Archive for 2015

News and Assorted Articles

by Jason Stotts

1. FDA Overturns 30-year Ban on Blood Donations by Gay Men

Well, sort of…

Yesterday, the FDA decided that gay men (or any men who have sex with men) are allowed to donate blood IF they have not had sex with a man in the last 12 months. I guess this is a step in the right direction, but given that tests can screen out any sort of STI’s (which not only men who have sex with men have, obviously), this is still a pretty thin attack on men who have sex with men.

2. Breasts No Longer Considered ‘Nude’, says AGLC

In Alberta Canada, the Alberta Gaming and Liquor Commission (AGLC)  has ruled that breasts are no longer considered “nude”. Interesting.

3. Playboy’s Science Fiction

Did you know that Playboy magazine has a long history with the science fiction genre? Neither did I. This is a really interesting look at it.

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Coffee House Chronicles: Episode 5

by Jason Stotts

I’ve posted about it before, but some of my friends are doing a web-series about the realities of gay dating today. This episode touches on pegging, which as you know I’ve written about before at length (On Pegging & On Pegging 2). I have it on good authority that I may even have had an influence on this particular episode. Anyway, check out the episode and, if you’re interested, my essays on the subject.

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Update on Eros and Ethos

by Jason Stotts

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I’m writing with an update on my forthcoming book Eros and Ethos: A New Theory and Practice of Sexual Ethics. Eros and Ethos is completely written and is in editing now. I’m making great progress with my editors and we hope to have everything ready for publication in the Spring. As we get a little closer, we’ll be setting up a website for the book launch at www.ErosandEthos.com (it’s not live yet). We’ll also announce a firmer publication date and set up a pre-order system.

I’m also planning on doing a limited print of 50 or 100 books that are numbered and signed. They will be available through the Eros and Ethos website. The print version will follow the digital by a couple of weeks. The only way to get one of the limited edition numbered and signed copies will be to get one early. After the initial batch, they’ll be gone forever.

I’m really excited that things are moving so well along! I really can’t wait to share it with you all.

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Porn on Halloween

by Jason Stotts

What kind of porn do people look for around Halloween? According to PornHub, people’s taste in porn goes along with the season:

(Source: PornHub)

They’ve got a lot more data for those who want to find out the details, so check it out.

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Aporia: Pleasure

by Jason Stotts

Aporia (ἀπορɛία): an impasse, puzzlement, doubt, or confusion; a difficulty encountered in establishing the theoretical truth of a proposition, created by the presence of evidence both for and against it.

In this Aporia, I want to inquire into the nature of pleasure. In Eros and Ethos, I made the claim that:

Now, I want to explicitly make the controversial claim that all pleasure operates as an emotion and in response to our antecedent beliefs. By this I mean that our beliefs determine whether we will find any particular action pleasurable. I think that this particular claim must be tempered by the recognition that some things are common to us across all cultures, like comfort, although the particular actions that qualify as “comforting” will vary, sometimes widely, between cultures and so the action that might cause comfort in one culture might not in another. For this reason, I have to insist that pleasure is not innate and that we determine what things will be pleasurable, even if this determination is made culturally and only accepted by us as individuals implicitly through the culture. Human life is so imbued with meaning and that meaning comes from our values, that there is no aspect of this that is not affected, all the way down to our core. Now, of course, I do not mean our sense faculties themselves are affected. Sight is common for us, as long as our faculties are working normally, as is hearing, smell, touch, and taste. But our emotional response to these things after we have identified what we are experiencing will depend on us and our beliefs and values. When we move from pure perception to the conceptual level, we bring our values to bear and we do this immediately, automatically, and whether we wish it or not. And our values determine how we will appraise the thing and how we will respond to it.

This was challenged by my philosophic editor who said that I was conflating our conceptual understanding of pleasure with the physical experience of pleasure. I think he was right to challenge it. But, I’m not sure where to go now.

Consider a case that, a priori, is obviously pleasurable: sex. Sex is pleasurable. I don’t think many people would deny this. Yet, the very same actions that might be pleasurable during consensual sex would not be pleasurable during rape. Or, the exact same action on an unaroused clitoris will feel markedly different than on an aroused clitoris. So, sex is not necessarily or innately pleasurable.

What about warmth in the cold? That’s a pretty simple pleasure that we can all enjoy, right? What about if that warmth comes from the funeral pyre of your child? Is it still going to be a “simple pleasure” then? I have strong doubts that it would.

For every simple pleasure that I consider, I can pretty quickly imagine a case that destroys the pleasure of it.

Now, you might reasonably object that the pleasure is a sensation and that what is happening here is that we feel a sensation which can be innately pleasurable, but then our conceptual and emotional framework comes to bear and that ex post facto changes the simple pleasure: that our emotional or conceptual framework is overwriting the simple pleasure or editing it.

I’m not sure that this works. The woman being raped in the dark alley isn’t feeling first pleasure, but then thinking that she would rather not be raped right now. Her terror and pain are experienced immediately and without any intervening experience. She does not experience pleasure and then it changes to pain: she experiences pain and terror.

This is part of the rub: emotions are experienced immediately and as primaries. If there is such a thing as a simple pleasure, then how can we reconcile this with our knowledge that some things can be pleasurable in one context, but not another?

This all is not to say that I don’t, too, feel the pull of the idea of a simple pleasure: warmth when I’m cold, food when I’m hungry, or comfort when I hurt. But, even so, I can’t reconcile this with the knowledge that it matters quite a bit how these things are given to me: I wouldn’t seek solace for my wife’s murder from her murderer and I damned sure wouldn’t feel pleasure at any comfort he might try to give me.

So, where do we go from here?

We could create an account of “natural pleasures” that are common to all humans…except those who have had certain experiences or hold certain beliefs or are in certain contexts. But, that’s a pretty weird sense of “natural.”

Or, we could acknowledge that pleasure is an emotion and responds to our context, our beliefs, and the totality of our experience: that the idea of a simple pleasure is simply illusory.

I really don’t know. But, I’m leaning towards a more complex conception of pleasure that captures the way it seems to work in the real world.

—Update—

After some more thinking about this issue and discussions about it with various people, I think I’m getting a better grasp of it (not that I would say I have it completely figured out).

A friend on facebook pointed out that infants probably do have this kind of unmitigated pleasure and I think that’s probably right. These “simple pleasures” might be something we share with all other animals as infants, but once our minds start to develop, then we no longer have them. This may also be the way that instincts work: we have them as children, but we do not as adults (adults frequently override “instincts” from childhood and erase them). There seems to be some sort of transition from the pre-conceptual mental framework that has merely pleasure and pain to the fully conceptual framework that also includes the emotions and the like. During the transition, our ability to experience pleasure without our conceptual apparatus entirely disappears.

I don’t believe that a normally constituted adult can experience pleasure without his conceptual framework. Let’s look at a couple of examples that I think might help.

Case 1: Let us say that a man takes a sip out of a glass marked “ethylene glycol” and finds that it takes sweet and feels pleasure at this. Now, let us imagine that someone rushes to him and says: “You fool! That’s anti-freeze and it’s very poisonous! We need to get you to a hospital at once or you’re going to die.” Will the man still feel pleasure? Assuredly not. The pleasure will be instantly gone and it will be replaced with disgust and fear.

Case 2: Let us imagine the same man sees a glass and it’s marked “anti-freeze (DANGER! POISON!).” Will he be likely to pick it up and drink it? No. Let us say that he is forced to drink it in order to save the life of his family. Will be feel pleasure drinking it? No, he will not. Even though it will still be sweet, it will not be pleasurable.

Case 3: Let us imagine a man who’s grown up in a place where he never had anything sweet. His diet has consisted of nothing but meat, vegetables, tubers, and the like. He has never had sugar or sweets. Now, imagine you find this man and you hold out to him a hard candy made entirely of sugar. Let us say that you tell him nothing at all about it (perhaps he doesn’t have language), but you mime putting it in your mouth and he does so. We might expect him to feel pleasure at tasting the sweetness of the sugar, but that’s not likely. Because this man would never have experienced anything like the hard candy, his mind will not know how to process it and won’t know how to respond to it: it would be a cognitive blank to him. In all likelihood, he would spit it out and be concerned about what it was. Now, instead, let us say that you had been able to communicate that it was food and it tasted good to set his expectations. He will then likely experience it as sweet and maybe feel pleasure at it. However, in this case, you primed his response with the fore-knowledge you gave him.

When we don’t have any frame of reference for a thing, when we experience something completely novel as an adult, we do not experience simple pleasures. Rather, we are cautious and try to find out more information about what it is and what it does. Our brains and bodies are simply not constituted such that we have any affective experiences outside of our conceptual framework.

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Assisted Suicide Now Legal in California

by Jason Stotts

The governor of California, Jerry “Moonbeam” Brown, has recently made the right choice to sign into law a bill that makes it legal for physicians to prescribe lethal doses of drugs for people who are terminally ill and still mentally competent to make the choice to die (LA Times). This is a great step forward for advocates of individual liberty, because there are few crueler fates than being forced to stay alive to suffer before death merely to appease someone else’s religious preferences.

This bill was made possible by Brittany Maynard, who advocated for physician assisted suicide and made headlines as she made this choice herself. Her death was a catalyst for the debate and her struggle really made it possible.

I’m very pleased in this positive movement for individual liberty and autonomy.

On the other hand, the governor also vetoed a bill that would have allowed patients to try experimental medications that have not received governmental approval yet in a bid to try to prevent their death. This is a tragedy and shows a deep lack of principle of Brown’s part. What difference does it make to the man who is dying of a terminal disease if a drug that may save his life may also kill him? The man will die anyway, he should be given the chance to fight for his life if he wishes to. Moreover, these brave people would also help to move forward medical science and help others who may be in the same position later.

So, while there was a significant win for individual liberty, there was also a setback. Overall, if we keep pushing these issues on the underlying principles, we shall keep seeing victories (like my friend Alex Epstein shows).

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Coffee House Chronicles: Episode 4: Perfect Present

by Jason Stotts

Some of my friends are doing a really funny webseries called “Coffee House Chronicles” about gay dating today. It’s really funny and addresses real issues. Check it out!

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News and Other Interesting Things

by Jason Stotts

1. Scientists Celebrate the Weird World of Animal Genitalia

Have you ever wondered what penises look like throughout the animal kingdom? Well, it’s your lucky day. (NSFW? Article on WaPo; more on Twitter)

2. How Many Scientists Does It Take to Write a Paper? Apparently, Thousands 

In less than a decade, Dr. Aad, who lives in Marseilles, France, has appeared as the lead author on 458 scientific papers. Nobody knows just how many scientists it may take to screw in a light bulb, but it took 5,154 researchers to write one physics paper earlier this year—likely a record—and Dr. Aad led the list. (WSJ)

The culture of “publish or perish” in academia has become completely absurd. Academics are forced to spend so much time trying to publish, even on trivial minutia, that they are unable to do real research or focus on their teaching. When you combine this with the fact that students are allowed to judge their professors and this is their only evaluation, you get a terrible mix of pandering professors who care more about what people think of them than they do about the truth.

3. Take My Wife, Please: The Rise of Cuckolding Culture

For those unfamiliar with cuckolding as sexual fetish, try to recall high-school English, and more specifically, Geoffrey Chaucer’s reference to cuckolds in The Canterbury Tales. The traditional Middle English meaning of the word — a man with an adulterous wife — echoes the modern-day fetish: “One cannot be a cuckold if not wed. But I do not therefore asperse your bed; few are the wives who make their husbands sad, a thousand good for every one that’s bad.”

The glaring difference? Dozens of cuckold websites affirm that today’s cucks aren’t just standing helplessly by. They’re begging well-endowed men to have sex with their insatiable wives. (Nerve)

This article isn’t new, but it does a great job of discussing the rise of cuckolding and hotwifing. On the other hand, I actually disagree with the article’s use of “cuckold” and “hotwife.” I think of cuckolding as typically involving humiliation play and/or submission, whereas hotwifing is more of a celebration of feminine sexuality.

4. Olympian to Escort

Suzy Favor Hamilton says she was always just a nice girl from Wisconsin.

Widely celebrated for her athletic pursuits throughout the late 1990s and early 2000s, the nine-time NCAA champion and former Olympic middle-distance runner appeared to be the quintessential example of all-American womanhood. Then she fell on the track during the 2000 Summer Olympics, bringing an abrupt close to her running career.

In the following decade, Hamilton struggled to build a new life without sports. She juggled running a real estate business with her college sweetheart, Mark, with making personal appearances on the former Olympian circuit. After giving birth to her daughter, Hamilton was diagnosed with postpartum depression and prescribed Zoloft, which immediately improved her mood. She felt like she was on top of the world.

Then, just before Christmas 2012, she was outed as a high-end Las Vegas escort. (LINK)

This is a really interesting article about a former olympian who turned to sex work. Her story about bipolar and mania might be completely true, but it also feels a little bit like an excuse for enjoying sex work and needing to explain it away. Either way, it’s an interesting story.

5. The Victims of Cameroon’s Horrific Breast Ironing Tradition

“Breast ironing” is the Cameroonian custom of massaging young girls chests with hot tools—spatulas and pestles being the most common—in an attempt to flatten their developing breasts. This is done with the intention of postponing their first sexual relationships by making their bodies less attractive to men. Parents often fear that the girls won’t finish their education if they meet a man and become pregnant.

For the most part, the flattening is carried out by female family members, either at home or with the assistance of a healer. The process begins as soon as the girls hit puberty—for some, that means as early as eight years old. The consequences of this can be disastrous for the victims’ health—cysts, breast cancer, and breastfeeding issues are all common, not to mention the abundance of psychological consequences linked to the practice. According to a 2011 GIZ report, one out of every ten Cameroonian girls has been subjected to breast ironing. (NSFW – LINK)

There are so many more kinds of genital mutilation than penile (“circumcision”) or vulval. In fact, if you look hard enough, you can find mutilation of basically every body part for sexual reasons.

This is the interesting story of breast mutilation and the culture that condones and engages in it.

6. In This Remote Village, Some Boys Don’t Grow a Penis Until They’re 12

Puberty can be an awkward time for anybody, but spare a thought for the Guevedoce children of the Dominican Republic, who literally appear to change their sex when they hit adolescence.

As covered by Michael Mosely in the new BBC series, Countdown to Life: The Extraordinary Making of You, the remarkable case of the Guevedoces is a condition that affects just over 1 percent of the boys born in Salinas, a remote village lying in the southwest of the Dominican Republic.

Guevedoces (literal translation “penis at 12”) – who are also called “machihembras”, meaning “first a woman, then a man” – appear to be completely female at birth and are brought up to be little girls.

“When they’re born, they look like girls with no testes and what appears to be a vagina,” writes Mosely for The Telegraph. “It is only when they near puberty that the penis grows and testicles descend.” (LINK)

This is the first I’ve heard about this and I find it incredibly interesting. I’m really not sure what implications to draw from this, but I do think that it shows the incredible power of puberty over the body and this may have implications for the debate around transsexualism, although I’m not sure if I understand how yet. If you’re interested more in the condition that causes this, check out this wikipedia page on it: 5-alpha-reductase deficiency.

6. Intelligent Machines: Call for a Ban on Robots Designed as Sex Toys

A campaign has been launched calling for a ban on the development of robots that can be used for sex.

Such a use of the technology is unnecessary and undesirable, said campaign leader Dr Kathleen Richardson.

Sex dolls already on the market are becoming more sophisticated and some are now hoping to build artificial intelligence into their products.

Those working in the field say that there is a need for such robots. (LINK)

This whole article seems ridiculous. A robot that is not self-aware is no different from a dildo in moral status. If robots ever have consciousness and self-awareness, then we need to have a different conversation about what kinds of rights robots would have (if any).

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