Posts Tagged ‘sex’


Y Chromosome Differentiation 180 Million Years Old

24 April 2014

Just published in Nature is a study revealing the origins of maleness in mammals. The team of Prof. Henrik Kaessmann at the Center for Integrative Genomics and the Swiss Institute of Bioinformatics concludes that the key male-differentiating features in the Y chromosome appeared 180 million years ago in placentals and marsupials with the arrival of the sex-determining gene, SRY. Curiously, the AMHY gene, performing the same function in monotremes, appeared independently 175 million years ago. In other words, testicles have been around for a good long while, but not as long as one might have imagined.

The study, which required 29,500 computing hours, was done by isolating special Y chromosome genes among fifteen mammalian species. It is the largest study of the Y chromosome to date. More information can be found in the current issue of Nature or here.


The Other Woman

16 April 2014

My wife and I saw yet another ad for the revenge-flick, The Other Woman. In it a woman discovers her boyfriend is cheating on her. He has another girlfriend and, as it turns out, a wife. The three become conspirators, gleefully torturing the adulterous man, usually through demeaning sexual pranks.

I told my wife that men would never be able to get away with that sort of thing, making a movie about systematically humiliating a libido-driven woman in such ways.

But I was wrong. That’s the script of most every porno ever made.


Tall and Bearded: Augustine on the Resurrected Male Body

5 March 2010

Early Christian theologians were concerned to maintain a real sense of continuity between this life and the next.  If the resurrection of the flesh meant that the male/female differentiation was erased, then it stood to reason that men and women should downplay their gendered characteristics here in their earthly life.  That was not an option for those trying to preserve a gendered hierarchy.  Patristics scholars have done work on what how the theological argument was addressed toward women.   I want to offer a few ideas on the resurrected male body in Augustine’s City of God.

Augustine of Hippo in the 5th century addressed the doctrine of the resurrection of the flesh, which was widely held in Christian communities but still considered scandalous by many.  In book 22 of City of God he addresses many of these objections and misconceptions, including the idea that the resurrection would mean an elimination of maleness and femaleness.  Not so, says the bishop.  They retain their bodies, including the genitals and basic bodily features.

One preserved feature of the male body is its size.  Augustine defends the resurrection of infants and children, claiming that God will fulfill their full bodily stature according to the “seminal principle” in them (22.13-15).  They will be raised in the full bloom of youth, around age thirty perhaps, after the model of Christ.  But does that imply that all be raised after the pattern of Christ in a very literal sense, viz., Jesus’ exact size?  Men and women would then all be the same height and weight.  Augustine does not allow this, claiming that the preservation of the fleshly material in the resurrection will not permit men with large mass to be raised without their full stature (22:14).  They will, presumably, be taller than women.  The sheer physical ratio is kept in the eschaton.

Beauty is also valued prized by Augustine, and he mentions male bodies as possessing this beauty in a very ornamental way.  Women’s bodies will be beautiful too, beautiful in a way that “excites praise” rather than lusts (22:17).  Their breasts and vaginas and wombs will be aesthetically pleasing in a pure way, not desired for pleasure or function.  Nevertheless, it seems that Augustine highlights even more strongly men’s bodies as those possessing beauty.  In particular, men are raised with their nipples and beards and rough skin (22.24).  Since these features do not serve any real function, thus unnecessary to the human constitution (as proved by the fact that women’s bodies are different), nipples and beards and rough skin are to be understood as ornamental, as beautiful adjuncts to the resurrection body. 

In short, the male body in Augustine’s vision of the resurrection holds onto key masculine features.  Whether the basic size of the male body or its decorative aspects, it is to be raised powerful and beautiful, and celebrated as distinctly male.


Sexually Ambiguous 800m Champion under Investigation

26 August 2009

After her impressive victory in the 800m at the World Championships last week, crushing the competition by a good two seconds, South African teenager Caster Semenya was rewarded with a gold medal – and an investigation into whether or not she is female.


This is, of course, not unheard of. Ever since people found out that Stella Walsh, the 100m Olympic champion in 1932, had ambiguous genitalia, sporting boards have kept an eye out for this sort of thing.

Very rarely does a man pose as a woman athlete. Much more common are abnormalities in the determination of one’s sex, either because of chromosomal disorders, overproduction of androgens, non-responsiveness to certain hormones, or other conditions which result in some degree of intersex identity. Very occasionally a woman will find out, often in the midst of fertility testing, that she in fact has an XY combination. I recommend Mary Stewart Van Leeuwen’s My Brother’s Keeper for a good summary of just how many things have to be working normally in order for the XY chromosome pair to result in clearly expressed male physiology.

But that’s not what interests me about this case. It’s more the reaction of the South African athletic federation, Leonard Chuene. He was furious that the sex-testing procedure had been made public, and rightly so. That’s a pretty big breach of confidentiality in the sporting world. But Chuene was also indignant about the test being run at all, saying that there was no basis for it – then going so far as to claim that racism was behind the inquiry: “It would not be like that if it were some young girl from Europe,” Chuene told The Associated Press by telephone. “If it [sic] was a white child, she would be sitting somewhere with a psychologist, but this is an African child.” At a news conference he spewed the same accusation: “We are not going to allow Europeans to describe and define our children.”

Think about how fascinating this is. Chuene is defending his own masculine pride through nationalist posturing – over the issue of an athlete who looks insufficiently feminine. Is he trying to appear more assertive and masculine than Semenya? And why does he feel so obligated to defend her at all costs? Is this also a tactic to “feminize” her, by playing to her youth, making her appear helpless and unable to speak for herself?

Moreover, Chuene describes sex as a matter of a society’s authority to “describe and define.” This is a considerable claim. Scholarship in the twentieth century, from Margaret Mead to Julia Kristeva, explained how gender is a matter of social construction. Only recently have intersex peoples (formerly called hermaphrodites) contended for the non-objectivity and pliability of sex itself. Calling into question the basic binary between male and female pulls the carpet out pretty much from under every society. Which is strange that it’s being declared from the mouth of Chuene, who strikes me as – oddly enough – patriarchal and paternalistic.

For the record, I’m not willing to concede the category of sex simply because of the possibility of biological variance. Neither will the World Championships athletic committee either, I’m sure.


Adultery as Religion

1 June 2009

The most disturbing religious song I have ever heard comes from the despondent singer-songwriter David Bazan, a.k.a. Pedro the Lion.  Entitled “Rapture,” it describes an adulterous sex scene of the album’s tragic character, a man plummeting into a whirling pool of self-destruction.

     This is how we multiply
     Pity that it’s not my wife
     The friction and skin
     The trembling sigh
     This is how bodies move
     With everything we could lose
     Pushing us deeper still
     The sheets and the sweat
     The seed and the spill
     The bitter pill yet undiscovered

The raunchiness of the scene can’t be stopped, however.  The dissonant chords drive on, paving over any possible voice of conscience along the way.

     Gideon is in the drawer
     Clothes scattered on the floor
     She’s arching her back
     She screams for more

The Bible left by the Gideons remains untouched.  In its place is the illicit affair, raised to the level of religion.  The throes of orgasmic passion are not unlike that of an ancient sex cult:

     Oh, my sweet rapture
     I hear Jesus
     Calling me home

Even after the song rises into a climax and collapses, the whole thing begins again, as if to emphasize the wallowing in depravity. 

darkbedA digression: I remember hearing a presenter at the Men & Masculinity Conference from over a decade ago, claiming that men, having been told to restrain emotional expression in so many areas of their lives, turn to sex as the sole outlet for their passion.  Making love – nay, fucking – for men has been baptized as the emotional activity par excellence.  Sigmund Freud came a similar conclusion a century before, that the anxiety of men built up by self-suppression needs a release, and in that release one experiences the (feminine) religious sensation of oneness with the universe.  I wonder if there isn’t an analogue to the male experience in Christianity, that with a subtle prohibition against forms of religious intimacy with God or anyone else, Christian men go looking for release elsewhere.  Whole new bastard religions get born.  Remember how Bishop J.A.T. Robinson testified at the “Lady Chatterley trial” in 1960, claiming that Christians should be able to appreciate the sacredness of sex, even if that erotic awareness is found outside marriage? 

For Pedro the Lion’s adulterer, the voice of Christ is lost in the demonic act.  The thrill of Christian marital fidelity has been supplanted by the idolatrous drama.  Or has it?  Bazan concludes the song with a final, surging refrain:

     Oh, my sweet rapture
     I hear Jesus and the angels singing
     Calling me to enter the promised land