In October, Maria cited this as “bad science” in a link roundup:
Professor Stuart Brody concludes that unprotected heterosexual sex can significantly boost men and women’s mental wellbeing.
Conversely, Mr Brody claims that heterosexual sex with a condom is associated with poorer mental health, problems with dealing with stress and even conditions such as depression.
A couple of commenters quickly stated that the article hadn’t explained Brody’s methodology enough (and couldn’t be trusted to report accurately) to support the conclusion it was flawed. While I agreed the press might be inaccurate, I took issue with the social context of the question being posed: since condoms reduce sensation for men, it’s hard to imagine any man reporting greater levels of happiness after condom sex, assuming any pregnancy anxieties have been relieved through some other method. I therefore found it hard to interpret the question as anything other than a repeat of the usual: “Is semen actually really healthful for women, wink, nudge?”
Sadly the whole conversation eventually devolved to the point where I was accused of being anti-science. Oh, noes, when have we feminists had that mansplained to us before? Remember girls: science, like religion, must not be questioned by mere females.
Now we do have a bit of clarification on the point of Brody’s study, if not the methodology:
Results. A wide range of better psychological and physiological health indices are associated specifically with penile–vaginal intercourse. Other sexual activities have weaker, no, or (in the cases of masturbation and anal intercourse) inverse associations with health indices. Condom use appears to impair some benefits of penile–vaginal intercourse. Only a few of the research designs allow for causal inferences.
So it’s not just bad news for women who don’t want semen in their vaginas – gays are doomed to a life of less than optimal mental health as well. The paper isn’t available online for free yet, so there’s no way to find out if it relied exclusively on self-reporting (as the Scotsman implied). Self-reporting is tricky enough in the hands of scientists who know how to use it, but even more so when you’re asking people about sex and other topics that tend to inspire lying through one’s teeth:
I have no problem accepting a scientific study that is paradoxical in terms of societal wellbeing. It doesn’t upset me that war helps unite a nation, or that arranged marriages have a much lower divorce rate than those based on love. However, this study rubs me raw on a number of levels.
First of all, mental health is an extremely subjective experience, making it difficult to quantify in a questionnaire. Also, lying about your sex life comes as natural to most guys as lying about your dick size.
Exactly. It’s not just men and sex, though. People lie about sex and happiness quite a bit, in my experience. In fact, we lie to ourselves about these topics. So let’s look at some of Brody’s other studies over the years to get a feel for whether he ever thinks, I dunno, you might want to hook someone up in a lab and actually observe brain and/or hormone activity before you conclude something based on what people say makes them happy.
First, I found this:
“The risk of transmitting HIV through vaginal intercourse is near zero among healthy adults,” medical psychologist Stuart Brody writes in his new book, Sex at Risk: Lifetime Number of Partners, Frequency of Intercourse, and the Low AIDS Risk of Vaginal Intercourse (Transaction Publishers, 1997), which the Wall Street Journal favorably reviewed on page A22 of its December 8 edition.
“I’m not saying that it is impossible for unprotected vaginal intercourse to transmit HIV from a positive to a healthy adult negative partner,” Brody told RA in a telephone interview from his Los Angeles-area home. “Anything’s possible. It’s possible to be struck by lightning. But the two risks share an analogous probability, effectively zero. If healthy, HIV-negative Americans want to worry about unprotected vaginal intercourse, they should worry about the drive over to their encounters. If their partners have never injected drugs or received rectal intercourse or blood therapy, they are more likely to be killed in an automobile accident on the ride over than they are to become HIV-positive.”
*blinks* Huh? I think we’ve stumbled onto Brody’s personal unifying theory: the only kind of sex worth having is unprotected PIV. So let’s see – what kind of data did he use? To support his conclusion that vaginal boinking practically cannot transmit HIV, he’s used “documentation,” self-reporting and… yep, not a mention of anything lab-related. Also:
“Research and experience have shown us that people lie often and for many reasons, and that the content of these lies includes the IV [drug] and anal intercourse risk factors for HIV transmission,” he writes. “Such lying is one of the factors contributing to an inflated estimate of vaginal HIV transmission.”
Did you follow that? When it comes to self-reporting, people are lying when they say things that contradict Brody’s conclusion, but they’re telling the truth when they say things that support his conclusion. I thought the scientific method was usually more rigid than that, but what do I know? Let’s keep going. Next up, this:
people with sexological training were able to deduce a woman’s “history of vaginal orgasm” from her walk about 80 percent of the time.
Forget self-reporting – he’s moved onto third parties placing bets on what the first parties self-reported. The study goes on to claim that women who have orgasms from PIV sex are more “confident” than other women:
The authors say that “confidence might also be related to the relationship(s) that a woman has had, given the finding that specifically penile-vaginal orgasm is associated with indices of better relationship quality.” That study is online (subscription-only), and it was conducted on 30 Portuguese women who “were all undergraduate psychology students, workers in a facility for the mentally retarded, or performing artists” (a follow-up study will no doubt consider the relationship quality of cowgirls, aquarium workers, and rodeo clowns). These women rated their relationships more highly if they experienced penile-vaginal orgasms, but not orgasms from anal, oral, or masturbation. Again no data on whether in those P-V orgasms included vibrator or finger assistance. Do sexologists not get that this is important?
And are men more confident after orgasming in a vagina as opposed to another orifice? No data. In fact, Brody’s research never talks about the benefits of PIV sex for men. It’s all about women and how we would all be much more sane and healthy if we’d let men squirt into our vaginas regularly. From one of the commenters on that article:
I’m an academic, and so I can’t resist doing a little research of my own. This Dr. Brody asshat (can I say that?) has several “studies” about vaginal-penile intercourse under his, uh, belt. To sum up, Dr. Brody has discovered that VPI orgasms indicate that a woman has better “psychological function,” that she has greater finger sensitivity than women who do it for themselves, that VPI helps her lose weight, that skinny women have more VPI, that VPI contributes to heart health, and– hurrah!–you can’t get HIV from VPI. Also, evidently, condom use also means women are emotionally immature.
My favorite journal article title: “Penile-Vaginal Intercourse Is Better: Evidence Trumps Ideology” (2006).
Here’s a set of links that takedown pretty much Brody’s entire body of work by Dr. Petra Boynton:
You may remember Prof Brody from previous research such as:
You can tell whether a woman has vaginal orgasms based on the way she walks
She details how Brody characteristically fails to detail his methods and adequately defend his conclusions. If you want in-depth scientific criticism, I’m recommending those links.
And check out this little treasure:
“Educators, practitioners, feminists and others who are interested in the goal of elevating women (as opposed to diminishing men), would be supportive of vaginal orgasm as an aspect of women’s psychosexual health,” Prof. Brody wrote in an e-mail.
Translation: “If you bitchez were real feminists who support women, instead of the man-hating man-destroyers we both know you really are, you would love my findings that women need wieners to achieve the sort of orgasms that make you people halfway sane!”
See, it’s not that feminists hate or don’t get science. It’s that our asshat radars are very well-honed, and science is not an asshat-free zone. Unfortunately, my asshat radar operates on an intuitive level and sometimes I struggle to articulate what’s tripped it. It wasn’t just the study or the questionable science, all of which certainly might have been reported inaccurately, as was suggested. It was this quote:
“Evolution is not politically correct, so of the very broad range of potential sexual behaviour, there is actually only one that is consistently associated with better physical and mental health and that is the one sexual behaviour that would be favoured by evolution. That is not accidental.”
It’s never a good sign when someone begins by explaining (crowing?) why he can’t possibly be expected to deliver something politically correct. Even when it’s true, it’s just not the phrasing a quality mind, aware of science’s esteemed place in a biased society, chooses. Then he follows it up with the conclusion there is One True Sex Act To Bind Them All, which (A) suggests he missed the memo where evolutionists figured out that sex isn’t solely about reproduction, so its evolutionary value can’t be reduced to that and (B) strikes me as a bit of a homophobic agenda, especially after reading about how you can only contract AIDS by doing the sort of nasty sex acts those gays get up to.
And on that cynical note, the quote of the day comes from the last-linked article:
Despite the authors’ assertion that women have been “inculcated” to believe vaginal orgasms don’t exist, experts say it’s the opposite: pop culture often depicts women climaxing upon penetration.
“When you read a romance novel, inevitably when it comes to the sex scene, when the guy’s rock-hard python enters her steaming love lava or whatever, she instantaneously orgasms,” said Trina Read, a Calgary-based author and sex coach.
“Steaming love lava” must enter general use immediately if not sooner.