The XX Factor
What Women Really Think

June 7 2016 2:55 PM

Turns Out the Infant Mortality Rate in the U.S. Is Not That Bad—If You’re Rich


The United States has a surprisingly high infant mortality rate for a wealthy nation. In 2014, 23,000 children died before the age of one, a figure higher than what's found in most of Europe, Japan, and Korea. Some argue this is because of our high numbers of preterm births, unplanned pregnancies, and use of infertility treatments. (The latter leads to more twins, which leads to higher rates of preterm births.) Others suspect that our rates have something to do with the fact that we count premature births, including those with a small chance of surviving, as infants in our data. Or that black children, of which there are more in the U.S. compared to Europeare more likely to die in their first year of life—even when their moms receive quality prenatal care.



Until now, these explanations have been mostly speculative, products of educated guesses rather than rigorous analysis. This is because studies comparing infant mortality rates country-to-country were based on using aggregate data, meaning that the researchers did not take into account the various ways countries define categories and report rates.



In a recently published paper in the American Economic Journal: Economic Policy, authors Alice Chen, Emily Oster, and Heidi Williams relied on microdata, or individual records as opposed to aggregates, to look the difference in infant mortality rates and causes between the United States and Finland, Austria, Belgium, and the United Kingdom. They confirmed that our infant mortality rates are bad, but not for the reasons many thought.


June 7 2016 12:16 PM

A Brief History of Terribly Sexist Anti-Hillary Clinton Merchandise


Despite its reputation for being the kind of place you can buy the latest in pineapple-themed home décor, custom handmade wedding cake toppers, and other hipster bric-à-brac, Etsy, the online marketplace, also does brisk business in rabidly anti–Hillary Clinton merchandise. In fact, Time reported on Monday that, judging by sales of Hillary-hostile buttons and T-shirts, the Democrats are losing this election.



St. Louis nurse Ann Doughty plans to support Clinton in the election in the fall, according to the magazine, but her crafting hands are politically neutral. She sells buttons on eBay and Etsy for $3 a pop picturing Monica Lewinsky and saying things like, “I Got the ‘Job’ Done When Hillary Couldn’t” and “Good Luck Hillary—Don’t Blow It.” Doughty called the buttons “completely sexist,” but that, apparently, is what sells. Elsewhere online, you can find merchandise featuring charming slogans like “Trump That Bitch” and “Bern the Witch.”


June 6 2016 3:56 PM

The Turkish President Says Childless Women Are “Incomplete.” So Does U.S. Policy and Culture.

Speaking at an event for the Turkish Women’s and Democracy Association on Sunday, Turkish President Recep Tayyip Erdoğan had harsh words for women without children. “A woman who rejects motherhood, who refrains from being around the house, however successful her working life is, is deficient, is incomplete,” he told the audience. In his opinion, a woman should have three kids and having a career should never get in the way of her spending plenty of time with them, the Guardian reports. Erdoğan's conclusion: “Rejecting motherhood means giving up on humanity.”

It would be easy to write this off as the unwoke sentiments of an anti-contraceptionreligious conservative working toward the two-part goal of reinforcing gender difference and boosting his country’s population. Unfortunately, American women are sent what is essentially the same message all the time. While most of our elected officials know better than to voice such ideas openly, our failure to enact family-friendly policies in our government and workplaces reveals assumptions about women that are not so different from those Erdoğan espoused. We don’t have universal affordable childcare or paid leave because of the stubborn, anachronistic belief that mom should be, and can be, home with her children, no matter the situation.

June 5 2016 9:30 PM

Brock Turner’s Father Sums Up Rape Culture in One Brief Statement

In the few days since ex–Stanford swimmer Brock Turner was given a six-month jail sentence for sexually assaulting an unconscious woman, much of the internet’s chatter has converged on a heart-wrenching, beautifully argued, deeply felt statement the woman read to him in court. It’s a devastating account of the survivor’s revictimization during her trial, a powerful indictment of the lighter sentences imposed on white, wealthy sex criminals, and a haunting depiction of how rape culture exerts its influence on college campuses and in courts of law. The victim provided her statement to BuzzFeed News; the page been viewed more than 4 million times since Friday afternoon.

Now, the internet has an opposing letter to read: a defense of Turner reportedly written by his father, Dan. Posted early Sunday morning by Michele Dauber, a Stanford law professor and sociologist who led the school’s revision of its sexual assault policies in recent years, the letter appears to have been written prior to Brock’s sentencing to advocate for probation only, in lieu of any jail time.

The sentence Brock got—six months in county jail and three years of probation—was extraordinarily light; he could have served up to 14 years in state prison. The judge opted for just a few months in jail (the Santa Clara County district attorney predicts he’ll only serve three of the six) because, the judge argued, a prison sentence would “have a severe impact on [Turner].” Turner will also have to register as a sex offender.

That generous decision is an echo of Dan Turner’s letter, which essentially argues that Brock has already suffered enough for his crimes. This piece is a near-perfect complement to the victim’s gripping 7,200-word essay—Dan Turner defends his son with nearly every thin excuse his son’s victim demolishes in her letter; he elevates all the rape-apologist, victim-diminishing tropes she exposes as misogynist garbage.

Dan’s letter begins by describing how his son’s life has been thrown off track by his sexual assault, but never assigns responsibility to Brock, who repeatedly defended himself by saying that the victim enjoyed the assault and even had an orgasm. It’s not “Brock’s sexual assault” or “Brock’s actions” that occurred in January 2015, according to Dan; it’s “the events.” He spends five full sentences discussing Brock’s loss of appetite, as if that’s plenty punishment for his deeds. Perhaps he was trying to avoid the tone-deaf protests put forth by so many other Brock defenders, including the probation officer who helped determine his sentence, who’ve argued that the loss of his swimming scholarship is a major retribution that should figure into his sentence. In her essay, the survivor of Brock’s assault eloquently explains why that’s another symptom of a justice system sick with racial and socioeconomic inequity:

The probation officer weighed the fact that he has surrendered a hard earned swimming scholarship. How fast Brock swims does not lessen the severity of what happened to me, and should not lessen the severity of his punishment. If a first time offender from an underprivileged background was accused of three felonies and displayed no accountability for his actions other than drinking, what would his sentence be?

Later in his letter, Dan Turner writes that jail time is “not the appropriate punishment” for Brock because “he has no prior criminal history and has never been violent to anyone including his actions on the night of Jan 17th 2015.” That is patently untrue. A jury convicted Brock of three violent offenses: assault with intent to commit rape of an intoxicated person; sexually penetrating an intoxicated person with a foreign object; and sexually penetrating an unconscious person with a foreign object. Brock’s victim made a persuasive argument for why Brock’s lack of criminal history is no reason to let him off with a slap on the wrist:

As a society, we cannot forgive everyone’s first sexual assault or digital rape. It doesn’t make sense. The seriousness of rape has to be communicated clearly, we should not create a culture that suggests we learn that rape is wrong through trial and error. The consequences of sexual assault needs to be severe enough that people feel enough fear to exercise good judgment even if they are drunk, severe enough to be preventative.

Dan also furthers the tired, insulting, victim-blaming narrative that holds drunk women responsible for their own sexual assaults when he discusses Brock’s possible future as an anti-drinking activist. “By having people like Brock educate others on college campuses is how society can begin to break the cycle of binge drinking and its unfortunate results,” he writes. The unfortunate results of binge drinking are manifold, but they do not include sexual assault. Brock’s victim writes:

Alcohol is not an excuse. Is it a factor? Yes. But alcohol was not the one who stripped me, fingered me, had my head dragging against the ground, with me almost fully naked. Having too much to drink was an amateur mistake that I admit to, but it is not criminal. … Regretting drinking is not the same as regretting sexual assault. We were both drunk, the difference is I did not take off your pants and underwear, touch you inappropriately, and run away.

Starting an anti-drinking foundation and becoming an anti-drinking activist is something celebrities do to manage their reputations after they incur a DUI; no sane person would expect Brock to devote the rest of his life to fighting teen alcoholism, much less be any good at it. But his father claims that a sole sentence of probation would allow Brock to “give back to society in a net positive way.” Net positive: as in, when the sum of negative consequences of Brock’s sexual assault are combined with the sum of whatever positive influence he could affect with his anti-drinking lectures, the positives outweigh the negatives. Dan Turner is saying that the harm Brock caused by sexually assaulting an unconscious woman and antagonizing her for a year on trial is so minimal, he could more than make up for it by lecturing students about keggers.

But the worst parts of Dan’s letter are his grave mischaracterizations of rape as sex. “[Brock’s] life will never be the one that he dreamed about and worked so hard to achieve. That is a steep price to pay for 20 minutes of action out of his 20 plus years of life,” Dan writes, as if Brock should get special credit for not raping anyone during the first 19 years of his life. Committing sexual assault is not getting “action,” and 20 minutes may have been short for Brock, but it is not a short time for a victim enduring a sexual assault. Brock’s assault was not over when 20 minutes were up—his victim will forever contend with its persistent, damaging consequences. She will pay for his actions for the rest of her life.

Dan, like Brock and his lawyer, deny the very existence of sexual assault by equating it with the kind of casual sex other college students enjoy: “Brock can do so many positive things as a contributor to society and is totally committed to educating other college age students about the dangers of alcohol consumption and sexual promiscuity.” Alcohol did not sexually assault Brock’s victim, and hook-up culture did not threaten her dignity and self-worth. Anonymous, drunken sex did not land Brock in jail. In her letter, Brock’s victim explains the willful ignorance someone must employ in order to conflate sexual assault with casual sex. “It is deeply offensive that [Brock] would try and dilute rape with a suggestion of ‘promiscuity.’ By definition rape is not the absence of promiscuity; rape is the absence of consent,” she writes. “It perturbs me deeply that he can’t even see that distinction.” 

June 3 2016 5:25 PM

Young People Get Nearly Half the Country’s STIs, But Few Get Tested

According to a data analysis published in the May issue of the Journal of Adolescent Health, teens are not getting tested for STIs nearly enough. The study, a reevaluation of information gleaned from a 2013 Get Yourself Tested survey, found that just 11.5 percent of teens and young adults aged 15 to 25 had received an STI test within the previous year.

Out of the 3,953 people included in the sample, 16.6 percent of women had gotten tested, compared to just 6.1 percent of men. Younger teens really skewed those numbers downward: People aged 18 to 25 were far more likely to have taken an STI test (24.3 percent of women; 9.1 percent of men) than teens aged 15 to 17 (6.7 percent of girls; 2.4 percent of boys).

When researchers cut out young people who said they’d never had sex, those numbers improved: 27 percent of young women who’d had sex and 9.8 percent of young men who’d had sex reported getting screened for STIs in the past 12 months. Still, this data is reason for some concern, since people aged 15 to 24 make up almost half of the 20 million annual new STI diagnoses in the U.S.—despite the fact that they only make up a quarter of the sexually active population.

So why aren’t they getting tested? Fear of parental wrath or judgment probably plays a part: People who were completely financially independent from their parents had higher testing rates than those who reported any degree of dependence. Many young people also reported fearing for their privacy, though young men who hadn’t been tested were far more likely than their female peers—60.1 percent to 39.9 percent—to say they’d avoided getting tested for reasons of confidentiality.

Two interesting bits of demographic data: Non-Hispanic black men had the best testing rate among male participants, 15.6 percent, and among female participants, those with an annual household income of less than $50,000 were about 7 points more likely to have gotten tested than those with higher household incomes. As I’ve previously reported, white and rural teens in the U.S. are getting less education about birth control than urban teens and teens of color; it’s possible that STI testing information comes right alongside contraceptive education, and that pregnancy prevention programs targeted at young women in low-income communities include provisions for STI testing. A previous study has suggested that a new push to get teens on long-acting reversible contraception, which has been partially credited with a precipitous drop in the teen birth rate, needs to be better integrated with STI education as teens forgo condoms for more reliable forms of birth control that don’t protect against STIs.

The new numbers suggest two ways to get more young people tested, treated, and using protection. One is better education about risk factors: A full 41.8 percent of young people who’d had sex but never been tested said they just didn’t feel they were at risk of contracting an STI. But medical providers need to get on board with proactive sexual-health care for teens and young adults. A third of sexually experienced, never-tested survey participants offered this explanation for why they’d never gotten tested: Their doctor never brought it up. 

June 3 2016 3:18 PM

Gigi Hadid and Zayn Malik Have Broken Up. Is This Part of a Taylor Swift Conspiracy?

The balance of the universe’s #squadgoals shifted its center of gravity this week as Taylor Swift’s much-discussed cabal of platonic girlfriends lost two male hangers-on/romantic attachés. First, news broke Wednesday that Swift and Adam Wiles, aka Calvin Harris, had ended their 15-month relationship; soon after, Wiles tweeted a gentle goodbye to the romance, saying that “what remains is a huge amount of love and respect.” Swift retweeted it, the internet celebrity equivalent of sitting with an ex at a cafeteria table for all the lunchroom to see.

It only took a day for another Swift squad union to disintegrate. Model Gigi Hadid and former One Direction member Zayn Malik reportedly split after dating for seven months, though a source told E! News they could “likely get back together tomorrow.” That same source claimed that the couple’s been “having some issues lately that involved communication and getting along.” Oh—is that all?! Seems surmountable in a day.

The chances of these two bestie breakups going public in the same week by pure coincidence are vanishingly slim. UpRoxx noted that Lorde and her boyfriend, who dated back to her pre-fame years, also broke up earlier this year—maybe boy toys didn’t figure into Swift’s plans for the perfect summer with her buds. Or maybe Swift decided that if she was going to spend the next season single, all her friends should free themselves to share her misery, then spend Friday nights mugging on the catwalk instead of canoodling or necking or cozying up or whatever it is celebrities do in VIP booths these days.

A more likely explanation is that the planets have finally approached the cosmological alignment set to bring about the Swiftian apocalypse, in which she and her carefully curated army must shed their earthly, convincingly human romances to envelop the solar system in silken-haired authoritarian rule. It is equally possible that Swift has been recruiting dozens like-minded woman-stars to help her advance a wholesome girl-power image, then, on the count of three, release their male captives to become the world’s first uber-mainstream all-female polyamorous dodecahedron.

Multiple sources have scrambled to declare that Harris definitely did not cheat on Swift; they were just “more friends than lovers” (see polyamorous polyhedron theory above) and ended their relationship amicably. But it also appears that Harris couldn’t take the pressure of having a girlfriend who was more famous and universally beloved than him. “[Harris] said on multiple occasions that he was intimidated by Taylor, which is why he would not attend any events where she was being honored, or any award shows unless he was nominated," one of Swift’s friends told People.

That may be why Swift showed up solo to this year’s Met Gala: She was a co-chair, and Harris felt—emasculated? Anxious? Outshone? Overexposed? Hadid attended the event with then-boo Malik, who wore two creaky-looking silver arm warmers. It’s not hard to imagine her whispering with Swift at the bar, mocking Malik’s robot get-up, planning for the day exactly one month hence when they’d break his quivering little Tin Man heart.

June 3 2016 12:11 PM

Planned Parenthood Sues Florida for Banning Medicaid Patients From Getting Care at Its Clinics

Planned Parenthood filed a federal lawsuit against Florida state health officials on Thursday in an effort to head off a defunding bill signed into law in March. The new regulations, set to take effect July 1, would prohibit public funding from being used at any medical facility that performs abortions or is somehow affiliated with abortion providers.

This would effectively block Medicaid patients from seeking health care at any Planned Parenthood location, even if that facility does not offer abortion services. It would also block other public health funding from going toward those facilities; the Gainesville Planned Parenthood, which neither accepts Medicaid nor performs abortions, still stands to lose $30,000 in county support for its breast exams, STI screenings, pap smears, pelvic exams, and contraceptive programs. At other Planned Parenthood facilities and other reproductive health clinics, Medicaid funds for things like birth control and well-woman exams make up a large proportion of their sustaining income. Florida’s law could put many at risk of closure.

Using taxpayer dollars to pay for elective abortions is already illegal; no one is ever able to use Medicaid to obtain one. The only purpose of the new funding restrictions, as the lawsuit states, is “to punish, harass, and stigmatize the state’s abortion providers for their and their patients’ exercise of constitutional rights.” In the suit, Planned Parenthood accuses Florida of violating federal and state guarantees of due process, privacy, and equal protection by singling out abortion providers without any justification other than the state legislature’s objection to a constitutionally secured medical procedure. The suit also takes issue with the new law’s bizarre requirement that the state inspect thousands of private medical records at facilities that provide abortions, giving the Florida government access to specific details of patients’ medical histories, including their HIV status, abortion history, and mental health treatments.

As Slate’s Mark Joseph Stern wrote in April, this targeted attack on Planned Parenthood—along with similar restrictions passed by several other states since last year’s defunding obsession began—violates federal law. Banning Medicaid recipients from using their benefits at specific health centers runs afoul of the Social Security Act’s “free choice provider” provision, which states that people who meet the criteria for Medicaid can get health care at any qualified medical provider. 

Like most abortion restrictions, this one would have an outsized impact on poor women and people of color, who are more likely to rely on Medicaid for basic health care needs and face higher barriers to accessible reproductive health care. In two Florida counties, Planned Parenthood provides almost half of all contraceptive services at health clinics that get public funding, giving low-income patients few, if any, other options to avoid pregnancy. After Texas torpedoed funding for Planned Parenthood in 2011, the birth rate among women who’d previously used publicly funded contraception shot up 27 percent.

“Let’s call this what it is: an attack on people who already have the least access to care, all in the name of politics,” Barbara A. Zdravecky, president and CEO of Planned Parenthood of Southwest and Central Florida, said in a statement. “Lawmakers have gone so far as to claim that women can go to dentists for health care. This goes to show why Florida politicians have no business writing laws about women’s health.”

Florida cannot afford to limit the availability of public funding for reproductive health: It’s already at the top of the list of U.S. cervical cancer and HIV diagnoses, and it’s tied for last place when it comes to statewide women’s health. Imagine what the state could accomplish if it put its tax dollars toward contraception and proven public-health initiatives instead of fighting lawsuits for breaking federal laws.

June 3 2016 9:56 AM

Welcome to the World of #FitMoms, Where Women Are Praised for Their Tiny Baby Bumps

Exercise in America has become an increasingly punishing pastime in recent years. Running a marathon, once king of impressive physical achievements, has been edged out by more brag-worthy endeavors like completing a triathlon or extreme obstacle course race. And the mild dehydration brought on by a hot yoga loses much of its wow factor when compared with the whole-body physical depletion experienced by CrossFitters, who have a reputation for working out until they puke, then continuing to work out. Things have gotten so extreme that people now have few opportunities to advance in this communal game of self-flagellating one-upmanship. One option is alter not the exercise itself, but the state of the person doing it. Enter the Fit Mom.

At New York’s the Cut, Allie Jones looks at the rising phenomenon of the Fit Mom, “a new class of Instagram celebrity made up of expecting and new mothers who work out a lot.” Instagrammers have used the #fitmom hashtag more than 7 million times, and tabloids have turned some of the more prominent moms into minor celebrities with thinspirational stories like “Why This Fit Mom Gained Less Weight During Her Third Pregnancy—with Twins!” and “Forget Sarah Stage—This Super-Fit Mom-to-Be Has Abs of Steel Over Her Pregnant Belly.” (To clarify, Sarah Stage is a woman who merely had a “tiny baby bump” and lacked the rock-solid muscular encasement that Stacie Venagro, the subject of this story, had.)

Time was, women saw the softening and broadening of their midsections as an inevitable and acceptable part of being pregnant. When I was pregnant, I read Vicki Iovine’s still popular and funny—though largely outdated—book The Girlfriend’s Guide to Pregnancy, in which she tells women not to worry about exercising while pregnant. I went with it. Between working, walking my dog, and the various other quotidian demands of an urban bipedal life, I had little additional energy to spare.

But the combination of Instagram (and other social media–enabled methods of visual self-promotion), the ongoing incorporation of motherhood into celebrities’ personal brands, and the intense-exercise craze has created an atmosphere in which pregnant women and new moms are unduly rewarded for staying fit. These include Fit Mom Chontel Duncan, who has 564,000 Instagram followers and is, according to Jones, “famous for having a relatively small belly during pregnancy”; and Hannah Polites, who has 2 million followers and is also best known for “having a relatively small baby bump.” Their fame isn't earned merely by staying active—something most doctors recommend in moderation—but by staying unusually thin.

Like all women, Fit Moms should be able to decide for themselves what kind of exercise and diet regime works best for them while pregnant, as long as it is doctor-approved. These women don’t need us telling them what to do. We also don’t need them telling us what to.

Unfortunately, many of the Fit Moms’ attempts at motivation morph easily into a critique of other women. Last month, Sia Cooper, a Fit Mom who painstakingly chronicled the deflation of her postpartum belly, told People: "We do not have to let ourselves go during pregnancy. If you can help it, help it. You owe it to yourself and your growing baby." Her tone is similar to that of Maria Kang, the infamous and original Fit Mom, who’s still asking women what their “excuse” is for not exercising more.

The language of “letting yourself go” is not benign. Where exactly have these women's selves gone? Nor is the claim that a not-fit-enough mom, by Kang’s standards, is hiding behind her “excuses.” Both assume that all women feel a need to account for the state of their bodies during and after childbirth when we shouldn’t and don’t. While not all Fit Moms are as critical as these two, they all share a taxonomical approach to the female form that pushes women to notice—and resent—bulges they might have never noticed before. (Such behavior has already brought us categorical wonders such as “muffin top,” “thigh gap,” and “chicken wings.” We don’t need more.)

In addition to making women feel terrible, the Fit Mom movement comes with physical risks for our children, too. Exercise during pregnancy is generally seen as perfectly safe, though doing a too-intense workout can reduce blood flow to the baby. Most doctors recommend that women shouldn’t try anything new or more difficult than they're already doing after becoming pregnant—a message the Fit Mom Instagram universe doesn’t adequately communicate. Also, despite what People magazine says, a tiny baby bump can often be cause for concern, not praise. Health officials estimate that 30 percent of women don't gain enough weight during pregnancy, which can lead to an increased risk that the fetus won’t develop properly while in utero and of infant mortality during the first year of life. Another study found that women who gain too little weight during pregnancy may be more likely to have an overweight child—something I can’t imagine many in the Fit Mom community taking kindly to.

June 2 2016 3:38 PM

Study: Men Underestimate How Much Their Wives and Girlfriends Want Sex

Men in long-term relationships tend to underestimate their female partners’ sex drive, new data from two Canadian universities show. A study published last month in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology indicates that the conventional wisdom eternally exploited in sitcom riffs and stand-up routines—that wives are incapable of satisfying their husbands’ gargantuan libidos—may be a figment of the male imagination.

Psychologists from the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario studied 229 North American couples, most of which were heterosexual partnerships. (A few same-gender couples participated, but not enough to produce any statistically significant data.) Research subjects were aged 18 to 68 and had been in their current relationships for an average of six years; they reported having sex about one to two times per week. The members of the couples either visited the lab once to report on their general sexual desire, their perception of their partner’s sexual desire, and their satisfaction with their relationship, or kept a daily three-week diary on those same three factors. Some also reported on their daily level of motivation to evade sexual rejection.

The researchers found that, on a regular basis, men significantly underperceived the degree of their female partners’ sexual desire, while women consistently made accurate judgments about how much their male partners wanted sex. Among diary-keeping couples, on days when men underestimated their female partners’ libido, the women showed higher levels of relationship satisfaction.

This suggests that, whether consciously or not, men might be better partners when they think they have to work for it—in other words, a man will try harder to please his female partner if he thinks she’s not responding to his advances, which keeps him from taking the relationship for granted and getting lazy. Another likely explanation for male sexual underperception: fear of rejection. On days when men reported in their diaries a high level of motivation to avoid sexual rejection, they were more likely to underestimate their partners’ desire for sex, perhaps as a precaution against making advances that could go unreturned.

Socialized beliefs and behaviors could contribute to the perception gap, too. Women may make fewer or subtler sexual overtures that their partners, or, Elizabeth Bernstein suggests at the Wall Street Journal, if a woman knows she has a higher sex drive than her husband in general or on a particular occasion, she may refrain from making a move to avoid embarrassing or emasculating him if he wants to say no.

But there’s a larger, more amorphous barrier to accurate male sex predictions out there: The prevailing notion that women just aren’t that concerned with sex. As Taryn Hillin writes at Fusion:

Consider this—when this study started making news this week, the most common headlines were some variation of “Women are more interested in sex than you think” or “Hey guys, women want sex more often than you think.” These headlines assume that we, the readers, believe women are not interested in sex to begin with, and so this news is somehow shocking.

These framings ignore the fact that women also read news reports and probably already know that all those sitcom gags about sexually uninterested wives don’t match up with the reality of their experiences. As a lump demographic, men report higher sex drives than women, but women’s reports cover a much larger range that varies based on geography and other environmental factors, suggesting that the concept of sex drive is molded by sociocultural forces. Kristen Mark’s June 2015 paper in Current Sexual Health Reports analyzed 31 studies on sexual desire and sex-drive discrepancy in relationships; she found that, in long-term heterosexual partnerships, women and men are equally likely to be the lower-libido member of their couple.

Still, the findings of this new Canadian study were somewhat surprising, because the only previous research on men’s sex-drive perception focused on the situation of a man meeting a woman for the first time or evaluating the sexual interest of a fictional or unknown woman. These studies have reliably shown that men tend to overestimate the sexual interest demonstrated by these women’s behaviors. That explains the circumstances of most overaggressive late-night bar encounters. Taken together, these contradicting trends suggest that when many men try to gauge a partner or potential partner’s desire, they perceive what they want to believe.

June 2 2016 11:56 AM

The U.S. Teen Birth Rate Dropped Again in 2015, Hitting New All-Time Low

The rate of teenage births in the U.S. fell 8 percent in 2015, according to data released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday. This marks eight consecutive years of decline for the rate, which has dropped 46 percent since 2007 and now stands at 22.3 live births per 1,000 teens aged 15 to 19. The steady drop in the U.S. teen birth rate has been largely credited with raising the average age of first-time mothers 1.4 years since 2000.

Brady Hamilton, the CDC study’s author, told STAT that experts haven’t landed on a single explanation for the swift waning of the teen birth rate. One possible—and eminently logical—contributing factor: greater access to birth control. The Affordable Care Act’s passage in 2010 made contraceptives free for insured patients, and since the peak of the teen birth rate in the 1990s, many states have enacted policies that allow underage patients to access contraceptives without parental notification. In the past few years, Colorado and Delaware have launched programs to give free long-acting reversible contraception (such as IUDs and implants) to low-income women and teens who want it; in Colorado, the initiative cut the teen birth rate in half in just six years.

Improved access to contraception is a much more likely explanation for the precipitous drop in the teen birth rate than any change in teen sexual activity, which has fallen since the ’90s but has remained largely stable since 2007. The Obama administration’s rollback of funding for abstinence-only sex education may have had some impact, too, since those programs have been shown to reduce teens’ knowledge of and willingness to use contraception.

Teen births among Hispanic and non-Hispanic black teens have nearly halved in the last decade, though rates in those demographic groups are still twice as high as white teens. Due to the proliferation of programs focused on teaching pregnancy prevention to black and Hispanic teens and the concentration of teens of color in metropolitan areas, where comprehensive sex education remains widely available, teens of color have maintained access to information about birth control. But even with fewer funds going to abstinence-only sex education programs, fewer white and rural teens are learning about contraception now than they did six to 10 years ago. If U.S. legislators want to maintain our teen-birth decline, they should consider aligning their sex-ed funding provisions with the facts.