emanix: (emanix)
Diagram of a sick bunny. Image from www.chaosbunny.com.

This post initially arose out of a discussion about homeopathy (and indeed most other 'alternative' styles of treatment), about which, having trained in pharmacology at university, I usually end up in a paradox loop.

Yes, according to all of the research available, everyone who is saying that homeopathy is no better than a placebo is correct... BUT the placebo is one of the safest and most powerful treatments known to medical science. So I'm torn. When someone has a virus (for example, the common cold) or some other condition that is otherwise untreatable, is it worse to say 'I'm sorry, there's nothing I can do for you.' or to give someone a sugar pill and say 'this will make you feel better'... and it does? If a placebo treatment is effective, is it even a lie?

I also think the reason we have such enormous trouble getting rid of 'alternative' unscientific treatments is because they genuinely do offer something that empirical medicine doesn't, and that is often the simple sense of being heard, cared for and of being able to 'do something', where medical science might just say 'wait this out'.

Which is why I feel so excited about having found something of a middle ground: When I or my friends have an infection, I 'prescribe' a whole list of foods known for antimicrobial properties (usually resulting in a rather nice curry!). It's not 'medicine', precisely, but evidence suggests that each of the individual items themselves should help at least a little bit more than a placebo would, good nutrition is *always* useful and the sense of being able to 'do something' about the situation is an enormous relief.

My personal infection-fighting shopping list is as follows (I will try to come back and edit this later to add proper references and update it with new possibly bug-fighting foods as and when I spot them):

Garlic (evidence of some antimicrobial properties, including antiviral, antibacterial and antifungal)

Onions (evidence of some antimicrobial properties)

Ginger (evidence of some antimicrobial properties)

Cinnamon (evidence of some antimicrobial properties, also kills insect larvae)

Cloves ("")

Cardamom (evidence of some antimicrobial, and some anti inflammatory properties)

Hot Chilli Peppers (you guessed it, evidence of some antimicrobial properties. Also stimulates endorphin release for pain relief, and is a pretty effective decongestant)

Sweet peppers/bell peppers (super-high in vitamin C)

Tomatoes (high in vit. C, which is good for the immune system, and lycopene- antioxidant, lowers stroke risk, apparently good for asthma sufferers)

Lemon (more vit. C)

Something high in zinc, which is known for helping the immune system along (lamb is supposed to be good, as are quite a lot of nuts, and iirc a fair few kinds of fish as well.)

Something that's a good source of protein, to help build and repair new cells (usually chicken, fish or lamb, also eggs, cheese or pretty much any sort of nuts).

[ Tea and Cookies are not on the list yet, but I can always hope!]


...All of the above can be referenced via pubmed. It's not a coincidence that a lot of those items on the list are strongly flavoured 'aromatic' foods - a lot of the pungent flavours we find so fascinating turn out to be the plants natural chemical defences against invading bugs. I've probably missed off a few, but a rule of thumb seems to be that if it's a strongly flavoured spice, fruit, or vegetable, then it probably has some bug-killing properties.

It turns out that all that's pretty close to a recipe for a lamb doppiaza right there, which coincidentally happens to be my favourite curry (other kinds of curry are available)! Also quite a lot of thai food (A good tom yum soup is also great for keeping hydrated, too, as well as containing lots of anti-bug foods!).

I'd love to see more recipe suggestions and additions to my list in the comments here!
emanix: (Default)
I have lots of other things to catch up with, but it seems I'm most productive when I'm angry - and this idiotic article (and a swathe of similar ones) makes me EXTREMELY angry.

So what's wrong with it?

Here's the headline: "Failure of contraceptive implants sets back battle against teen pregnancies"
and the subtitle: "Bad press surrounding 584 cases in which women trusting in Implanon implants fell pregnant is a blow to family-planning advisers"

Terrifying - 584 failures - that's got to be bad, right? Well, no.

Why not?

Because statistically, that number of 584 failures makes Implanon an AMAZINGLY EFFECTIVE contraceptive.

Let's take a look at a table of statistics about contraception - I've taken my stats from here

Type of contraception
Implanon Hormone Implant: 0.05% failure rate.
Condom: 2-15% failure rate.
Crossed Fingers (no contraception): 85% failure rate.
Number of women expected to become pregnant during one year
(out of 100)
2 to 15
Around 85
Number of women expected to become pregnant during one year
(out of 82,000)
1640 to 12,300
Around 69,700
Number of women likely to become pregnant over 11 years (out of estimated 1,000,000)
20,000 to 150,000**
Around 850,000**
*actual statistic
**this is a low estimate - stats are based on only one year of use.

Contraception failure rates are measured by the number of women out of 100 who would get pregnant over a year using that contraceptive. So as you can see above, using no contraception at all, 85% of women WOULD get pregnant. Condoms have between a 2 and 15% failure rate. That means between two and 15 women will pregnant over a year whilst relying on condoms for contraception. So if 82,000 women were using condoms for contraceptive protection for a year, between 1640 and 12300 of those women would get pregnant.

So let's just compare those condom statistics back to the headline: We are told in the article that 82,000 women per year are fitted with an Implanon implant. Compared to condoms, 584 failures out of 82,000 women is very low - far less than 1%.

But that's not the end of the story.

It's not the end of the story because the 584 pregnancies they're talking about in this article weren't over one year. They were over ELEVEN YEARS. We're talking about barely one twentieth of a percent, 0.06%.
If all of these women had used condoms instead, we'd be looking at an extra 11,716 women who would likely be pregnant due to contraceptive failure - not just once either, that's every year.
That's ELEVEN THOUSAND WOMEN! Eleven thousand lives that *haven't* been disrupted by unwanted pregnancy, because they were relying on a more effective form of contraception. If they hadn't used any contraception at all? 69700 unwanted foetuses PER YEAR. This is what happens when you put people off using safe contraceptives with idiotic scare tactics.

Yes, these women "thought they were 99% safe" - based on the number of women who have actually had Implanon fitted, they were actually 99.94% safe (equivalent to one in about 2000, vs. one in 100). I'm sure it's not much of a comfort to the women who have experienced a failure (after all, on an individual level it's no longer a statistic - you're either pregnant or you're not), and of course it would have been wonderful if they could have been 100% 'safe', but compared to around 70,000 of those same women each year who would have been pregnant if they had no contraception, that's a vanishingly small number.

It's not perfect. No method of contraception is perfect, and not everyone gets on with hormone based contraception, but it's by far the best out there. And it makes me sick with anger that scare tactics like these stupid headlines are being used to trash what is clearly the most reliable means we have of preventing unwanted pregnancy.

What's the real agenda here? I have no idea. Maybe some crazy idea that that declaring contraception 'unsafe' will put teenage girls off from having sex? Maybe a complete lack of understanding of statistics. Perhaps a misunderstanding of how contraception really works - and a belief that there's a better method out there? Currently, there isn't a better option - unless you combine several at once, eg. condoms *and* an implant, or a coil, or or whatever (and of course, implants and coils don't protect from STIs, so that's an excellent idea anyway). Sadly real science doesn't give us perfect answers, it just gives us better ones. And they're getting better all the time - or they would be, if only journalists would actually understand the information they're presented with.

- - - - -
Additional information:

If you have an implant and you're worried if it might be incorrectly fitted:

What to do if you are worried?
If you are already using the Contraceptive Implant and are not experiencing any problems you probably don’t need to worry. However if this coverage has concerned you then you can speak to your GP, Reproductive Health Clinic or call the Family Planning Association (in the UK) on 0845 122 8690.

Remember this form of contraception is more than 99% effective and for the majority of women who opt to use it they experience no problems and are happy with it as their contraceptive choice.
--from Dr. Petra Boynton's blog entry, Contraceptive Implants and Media Panics – what you need to know (click for more details)

- - - - -

Update two:

There's some more decent information at these sites (though many of them still fail to compare with failure rates for other contraceptives):

emanix: (Default)
Wow it's been a busy month! A lot of new friendships, a may-be new relationship, a lot of new ideas, and a lot of running around.

Idea 1. I love Frolicon!

The first of April saw me at Frolicon - utterly fabulous. Great to see a lot of the people I connected with last year again. And also a certain person that I only briefly bumped into last year, we hit it off *very* well, and I got to hang out with a lovely portion of the polyfamily, too. That was lovely! Now engaged in one of several 'Sooper Sekrit Projects' which involve a great deal of awesome... and tentacles! Frolicon makes me very happy, and it is worth a lot to me to keep going back there. Where else could I find such people? Perhaps not quite so appealing to [livejournal.com profile] werenerd - he and jetlag are not good friends, but I think we'll be back - it was also our anniversary party, after all!

Idea 2. Skeptical Tantra.

Barely had time to breathe in London, catch up on work and spend a little time with my other primary before [livejournal.com profile] werenerd and I were off to a Tantra weekend where I yelled at the instructor for spouting sexist drivel, but also was inspired by the challenge of taking what is good and valuable from these practices (and there certainly *are* parts that are good and valuable) and separating it from the pseudoscience and religious babble.
I realise I'm pretty well-placed to do this. I've been studying sex in a casually academic sense for some 20 years*, I have useful knowledge of the real science behind the pseudoscience, and I have worked for and with a tantra school, one of the teachers for which is conveniently a housemate. It's a hell of an undertaking, but the groundwork is there already that would make it possible, and I feel it would be useful to the world. I'm giving this some serious thought.

Idea 3. Rethinking my views on long-distance relationships.

Once upon a time I swore I woudn't ever have another long-distance relationship, mostly based on the fact that every time I have done it's caused me immense stress thanks to partners being not okay with polyamory (often after previously having been fine with it). These days I might flirt with an openly poly person who lived a bit further away, but had been keeping them somewhat casual out of wariness. My experience of poly thus far is that it works better when partners are local. Perhaps, though, if the person(s) concerned are poly activists, it might in fact be worth taking that chance? It's not as if I don't have plenty of long-distance friendships. I still can't see myself taking on a new relationship with a person that isn't already poly, though. I just don't have that kind of energy these days. One policy change at a time, I think!

Idea 4. Being a 'Superhero'.

Having watched 'Kick-Ass', (which was awesome and you all want to see it!) I went home thinking about 'if I was a superhero, what would I call myself?' I came up with the name 'Polly Amorous' and was amazed to discover that this was in fact available as a web domain, so I impulse-bought it and am now considering what to put there. Suggestions welcomed!

Two vaguely serious thoughts followed - one related to my post on being SAMOTURE: that actually, we *are* all responsible for the state of the world we live in, and taking the cop-out option to be bystanders in our own lives... well, it just plain sucks.
From the film: "with no power comes no responsibility... except that's not true."
How does one encourage heroism anyway?

Secondly, that poly people often seem to be considered 'other' by the media in the same way that superheroes are. Every article I read lately seems to include some phrase equivalent to 'this is not for the average Joe', whereas I would protest that we are very much normal people, just normal people with one slightly different belief. I really feel the need to challenge that perception.
So... there will no doubt be related rants, cartoons, essays and other stuff on www.PollyAmorous.com - watch this space!

Idea 5. Boobquake! Today!

Encountered on twitter, details are here: http://www.blaghag.com/2010/04/in-name-of-science-i-offer-my-boobs.html
In the name of science I shall be also be trotting around town this evening wearing the most immodest dress I can, and my lovely housemate [livejournal.com profile] getoffmoiland will be joining me. Pics later!

Join the #boobquake on Twitter! For Science!

Next month looks to be equally busy, so I intend to spend much of next week being a 'hermit', attempting to get some artwork done, and getting a little rest in if I can, as well. I shall be remaining in South London, and not allowing people to entice me into town during the evenings, which are always (annoyingly) the most productive part of my day.

Love to everybody!

*For the hyperobservant of you, yes really. I said academic, not in a physical manner. That came a little later.
emanix: (Default)
(...because not all of my defining features are about sex)

Defining my Terms: Radical Agnostic - a part of my essay series talking about concepts that I find important to my life and way of thinking.

(This one will probably be edited repeatedly, though I'll try not to change the sense of it - if I do, I'll make it a new post)

I often refer to myself as a Radical Agnostic, but what does the phrase actually mean?

Agnostic, then - from the root 'a' meaning 'without' and 'gnostic' referring to knowledge. An agnostic person is a person who *does not know*. I'm not saying that there is a God, but nor am I saying there is not. What I am saying is that it's impossible to know, and that anyone who claims to know that there definitely is or isn't a God (or higher power in the universe of some sort) is, quite frankly, talking out of their backside. This brings me to the 'Radical' bit, which I pinched from Douglas Adams having heard him talk about being a Radical Atheist. Basically I add the 'Radical' to let people know that I really mean it.

Let me expand a bit...

I'm most certainly not a Christian, though I think he was a decent enough chap, for his day, and generally preached some sensible things. Be good to others, feed the needy, that sort of thing. For his day, he was pretty darned enlightened, and good on him. Son of God? I'm distinctly unconvinced. I'm afraid I find myself extremely unconvinced by the Old Testament too, for that matter. The whole idea of an all-powerful deity who 'loves' mankind (but only certain bits of it, depending on who you listen to) and wants us all to obey a rather arbitrary set of rules in order to hop up to the next level of enlightenment, computer game style... well, it all sounds rather far-fetched, to be honest. I'm not much impressed with the concept of most of the other god types out there either. I'm all for love, joy and world peace, but I find I'm incapable of believing in any omnipotent being that particularly gives a damn about the human race. It's just too unlikely.

And yet... I can't say for definite that there's nothing out there either. I have a vivid imagination, and can wot of quite a lot of things. For all we know perhaps we are the equivalent of some macroscopic computer game. Maybe there really is a god-like being up there that wants us to jump through these particular hoops because if he* can talk enough people into staying virgins until after marriage or whatever the particular religious oddity, then he'll score 1000 points and get to fight the big boss at the end of the level. I suspect it's not very likely, but I have no absolute proof that this isn't the case... and neither have you.

Science has limitations, and while it can tells us lots of things about the universe - what, when, where, how, which, who and so forth, it fails on a couple of important philosophical questions. One of which is 'why?' what's the point of it all? Science can't say much about that at all. Nor can science say much about what exactly put the universe here in the first place. Where did the big bang come from? What happened *before*? And religion - religion likes to say 'God came before' (occasionally with a slightly more complex backstory involving some being's entrails, and some other being's mischief, or someone giving birth to someone else, or whatever) but this only removes the same question by one more step - where did God come from? What came before God?

It's a question that I firmly believe is unanswerable, because every step further just leads to the same question again. Like the next digit of pi, like prime numbers, the question of what came before, or what comes next only leads to further study. Even if the universe is a loop, as some believe, it's no answer to how it came into being, or what will be afterwards.
My imagination loves the idea that someday there might be a unified God-plus-Universe theory that explains Everything, and somehow involves superstrings, the wiccan rede, and everything being inextricably interconnected, but I'm sure even if that happens there will still be the 'but where did *that* come from?' question.

So my 'religious certainty' is that we can't ever know, and rather than wasting time arguing about it, we may as well get used to living without the knowledge - perhaps even learn to appreciate the mystery. I'm also quite certain that it doesn't matter, because moral behaviour makes very rational sense, and I'll come back to that in a later post.

*Yeah, I know, male pronoun - in the context of giant godlike gamer geek I'm going to stick to the male stereotype, okay?
emanix: (emanix)
I was planning on making my first post in 2010 a bit of a retrospective, inspired by the 'new decade' posts on my friends list, and maybe add in a couple of new year's resolutions. Perhaps I'll still do that, but this piece of idiocy has got me annoyed enough to make my first post this year a rant instead.

The above link is about a supposedly scientific study about a part of the female body that has been politicised and argued over for several decades - The G-Spot (1). Academics and doctors are still arguing about whether or not this particular body-part even exists, while the more experimental of us are busily testing it out for ourselves in the bedroom (My own report from a small, but not insubstantial sample: Yes, it exists, as does female ejaculation).
So how do the researchers test the reality of this myth? Do they conduct a physiological study, and *look* at the female anatomy to determine whether, perhaps, there might be genuine physiological backing, as some studies (2) have done? Do they try stimulating the area, as one classic study (3) did?

No, they designed a questionnaire.

In a society where the average heterosexual male still has trouble finding the clitoris - a perfectly visible, external organ that nobody is debating the existence of, and when public knowledge of human biology is pathetically inadequate, apparently these researchers are claiming that asking women where their G-spot is located and getting inconsistent responses is evidence enough that it doesn't exist.
Whether the women are twins are not makes no real different to the idiocy in the design of the study. I mean, Hello? Is anyone even being taught the existence of the G-spot in schools? I think not. And certainly not when the participants of the study were at school. So all the average woman has to go on is hear-say, and if she's lucky enough to have had a GGG partner or two, maybe some small amount of exploration (I've been lucky enough to have some extremely open-minded and giving male partners, and it's been tough to get more than a brief exploration out of them - I hate to imagine what it's like for other girls.).

I wonder what would have happened if the same study had been done on males, asking them the location and function of their prostate gland? I imagine the results would have been much the same.

This study proves nothing at all except just how poorly educated women (and men) in the UK still are about their own bodies.

Me, I've come from a scientific background. I do understand about the issues with designing studies. The problems of medical ethics are many, and funding towards examining something like this is rare, especially since our attitude to sexual pleasure is still tinted by the victorian attitudes of our past, perhaps even more now than in the 50's when the original work began. Sexology is a field where most of the researchers hands are tied, and they risk being discredited at the slightest whiff of personal experience being included in their conclusions. But jeez... a randomly selected questionnaire to decide on whether a much beloved part of my sexual anatomy exists or not? I'm not amused.

I am, however amused by the turnabout from Freud up to now - Where in Freud's time the clitoris was deemed the 'incorrect' way for a woman to orgasm, and the vaginal orgasm was the only 'proper' way for a mature adult woman to climax, thus leading to decades of strife for women who could only orgasm through stimulation of the clitoris. Now we are being told that the vaginal orgasm does not, in fact, exist, and that the clitoris is the only 'real' way for a woman to receive pleasure.
Wait, actually, I'm not amused. I'm incensed.

Are we still in an age where researchers really think there is a 'right' and a 'wrong' way to stimulate the female body? Or anyone's body?

Considering Andrea Burri's claim that she is "anxious to remove feelings of “inadequacy or underachievement” that might affect women who feared they lacked a G-spot." What about the women out there who have already found theirs and are now being told it doesn't exist? So I've been having imaginary orgasms all this time? What?

I really wish that some of these self-appointed protectors of truth would simply shut up and stop telling me how to enjoy my own body.

Maybe some women don't have G-spots, and some do. Maybe some women don't have sensitive G-spots (and hell, I've met guys who don't have sensitive dicks), I'm sure some women have just never looked, and maybe some more of them have been cursed to a lifetime of miserable sex because their partners read the wrong news article.

Meanwhile I've had partners (male and female) who can come from having their ears sucked, their lower back stroked, their necks nibbled, their nipples clamped, only from being fondled through thick denim fabric, or from merely a word in the right tone of voice. Other partners have struggled to orgasm even with powerful vibrators and hours of work (we got there in the end, though!). Let's face it, we're a diverse species, with a myriad of differences, and that includes sexual function just as much as everything else.

People, if it works for you, use it. If you're with a partner, don't play the odds or go with what worked for previous partners. *Find out* what works for them, and use it. Treat sex manuals (and scientific studies) as suggestions for things you might like to try, not as the damned Holy Bible of Sex.

Can we please get the researchers out of the bedroom, now?


*Last minute update: a voice of sanity, Doctor Petra Boynton says much that I have, and has more detail on the original study. Apparently lesbian and bisexual women were excluded because manual stimulation might 'skew the results' (i.e. women who actually knew what they were doing might incorrectly demonstrate the existence of this 'mythical' spot). Read More

Also a good (if depressingly close to the bone) piss-take article: MEN WHO CARE ABOUT THE G-SPOT ARE A MYTH, SAY EXPERTS

References: (I don't usually bother with references, but this one pissed me off enough to actually put some work in)

(1) Link to Grafenberg's original article on 'The Role of Urethra in Female Orgasm'.
(2) BBC article about an Italian study.
(3) Time Magazine archive - classic study involving Beverley Whipple.
(4) Deborah Sundahl's book on how to stimulate the G-spot, and the phenomenon of female ejaculation.

July 2015



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