The backlash against cosmetic vagina surgery.
(For the latest columns on bestiality, fetal ultrasound, and artificial intelligence, click here.)
A commentary in the British Medical Journal blasted the rise of cosmetic vagina surgery. Britain's National Health Service performed 800 "labial reductions" in the most recent documented year, 2004-05, twice the rate of six years earlier. Reasons women give for requesting the surgery include "inability to wear tight clothing, go to the beach, take communal showers or ride a bicycle comfortably, or avoidance of some sexual practices." The article says patients often bring doctors "images to illustrate the desired appearance … usually from advertisements or pornography." Authors' objections: 1) Imperfect vaginas are not a medical problem. 2) Entrepreneurs and the media are inventing the problem by making women feel bad about how they look. 3) Plastic surgery poses risks, in this case to sexual sensitivity. 4) Men don't get their genitals surgically reduced over discomfort from things such as bike seats; they fix their environment, not themselves. (For previous updates on cosmetic vagina surgery, click here and here. For Human Nature's take on male and female genital mutilation, click here.)
The FDA reaffirmed its ban on blood donations by gay men. Policy: We ask you if you've had sex with a man since 1977. If you say yes, you can't donate. Rationale: You're an HIV risk. Objections: 1) Tests have improved, so we can detect HIV within three weeks of infection. 2) Therefore, the "have you ever" question should be modified from 30 years to three weeks, or at most, a year. FDA's rebuttal: The tests aren't perfect. Critics' rebuttal: Neither is the blood supply. Human Nature's view: The policy is nuts, since the tests are more reliable than the answers to the "have you ever" question.
Mary Cheney had her baby. She will raise the child with her lesbian partner of 15 years. Nobody's saying how the baby was conceived, but it's a boy, so we can rule out parthenogenesis. Dick and Lynne Cheney posed for a picture with the baby sans Mary. Religious-right view: It's better to raise babies in heterosexual marriages. Gay view: So you'd rather prevent this baby from being raised in a marriage? Mary's view: 1) "This is a baby. … It is not a political statement. It is not a prop to be used in a debate by people on either side of an issue. It is my child." 2) "Every piece of remotely responsible research" shows "no difference between children who are raised by same-sex parents and children raised by opposite-sex parents." (For Human Nature's take on Cheney and gay parenting, click here.)
"Virgin birth" has been verified in sharks. Parthenogenesis, procreation without fertilization, has previously been found in some amphibians, birds, fishes, and reptiles. Now genetic analysis shows a hammerhead shark has done it. The baby shark was formed by fusion of an egg with an egg byproduct from the same mother, so its DNA is a double helping of half the mom's DNA. Scientists think this explains some mysterious births to other captive sharks. The good news: Life can reproduce itself even when you can't find a mate. The bad news: The offspring are weakened by loss of genetic diversity.
The FDA approved a birth-control pill that eliminates menstruation. Unlike other pills, it's not designed to allow a week off for bleeding. Rationales: 1) No more cramps, headaches, etc. 2) Studies have found no greater risk from this pill than from other birth-control pills. 3) "We don't suspect there are going to be any surprises in terms of long-term use of this product." Objections: 1) That's why they call it a surprise. 2) The studies didn't follow women long enough. 3) Eliminating menstruation is unnatural. Rebuttal: Menstruation as we know it is unnatural, since women used to be pregnant or breast-feeding all the time. (For previous updates on the abolition of menstruation, click here, here, and here.)
Chinese villagers are revolting against a crackdown on childbearing. According to witnesses, authorities in one region have begun 1) fining people $65 to $9,000 for having too many kids (official explanation: "social child-raising fee"), 2) confiscating or destroying property of those who refuse to pay, and 3) "requiring mandatory health checks for women and forcing pregnant women who lacked approval to give birth to undergo abortions." In response, people have "smashed and burned government offices, overturned official vehicles, and clashed with the riot police officers." Liberal view: It's a reproductive freedom rebellion. Conservative view: It's a tax rebellion. (For a previous update on China's one-child policy, click here. For China's crackdown on sperm, eggs, and surrogate motherhood, click here.)
Viagra may relieve jet lag. Hamsters that got the drug recovered from a sleep-cycle shift 20 percent to 50 percent faster than hamsters that didn't. Researchers' conclusion: Viagra might help humans deal with jet lag and "circadian disorders that involve poor synchronization with the environment, including delayed sleep-phase syndrome and adaptation to changing light schedules." Caveats: 1) The drug helped only in simulations of eastbound flights. 2) Researchers had to cut the original high dose because the hamsters were suffering "penile erections." Human Nature's take-away: Another reason to wear loose-fitting pants on the plane. (For a recent update on over-the-counter Viagra, click here.)
China plans to launch a lunar orbiter this year. Next: a moon rover in about five years. China's spin: "Space technology reflects a nation's overall power and is an important facet of the modernization of national defense." That's also why we've developed satellite and anti-satellite technology. U.S. view: Ulp. (For an update on U.S. plans for a moon base, click here. For previous updates on the militarization of space, click here, here, and here.)
Most men fail to complete the vasectomy process. To make sure the surgery has shut off their sperm supply, they're supposed to submit two follow-up semen samples. In a previous study, half the patients didn't submit the second sample, and a quarter didn't even submit the first. In a new study, only two-thirds who were left to schedule their own follow-up appointments submitted a sample, and only 20 percent submitted a second sample as instructed. Scheduling the appointment for them raised the compliance rate to 84 percent for the first sample and nearly 50 percent for the second. Researchers' conclusion: "Asking men to submit two sperm-free samples may be overly demanding." Translation: Men are so lame at follow-through, you can't even get them to jerk off. (For an update on male hormonal birth control, click here. For spray-on condoms, click here. For Human Nature's take on birth control and abortion, click here.)
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.
Photograph of a prosthetic leg on Slate's home page by Mark Nolan/Getty Images. Photograph of an airplane on Slate's home page by David De Lossy/Photodisc.