You want to make tea from my what now?
Birth control can be a hassle—but as a review of the history of contraception reveals, modern methods don’t hold a candle to the hoops that people used to jump through to prevent unwanted pregnancy. Gents, ever complained about the mandate to, as a U.S. government film instructed soldiers during World War II, “put it on before you put it in”? Perhaps you’d prefer a condom made of fish or animal intestine that ties on with a ribbon, like the ones men used in the 1600s. You could store it in a box by the bed to reuse again and again! Oh, but if you grab the contents of that box for protection when you sneak out to visit a possibly pox- or clap-ridden prostitute, just remember: while sperm can’t fit through the pores in an animal intestine, viruses can. (At least you’d be saving the woman from having to chug mercury, a last-ditch 17th century method of terminating an unwanted pregnancy.)
And ladies, grossed out by the notion of shielding your cervix with animal dung? Try some fruit instead: one 1550 BC recipe for a vaginal suppository included acacia fruit, which has been shown to prevent pregnancy in lab mice—that is, when they eat the seeds. And in the 18th century, Casanova fashioned a cervical cap from half a pulped lemon (perhaps to avoid responsibility for child support), and the combination of blockage and acidity made this a fairly effective method.
Sperm banks are a pretty great idea: women who don’t have a male partner or whose partners aren’t fertile can choose a genetic father with characteristics they like, such as a certain height, eye color, hair color, hobbies, and so on. Thousands of children are born each year in the United States to mothers who like the sound of “tall, dark, enjoys astrophysics and Shostakovich” or “blond surfer, Ivy-League educated, great sense of humor.”
But something very strange has been going on over the last couple decades, and the New York Times covers it in a recent piece: some donors’ sperm has been used many, many times—so many times, in fact, that people are starting to get alarmed.
When a male’s bits don’t fit with a female’s bits, you wind up with reproductive malfunction. But shape isn’t everything, as a team of researchers recently discovered while watching hundreds of skink lizards court and spark.
Most studies looking at how genitalia mismatch contributes to new species take the concept literally: if the bits don’t fit together like lock and key, matings will be unsuccessful. And if the mismatch between the gear of two groups is bad enough, they will form separate reproductive populations, and, eventually, species. But the idea, which was first tossed around more than 150 years ago, has been discounted as a possible source of new species. Differently sized or shaped genitalia is such a big change that it’s likely to come after many other speciation triggers, like mutations or long separations between populations divided by mountain ranges.
If you haven’t heard about the corkscrew kookiness that is duck genitalia by now, you need to check that stuff out ASAP.
Ducks’ twisting vaginas and telescoping penises are well-known part of an evolutionary arms race between the sexes that’s been going on for millennia, with each side trying to exert control over which males’ sperm fertilize the female’s eggs—a battle that, especially in birds, is fierce, occasionally violent, and weird as all-get-out. The most recently discovered example of what biologists deem “sexual conflict,” a little behavior hens have developed called sperm ejection, upholds that fine tradition.
For every expectant father who’s ever wished they, too, could feel a fetus kicking their bladder, science now has an answer. Researchers in Japan have put together a suit packed with balloons, sensors, and warm water so you can feel what it’s like to be pregnant.
The condoms, developed by UK biotech company Futura Medical, are lined with a gel that increases blood flow. The gel’s active ingredient, glyceryl nitrate, has been used for as a vasodilator for over a century. The tricky part was getting the gel to stay in the condom without degrading the latex, but the company found a way (and quickly patented it).
OK, that’s a slight exaggeration. But researchers who studied 219 women undergoing in vitro fertilization (IVF) discovered that women were more likely to become pregnant if they were paid a visit by a professional “medical clown” after the procedure. The numbers speak for themselves: 36 percent of the clowned women became pregnant, whereas only 20 percent of the un-clowned women conceived.
Those people living in areas with higher numbers of mobile phone towers have more children, new research is showing (spreadsheet). Matt Parker at The Guardian’s Notes & Theories blog did the analysis of publicly available data and found the correlation:
Could it be possible that mobile phone radiation somehow aids fertilisation, or maybe there’s just something romantic about a mobile phone transmitter mast [aka tower] protruding from the landscape?
The data show that there is a very strong correlation between the number of cell phone towers and the birth rate in communities. For every additional phone tower, there are 17.6 more babies than the national average, Parker writes in his blog post:
When a regression line is calculated it has a “correlation coefficient” (a measure of how good the match is) of 98.1 out of 100. To be “statistically significant” a pattern in a dataset needs to be less than 5% likely to be found in random data (known as a “p-value”), and the masts-births correlation only has a 0.00003% probability of occurring by chance.
With all that fancy math talk, this sounds pretty conclusive, huh? But read on.
Sleep-deprived people look 4 percent less attractive, 6 percent less healthy, and 19 percent more tired than they usually do. This doesn’t bode well for the sex lives of insomniacs, study author John Axelsson told MSNBC:
“A good night’s sleep does not only improve your physiological health, it will also make you look healthier and more attractive, which in turn improves the chance of better treatments in a wide range of social situations.”
Two pictures of the volunteers were taken: One after a restful eight hours of sleep, and the other after five hours of sleep followed by being kept awake for 31 hours. Other volunteers rated the pictures for attractiveness and how healthy and tired the participants looked. Derk-Jan Dijk, who wasn’t involved in the current study, told BBC News that the effect is probably worse than the pictures show:
“The photographs were taken during the daytime when the biological clock promotes wakefulness. Can you imagine how sleep loss makes you look at night or early in the morning when the circadian clock (body clock) promotes sleep?”
While participants were taken to extreme levels of sleep deprivation, it’s likely that even losing a small bit of sleep can have deleterious effects on your attractiveness, Axelsson told ABC News:
“We cannot really say when the effects start … if it’s six hours or five hours, but it probably starts gradually,” Axelsson said. “It’s possible that you get these effects through chronic sleep deprivation as well.”
Discoblog: Proved by Science: Sleepy Bees Are Sloppy Dancers
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Writing emails as part of sleepwalking after increase in Zolpidem [Ambien].
Discoblog: NCBI ROFL: Sleep disturbances in Disney animated films
Not Exactly Rocket Science: To sleep, perchance to dream, perchance to remember
Science Not Fiction: Inception and the Neuroscience of Sleep
DISCOVER: 20 Things You Didn’t Know About… Sleep