping unwanted male attention
You are happily alone in a bar, but someone will not leave you alone. Your polite rejections do not work. The pestering goes on until you leave or someone intervenes. It is not an unusual scene - many women will tell you this has happened to them. So when British journalist Amna Saleem tweeted about a stranger posing as her friend to help her escape unwanted male attention in a London bar on Saturday, it sparked an international conversation, much of which focussed on how other men can step in. More than 430,000 people liked the tweet and almost a thousand people commented with their experiences. The conversation reflects ongoing concerns about women being pestered while on a night out, highlighted in the 'Ask for Angela' campaign in 2016 advising women to ask venue staff for help using the codeword 'Angela' if they feel unsafe on a date. Last week it was announced an inquiry will take place into sexual harassment of women and girls in public spaces in the UK. In reply to Saleem's tweet, @TheOmegaGeek shared a story of pretending to know a woman whose boyfriend was "screaming at her," and giving her money for a taxi home. Another user, Jamiel Pridgen in New York, US wrote, "Some dude was bothering this lady once on the train and she was alone so my brother pretended to be her husband and the guy left. 10 years later he is her husband". When separated from friends in a club in Florence, Italy, a man grabbed tweeter @marissad415 to dance. "All I had to do was look at a random girl to save me, and she came over and excitedly screamed like we were long lost besties, and got me out of a bad situation," she commented. "Women know." One man, from Dublin, Ireland, wrote that he sometimes intervenes directly, but suggested it can cause a backlash. "My go-to is a 'dude, back off - you have been told she's not interested,' but it can cause people to get aggro, which could be a problem later in the night," he tweeted. French student @SariaSayan advised people to divert conversations away from the woman being harassed. "You can distract the guy with a very genuine question. Like 'scuse me, could you tell me what time it is?'" she suggested. But some women shared experiences of being followed after rejecting male attention, or being hassled on public transport, or of having to seek protection from other couples. Nathan Moore, in the US, lays the blame at society teaching men to be "persistent".
1-22-18 'No' is not enough
On our reductive understanding of female desire. "Men who are constantly trying to move things forward are exhausting in a way I find hard to articulate," a friend once wrote to me. "Like you never get to fall in love on your own." She wasn't referring to the #MeToo movement, or the gruesomely described date between "Grace" and Aziz Ansari, but her words have stuck with me, because she put her finger on one of the many costs our sexual mores impose on women: Desire. #MeToo isn't anyone's first hashtag rodeo. Well, I suppose actually it must be somebody's, since new people continue, frighteningly, to be born, to log online, and to share their lives there. But that aside, like #YesAllWomen before it, #MeToo is borne of a collective optimism that male violence against women is a problem stemming from male ignorance, to be solved through a collective baring of scars. And like #YesAllWomen, or for that matter, SlutWalk or Take Back the Night or any number of mass initiatives, #MeToo has also produced its own women's counter-reaction, amply represented by writers like Bari Weiss and Daphne Merkin (in The New York Times), Caitlin Flanagan (in The Atlantic), and (eventually, and already somewhat notoriously) Katie Roiphe in Harper's. For Weiss, Merkin, and Flanagan, the looming danger of #MeToo is that it emphasizes a woman's vulnerability over her agency, and importantly, her sexual freedom. And being free means accepting consequences, such as a bad date in which a man's sexual behavior crosses a line. The freedom women can exercise in these situations is saying no, and "[taking] the risk that comes with it," as Merkin puts it. "If [a date] pressures you to do something you don't want to do," writes Weiss, "use a four-letter word, stand up on your two legs, and walk out his door." And Flanagan looks toward the women's magazines of her youth, which emphasized that women always had the right to decline an unwanted advance.
1-17-18 America's broken childbirth system
How can we allow giving birth to bankrupt new families? Now that the Republicans have shaken the dust from their feet following all 497 of their failed attempts at repealing the Affordable Care Act, we are probably due for one of those long spells where we pretend that all the issues that were so urgent last year until the GOP lighted upon "tax reform" are worth ignoring for a while. This would be a mistake. It is the perennial folly of columnists to allow politicians to decide what is and is not worthy of our readers' attention, to whip ourselves into fits of spasmodic rage whenever they propose something bad and sink back into indifference as soon as it looks as if they have changed their minds. The provision of medical care in this country was an important issue in 2017 and it is an important issue now. Just how far we have to go before we can think of ourselves as a civilized people is made clear by two recent pieces in The Guardian's excellent parenting section, "The Mother Load." Few issues demonstrate the callousness and absurdity of our current public-private system as the way we "finance" the birth of children. The cost of the average birth in the United States is more than $32,000 for a standard delivery with no complications. This is higher than any other country in the world, and it has nothing to do with the quality of care we provide to mothers and children. Parents such as Stella Apo Osae-Cwum and her husband who find themselves in difficult and unpredictable circumstances end up footing the bill for amounts that are even more unimaginable — $877,000 for the premature birth of their triplets. (Webmaster's comment: $32,000, a year's salary for many, for what used to be done at home without assistance except from a midwife. THAT'S NUTS!)
1-16-18 Evidence grows that normal childbirth takes longer than we thought
The insight could lead to fewer unnecessary C-sections being performed. A long-standing “rule” for women in labor has been challenged again. During labor, the cervix – the narrow, lower part of the uterus – dilates, or opens, to allow for a baby’s birth. For decades, the guidance has been that the cervix should dilate by at least 1 centimeter per hour. But a study in two African countries found a slower rate of dilation for many women who went on to have healthy, vaginal births, researchers report online January 16 in PLOS Medicine. The new study reinforces findings from recent research on pregnant women in the United States, Japan and other countries. Nevertheless, some doctors still wrongly classify slower labor as abnormal, researchers say, leading to unnecessary, potentially risky interventions such as cesarean delivery.
1-15-18 Sora Aoi: Japan's porn star who taught a Chinese generation about sex
When Japanese actress and former porn star Sora Aoi announced her marriage online, it set off a frenzy on Chinese social media. That's because she has played a surprisingly significant role in the lives of a generation of young Chinese internet users. On New Year's day, Ms Aoi posted a picture of her engagement ring on social media and announced the happy news to her fans around the world. Within 48 hours, the post got more than 170,000 comments and 830,000 likes on Weibo, the Chinese version of Twitter. "We grew up with your movies and will support you as always," said one fan. Another Weibo user said: "You will always be my goddess… I wish you happiness." Ms Aoi started her career in pornography in the early 2000s. It is estimated that she had starred in more than 90 adult films, with new work being published every month between 2003 and 2005. Pornography is illegal in China, but that didn't stop Chinese men going crazy for her. "To many Chinese men who couldn't get proper sexual education in their adolescence, Sora Aoi became our teacher," 27-year-old "Liu Qiang" (not his real name) told the BBC.
1-10-18 Hormone replacement therapy may prevent depression in menopause
A study of 172 women suggests that HRT treatment is more effective than a placebo at preventing symptoms of depression from emerging during early menopause. Hormone replacement therapy seems to prevent depression in women going through the menopause. A study of 172 women without depression and aged between 45 and 60 has found that a year of HRT treatment can help stop symptoms of depression emerging in women who are entering the menopause or who are in the early stages of post-menopause. The team found that HRT was more effective at this than a placebo, and seemed to have the most effect in women in the early stages of menopause, and those experiencing other life stresses. “HRT reduced the proportion of women who experienced significant mood symptoms from about one in three to about one in six,” says Tony Cleare, of King’s College London, who was not involved in the study. “HRT is already recommended in the UK to treat symptoms of low mood during the menopause, so this research adds to the evidence by showing HRT can also prevent mood symptoms,” he says.
1-10-18 Venezuela pill shortage triggers rise in teenage pregnancies
In downtown Barquisimeto, Margaret Khawan's pharmacy is looking a bit empty these days. What products she does have she has spaced out along the shelves to make them look a bit fuller. Ms Khawan has not had any deliveries of contraceptive pills for a year. Every day people come looking for them and every day she has to turn them away. People are having to adapt. "It used to be just men buying condoms but women are buying them too now because there's nothing else," she says. "The price of condoms has gone up 200%." Across town, Darnellys Rodríguez is living the consequences of these shortages. She had her first baby when she was 15 years old. Then she had a second baby, and hoped that would be it, but then she got pregnant with her third. "My first reaction was to cry," she says. "Getting contraceptive pills is really hard. There's nothing and when you can get hold of them, the cost is beyond my reach." Financially it is a struggle. She lives with her children and partner in a corrugated iron shack in a poor neighbourhood of Barquisimeto. Now she is pregnant, she says her older boys have to go without clothes and shoes so she can pay for some of her medical tests. "I'm making plans to get sterilised," she says. "The idea of having another baby is too much."
1-9-18 Hormone replacement makes sense for some menopausal women
A reanalysis says hormones are worth a second look for younger women dealing with hot flashes and night sweats. Internist Gail Povar has many female patients making their way through menopause, some having a tougher time than others. Several women with similar stories stand out in her mind. Each came to Povar’s Silver Spring, Md., office within a year or two of stopping her period, complaining of frequent hot flashes and poor sleep at night. “They just felt exhausted all the time,” Povar says. “The joy had kind of gone out.” And all of them “were just absolutely certain that they were not going to take hormone replacement,” she says. But the women had no risk factors that would rule out treating their symptoms with hormones. So Povar suggested the women try hormone therapy for a few months. “If you feel really better and it makes a big difference in your life, then you and I can decide how long we continue it,” Povar told them. “And if it doesn’t make any difference to you, stop it.” At the follow-up appointments, all of these women reacted the same way, Povar recalls. “They walked in beaming, absolutely beaming, saying, ‘I can’t believe I didn’t do this a year ago. My life! I’ve got my life back.’ ”
1-9-18 Chinese dating apps closed after women revealed to be robots
A number of Chinese mobile applications have been shut down after it was revealed women on their platforms were actually automated robots, it's reported. According to the Modern Express newspaper, police have closed down mobile apps associated with 21 companies and arrested more than 600 suspects operating across 13 provinces, after discovering that messages from some women were being automatically generated by computer programmes. Police in southern Guangdong province began investigating in August 2017, after suspecting one app of fraudulently charging visitors to view pornographic videos which did not exist. Further investigation found that technical personnel from at least one company had created fake "sexy girl" accounts. They wrote computer programmes which generated greeting messages and compliments from fake accounts, and targeted these at newly registered users. "They solicited gifts and posted other messages to lure the user into spending money, and thus illegally generating profit," the police report reads. It says that tens of thousands of people are believed to have been conned out of a total sum of one billion yuan ($154m; £113m). The case has shocked but also amused social media users on the Sina Weibo microblog. "It looks like AI has finally overtaken human intelligence," says one user. Many say that they are surprised at the abilities of the people running the bots. "With skills like these, why bother engaging in fraud?" one asks.
1-8-18 Sex tweets help track spread of sexually transmitted infections
Twitter provided a more sensitive warning signal for syphilis rates in US counties than the previous year’s disease levels. A lot of sexual tweets in your area? Local syphilis rates could be on the rise. Oversharing on social media may be annoying, but it could predict the next outbreak of sexually transmitted disease. Sean Young at the University of California, Los Angeles, and his colleagues analysed tweets posted in 2012. They narrowed down millions of posts to 8538 tweets that could be geolocated to US counties and included keywords such as “sex” or “suck” used in a sexual context. Areas where sexual tweets were posted saw a 2.7 per cent increase in syphilis rates the following year. One way to predict an increase in syphilis rates is to look at the current number of cases – for example, each county that had a higher than average number of cases in 2012 saw a 0.6 per cent increase the following year. Tweets corresponded to a bigger change in syphilis rates, so they could provide a more effective way of planning where best to allocate resources. “There’s potentially as much or more information in what people say online as there is in where people live, what education they have, or how much they earn,” says Young. Even though using social media to predict sexually transmitted disease will never be perfect, if the analysis is carefully carried out it “can provide a lot of information,” says Alessandro Vespignani at Northeastern University, Boston, who was one of the authors of a prominent paper on Google Flu Trends, which used a similar method in an attempt to predict flu outbreaks.
1-5-18 A key virus fighter is implicated in pregnancy woes
Fetal mice whose immune system revved up in response to their mom’s Zika infection died or grew poorly. An immune system mainstay in the fight against viruses may harm rather than help a pregnancy. In Zika-infected mice, this betrayal appears to contribute to fetal abnormalities linked to the virus, researchers report online January 5 in Science Immunology. And it could explain pregnancy complications that arise from infections with other pathogens and from autoimmune disorders. In pregnant mice infected with Zika virus, those fetuses with a docking station, or receptor, for immune system proteins called type I interferons either died or grew more poorly compared with fetuses lacking the receptor. “The type I interferon system is one of the key mechanisms for stopping viral infections,” says Helen Lazear, a virologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, who coauthored an editorial accompanying the study. “That same [immune] process is actually causing fetal damage, and that’s unexpected.” Cells infected by viruses begin the fight against the intruder by producing type I interferons. These proteins latch onto their receptor on the surfaces of neighboring cells and kick-start the production of hundreds of other antiviral proteins.
1-3-18 How will gender equality change dating?
This is what the heterosexual dating scene might look like in 100 years. On their first date, Mia and Josh talked as if they'd known each other for years. Josh loved Mia's wit; Mia delighted in Josh's warmth and ready smile. Their relationship blossomed, but doubts crept up on both of them now and again. Josh was the primary caregiver for a child from a previous marriage, and his financial prospects were dim. That didn't really bother Mia, since Josh's personality more than made up for it. Still, he wasn't her usual "type" — the type that was much younger than her, plus athletic and handsome to boot. Josh, meanwhile, had been dreaming of a cashed-up woman with high ambitions, status, and education, ideally with a PhD (or two). Mia's mere MA was a bit of a sticking point. It was the norm, after all, for men to be the ones to "marry up." This scenario probably sounds strange, and it should: I've invented an anecdote about how the heterosexual dating scene might look 100 years in the future. Currently, the desire for a young, attractive partner of the opposite sex tends to be more prevalent in men than in women. Women, meanwhile, are more likely to prioritize money and status over youth and beauty. Why? Many evolutionary psychologists put this trend down to the power of innate biological drives. Their argument is that women have a primeval urge to hang on to wealthy men to provide for their children during the long period of pregnancy and childrearing. Men, meanwhile, are mostly concerned about a woman's fertility, for which beauty and youth serve as helpful cues. In the distant past, this behavior was adaptive, and so evolution selected and encoded it in our genes, forever. Sure, the rituals of modern mating look very different to those of our ancestors. "Nevertheless, the same sexual strategies used by our ancestors operate today with unbridled force," as the psychologist David Buss put it in The Evolution of Desire (2003). "Our evolved psychology of mating, after all, plays out in the modern world because it is the only mating psychology we mortals possess." (There's little historical or intercultural research on LGBT mate preferences; such questions are clearly important, but sadly there isn't yet sufficient data to examine them properly.)
1-3-18 Blood test spots ovarian cancer years before it is usually found
A blood test that detects ovarian cancer up to two years earlier than is presently the case could help reduce the deadliness of the disease. A blood test that detects ovarian cancer in its early stages may reduce the deadliness of the disease. Ovarian cancer is known as the “silent killer” because most patients don’t know they have it until it spreads to other organs and causes symptoms, at which point it is usually too late to treat. Now, Martin Widschwendter at University College London and his colleagues have shown that the disease can be detected years earlier by looking for tell-tale DNA fragments that ovarian tumours leak into the bloodstream. By analysing DNA fragments in 648 blood samples from healthy women and ovarian cancer patients, they were able to pinpoint 3 fragments that marked the presence of the disease. In a follow-up study of 250 women, they showed they could identify those with ovarian cancer with 91 per cent accuracy by measuring these 3 DNA fragments in their blood. Finally, they showed that the new blood test could detect ovarian cancer 1 to 2 years before it is usually diagnosed in 88 per cent of cases. They did this by retrospectively analysing blood samples collected from over 100,000 women in a previous study, 43 of whom were diagnosed with ovarian cancer over the next 2 years.
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