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Here’s the fascinating issue with duck sex. Ducks are different from most birds in the fact that male ducks have a penis, analogous with the mammalian or human penis. And the fact that ducks still have a penis allows them to force copulation in ways that are unavailable to other birds.
Unpaired males will attempt to force copulation during the egg-laying season. There are even socially organized groups of males pursuing females to force copulation. This is really physically harmful for the female ducks. They are stressed out. They fly away, dive, and do everything they can to avoid it. Sometimes they even drown because ducks often copulate in the water.
Patricia Brennan and I, and other colleagues, started studying this about 10 years ago. We were interested both in how the very large penis of the duck functions and how that is related to this violent sexual coercion. What we discovered was that some duck species evolved ribbed and even thorny penises. Very bizarre stuff! [Laughs]
Co-evolving with that are a series of innovations in vaginal structures that include dead ends, cul-de-sacs, or spirals. The male penis is counterclockwise coiled, and the female vagina in species with large penises is clockwise coiled.
We hypothesize that it functions literally as an “anti-screw” device, to prevent penetration during forced copulation. This is confirmed by genetic evidence. When forced copulation is as high as 50 percent, only 2-5 percent of the offspring are from extra-pair males, or forced copulation. That means these ducks have a 98 percent effective contraceptive device in their bodies!
The females are still incurring all the risk and damage of resistance. But, in the face of violence, they are maintaining control over who is fertilizing their eggs.
It was in 2013, during one of the ritual political squabbles over wasteful government spending, instigated by conservative news sources. I assume an enterprising intern or journalist at one of these websites found our National Science Foundation grant to do research on duck penises and turned it into news. Suddenly, we were being discussed on Fox News by Sean Hannity and his colleagues, and across the media. We had good defense from other folks in the media, but people were shocked to discover that their tax dollars were going to study the evolution of duck genitalia. What they didn’t know is that it is really fascinating!
When Darwin wrote On the Origin of Species he had no theory of genetics. He also had no theory or, at least, delayed a proposal about the evolution of human beings. He also had no real working theory for the evolution of beauty or, as he called it, “impracticable beauty”—beauty that served no purpose in survival. He went back to Down House, cogitated for a decade or more and came up with a second book, Descent of Man, in 1871.
At this point he was already world-famous for the idea of natural selection and so this new book caused a huge stir. He knew lots of people were sympathetic, but he knew that he was going to be working with very touchy subjects: human origins, human sexuality, and sexuality in general. He wrote a very long and granular book, with lots of nitty-gritty detail, which proposed sexual selection as an independent mechanism of evolution.
It had two components. One was competition within one sex, for control or access to the other sex, usually male competition. The other was choice of mates by the other sex, which could be female choice, mutual mate choice, or male mate choice, depending on the species. His idea that male competition, in particular, was a force in evolution, was a great sell in Victorian England. The other idea, of mate choice—and female mate choice in particular—was a bomb.
Even his biggest supporters didn’t buy it. People were concerned that he was attributing cognitive complexity to animals that they couldn’t possibly have. The other was the notion of female willfulness: The idea of females choosing mates on the basis of sensory information, in a licentious way, was very threatening! Some of the original criticism of the idea even attacked the concept as a sign of moral corruption.
The idea that was banished was Darwin’s original proposal for mate choice, which was explicitly aesthetic. He thought animals choose their mates because of the pleasure they have in observing and selecting them, and that was an explicit explanation for why ornaments in nature are beautiful. They’re beautiful because they’re beautiful to the animals themselves.
In bowerbirds, for example, females have used choice preferences to make males less aggressive and more amenable. Female bowerbirds do all the work: They build the nest, lay the eggs, care for the young. But they need to choose a mate.
They do so based on the quality and beauty of a bower. Males build a bower, which is like a seduction theater where courtship takes place. In addition, the male goes out and finds a bunch of beautiful things, like flowers or butterflies or white stones, and makes a big array of interesting stuff.
When the female comes to visit, the architecture of the bower is attractive, but also protective. It allows her a refuge so that she can get intimately close to the male and watch him strut his stuff while being protected from being forcibly copulated by the male.
There are these things called “avenue bowers.” The famous satin bowerbird has two parallel walls. She sits between the walls looking forward at him and his stuff. If he wants to copulate, he has to go around the bower to the back and mount her. But if she doesn’t like it, if she’s not ready or wants to keep looking, she just pops out the front.
This is shown in bowerbirds: Females receive dramatic and even violent displays because those displays are stimulating and because the females can keep their autonomy intact. That applies perfectly well to humans, as well. The problem with humans is that they’ve mostly been described as having evolved through natural selection or male-male competition. There has been very little role for the concept of mate choice—particularly female mate choice—in the evolution of humans.
Having done all this work on birds I became intrigued how some of these ideas about mate choice and sexual autonomy were providing fascinating and interesting explanations for the origin of social and sexual behavior in humans. Male primates, for the most part, have deadly weapons in their faces, in the form of large canine fangs that sharpen themselves on the pre-molars of the lower jaw as they chew. Our immediate relatives, chimpanzees and gorillas, have prominent canine teeth in the males, which females lack.
The question is: Under what conditions did human males give up these weapons? The proposal is that, taking a lesson from bowerbirds, human mate choice may have preceded in a similar way. By making weapons like fangs unsexy, females could expand their capacity to get mates they like. There’s lots of data showing that the biggest, burliest, and hairiest are not actually preferred by females.
My former student at Cornell, Kim Bostwick, showed that, in order to make those sounds, the wing bones of the male are enormous, particularly the trailing bone of the hind wing, where the wing feathers are attached. They’re also solid, like ivory. That’s amazing! Even T-Rex has a hollow ulna bone. That’s how ancient this property is.
In order to make sounds, the wing bones of the male manakin have been transformed into a structure serving both flight, as in all birds, but also attracting a mate—to sing a song. We’ve recently discovered that female wing bones have also been transformed. They are not solid, but they are 3-4 times wider than wing bones of closely related species of manakin. So, by selecting males for the songs they prefer, females have transformed their wings into a form that doesn’t fly so well, which is, I think, a kind of evolutionary decadence.
The whole species has become less fit for survival because of this aesthetic elaboration. If you adopt the aesthetic, Darwinian view of nature, the beauty of bird song and plumage is the result of 10,000 different standards of beauty evolving over this complicated history of mate choice. That prospect is something that has motivated my research over the last years and is one of the primary thrills I’m eager to communicate in the book.
95 percent of the victims of violence are men. Because women feel flattered when men fight each other and kill each other to prove that they are real men.
A young Saudi was arrested for forcing unemployed women and girls seeking jobs to practice prostitution after luring them to his house claiming he was a recruitment officer of a company, local media reported, quoting a statement from the Commission for the Promotion of Virtue and Prevention of Vice, or Haia.
The defendant reportedly convinced the girls that he was the hiring official in a company and, upon contact he asked them to come to his house claiming it was the women’s section of the alleged company.
He then forced them to have sexual intercourse, filmed the act and made them join prostitution rings by blackmailing them saying he would expose their pictures if they refused, the media reported.
Earlier, the Haia office in Riyadh received a notification from one of the victims who furnished Haia officials with the evidence to prove her claims.
The Haia officials then tracked down the accused, who offered resistance and tried to flee but was eventually arrested.
The man confessed to the crime and several others he had committed with girls, the media said.
A surgeon claims to have carried out the first head transplant on a monkey ahead of plans to attempt the controversial procedure on a human by the end of next year.
Italian Professor Sergio Canavero, Director of the Turin Advanced Neuromodulation Group and researchers at Harbin Medical University in China posted pictures of the creature whose head appears to have been grafted onto the body of another animal.
Stitches can clearly be seen surrounding the neck, which looked to be entirely severed.
According to Prof Canavero, the team led by Xiaoping Ren, connected the blood supply to prove that the animal could survive without suffering brain injury. They have not yet attempted to join the spinal cords so if the animal survived it would be completely paralysed.
“The monkey fully survived the procedure without any neurological injury of whatever kind,” says Prof Canavero, but said it was only kept alive for only 20 hours after the procedure for ethical reasons.
Ren has also tested some experiments on human corpses.
“We’ve done a pilot study testing some ideas about how to prevent injury,” he said.
The experiments are reported in a set of seven papers which are due to be published in the journals Surgery and CNS Neuroscience and Therapeutics. The papers also claim to have shown that spine fusion technology developed by Canavero ‘has a strong rationale’ and works in mice allowing them to recover motor function. The team claims that crucial nerve fibers regrew.
A press release ahead of the publication said: “A full monkey head transplant has been successfully accomplished by Prof Ren’s group in China with the goal of testing cross-circulation and hypothermia as an effective neuroprotective strategy.
“The first studies on human cadavers have already begun in China and will be expanded shortly.
"The plan for the first human head transplant is on schedule, towards its expected date of realization, Christmas 2017. “
Canavero shocked the world last year when he said that he would be ready to transplant a human head within two years. He wants the first patient to be 31-year-old Russian, Valery Spriridonov, who has a genetic muscle-wasting disease.
Spriridonov, the Russian patient, will only be able to receive a new body in Russia, which will require a commitment from Russian authorities.
It is claimed that initial talks with Russian surgeons have already taken place and the team are hoping to approach Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg for finance.
In the meantime, Vietnam has offered itself to host future head transplants.
“I would say we have plenty of data to go on,” said Prof Canavero. “It’s important that people stop thinking this is impossible. This is absolutely possible and we’re working towards it.”
However the fact that the team has press released their work before it has been published an peer reviewed has left some scientists anxious about the validity of their claims.
“It’s science through public relations,” Arthur Caplan, a bioethicist at New York University School of Medicine told New Scientist.
“When it gets published in a peer-reviewed journal I’ll be interested. I think the rest of it is BS.”
Thomas Cochrane, a neurologist at Harvard Medical School’s Centre for Bioethics, also told the magazine Canavero’s press release was unorthodox. “It’s frowned upon for good reason,” he said.
“It generates excitement before excitement is warranted. It distracts people from actual work that everyone can agree has a valid foundation. As far as I can tell, that operation has mostly been about publicity rather than the production of good science.”
“If the so-called head transplant works, this is going to open up a whole new science of spinal cord trauma reconstruction,” says Michael Sarr, editor of the journal Surgery and a surgeon at the Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota. “
We are most interested in spinal cord reconstruction using head transplantation as a proof of principle. Our journal does not necessarily support head transplantation because of multiple ethical issues and multiple considerations of informed consent and the possibility of negative consequences of a head transplant.”
THE Euro2016 is coming to its end. Fans are awaiting its climax with all eyes on Portugal’s Cristiano Ronaldo to create yet another orgasmic magic! Portugal will meet France in the finale.
J. Donald Walters, better known as Kriyananda, the founder of worldwide movement of spiritual international community once said: “Happiness is not a brilliant climax to years of grim struggle and anxiety. It is a long succession of little decisions simply to be happy in the moment.”
My question is: “When it comes to sex, will many successions of climax be damaging for the ultimate happiness?”
We address the concerns from one diabetic reader who is troubled by the parental warning of “too much sex is bad for you!” Is this a fact or fiction?
Dear Dr G,
My name is Kee. I am 26 years old and has been a diabetic since I was 15.
Since the diagnosis of my diabetes, I have been very cautious of my health.
I exercise regularly and have my diabetes under check on a regular basis.
I have a brilliant doctor who checks my diabetes.
She has also advised that I see the heart, eye, foot and diet doctors regularly.
The team of healthcare professionals has been keeping a close eye on me since my adolescent years.
I recently encounter a very strange problem.
Although I can maintain erection for sexual intercourse, I noticed the amount of semen ejaculated is diminishing in the last two years.
I went back to my endocrinologist and he told me it is associated with the diabetes and the condition may be irreversible.
I feel very sad as I worry I may not be able to father a child in the future.
Do you think my follow-up should include a urologist?
Can you tell me what is my problem? How do we confirm this?
I also cannot help in thinking this is related to my frequent “self-indulgence”.
Do you think I have simply run out of seeds?
Type I diabetes is essentially a medical condition characterised by the diminished production of insulin following the destruction of cells in the pancreas.
Compared to the type II diabetes, this condition is more acute in its onset and tends to have higher prevalence in younger age groups.
Although the exact mechanisms of both diabetes are believed to be different, the medical complications faced by sufferers are usually the same.
As type I diabetic patients tend to present as young adults, the possibilities of diabetic related problems are more likely to occur over a longer interval.
Because of lifetime risks of complications, the sufferers have been “coached” to take charge of the condition seriously from an early age.
The common destruction of organs in diabetic patients include neuropathy (destruction of nerves), retinopathy (destruction of retina), vasculopathy (destruction of vessels), cardiomyopathy (destruction of heart) and nephropathy (destruction of kidneys).
As the condition results in so many “opathies”, this warrants the involvements of a team of “ologists”.
A multi-disciplinary team comprising an endocrinologist, cardiologist, podiatrist and dietitian controls the stringent monitoring.
However, such facility is commonly lacking in many institutions, as such cautions are often not part of diabetic care among adults.
Although urologists are not part of the team of specialists participating in the care, the specialist involvement during the sexually active age is often encouraged.
The most common diabetes related problem is undoubtedly erectile dysfunction. Often times, the “heart” doctor also take on the roles as the “hard” doctor.
However, when patients encounter more complex problems such as recurrent urinary tract infections and infertility, early interventions from a urologist can ensure better outcome in patient care.
Type I diabetic patients may face the issues of retrograde ejaculation, or commonly known as dry orgasm, following the destruction of the parasympathetic nerve system that is responsible for the contraction of relevant muscles to ensure the propulsion of semen forward.
The sufferers will notice the diminishing amount and the “power” of ejaculation during climax. Some may even describe the lessening of the intensity of orgasm.
Although the intensity of climax is difficult to quantify, the diagnosis of retrograde ejaculation can easily be established with a bit of coordinated efforts, with the microscopic examination of the urine immediately after sexual climax.
Many sexual dysfunctions are often associated with guilt and sufferers tend to reflect on the “damage” caused by too much sex or masturbations.
There is no evidence to suggest too much ejaculation can result in semen “drying up”.
The bad news - there is no effective treatment available to reverse retrograde ejaculation. But the good news - the sperms swimming in the urine are often “alive and kicking” and mostly suitable for test-tube babies.
Although the diminishing climax may be a cause of misery for Kee, keeping healthy will hopefully continue to bring happiness for him in years to come.
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