The following is a video from my YouTube channel, Jack’s World. It’s a new entry into my ongoing Thought Experiments playlist and it explores the limits of human competence over capability. I hope it sparks larger thoughts and more discussions. Enjoy!
Tag Archives: human biology
A while back, I was sifting through some old pictures and I found a few of my parents when they were younger. Some of those pictures were a bit faded, but some held up remarkably well. A few in particular depicted my dad when he was in his 20s. It was fun, seeing how my parents looked in their youth. They certainly had plenty of stories behind each picture.
Beyond the stories, there was also the uncanny resemblance. My dad in his 20s looked a lot like me and my brother do now. I definitely have my dad’s facial structure. More than one relative has commented how similar we look whenever I share a picture of us.
My brother definitely inherited my dad’s old hair style. There’s this one picture of my dad in a hammock with long, uncut hair and it looks eerily identical to how my brother styles his hair. Overall, you can definitely see the resemblance.
Naturally, peoples’ appearances change as they age. It’s a normal thing. We can all marvel at how our parents looked in their youth, but that doesn’t change how different they look now. Most people don’t have the luxury of looking like Keanu Reeves in their 50s. As they get older, age will affect their appearance, their energy levels, and their mental state.
With all due respect to my wonderful parents, their age does show. When we stand together for family pictures, you can tell who’s the parent and who are the kids, even though my brother and I are full adults. I don’t doubt my age will start showing soon enough. It already has in some respects.
However, what happens if we suddenly gain the ability to either stop aging at a certain point or completely reverse it?
What if our parents could look the same age as us when we turn 30?
How would that affect us personally?
How would that affect us as a society?
These are not entirely rhetorical questions. It may sound like something that requires futuristic technology, but it’s not as far fetched as we think. Reversing or stopping the aging process in living things isn’t like breaking the speed of light. We know it can be done because there are animals that do it all the time.
Certain species of turtles never seem to age out of their adult prime. Other species basically age in reverse. In biology, it’s called negligible senescence and it’s a subject of significant interest for the treatment of aging. While humans do have a lifespan that seems built into our biology, we’re steadily developing the tools to hack that biology.
The technology is new and unrefined, but the incentives for developing it have never been greater. We already have an aging population. Helping people live into their 90s is nice, but what good is living that long if you can’t enjoy life as you did in your youth?
That technology is still a ways off, but like I said before. There’s no hard rule of biology or physics that prevents us from reversing the effects of aging. The research into the mechanisms of reversing aging altogether is ongoing and anyone who develops treatments are sure to gain a chunk of the multi-billion dollar anti-aging industry.
How and when this technology becomes mainstream is difficult to predict, but if and when it does, it raises some major implications. Setting aside the issues that come about from a population that doesn’t get weaker or less energetic with age, what does that do to how we carry ourselves around family?
That’s a personal impact of this technology that I don’t think enough people contemplate, mostly because they think it’s impossible. However, there are people alive today who may live long enough to see this technology mature. At that point, they’ll have to deal with having parents that look the same age as they do once they turn 30.
Imagine, for a moment, going to a restaurant with your parents. To you, they’re your parents and you know that. To everyone else, however, you’re just three people hanging out at a restaurant. If you look the same age, how can you tell the difference between a family getting dinner and a bunch of friends hanging out?
Things can easily get more complicated and awkward from there. Imagine you’re a guy meeting your mother for lunch or a girl meeting her father for coffee. From the outside, you don’t look like a parent and child. You might look like a couple on a date. I can only imagine how tense waiters might feel if they find out a cute couple are actually parent and child.
Add grandparents who don’t age to the equation and the complications only compound. When your family unit becomes indistinguishable from a co-ed dorm in college, how does that affect your perspective? Beyond the awkward realizations that the cute girl you’re hitting on is as old as your grandmother, how do parents and kids relate to one another when they look alike at a certain point?
As kids, we know our parents are our parents because they’re older than us. Even as adults, most of us reserve some level of respect and reverence for both our parents and elders. Just looking older will garner a certain reaction. What happens when technology removes appearance from the equation entirely?
We all know young people who are wise beyond their years and old people who are as dumb as a kid. When we all look the same age, those distinctions will become blurred and muddled. How that affects our personal perspectives, as well as our society in general, is difficult to fathom at the moment. Given the rapid pace of biotechnology and all the money at stake, that moment might come sooner than we think. As such, we should start preparing ourselves for the awkwardness that’s sure to follow.
I like to think I had a good education in sex growing up. I grew up in an area that heavily promoted comprehensive sex education and did not solely rely on telling horny teenagers to abstain. On top of that, my parents were very upfront and transparent on sexual issues. They did not lie to me and they did not avoid the issue whenever I asked them questions.
In that sense, I consider myself luckier than most. I’ve heard way too many horror stories about kids getting a form of sex education that’s downright damaging. At the same time, there are some things I wish my teachers and parents had taught me. I feel like it would’ve saved me a lot of stress, confusion, and uncertainty later on in life.
While some things can only be learned through experience, I think in matters of sexuality, insight goes a long way. It’s one of the few acts we’re biologically wired to seek. Even if we find something out on our own, we’re not always going to understand it and that often means making flawed assumptions. That can make things awkward, to say the least.
What follows is a list of minor, but relevant aspects about sex that I wish I’d learned more about growing up. Some of these issues are things my teachers probably couldn’t have mentioned in a health class without getting into trouble with parents, but that’s exactly why they’re worth putting out there. I think these are conversations worth having with young people, especially as we enter a new sexual landscape.
Number 1: What Orgasms Are And How They Differ With Gender
Looking back on my experience with sex education, this feels like the biggest oversight. I learned about male and female anatomy. I learned about pregnancy, contraception, and diseases. I even learned a little about healthy relationship skills. At no point in any of these discussions did orgasms come up.
While I knew what they were, no teacher ever said that word or even hinted that they were a normal part of sex. They either avoided the issue or pretended it didn’t exist. They described sexual function the same way my biology teacher described how animals digest food. This led me to wonder that adults were hiding something from me and my peers.
Later on, as I learned more about sex outside of school, it gave the impression that adults just didn’t want to tell young people about things that felt good. Never mind that orgasms have a lot of health benefits and are a great way for a couple to bond. Not even mentioning them just sent too many mixed messages that only get more mixed over time.
Number 2: Feeling Horny Is Natural (And Not An Affliction)
This was especially common in middle school. Granted, most teachers said that thinking about sex is natural. However, actually wanting it might as well have been the same as wanting to steal a car. In any case where someone might have wanted sex outside of marriage, it was framed as something deviant and wrong.
Again, this was not a religious school. This was a secular public school in a community that was not overly-religious. Even so, every health teacher gave the impression that being horny was no different than having a violent impulse to choke kittens. I’m thankful my parents did plenty to counter that, but it did leave me feeling more stressed than I already was as a teenager.
Number 3: The Sex You See In Porn Isn’t “Real” Sex
Most reasonable adults understand that the sex they see in porn isn’t supposed to mirror actual sex. That kind of sex is designed to be shot, edited, and exaggerated for erotic effects. The problem is that too many reasonable adults, some of which teach health classes to teenagers, assume that only adults are watching porn.
I knew what porn was when I was a teenager. I knew how to access it. Everyone in my class knew as well and anyone who claimed they didn’t were liars. While there were discussions about sex in the media, it never got beyond things like body image and peer pressure. They never actually explained to uninformed teenagers that porn is not a good representation of what sex is.
For men who think they’re supposed to hump for 40 minutes straight and women who think they have to hiss every half-second, it’s an important tidbit that’s worth sharing. It also doesn’t help that porn does a terrible job of depicting romance. Just a simple explanation at how exaggerated it was would’ve gone a long way towards developing a healthy understanding of what non-pornographic sex was.
Number 4: Not Having Sex Isn’t The End Of The World
This issue is similar to the issues associated with the DARE program that tried to convince teenagers to not do drugs. That program not only doesn’t work. It gave me and my peers a very flawed image of drugs for years to come. The way my health teachers talked about sex wasn’t much different.
Beyond skipping the joys of orgasms, they often described sex as this scourge that was spreading disease and misery to countless teenagers. If you weren’t doing it, then something must be wrong with you. At the time, I already had severe self-esteem issues that were compounded by a terrible acne problem that made me feel ugly and unloved.
While no teacher ever said that people who don’t have sex are somehow flawed. They only ever framed people who didn’t have sex as safer and less likely to get diseases. That’s not the same as saying it’s okay, it’s not the end of the world, and it’s actually pretty common. That revelation may not seem like much now, but at the time, it would’ve made a world of difference.
Number 5: Sex Can Be Emotional, Intimate, And Fun
This is a bit more personal for me because I was a closeted romance fan. I’d been a romance fan before I was a teenager and once sex entered the picture, I knew there was a link. My health teachers just did a terrible job of explaining it. They talked about sex as though it was just a formality, like a wedding or a tax refund. Romance and intimacy never entered the picture.
Sex was either just a small part of human reproduction or this dangerous thrill sport on par with juggling chainsaws while wrestling a hungry grizzly. There was no emphasis on intimacy, romance, or just the fun of it all. Couples do have sex for fun. There’s nothing wrong with that. My own parents even told me that. My health teachers, on the other hand, gave the impression they were completely unrelated.
Number 6: Some People Are Just Wired Differently For Sex
This may have been a product of my own teenage angst more than anything else. The way my teachers talked about sex made it seem as though everyone had this scary creature lurking inside them and a good chunk of our lives are spent keeping it at bay. Everyone had to do their part to tame their sexual demons. There was no way around it.
However, that’s not how peoples’ sex drives work. Some people just aren’t that sexual. They don’t get as horny as the average people. When they do, the things that satisfy them are wildly different than the things that satisfy others. Some people have elaborate kinks. Some are happy with a quickie in the shower twice a year.
This idea that everyone has their own sexual makeup wasn’t even hinted at. It made it seem as though everyone in the world, myself included, had the same sexual proclivities. Even though we can’t agree on gods, the afterlife, or pizza toppings, we’re all somehow in agreement on this. I know it sounds like common sense to an adult. To a teenager, it framed the world in a strange, overwhelming way that I could’ve done without.
Number 7: Not Every Woman Goes Crazy On Their Period
I know people don’t like talking about women’s bodies, especially when it comes to that time of month. They’ve been taboo for centuries and for a long list of frustrating reasons. When young men learn about what women go through during pregnancy and menstruation, though, they get the impression that their hormones turn them into meth addicts in withdraw.
Having grown up in a house with multiple women, sharing a bathroom, and just being around a lot of women in general, I know that most women don’t radically change when they’re on their period. Some do have issues. Most are understandable, treatable, and not a reason to fear an entire gender.
In the sex ed I got, I had multiple male teachers joke about how glad they were to not have to deal with periods. These teachers were married, by the way. It made me wonder whether they knew when to leave town or sleep in the basement during certain times of month. It also made me wonder if the women in my family were different because they didn’t seem to go crazy every month.
There’s certainly room to talk about women’s issues during sex ed, even among teenage boys. However, a little perspective would’ve gone a long way. It made being around girls more awkward than it already was. I was a teenager. There’s only so much awkwardness I could handle and I handled it poorly. I’m not saying better sex ed would’ve fixed everything, but it sure would’ve helped.
When it comes to talking about an issue, I generally avoid the kind of crisis fear-mongering you’d see on a CNN special report, a Fox News segment, or an Alex Jones podcast. More often than not, those who resort to fear-mongering are a few steps too close to fitting their heads for tin-foil hats.
However, I’m about to bring up an issue that I believe really is a crisis. It does warrant a little fear-mongering, if only because it directly affects the erotica/romance industry, of which I’m trying to be part of. That’s because it involves orgasms.
Usually, my posts about orgasms are of the fun, positive, sexy variety. That’s to be expected. It’s not hard to make a discussion about orgasms fun. Unfortunately, it’s also not hard to make that discussion dire because when a significant portion of the population isn’t having them, then I consider that to be a big problem.
This isn’t just the sexy musings of an aspiring erotica/romance writer. This is a real issue. There really is an orgasm gap, so to speak. Men, not surprisingly, don’t have a hard time achieving orgasm. Thanks to an unfiltered imagination and internet porn, an orgasm for a man is as routine as a morning cup of coffee.
For women, however, it’s a very different story, one I wish were relegated to the kinds of sexy novels I write. The data doesn’t lie. Women are having a harder time taking a trip to O-town during intimate moments with their male lovers. Regardless of whether you’re a radical feminist or a douche-bag frat boy from an 80s teen movie, we know that’s not fair. Given the universal joys of orgasm, that kind of disparity just isn’t tenable.
Why is this an issue though? Why does this orgasm gap even exist in the first place? Evolution has given both genders a wonderful incentive to have sex, make love, and everything in between. What’s keeping us from enjoying it?
By and large, there are two major theories to explain this injustice. One theory says this gap is primarily due to biology, which is bad news for women because it means the gap is impossible to close. The other says the cause is psychological, which is somewhat less dire because it means the gap can be addressed, albeit with expensive therapy.
Most of the time, when there are two competing theories about why something exists, the truth often lies somewhere in between. In some instances, though, such as the case of creationism and evolution wherein one is definitively right and the other is a religiously-motivated fever dream, the truth is not so balanced.
So with respect to the orgasm gap, which theory is correct? I’m not a scientist and am woefully unqualified to be one. Thankfully, there are some scientists out there who value equal access to orgasms as much as I do and they have done research on this. These people are the true heroes of the erotica/romance world. So what did their research find?
Well, a recent TED talk by Peggy Orenstein does a nice job of summing up these results. I’m not saying her talk is definitive. These TED talks never are. However, her conclusions have some pretty powerful implications and not just for our collective sex lives.
There’s a lot to unpack here. As an aspiring erotica/romance writer, it reveals some major flaws in the proverbial narrative that is our intimate lives.
Parts of her talk definitely resonated with my own personal experience. I remember sex ed when I was in high school. Since my community wasn’t run by uptight religious zealots, I had the good fortune of receiving a fairly comprehensive education about sex, especially compared to Texas standards.
They were pretty thorough, talking about everything from contraception to childbirth. When it came to certain body parts, though, I do recall a distinct difference. Descriptions about male anatomy and how a penis works was fairly concise. Most of my male classmates didn’t learn anything they hadn’t already found out and were fairly assured that their manly bits were operating fine.
When the time came to discuss female anatomy, however, I sensed a distinct shift in mood. Everybody, girls and boys alike, shifted like they were trying to hide a nasty fart. The intricacies of female genitalia wasn’t so much about their beauty or aesthetics. It mostly boiled down to the idea that blood and babies come out of it. That’s about it.
On a personal note, I’ll just say I learned about the existence of the clitoris from “South Park.” What’s that say when a comprehensive sex education program from a major school overlooks something that can be gleaned from watching “South Park?” I’ll give everyone a minute to stop banging their heads against their desk.
Then again, self-image is something every teenager struggles with. I certainly did, but I had a damn good excuse because of my horrible acne problem. It’s one of those things that improves with maturity. Sure, some people mature faster than others, but most of the time, it’s women who do the maturing so how does that orgasm gap not disappear?
This is where the psychology, it would seem, overpowers the biology. Make no mistake. Our thoughts and attitudes can influence our bodies. Anyone who has tried to sleep the night before midterms knows this all too well. Then, there’s the attitudes that we, as a society, collectively impose on each other.
In this case, it’s an attitude we impose on women. Whether by the spirits of angry Puritans or the agendas of old men who vomit uncontrollably at the thought of their daughters having sex, we tell women that they’re not supposed to enjoy sex that much. They’re told the orgasm disparity is normal.
There’s supposed to be this orgasm disparity between men and women. Somehow, this disparity is supposed to keep society intact so that people don’t waste too much time enjoying orgasm. This is where Orenstein gets really personal when she recounts the woman who says:
“I guess we girls are just socialized to be these docile creatures who don’t express our wants or needs.”
The girl who said that claimed to be this fiery, assertive woman. That should reveal just how powerful these attitudes can be.
It’s not just one type of attitude either. Orenstein points out how girls see their vaginas with shame while boys let their dicks hang with pride. Being proud of a body part tends to affect it. I used to play baseball. This works with arms. It works just as well with genitals, if not more so.
However, I think Orenstein overstates genital attitudes in some areas, ignoring the fact that men will shave their balls and undergo circumcision to avoid being aesthetically unpleasing. That’s something that affects both genders more than she lets on.
That said, I agree with her wholly when she brings up one of the most telling details about the orgasm disparity. When same-sex partners are involved, that gap disappears quicker than a cold beer at a Red Sox game in July. This is where the biology theory starts to fall apart.
Now it may seem obvious on some levels, the idea that same-sex lovers can climax at the same rate. It makes intuitive sense. They’re two people working with the same equipment, so to speak. Naturally, they would know how to make that equipment perform.
I don’t doubt that’s part of it. I also think there’s more to it and Orenstein seems to agree.
“Girls’ investment in their partner’s pleasure remains regardless of the gender of the partner. So in same-sex encounters, the orgasm gap disappears. And young women climax at the same rate as men. Lesbian and bisexual girls would tell me that they felt liberated to get off the script — free to create an encounter that worked for them.”
How telling is that? Put women in a situation where certain attitudes about sex and female pleasure don’t apply and they can enjoy a trip to O-Town as much as any man. As an erotica/romance writer, it brings tears of joy to my eyes.
So the orgasm gap disappears with same-sex partners. That’s all well and good, but what about the women out there who can’t get too horny around other women? What about the women who actually want to share the joy of orgasm with men? Well, Orenstein gives hope to those women too when she cites surveys done in cultures that aren’t haunted by the spirits of angry Puritains.
“Consider a survey of 300 randomly chosen girls from a Dutch and an American university, two similar universities, talking about their early experience of sex. The Dutch girls embodied everything we say we want from our girls. They had fewer negative consequences, like disease, pregnancy, regret — more positive outcomes like being able to communicate with their partner, who they said they knew very well; preparing for the experience responsibly; enjoying themselves. What was their secret? The Dutch girls said that their doctors, teachers and parents talked to them candidly, from an early age, about sex, pleasure and the importance of mutual trust. What’s more, while American parents weren’t necessarily less comfortable talking about sex, we tend to frame those conversations entirely in terms or risk and danger, whereas Dutch parents talk about balancing responsibility and joy.“
Let’s all take a moment to thank the Dutch. Let’s also take a moment to understand what this reveals.
Again, no theory is truly definitive, but Orenstein lays out fairly concisely how the orgasm gap is largely a psychological issue. Men define satisfying sex by their orgasm. Women define it by the ability to please their partner, which sets the bar low and ensures an unequal outcome.
That means we, as a society, should set new standards and I can say with a fair amount of certainty that men are all for that. How do I know this? Well, let me let all the women out there on a little secret about us men that really shouldn’t be a secret.
We WANT you to have orgasms when you have sex with us.
It’s true. Men really do want the women they have sex with to orgasm. Most of the time, they don’t want women to just lie there and act like a glorified barbie doll with a pulse. They actually want their partners to feel pleasure.
It shouldn’t require a real stretch in logic. Men understand that if women feel a lot of pleasure during sex, then they’ll want to do it more often with them. More sex makes us happy. We have a powerful incentive to make sure you women share in the joys of orgasms. The problem, albeit a sexy problem, is that it requires a mutual effort.
I believe we can close that orgasm gap for coming generations. I can only do so much as an erotica/romance writer, but we collectively can do so much more. When the day comes where men and women can expect to have an equal potential for orgasms during sex, then we will have achieved true equality. I look forward to that day.