The Best "Human Nature" Sex Stories of 2007
Incest, virgin births, gay sheep, and avatar affairs.
Read more from Slate's Sex Issue.
2007 has been a great year for sex. OK, every year is a great year for sex. But this year is especially interesting, with reports of sexsomnia, vegansexuals, man boobs, female promiscuity, double penises, horny old folks, cosmetic vagina surgery, publicly funded sex-change surgery, and the decline of marriage and co-sleeping. Among this year's hundreds of Human Nature stories, five trends and discoveries stand out.
1) Parthenogenesis. The top sex story of 2007 is … no sex. Specifically, making babies without sperm. That stuff you were told about the birds and the bees? Sorry. The truth is that males aren't necessary. In May, scientists verified a " virgin birth" in sharks. This phenomenon had previously been found in some amphibians, birds, and reptiles, but a new genetic analysis confirmed it in a hammerhead shark. The baby shark was formed by fusion of an egg with an egg byproduct from the same mother, so its DNA was a double helping of half the mom's DNA. Scientists concluded that this might explain some mysterious births to other captive sharks.
A month later, another shark fetus developed in a tank with no apparent father. No male of the shark's species was in the tank. The fetus was found because its mother died; otherwise, it would have been quickly eaten and never discovered. The implication is that births to sharks with no apparent fathers may happen more often than we realize, because when there's no male around, we don't look for offspring.
(For Human Nature's take on parthenogenesis in sharks and other animals, click here.)
2) The abolition of menstruation. The human mind is gradually conquering the human body. Case in point: In May, the FDA approved a birth-control pill that eliminates menstruation. Unlike other birth-control pills, it simply skipped the traditional week off for bleeding. The "curse" used to be defined by its inevitability. Now that's gone.
Not everyone is thrilled about this conquest, as the debate over the new pill made clear. The pill's manufacturer says: 1) Periods can be painful. 2) They ruin your mood. 3) They cost you work time and hurt your job performance. 4) They disrupt your sex life. 5) They disrupt your exercise routine. 6) There's no evidence that they're necessary to your health. 7) Your "periods" on the pill are fake anyway. But critics argue: 1) Periods are womanly. 2) They're not an illness. 3) Stop treating your body as a nuisance. 4) Don't mess with Mother Nature. 5) There's no long-term evidence that abolishing periods is safe. 6) If you don't have them, how can you be sure you're not pregnant?
(For Human Nature's take on the conquest of menstruation, click here.)
3) Digitization. Commercial sex used to be either live and in person (prostitution) or recorded and viewed (porn). Now you can combine the immediacy of prostitution with the safety of porn, thanks to entrepreneurs who plan to offer video of live, on-demand sex through hotel TVs. This is the result of several trends: 1) Americans spent $500 million last year on pay-per-view or on-demand sex videos. 2) TV is merging with computers, which facilitate private communication. 3) Computers are already allowing porn buyers to send text messages to performers. 4) Live sex on demand is more exciting than video sex on demand.
Sometimes digital sex is too real: High-definition video is embarrassing porn stars. The embarrassments include razor burn, cellulite, wrinkles, pimples, visible veins, and fake boobs. Remedies tried so far: diets, exercise, makeup, tanning spray, grooming assistance, cosmetic surgery, softening lights, changing sex positions, and airbrushing. Actresses complain that their "imperfections" are being exposed and that HD is forcing them to get boob jobs.
Will Saletan covers science, technology, and politics for Slate and says a lot of things that get him in trouble.