Riba Rambles:
Musings of a Mental Magpie

About the author: Elisabeth in early 2007, photo by Todd Belf
Elisabeth "Lis" Riba is an infovore with an MLS. This is her place to share whatever's on her mind, on topics both personal and political. [more]
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Friday, November 28, 2003
Oh cool!
Posted by Lis Riba at 2:30 PM

For auction on December 11th: a 20-sided die: from the 2nd Century. Makes me wish for ludicrous wealth. And if anybody was looking for a Hannukah gift for me... [seen on jadasc's journal.]

Thanksgiving was good. Spent with my in-laws, as usual. Most disturbing thing had to be the cake Auntie Ellen brought. Usually Thanksgiving ends with a bunch of our cousins heading off to the movies. Unfortunately, too many absences this year, so that didn't happen. Instead, on the way home, we stopped at the video store and grabbed Lilo & Stitch and the 1991 Robin Hood starring Patrick Bergen and Uma Thurman. Really well done film. It was made the same time as Kevin Costner's, so didn't get as wide a release. I discovered it thru friends in the SCA, and it really plays up the Norman vs. Saxon issues. Also, Uma Thurman is wonderfully sassy as Maid Marian. I recommend it.

Anyway, right now, Ian and two of our tenants are in the bedroom watching Buckaroo Banzai. That's about all for now. Just rambling on a slow Friday off of work.

Wednesday, November 26, 2003
Fit to be tied?
Posted by Lis Riba at 7:25 PM

This evening, I seem to be noticing a lot of people missing the point, or just arriving at them rather late. Here's the latest on the aftermath of last week's SJC ruling.

  • Well, the professional journalists finally caught up with what I've been blogging about for over a week. Associated Press: State law could prevent out-of-state couples from marrying. The article provides more nuance and more opinions, including comments from town clerks and legal experts. Still, given how important this angle is, it took them long enough.
  • Earlier today, a friend pointed me toward's GLAD's FAQ on the decision. [GLAD stands for Gay & Lesbian Advocates & Defenders and deals with legal issues in the MA gblt community.] I noticed that they state:
    Is there a residency requirement to get married in Massachusetts?
    No. There is no residency requirement to get married in Massachusetts.
    and emailed them for clarification given that section of the law. No response yet.
  • Boston Herald is reporting that many lawmakers on Beacon Hill are looking at civil unions as a compromise between the "extremes." I guess they missed those polls two days ago that showed a majority of Massachusetts residents favored gay marriage, hunh? Meanwhile other legislators are still working towards the first step towards a constitutional amendment, which is even less popular among voters. Sigh.
  • Of course, the federal government isn't wasting any time in intruding into a state matter. Several Senators (all Republicans) have just introduced what they're calling the "Federal Marriage Amendment" to the U.S. Constitution. I already pointed out where Jack Balkin dissected the wording, showing it's much broader than supporters claim. Meanwhile, one of the denizens of Demagogue caught one of the authors of this idiocy on the news show -- totally failing to adequately defend her point of view.
    REP. BARNEY FRANK: "It's not in here about states' rights, Marilyn ... Nothing in here allows Massachusetts to make its own decisions or Vermont on civil unions. You say it reserves these to states' rights. It doesn't say that anywhere in here."

    REP. MARILYN MUSGRAVE: "We'll discuss this through the process."
    Truly pathetic. What kind of congresswoman goes on a political talk-show to essentially tell viewers, "I'll talk about it later"?
    While the SJC decision only affects Massachusetts, this amendment would be nationwide. HRC seems to be spearheading the fight against it, with Talking Points and information on contacting your Senators and Reps. And don't forget about the Congressional toll free switchboard at 1-800-839-5276
  • Finally, for folks interested in this issue, I'd like to point y'all to Civil Marriage, a new blog dedicated to information related to the SJC decision. [Also, undauntra, you might want to check out her other weblogs: Angela's Math and Models of Mathematical Surfaces. They just seemed like your style.]
Planning weddings fit for a queen
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:20 PM

Okay, I'm rather tickled by this article in yesterday's Boston Globe. Basically, it talks with people in the wedding industry: caterers, florists, event planners, and so on.

Although the territory is too new for anybody to make definitive statements, there's an overwhelming belief that the gay community will embrace traditional three-tiered cakes, rings, and receptions. They'll just add an extra dose of flavor to the proceedings.

Or, as one potential groom puts it: "What we're asking for is what everyone else has. It'll just be brighter and more colorful."

In other words, gay weddings will simply have to be faaaabulous, darling. Higher expectations, you know.

Once again, this ties back to that Pew Research study I've been mentioning the last week. They included questions about perceptions and stereotypes of homosexuals, and I particularly liked this paragraph:

For the most part, Americans do not subscribe to the stereotypical view that gay men have a better sense of style than heterosexual men. People who have gay friends or relatives are more likely than those who don't to feel that gay men have a better sense of style, though opinion among this group is divided.

So. No pressure, right?

Of course, it's not just the lucky couples who have cause for concern. As I was discussing this story with Ian, I suddenly felt panic-stricken. I know lots of couples who will soon be free to wed officially -- what the heck do I get them as gifts?
Of course, Ian reassured me that we only had to worry about our male friends. For lesbian weddings, power tools and kittens will always remain acceptable gifts. [This is a joke people!]

As Dan Savage wrote,

Considering how miserable weddings seem to make straight people -- the work, the expense, the seemingly inevitable conflicts with your parents, the 50 percent chance of a divorce -- shouldn't people who don't like gay people want us to get married, just to make us miserable?
Have they rounded up the posse?
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:59 AM

Back in August, I blogged about posse comitatus, which declares it's a criminal act to use the military for domestic law enforcement. At the time, I was reassured that Homeland Security was not violating the law by using the National Guard and other organizations not covered by posse comitatus. For Yom Kippur, I apologized for alarmism.

Well, Democratic Veteran Jo Fish has new information, and I'm afraid my original concerns appear to have been justified.

[Air Force General] Eberhart's command has defined three levels of operations, each of which triggers a larger set of authorized activities. The levels are "extraordinary," "emergency" and "temporary." At the "temporary" level, which covers such things as the Olympic Games or the Super Bowl, limited assistance can be provided to law enforcement agencies when a governor requests it, primarily in such areas as logistics, transportation and communications. During "emergencies," the military can provide similar support, mostly in response to specific events such as the attacks on the World Trade Center.

It is only in the case of "extraordinary" domestic operations that the unique capabilities of the Defense Department are deployed. These include not just such things as air patrols to shoot down hijacked planes or the defusing of bombs and other explosives, , but also bringing in intelligence collectors, special operators and even full combat troops.

Given the absence of terrorist attacks inside the United States since 9/11, it may seem surprising that Northern Command is already working under the far-reaching authority that goes with "extraordinary operations." But it is.

Eberhart has said he knows the law and believes he is in compliance, but has also suggested reviewing the law "if we think it ties our hands in protecting the American people."

As the L.A. Times article concludes:

It's not that we're heading toward martial law. We're not. But outside the view of most of the public, the government is daily expanding military operations into areas of local government and law enforcement that historically have been off-limits.
Orrin Hatch -- Serial Thief!
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:45 AM

I haven't spent much time blogging about politics lately -- too much of it disgusts me to dwell upon -- but just had to point out this bit of hypocrisy. Senator Orrin Hatch is Chairman of the Judiciary Committee, which covers criminal justice and intellectual property law.

June 17, 2003
Hatch said he favors developing new technology to remotely destroy the computers of people who illegally download copyrighted material from the Internet, saying that "may be the only way you can teach somebody about copyrights."
June 19, 2003
Hatch exposed as a copyright pirate, using unlicensed software in his official website.
November 17, 2003
Democratic staff memos were stolen from the Judiciary Committee's computer server and leaked to the press.
Hatch said no investigation would be conducted without evidence that a crime had been committed, saying "Sometimes when people get their hands caught in the cookie jar, they try to divert you away from what really happened."
November 25, 2003
A member of Hatch's staff was fingered as the culprit. In his press conference, Hatch refused to describe it as theft, saying "I don't know that a crime has been committed, nor do I know that there's any criminal law that has been breached." He has put the suspect on administrative leave with full pay.

Got that? Orrin Hatch, Chairman of Senate Judiciary Committee, wants to crack down on theft -- except when it's done by his own staffers to his benefit (and he did benefit, both from the software and the leak). Somebody get this clown kicked off the committee. He's demonstrated he's unworthy of it through his own repeated hypocrisy. [Here's a list of committee members you can contact, which includes Kennedy. Maybe we need to let them know he's a serial offender!]

Tuesday, November 25, 2003
Update on turkey and gravy soda
Posted by Lis Riba at 5:25 PM

A followup to last week's post from Associated Press, by way of Boston.com:

  • [Jones Soda Co.] sold out all 6,000 bottles online within about two hours last week. "To be honest, we really didn't think so many people would want it," said a Michelle Whitehead, marketing assistant
  • Founder and CEO Peter van Stolk dreamed up the seasonal flavor on a lark, but admits he can't stomach an entire bottle.
  • The liquid's ominous, murky brown color accurately warns consumers about the taste. The first sips bring a mix of sweet caramel and savory lard -- and it's downhill from there.
  • A limited number of Turkey & Gravy Sodas will be available in stores around Seattle and Olympia for the suggested retail price of 99 cents. A few entrepreneurs are selling theirs on eBay.com; by Tuesday, the bidding was up to $63 for a two-bottle set.

As curious as I am to try a sample, over $30 a bottle for a novelty drink is too rich for my tastes. But glad to see a small company doing well. And, since the article states they're donating all the proceeds from this flavor to Toys for Tots, better they sell out than have enough available for me to get one cheap.

Should CNet pay royalties to John Cage?
Posted by Lis Riba at 3:55 PM

Last week, I wrote MP3.com is going to be shut down. Today, thanks to Modulator, I found out why, through this article by MP3.com's founder and former CEO on p2pnet.net. VU refers to Vivendi Universal, which bought MP3.com several years ago:

VU deployed the technology and people from MP3.com throughout their media empire. VU now uses a customer tracking system across its media properties to manage email campaigns and profile music listeners in a scientific way. They took the digital publishing engine MP3.com perfected, and now have the most advanced digital publishing architecture in the world. Music goes from the recording studio directly into a digital library, where it can be sent to the CD pressing plant, music subscription systems, publishing libraries, and much more -- all digitally and precisely tracked. VU also took the my.mp3 subscription system and used it as the foundation of the Pressplay, which became the recently launched Napster 2.0 music subscription system.

Lost in all this corporate development was the actual library of more than 1 million songs. It simply didn't fit into any of Vivendi's corporate initiatives.

A few days ago VU sent out the announcement that the url MP3.com had been sold and the new owner was not taking possession of the music and band pages. This means the music will die, disappear, and vanish forever.

Many web sites cease operation but can still be found, captured for posterity, in the brilliant online library known as Archive.org, also called the "wayback machine." Here, massive servers and storage captures run by the visionary (and my personal friend) Brewster Kahle periodically take snapshots of the Internet as a means of recording history. Future generations can then look back at the evolution of the Net, of thought, trends, digital media and much more. It's a modern-day Smithsonian and Library of Congress, all in one. Unfortunately, Vivendi has not given Archive.org permission to capture the MP3.com site.

Don't know who to contact on CNet about (a) keeping the site up longer than December 2nd and (b) allowing Archive.org to make a backup before they do pull the plug. But wouldn't it be nice if more corporations did the right thing for the public commons?

Clearly, some philosophies aren't for all people
Posted by Lis Riba at 2:15 PM

Thanks to yet another of those perennial "Adults reading Harry Potter: Threat or Menace" threads, this time on rec.arts.sf.composition, I've just discovered this delightful quote by C.S. Lewis:

Critics who treat "adult" as a term of approval, instead of as a merely descriptive term, cannot be adults themselves. To be concerned about being grown up, to admire the grown up because it is grown up, to blush at the suspicion of being childish; these things are the marks of childhood and adolescence....When I was ten, I read fairy tales in secret and would have been ashamed if I had been found doing so. Now that I am fifty I read them openly. When I became a man, I put away childish things, including the fear of childishness and the desire to be very grown up.

This also gives me the opportunity to share an article I actually liked about the phenomenon, including some ramifictions I hadn't considered:

[William] Nicholson touches on the conundrum now confronting publishers and bookshops: how to give a label to these books. "Potential crossover books always face the problem that the two publishing industries run in separate but parallel universes," says Haddon. "In particular, when a book gets to a shop someone's got to take a decision about which shelf to put it on."

The issue of where and how to release a book that has crossover appeal is becoming a big deal. Some publishers are releasing separate parallel editions, but whether or when that's necessary is still an open question, impacting the whole food chain, including authors, publishers, cover artists, marketing and booksellers.

"We know that most people stop reading when they don't have to any more, when they leave school," says [Editorial director of children's books at Faber & Faber, Suzy] Jenvey. "What we're seeing is books dropping into a popular cultural mainstream way of life in the way they haven't done before . That's not infantilisation; it's a change in popular culture. One could say that's the same thing. But one won't."

Jasper Rees managed to write a fresh and fascinating article on a topic that's growing stale. I recommend it.

Original syntax
Posted by Lis Riba at 10:54 AM

In an excellent post by Matthew Yglesias, slamming someone for messing up the use-mention distinction in an anti-same-sex-marriage argument, a commenter tries to address the "original meaning" of "Judeo-Christian marriage."

After cringing at conflating Judaism and Christianity, I went to JewFaq to see what it had to say about the traditional Jewish perspective. And I thought this might be worth sharing here for others who get into such debates:

Marriage is not solely, or even primarily, for the purpose of procreation. Traditional sources recognize that companionship, love and intimacy are the primary purposes of marriage, noting that woman was created in Gen. 2:18 because "it is not good for man to be alone," rather than because she was necessary for procreation.

Going back to the Pew Research Study I wrote about yesterday, respondents were "[a]sked in an open-ended format their main reason for opposing gay marriage" which are listed in the table below:

Main reasons for opposing gay marriage, according to Pew Research study

Basically, it looks like the top six reasons boil down to matters of faith or tautological definitions (which are also somewhat faith-based). Seemingly logistical or practical reasons, such as the effect on children or economic/legal problems, were given by less than five percent of respondents.

This both simplifies and complicates the argument. Matters of faith are often deep-seated and are difficult to dislodge. The logical arguments may not matter in such discussions, and it may be worth trying to determine whether someone is bringing those issues up as a legitimate concern or as just another rationalization to justify their gut feelings.

Keep in mind that nothing in this ruling will force any religion to perform a same-sex marriage against their will. It just allows those religions that do sanction same-sex marriages (see chart) to perform them, and allows civil marriages. Also, remind out-of-staters that this only applies to Massachusetts residents, so shouldn't affect them and their hometowns. This may also be the place to mention MGL Chapter 207: Section 11. [Not entirely true; eventually Massachusetts couples will relocate or retire, but that's a long ways off.]

Finally, for discussions about the proposed Federal Marriage Amendment, which would codify one man-one woman pairings into the Constitution, Jack Balkin points out that the language of the amendment is much broader than supporters claim. Bait and switch? Trojan horse? Worth reading, either way.

Monday, November 24, 2003
Two brief thoughts
Posted by Lis Riba at 11:00 PM

An interesting observation via Peter David's journal. I'm too young to remember the death of Kennedy or MLK, but I do recall where I was for Reagan's shooting, the Challenger explosion, and other such "major" disasters. But among the younger commenters in PAD's JFK anniversary thread, many agreed with Jess, who wrote "[t]he celebrity death that had the biggest impact on me was Jim Henson." I think I have to agree. Because I remember where I was and how I felt.

After hearing yesterday about some of the nasty complications that can come from vaginal births and reading about the negatives of Caesarean sections, I have only one question: Forget flying cars. It's 2003 -- where are the artificial wombs? [Oh, look, I just found one under development]

Poll positions
Posted by Lis Riba at 9:30 PM

Needless to say, between the excitement of Goodridge v. DPH and the FSD Seminar, I've given up any hope of writing 50,000 words by the end of the month. I do know what happens thru the end of the story, but I'll need more time to get it down on paper.

At any rate, taking a break from all the postings on FSDs to return to same sex marriage. I am not someone who believes that the majority is always right nor that determinations of what's right should be decided by popularity. I've read Tocqueville on tyranny of the majority, and think Heinlein had a good point when he wrote:

"Democracy is based on the assumption that a million men are wiser than one man. How's that again? I missed something."
          -- Robert A. Heinlein, The Notebooks of Lazarus Long

Given that, it's reassuring to see three polls over the weekend that show movement in the right direction.

The first poll comes from Pew Research Center, was conducted before the SJC decision and covers general attitudes towards homosexuality. The full report (pdf) is available here, and is well worth reading, though you can also get a good summary here. Several important and useful points:

  • [When asked to name the first homosexual to come to mind, p]eople who named someone they knew personally generally had more favorable attitudes toward gay men and lesbians than did people who mentioned public figures. People who could not name any homosexual had the most negative opinions.
  • While opposition to gay marriage is most widespread among older generations, this does not necessarily reflect greater moral concerns among older people, or that they see the issue of homosexuality through a predominantly religious lens. <snip> To a large extent, these differences reflect the fact that older Americans particularly those over age 65 have had far less contact with homosexual people, and have far less firmly rooted beliefs and perceptions about homosexuality. Fully half of seniors could not think of the name of a single homosexual person, either in their own lives or a celebrity. <snip> The greater opposition to gay marriage among older Americans reflects this greater uncertainty and lack of familiarity more than it does any moral or religious opposition to the idea. In fact, people over age 65 are no more likely to cite moral or religious reasons than are younger respondents when asked to explain why they oppose gay marriage. Instead, older generations tend to explain their position either in reference to the definition of marriage being between a man and a woman or for the purposes of having children, or with vague references to homosexuality just being wrong or not normal.

Got that? The biggest key towards acceptance seems to be knowing somebody gay. That's a very important point. I think that's also a good reason why, assuming gay marriage does pass in Massachusetts, it won't be overturned by popular vote. Because as people get to know more gay and lesbian couples, it'll be harder to demonize gay couples as some scary boogeyman "other."

But even that may be somewhat unnecessary. While Massachusetts voters may not be as far out front as the SJC, they're not that far behind, either.

The other polls that caught my eye come from Sunday's Boston Globe and the Sunday Boston Herald (which unfortunately isn't online). Both polls had 5% margins of error, and though different wording may have skewed the questions somewhat, results were quite similar:

Boston Globe:Boston Herald:

Q: The court ruling gives the state Legislature six months to change state law, allowing gay and lesbian couples the legal right to marry. Do you think the Legislature should:

Change state law to allow gay and lesbian couples the legal right to marry29%
Do nothing and accept the court ruling, which could effectively allow gay and lesbian couples the legal right to marry24%
Pass legislation that could provide certain rights to gay and lesbian couples but allow marriage only between a man and a woman23%
Defy the court ruling and take steps to prevent any new rights to gay and lesbian couples16%
Don't know/refused8%

Support legalizing gay marriage:

YES49 percent
NO38 percent

Extend rights through civil unions:

YES76 percent
NO15 percent

Q: Would you support or oppose an amendment to the state constitution that would establish marriage solely as the union of a man and a woman, effectively banning gay marriage?

Don't know/refused11%

Support state constitutional ban on gay marriage?

YES36 percent
NO54 percent

The Herald poll asked further questions, with heartening answers: 62% said legalizing gay marriage does not diminish the sanctity of marriage. In addition, 62% agreed that gay couples should be allowed to adopt children (as the article pointed out, "more people want to allow gays to adopt than want to allow them to marry"), and 62% disagreed with the statement that homosexuality is morally wrong. The Globe pointed out their poll "indicated that the court case has generated unusually high interest from the public. More than 90 percent of those who responded said they were aware of the court's ruling, which was one or two days old when they were being asked about it."

And all this comes within a week of the decision. Not bad. That's not to say that that gay marriage supporters can just rest on their laurels, expecting public opinion to carry things forward. While I do find the popular support reassuring, my opinions on what's right wouldn't change even if the numbers were reversed. So this isn't going to stop folks on the other side of the issue.

If you live in the state and haven't contacted your legislators, why not do so before the holiday. [One of mine already thanked me!] Opponents from out of state have already set up massive phone/fax/email banks which are flooding the State House with their comments.

Women's health warning: a bitter pill to swallow
Posted by Lis Riba at 3:15 PM

This is difficult to write. So many abstinence-only groups exaggerate the failure rates and risks of contraception in order to push their political agendas**. It feels like conceding any ill-effects to contraception gives the anti-sex-ed forces further ammo. And yet, medical science is discovering an undocumented risk to oral contraceptives (birth control pills).

I don't have a heavy background in the sciences, so please bear with me as I try to explain: Within the human body, the enzyme 17-20 lyase produces the sex hormones the body needs to feel desire, arousal and orgasm. This enzyme turns itself on just before puberty (adrenarche), and without this enzyme, the body returns to a pre-pubertal state.

Progesterone, a hormone involved in pregnancy, birth control pills, and many hormonal based contraceptives (Depo-Provera, patches, etcetera) inhibits this enzyme. Oral contraceptives also reduce the sex hormones in two ways:

  1. A large portion of women's testosterone is produced in the ovaries. By shutting off the ovaries (to prevent egg development) it also turns off that source of testosterone.
  2. There are two forms of testosterone in the bloodstream: free and bound. Only free testosterone is "bioavailable," meaning it can be absorbed where it's needed. Taking estrogen orally sends it to the liver, which produces extra SHBG (sex hormone binding globulin), further reducing the body's stores of free testosterone.

So, the pill disables one of the sources of testosterone and locks up much of the rest. Is it any wonder that many women notice reduced sexual functioning while on the pill? [Early studies suggested that women felt sexually freer on the pill, but some of that may be attributable to reduced worries of pregnancy.]

For many women, this is just a temporary problem. Going off the pill restores their normal sexual health. But some women (raises hand) never bounce back. Their bodies completely stop producing the enzyme and they lose sexual function permanently.

Fortunately hormone therapy can put back what the enzyme has stopped producing. But that requires regular blood tests and may necessitate hormones that are only available via prescription. Also, since there are no medicines currently on the market geared towards women's sexual dysfunctions, everything is being taken off-label, which may be an issue for some people.

This information isn't in the medication inserts nor in the literature -- neither books aimed towards the general public (and I've searched!) nor in that given to physicians. [Look at the PDR for oral contraceptives: Side effects may include sex drive changes (in the middle of a lengthy paragraph of everything under the sun) but nothing in the Special warnings section. Medline's Drug Information doesn't mention any sexual side-effects, and the entry was last revised within the year!] As far as the popular literature is concerned, I suspect that's partly political: to avoid giving more ammo to the pro-abstinence forces. For the rest of it, women's sexual health has never been much of a priority in the past.

Scientists are only just starting to research this area. As Doctor Goldstein said at the start of his presentation, "Therapies for women with sexual disorders have not been based on a sound physiological understanding of women's sexual function." And many attempts to research this area (can't know what's pathological without knowing what's normal) have been easy targets for political disapproval.

Doctor Cynthia Graham recently conducted one of the first double-blind placebo-controlled studies of oral contaceptives effects on women's sexuality (involving women who had already been sterlized, so there was no pregnancy risk). Quoting from the abstract: "The [combined oral contraceptive] adversely affected sexuality in the Edinburgh women, with 12 of the 25 women in this group also reporting the side effect of reduced sexual interest. There were modest negative effects of the combined pill on mood, more noticeable in the Edinburgh women. The [progestogen-only pill] was associated with no adverse effects on sexuality and some improvement in well-being in both centres." [Graham, C.A., Ramos, R., Bancroft, J., Maglaya, C., & Farley, T.M.M. (1995). The effects of steroidal contraceptives on the well-being and sexuality of women: A double-blind, placebo-controlled, two centre study of combined and progestogen-only methods. Contraception, 52, 363-369.] Someone in the audience said that since issuing this and other articles attributing adverse sexual effects to contraceptives, Dr. Graham has lost some funding and the pharmeceutical industry has been trying to suppress these studies and shut down new research in the area. I have no evidence of this one way or the other, but it sounds sadly plausible.

It's possible that reformulating birth control pills to provide extra testosterone could protect women from pregnancy without damaging their sex drive, but as far as I know, none of the pharmeceutical companies are even looking into this. At any rate, one of the first steps in solving a problem is awareness that a problem exists. If nobody speaks out that loss of libido is an unacceptable undocumented risk, then what reason do the FDA and corporations and medical establishment have for improving the situation?

Anyway, I'm not saying people shouldn't take the pill. It's every woman's choice, but it should be done with full knowledge of the tradeoffs, an understanding to stay alert for changes, and an ability to take action in case of adverse effects. If problems occur, maybe switching to a different formulation will resolve them. Doctor Goldstein mentioned one patient who decided the pill is worth the loss of libido, and takes supplemental testosterone to maintain healthy hormone levels while on the contraceptives. Whatever the solution, it needs to be an educated choice, which means doctors and patients need to get educated on this.

Let's talk about sex
Posted by Lis Riba at 12:20 PM

I am probably not the best person to write up a summary of the seminar on Female Sexual Dysfunction since (a) I've attended enough of Dr. Goldstein's lectures and (b) my interest is narrow enough that (c) I probably didn't take notes on the scientific aspects of general interest to most people. Also, Dr. Goldstein's lectures seem to exemplify information overload. Slides chock full of anatomical diagrams, charts, numbers, comments from sufferers, while he's talking about related matters. My notes are nearly illegible. I tried to grab numbers from charts, but now no longer have the context. Very frustrating.

At any rate, based on current studies, 43% of women (presumably American women, though I'm no longer sure) have female sexual disorders. Far greater numbers than men. FSDs include pain, problems achieving desire, arousal, and orgasm, combinations of these symptoms, and other issues.

Dr. G got his start treating male sexual dysfunctions, and only within the last decade has he started seriously studying women's problems. So, he's well aware of the similarities and differences between the sexes.

Men's sexual dysfunctions are most often unidimensional. They have a problem achieving an erection or climax too early or something else. Women's problems are generally multidimensional, involving several of the factors listed above. Less than 10% of men have sexual dysfunctions before the age of 50. After 50, systems go to hell. In contrast, over 30% of premenopausal women report problems. And, even among older adults, more women have problems. A London menopause clinic reported 86% of the patients reported sexual problems. [So the problem rate goes from one-third to four-fifths!]

The number of men with erection problems is half the rate of women with lubrication difficulties. And yet, there are now three prescription medicines treating the former and none for the latter. That said, he has found that treatment for male sexual disorders and female sexual disorders are often quite similar, generally involving the same medications (though they all have to be off-label use for the women, since the FDA hasn't approved anything yet for FSDs). There is a physical component to female sexual disorders -- 70% of the women who come to his clinic report restoration of sexual function with conservative Rx within one year, generally through hormone treatments.

Why do so many women have sexual problems? There are a variety of causes, including physical injuries, side-effects of various common medicines, pregnancy (both hormonal changes and injuries caused by forceps deliveries, episiotomies or other traumas to the genital areas), hysterectomies, bicycle riding, and so on. There's some reason to believe that the high level of sexual disorders among younger women (a recent study showed 32% among 18-29 year-olds) may be related to the birth control pill; more on this in a later post.

By the way, as long as this is turning into an angry political rant, Dr. Goldstein is spearheading a movement to abolish the term "hysterectomy" from the medical language. Call it like it is -- a "uterus-ectomy." Hysterectomy literally means "to cut out that which causes hysteria," which is both offensive and inaccurate.

I'm somewhat sorry this has turned into more of a political rant than educational/informational/medical post. It's been over five years since I wrote this rant, and though things are getting better, the inherent biases still exist and women are suffering because of them. I'm still hoping for more responses to my survey, but so far none of the men report a doctor dismissing a symptom as "all in your head", while the majority of the women have experienced that. In other words, doctors treat women's complaints as mental problems, which seems like a throwback to the Victorian notion of women's hysteria. What, me angry?

The institute has much more information on their website, at http://www.bumc.bu.edu/sexualmedicine, as does http://www.twshf.org/, a support group founded by patients. Both sites have pamphlets with information for yourself and your medical provider. And I strongly urge you to share this info with your physicians. Doctors were not taught this material in medical school. This is an emerging field. Even if you are fortunate enough not to experience these problems, spreading the word to friends and medical professionals can benefit other patients who may not be aware of all this.

I'll just close this post with a PSA:

The Institute for Sexual Medicine at Boston University School of Medicine is very excited to announce that Sue Goldstein and Lillian Arleque are collecting the stories of women with sexual dysfunction, with the intention of compiling a book on FSD, Female Sexual Dysfunction: Stories & Solutions. Their hope is that these stories will serve to educate and inspire others to seek help.
A portion of the proceeds from the book will go directly to the Institute for Sexual Medicine to fund research in FSD.
If you are interested in participating in this exciting project, please mail a brief summary of your story and contact information to:
Institute for Sexual Medicine
720 Harrison Avenue, Suite 600
Boston, MA 02118
ATTN: Sue Goldstein
Or complete the online form at www.bumc.bu.edu/sexualmedicine/stories
You may be contacted by either Sue or Lil. Names will be changed to protect privacy, and some stories may ultimately be a combination of several women's contributions. The authors are looking for a wide range of experiences.

More on this later.

Posted by Lis Riba at 8:54 AM

To LJ users, sorry for the accidental reposting of my old entries, clogging up your friends list. Thanks to Matthew Morse for noticing that the paths to my archive files had somehow gotten messed up, which probably caused the problem. I've fixed it, which I'd hoped would clear away all the old posts. Instead it reposted my last two (which I must've posted after the problem occurred). Sorry.

BTW, regarding my survey, so far I've only gotten responses from women (plus my husband). I really want answers from men as well, because I'm trying to find out whether this is a case of gender bias. And feel free to share the survey around as well. Thanks.

Sunday, November 23, 2003
Survey for the readership
Posted by Lis Riba at 6:39 PM

So, just got back from Female Sexual Dysfunction: Symptoms & Solutions seminar. I am planning another post or two later on about the scientific and physiological news in the area of female sexual dysfunctions, but those are going to require some research on my part to get the facts straight and to look up journal articles etcetera.

Obviously, for reasons of confidentiality, I can't really talk about any of the women/patients who shared their personal experiences in the FSD panel, but I noticed one common aspect in all their stories (and in women I spoke with in the audience afterwards):

The women all reported describing their problems to their doctors -- from reduced sexual desire to excruciating pain -- and being told by their physicians some variation of "it's all in your head." That wasn't necessarily the term used -- other women were told that their symptoms were "normal" or "typical" and to learn to live with it; others were sent to shrinks and told it was psychological. But it seems like many women reported being told they were imagining their problem before any other diagnostics were done.

Obviously, women attending a seminar on female sexual dysfunctions are not necessarily a representative sample of the population. [For that matter, neither is the audience of this journal, I know.]
Still, I'm wondering how often this happens, and whether it's a form of subconscious gender bias:


  1. Are you male or female?
  2. Have you ever been told by a healthcare professional that a complaint was "all in your head" (or other equivalent)?
  3. Any comments about these experiences? What was said; what kind of complaint was it? What did you do? If you have experienced such a dismissal, did you continue to see the doctor? Was the problem later diagnosed? As a physical or mental health issue?

Respond in the comments; if you discuss this with partners, I'd be interested in their experiences too. [For TG/TS, you can answer for either or both sexes. I'm also curious whether you've noticed a difference before and after transitioning.]

Discussing this with Ian in the car on the way home, I realized that since college, I can think of two health professionals who did this to me. And in both cases, I shortly switched providers, partly because of that response.

I can accept if someone doesn't know what the problem is. I can accept being told there are tradeoffs and letting me decide whether they're worth it. But such out-of-hand dismissals really piss me off. I wouldn't've raised the issue if I didn't have a problem with it, and, as Ian said, "brain cancer is all in your head, too."

Ian can't recall this ever happening to him, but then he's got an exceptional doctor -- and I'm now seeing him as well.

So how's 'bout you?

[BTW, to those reading this on LJ, I have no idea why LJ decided to reproduce all my journal entries this afternoon; sorry for cluttering up your friend page.]

That's entertainment
Posted by Lis Riba at 11:15 AM

While Ian was at work, I rented and watched Derek Jarman's 1991 Edward II. Odd film. Christopher Marlowe's words (mostly) with full frontal male nudity. One thing that puzzled me, though, is that I couldn't figure out who was the intended audience. It seemed too... altered from the text for purists and scholars, yet too tied to it to be comprehensible to those unfamiliar with the play. [I've really only read the text once, and though I enjoyed it, I had trouble with who various characters were.]

Another question raised by the film: what kind of tropism does Annie Lennox have for Christopher Marlowe? Not only is the only song in the film hers, but she actually appears to sing it, in a sort of music-video-within-the-film. And there's also her contribution to When Love Speaks an entire album dedicated to renditions of Shakespeare -- with one track of Annie Lennox singing Marlowe.

My third observation was a line near the end, when somebody says "Feared am I more than loved; let me be feared" This is obviously straight out of Machiavelli's The Prince. Marlowe has often been associated with Machiavelli, both within the text (Machiavill delivers the prologue to Jew of Malta and as a slur was used in accusations against him). But, as I recall from my research into Ian's Elizabethan GURPS campaign, The Prince wasn't translated into English until much later, and was (I believe) banned in England. Machiavelli was more myth than man (one of the reasons "Old Nick" became a term for the devil). And yet, the line I quoted above makes it clear that Marlowe must've actually been familiar with the work. Marlowe had a Master's degree and I've often wondered what subjects and languages he would've learned while getting his education. Latin is a given, particularly since he was a divinity student. French always seemed plausible, given the proximity. So, given his ability to read Machiavelli, did he know Italian, or did he derive it from Latin, or did he see a translation into another language he knew? Curious.

While describing the film to Ian, I read him one passage that amused me:

The mightiest Kings have had their minions
Great Alexander loved Hephaestion,
The conquering Hercules for Hylas wept,
And for Patroclus stern Achilles droop'd.
And not kings only, but the wisest men;
The Roman Tully loved Octavius,
Grave Socrates wild Alcibiades.
Then let his grace, whose youth is flexible,
And promiseth as much as we can wish,
Freely enjoy that vain lightheaded earl;
For riper years will wean him from such toys.

Ian replied with incredulity, "and the director added gay subtext to that?" "Actually," I replied, "he added domtext. The subtext was already there; Jarman just made it blatant."

Another line I read him from the play uses the term "Greekish strumpet."
     Ian said, "doesn't that sound like a dessert?"
"Sounds to me like a male prostitute."
     "That's what I said."
"Ahhh. A twinkie."

I was born well after Kennedy's assassination (either of them), though I do remember where I was when Reagan was shot and when the Challenger exploded. Be that as it may, this weekend marks another 40th anniversary of something that means much more to me. Doctor Who. With everybody writing about where they were when they first heard Kennedy was shot, another friend suggested sharing one's first encounter with the Doctor. Impressively enough, I do recall.

During the 1981 recession, my father moved down to Florida to look for work, while the rest of the family stayed up in Wisconsin. In that time, my father discovered Doctor Who and became a fan. When the rest of us finally came down to Florida, he tried to introduce me to the show. I'm afraid I didn't take to it rather well. I was put off by the bad special effects and wasn't of an age where I was too interested in anything my parents might try to push on me. That said, I can still recall which episode it was -- "The Sontaran Experiment," with the fourth Doctor, Harry and Sarah on a futuristic primitive Earth.

Eventually, though, I fell in love with the show. The quality of writing distracted me from the bad effects -- to the point that I didn't notice most of the things others laugh at today, and still get annoyed when people point them out while I'm trying to watch.

High school was the peak of my attraction. I bought the books, from novelizations of episodes I loved (and novelizations of important episodes I'd never get to see) to expensive anniversary hardcovers, and other merchandise (still have the "Doctor in distress" charity single!). Doctor Who was my entry into SF fandom, even if it was solely media fandom. I joined the Doctor Who fan club (and still rue my best friend's father for dumping the first issue of the newsletter she was borrowing when he cleaned up her room into the trash) and attended local conventions.

High school was a rather depressing time for me in general. I'd rather not go into all the nasty details, but I was geekish and unpopular in a very status-driven school. You know those PSAs that ask "what's your anti-drug?" I've come to think of Doctor Who as my anti-suicide. I probably never would've actuallycommitted suicide, but Doctor Who was one of the mental crutches that kept me going until things got better. There was always one more cliffhanger that I had to see how they'd resolve. And week after week, it gave me reasons to hang on. That's how much it meant to me.

When I got to college and neither watched so much TV nor had a channel showing the program, I started to drift away. And then, the show drifted off the air as well. I never really got into the original novels or audio shows or the other means the series has kept itself alive over the last decade. I did see the Fox TV movie and the Comic Relief "Curse of the Fatal Death" (which I recommend more highly than the FOX movie), but other than that, we seem to have drifted apart.

If rumors of a new Doctor Who television series are true, I'm looking forward to it with trepidation. For me, Doctor Who was always about the stories. But nowadays, television seems to be more about the special effects. I noticed that with the FOX movie and with the few seventh Doctor shows I've seen, where the visuals seem to overshadow the writing. For a time, when Hercules and Xena were popular, I hoped that Raimi might get the rights to Doctor Who. He could fit in with the larger-than-life fictionalized history of the Raimiverse. And the hour-long weekly episodic format seemed well suited to Doctor Who. But it didn't happen, and now the Beeb is bringing it back. I wish the producers of the new series well; here's hoping for much more to celebrate the next anniversary.

Anyway, I'm off to the FSD seminar that I mentioned a few weeks ago. Bye for now!



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