What Makes Someone Monogamous?

Wedding rings (BBC)

Wedding rings (BBC)

We can’t distill monogamy into a single magic formula. But some scientists have recently made strides in determining what factors might make a person monogamous.

One possible factor: genetics.

Researchers at Harvard University recently published a study examining the mating habits of deer mice and oldfield mice. In the wild, deer mice are promiscuous and oldfield mice are monogamous. Scientists first undertook an experiment to see how the two types of mice compare in parenting their young. Different parenting metrics were observed, such as building nests for the offspring.

After noting that the deer mice put in less parental efforts, the researchers wanted to see if the differences were down to genetics (ah, the old nature vs. nurture debate!). Five pairs of deer mice and oldfield mice were interbred, which produced 30 hybrid mice and later 769 (!) third-generation mice.

The parenting behaviors of these second- and third-generation hybrid mice ran the gamut from hardly involved to heavily-involved in their offsprings’ lives. In observing this, scientists were able to identify parts of DNA (termed loci) that determined parenting behaviors. The experiment’s abstract in scientific journal Nature explained the findings:

Using quantitative genetics, we identify 12 genomic regions that affect parental care, 8 of which have sex-specific effects, suggesting that parental care can evolve independently in males and females. Furthermore, some regions affect parental care broadly, whereas others affect specific behaviours, such as nest building.

The abstract also notes that a certain gene expression is primarily responsible for the level of nest-building. No word on how that would translate to humans (the gene for interior decorating?), but it’s exciting to see some strides made in genetic research.

Jeanette Epps Will Be the First Black Astronaut to Board the International Space Station

Jeanette Epps (Wikipedia)

Jeanette Epps (Wikipedia)

Earlier this month, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (NASA) announced that Astronaut Jeanette Epps will join the International Space Station (ISS) in May 2018. History was made with this announcement: Epps will be the first Black woman to join the ISS.

Epps will be NASA’s 15th Black astronaut, the fifth Black female astronaut. She’ll be part of Expedition 56 and all of Expedition 57.

This will be Epps’ first flight into space, and I’m sure she’ll kill it.

 

Are “3-Parent Babies” Ethical?

Human embryos (Bloomberg)

Human embryos (Bloomberg)

The genetic engineering future is here, and we’ve come to an important initial step: Is it ethical to create babies using DNA from three parents?

Scientists say “yes,” provided there are certain conditions. Said conditions were laid out in a report put out last week by the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering and Medicine:

Scientists would have to perform extensive preliminary research in the laboratory and with animals to try to make sure it is safe. And then researchers should initially try to make only male babies, because they would be incapable of passing their unusual amalgamation of DNA on to future generations.

The main goal of creating a “three-parent baby” would be to make a “genetically related child without risk of passing on a disease.” This would be done using mitochondrial replacement technique (MRT), which combines genetic material from two women and one man. Mitochondrial disorders are only passed down by women, so one women’s genetic material would substitute for the other one’s. (The defective material would be completely removed.)

Naturally, there are many implications (social, sexual, medical) for these experiments, and it’ll be interesting to see how things proceed. The UK introduced a bill on this same subject last year, and recently received approval to begin mitochondrial transplants.

 

FDA Approves “Female Viagra” Addyi

The experimental drug flibanserin, made by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, is at the center of a regulatory controversy.

The experimental drug flibanserin, made by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, is at the center of a regulatory controversy.

Yesterday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Addyi (also known by its generic name Flibanserin) for public consumption. The drug, produced by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, is being touted as a “female Viagra,” a way to “even the score” sexually against men (who have many option to treat waning sexual desire). In some circles, it’s seen as a big breakthrough for women’s sexual health.

Interestingly, Addyi is the first drug to specifically treat waning sex drives for both men and women. (Viagra solved a purely medical/physical issue rather than a psychological one.) Addyi targets the central nervous system, putting it in line with an antidepressant.

Addyi purports to help women with hypoactive sexual disorder (i.e. lack of sexual desire.) But it works on a woman’s mind instead of her body. Rather than facilitating blood flow to the genital region, as Viagra does, the drug takes a two-pronged approach:

Flibanserin targets two neurotransmitters in the brain that can help inspire sexual desire. The first is dopamine, which helps control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers and could help drive up our interest in sex. The second is norepinephrine, which affects parts of the brain that control our attention and our response to things in our environment and could help direct our attention to a sexual partner.

The ultimate goal is that a woman’s level of desire would increase over time.

(Side note: Apparently, Viagra was marketed to women in 2004. The drug did increase blood flow to the women’s genitals, but didn’t affect their level of sexual desire.)

But the drug isn’t completely out of the woods yet: there are still some concerns regarding side effects. Doctors and pharmacists will need to undergo specific training of the drug before dispensing it, and will need to keep track of the women who take it. The biggest side effects include low blood pressure, sleepiness and “sudden fainting,” especially when taken with alcohol. (I have to say, I don’t really understand the point of making a drug to help with sex that can’t be paired with alcohol, but that’s just me.)

There’s also an argument that the drug “doesn’t work safely enough to justify its approval:” Women who took the drug during clinical trials reported a 37% increase in sexual desire, which averaged out to not even two more “satisfying sexual experiences” per month. The boost over the placebo group was even smaller.

It’s expected that Addyi will be covered under most health insurance plans, requiring a co-pay, and will inhabit a price range similar to that of Viagra. The drug should hit the market as soon as October (i.e. less than two months), with some outlets reporting an exact date of Oct. 17th.

I have to say, I’m really curious to see how this will do. I want to see how well it’ll perform (heh) sales-wise, and how many women report the side effects. But most of all, I want to see how this drug will influence the female-desire drugs that will surely come after it.

Google Trends: How Many People Are Searching for a Female Viagra?

Little pink pill (Stuff NZ)

Little pink pill (Stuff NZ)

Hot on the heels of the news that a female Viagra is edging closer to public consumption, I wanted to see how often U.S. Internet users (which would be basically everyone) were searching for information related to female Viagra. I used “2004-present” as my timeframe.

First, here’s how often “female viagra” (red line) against “viagra” (blue line):

Google Trends: 'Female Viagra' vs. 'Viagra,' U.S. 2004-Present

Google Trends: ‘Female Viagra’ vs. ‘Viagra,’ U.S. 2004-Present

As you can see, there’s a lot less searching for the former term versus the latter.

Now, let’s look at “female Viagra” on its own:

Google Trends: 'Female Viagra,' U.S. 2004-Present

Google Trends: ‘Female Viagra,’ U.S. 2004-Present

It’s hard to ignore that huge spike at the end of the timeframe. That occurred this month. It’s no coincidence: Sprout Pharmaceuticals announced that their female desire pill Flibanserin/ADDYI was recommended for Food & Drug Administration (FDA) approval on Jun. 5th.

Flibanserin/ADDYI will treat women with low libidos, known medically as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). I wanted to see how common Google searches for low sex drives appeared.

First, I searched “low sex drive in women,” which was the first specific option Google autofilled for me:

Google Trends: 'Low Sex Drive in Women,' U.S. 2004-Present

Google Trends: ‘Low Sex Drive in Women,’ U.S. 2004-Present

Interesting. It appears that the term hit its peak (ha) around a spike in 2011, and then crested in 2013. It’s dipped since then, but is starting to come back up. (Also, I’d love to know what happened in 2007.)

But let’s put this in context. Here’s “low sex drive in women” (blue line) versus “low sex drive” (red line):

Google Trends: 'Low Sex Drive in Women' vs. 'Low Sex Drive,' U.S. 2004-Present

Google Trends: ‘Low Sex Drive in Women’ vs. ‘Low Sex Drive,’ U.S. 2004-Present

It’s interesting that the female-specific searches don’t make up that much of the overall searches.

Now let’s find out how many men are searching for information on low desire. Here’s “low sex drive in women” (blue line) versus “low sex drive in men” (red line):

Google Trends: 'Low Sex Drive in Women' vs. 'Low Sex Drive in Men,' U.S. 2004-Present

Google Trends: ‘Low Sex Drive in Women’ vs. ‘Low Sex Drive in Men,’ U.S. 2004-Present

OK, now we can see that low libidos in women are an issue, insofar as they’re being Googled.

So a lot of people (we could probably reasonably assume women) are searching for information on low sex drives in women. But how many are searching for a solution? Maybe a cure, call it “female viagra” (red line)?

Google Trends: 'Low Sex Drive in Women' vs. 'Female Viagra,' U.S. 2004-Present

Google Trends: ‘Low Sex Drive in Women’ vs. ‘Female Viagra,’ U.S. 2004-Present

Holy shit, this is amazing. Sure, users are searching for (presumably) information on women having low sex drives, but they’re searching a lot more for a solution. At no point in this graph are there more searches for “low sex drive in women” than there are for “female viagra.” Also, note how the “female viagra” searches spike at the end, halfway through 2015. As noted above, that’s when Sprout announced their “little pink pill.”

Conclusion:

The evidence here points to the fact that people are actively searching for solutions to cure women’s low sex drives. This certainly warrants a female Viagra pill to be brought to market, but why the hell wasn’t this developed sooner?!

Sprout Pharmaceuticals’ Female Viagra Closer to Becoming Publicly Available

The experimental drug flibanserin, made by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, is at the center of a regulatory controversy.

The experimental drug flibanserin, made by Sprout Pharmaceuticals, is at the center of a regulatory controversy.

Sprout Pharmaceuticals has developed what they’re calling the Viagra for women. The new drug, named Flibanserin, purports to treat hypoactive sexual desire disorder (low sex drive, in other words) in pre-menopausal women. So far, $50M has been raised in preparation for the drug’s launch, and the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) has approved its benefits/risk profile.

The drug, now known as ADDYI, has had a long road thus far:  The drug was first rejected in 2010, when it was determined that the risks outweighed the dubious (at the time) benefits. Sprout began working on the drug in 2011, after being sold by the drug’s initial developer Boehringer Ingelheim. In December 2013, the FDA had rejected the drug for the second time.

In February 2014, the FDA wanted to see more tests done, specifically how the drug behaved when used with other medications. (Almost 10% of women taking the pill reported sleepiness during the trial.) The company resubmitted New Drug Application (NDA) this past February. The “little pink pill” was approved by an FDA advisory committee (done one step before final FDA approval), provided that more safety restrictions were added.

So far, Flibanserin/ADDYI has been tested on 11K+ women, and claims to be the “one of the most studied women’s health products in history.” Here’s what Sprout found after some recent trials:

In three 24-week randomized Phase 3, six-month, double-blind, placebo-controlled, parallel-group North American studies of premenopausal women with a mean age of 36 years, ADDYI consistently demonstrated a highly statistically significant difference over placebo on three key endpoints, including increase in sexual desire, decrease in distress from the loss of sexual desire and increase in the frequency of satisfying sex. Women treated with ADDYI showed significant improvements at every point of measurement in all pivotal clinical trials, with benefits seen as early as four weeks and sustained over the 24-week treatment period.

It’s too early to know when the drug will hit the public market. But it’ll be interesting to see how it performs (haha).

Thursday Trends: Technology in Sex Toys

Crave's Vesper vibrator (Fast CoDesign)

Crave’s Vesper vibrator (Fast CoDesign)

Legend has it Cleopatra may have been one of the first women to use a vibrator. (In her case, it was a calabash filled with buzzing bees.) The legendary queen/sex toy early adopter clearly knew she needed some extra stimulation, and the simple invention paved the way for a future industry.

Now, things have become a little more complex (and thankfully bee-less). Some sex toys have become more high-tech, and take advantage of opportunities within that field. Clearly, when technology enters the bedroom, fun follows.

Below are just a sampling of what tech looks like…in bed:

We Vibe:

The couples’ vibrator We-Vibe 4 Plus makes use of an app designed to maximize each users’ experience. It can used during sex, stimulating both partners. But it can also be used at a distance, with one wearing and the other controlling via the complementary app. The controller can choose the sensations, which the other partner then receives.

Lelo:

Sometimes you just want oral. Enter the Ora 2, which simulates cunnilingus via a rotating hub that stimulates the clitoris.

Crave:

One central component of technology is that it must look good (thank you Steve Jobs for making this commonplace). Sleek is generally the operative term. Crave’s Vesper is a wearable, thin vibrator the consumer can wear around her neck (and only use externally). Creators of the Vesper made sure the product is as elegant to wear as it is useful.

 

…And into the future:

Una:

This company doesn’t yet have a product on the market. But their goal is to sell a “smart” vibrator that learns from what the user likes. It’ll be interesting to see how this one takes shape.

 

As technology continues to evolve, it’ll be interesting to witness how sex toys incorporate the new tech into existing and new toys. Who knows? We could soon see something that looks straight out of “The Jetsons.”