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  • The Seven Enigmas of Sex

    Human sexuality does not fit the procreation-centric view promulgated by both religion and evolutionary psychology The procreation-centric view of sex There are two ways of looking at sex. From the scientific standpoint, sex is a biological function to procreate, that is, to pass our genes to future generations. From the personal standpoint, sex is something that we do for pleasure, moved by our sexual desire and our longing for connection and intimacy. We have been convinced by both science and religion that there is no contradiction between these views. Science, and in particular evolutionary psychology, tells us that lust and pleasure are caused by behavioral drives to spread our genes. Furthermore, it says that men and women have different reproductive strategies. Men want to have sex with as many women as possible and so have a higher sex drive. Women, on the other hand, are coy and select their sexual partners with care because they make a higher investment in pregnancy and raising the young. Religions have been promulgating this procreation-centric view of sexuality for centuries. Their puritanical morality says that the only righteous sexual acts are those that produce offspring. However, this sexual morality crashes against our enormous lust, creating endless strife. Hence, both religion and evolutionary psychology tell us the same thing: “Sex is for making babies and not for your selfish pleasure, you pervert!” And yet, this belief creates a cognitive dissonance with the way we live. We are the horniest of all mammal species - with the possible exception of our cousins the bonobos. In Western cultures, as sexual liberation advances, we see that women can be as lustful and promiscuous as men, contradicting the prediction of evolutionary psychology. In fact, when we examine human sexuality more carefully, we find that it departs from the simpleminded predictions of the procreation-centric view in many ways. I summarize them here as seven enigmas of human sexuality. Enigma 1: hidden ovulation and lack of estrous in women If we only fucked to have children, the number of sexual acts we perform in our lives would be much less, by orders of magnitude! Having 10 children per couple is considered an aberration in our culture, but this was pretty normal in the past, especially considering that many of those children would not make it to adulthood. If a couple has sex twice a week, on average, that would add up to 100 sex acts per year. Considering that a person is sexually active from age 20 to age 60 (an underestimate), then a person fucks on average 4,000 times over his or her lifetime. All that to have ten children, at most? Biologically speaking, this is a huge waste. Having sex involves a considerable expenditure of energy. Besides, it was a dangerous activity in our evolutionary environment because it exposed us to predators, aggression from other humans, and sexually transmitted diseases. The reason why humans have so much sex is that, unlike other mammals, women do not have estrus. We are all familiar with the fact that dogs, cats, horses, etc. only have sex during a short period, when the female becomes sexually receptive. Otherwise, the female refuses to be mounted and the males are not attracted to her. Even our close cousins chimps, gorillas and orangutans have estrus. Some mammals follow a yearly cycle in which they reproduce and have offspring once a year. That way, they get to gestate when more food is available or during periods of inactivity such as hibernation. This restraint and conservation of resources make sense from the evolutionary standpoint. Then, why is it not the same in humans? To deepen the mystery, while females in estrus send out signals to attract males —smells, sexual calls, swelling of genitals, behavioral displays— women do not advertise that they are ovulating. Yes, some women notice it and become hornier during those days, but most women don’t. If women knew when they were ovulating, contraception would be easier and infertility treatments would not require looking at the calendar. Unlike other mammal females, women are receptive to sex throughout their menstrual cycle. Some women even report being hornier when they menstruate, the time when they are the least fertile. Why are we different from other mammals in this? Enigma 2: female orgasms and the location of the clitoris There are two drives for sex: sexual desire and pleasure. Most animals experience a compelling impulse to have sex when in estrus, in the case of the female, or when exposed to a female in estrus, in the case of the male. In humans, sexual desire is less compelling but constant. Animals also seem to experience sexual pleasure during sex, although their copulation is typically much shorter than ours. In humans, sexual pleasure seems to be more intense. Sexual pleasure seems to be stronger in women than in men. Women’s orgasms are more intense and last longer than the orgasms of men. Moreover, while men have a refractory period after ejaculating, women can have multiple orgasms. It seems that evolution created a stronger motivation for women to have sex. Evolution did something even weirder to women: it placed the clitoris away from the vagina. This doesn’t make sense. If the goal of sexual pleasure is to motivate sexual intercourse, then the most sensitive source of pleasure should have been placed where it can be stimulated by the penis. Cats, pigs and a lot of other mammals have clitorises inside the vagina. It is as if evolution wanted to motivate women to masturbate or receive oral sex instead of the old-fashion penis-in-vagina fucking. But masturbation and oral sex don’t make children, so what gives? Enigma 3: menopause Not only do women have sex when they are not ovulating, but they also do it after menopause, when they cannot become pregnant. Granted, some women experience a decrease in sexual desire after menopause, but many of them continue to have sexual desire. Most older women maintain a healthy sexual life. An additional issue is that menopause is unique to humans, being absent in almost all other mammals. The only other animals that have menopause are a few species of toothed whales. Menopause is not simply becoming too old to get pregnant, but a programmed change in women’s bodies that shuts down ovulation and menstrual cycles in the course of a couple of years. This rather sudden cessation of ovulation does not happen in other mammals. Instead, their estrous cycles become more irregular and infrequent. Enigma 4: sexual shame and voyeurism Everybody experiences sexual shame, one way or another. We attribute it to religion and our puritanical upbringing, but it may be deeper than that. Even progressives, skeptics and atheists tend to develop their own forms of sex-shaming as they free themselves from religion. In fact, all human societies seem to consider sex shameful. In the book of Genesis, sexual shame was one of the punishments for eating the forbidden fruit of knowledge. Sexual taboos change from culture to culture, but there are always some involving being seen naked or having sex. Even in tropical societies that use little clothing, adults cover their genitals. The flip side of sexual shame is voyeurism. We enjoy watching and hearing others having sex. That’s why porn and erotica are so universally successful. We also like to gossip about sex. Why do we hide from view when we fuck and at the same time enjoy catching others in the sexual act? Enigma 5: penis size The human penis is larger relative to body size than the penises of other mammals. For example, a male gorilla weighs twice as much as a man, but it has a much smaller penis: 3 centimeters or 1.25 inches. This has been taken as an indication of the overactive sexuality of humans, but there is no real reason for this. Small cocks can give as much pleasure as large ones. A more accepted hypothesis is that large penises have evolved to attract females, but I fail to see the evolutionary advantage of women being attracted to large cocks. Some women are, but hardly most of them. A similar idea is that a large penis would intimidate or inspire admiration in competing males. But, again, that does not seem tenable. Men are intimidated by the size and the muscles of other men, but not so much by their penises. Which are hidden in response to sexual taboos most of the time, anyway. Enigma 6: homosexuality and bisexuality Since a sex act between two males or two females does not produce offspring, homosexuality should have been quickly culled by natural selection. And yet it is widespread in the animal kingdom. For example, in his book Chimpanzee Politics the primatologist Frans de Waal documents the sexual behavior of a lesbian chimpanzee. And albatrosses have been seen forming female-female couples. However, some have cautioned about applying human cultural categories to animals. What is clear is that 8-10% of men or women have purely homosexual behavior, while a larger percentage are bisexual. Women seem to have a greater facility than men to switch over to same-sex acts. Views of human sexuality centered on procreation have a hard time explaining the emergence of this large amount of homosexual acts. Enigma 7: fetishism, sadomasochism, dominance-submission and other kinks Homosexuality is just the beginning of the weirdness of human sexual behavior. There are many kinks that turn us on, and none of them have anything to do with making babies. Some people say that anything can be turned into a sexual fetish, but in reality they tend to fall under a few common themes: body parts, clothing, age and power exchange. In their book A Billion Wicked Thoughts: What the Internet Tells Us About Sexual Relationships, Ogi Ogas and Sai Gaddam identified these themes by analyzing internet searches for porn. Even the most vanilla sex is full of rituals and objects that make it more exciting, like lingerie, candlelight and vibrators. And our sexual lives are not limited to sexual intercourse, but intermingle with our life as flirtations, daydreams and reading erotica. Something similar happens regarding food: we don’t just eat to feed ourselves, but we turn it into the arts of cooking and gastronomy. Power exchange is an interesting aspect of eroticism. It consists of giving one of the sexual partners power over the other by using bondage, pain (sadomasochism) or psychological domination (dominance-submission). This seems to emphasize an aspect of sex by which the penetrator is seen as dominant and the one being penetrated as submissive. The use of sex to establish social hierarchy is observed in many species of primates, which could be a clue to explain why power exchange is erotic in humans. In humans, sex was co-opted for bonding Of course, these seven enigmas are adaptations that ultimately increase our chances of winning the game of natural selection. However, in the case of the human species the evolutionary logic is not as simple as the narratives commonly presented by evolutionary psychology. There are two basic reproductive strategies: Have a lot of offspring and invest very little energy in them, Have few offspring and take good care of them to increase their chances of survival. Humans are an extreme case of the second strategy. There is an important fact that is missed in many discussions of evolutionary psychology. The reproduction game is not won when we have offspring, but when our offspring is also able to reproduce. A reproductive strategy that produces lots of offspring that does not survive to adulthood is a losing game. And this is particularly important in the case of humans. The slow growth of the human brain means that we have to take care of our children for at least 15 years until they reach their reproductive age. In our evolutionary environment of adaptation, it was impossible for a couple to take care of a child for that long. It took a village to do that. And a village, or a tribe, requires some complex mechanisms to ensure cooperation, discourage selfishness, and establish social hierarchies. Sex, then, evolved away from its role for straightforward reproduction and into a mechanism for social bonding and the establishment of hierarchy. Often, during evolution, an organ that evolved for one particular function is co-opted for another. For example, although teeth evolved to tear and mince food, in elephants, narwhals and boars they turned into tusks to be used as weapons. Similarly, in humans, sex became a tool for social bonding. How sex for bonding explains the enigmas of human sexuality Sexual acts became more frequent and women became more interested in them because every sexual act promoted bonding by releasing the social hormone oxytocin. Ovulation became hidden in women so men wouldn’t know what children were their offspring. Therefore, they became invested in protecting all children of the tribe. Female orgasms became stronger to motivate women to have sex, compensating them for the risks of pregnancy. The clitoris became located away from the vagina because non-penetrative sex produces as much bonding as penis-in-vagina sex, while being less dangerous for the health of women. Menopause evolved because it is more advantageous reproductively for older women to care for their grandchildren than to have more children of their own — the grandmother hypothesis. Penises grew larger to fit larger vaginas, which are needed to pass the heads of our big-brained babies. Homosexuality and bisexuality evolved so that same-sex members of the tribe could bond with each other. Sexual shame, voyeurism and gossip evolved because the social hierarchy of the tribe was established in great measure by who fucked whom. This was not limited to people of the same sex. Sexual power exchange developed because being the receptive or the active partner during sex became imbued of power symbolism. However, this is not as simple as it seems, because having sex with a person high in the social hierarchy became a way of gaining social status, no matter if it was in a sexually passive or active role. Like grooming in monkeys, who you have sex with designates your place in the social hierarchy of the tribe. As culture became a critical aspect for survival, sexual rituals, fetishes and taboos became integrated into human sexuality. Conclusion: human sex is not just for making babies So there you have it: human sexuality is not just for making babies. Religions that declare sex-for-fun a sin because “it is not natural” are wrong. And so are evolutionary psychologists with their simplistic explanations of sex as a competition to see who can have more children, with men and women have conflicting interests in that competition. That may be true for animals, but not for us. Human sexuality is not a simple biological function, as it is in other animals. It is, literally, “making love” — a profound force that binds us together, not just as couples, but as members of a society crisscrossed by profound erotic currents. Sex is not an animal act, but a complex and beautiful art that gets integrated into our cultures and makes us uniquely human. Some of these ideas are defended in the book Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha. An opposing view based on the standard view of evolutionary psychology can be found in the book Evolution and Human Sexual Behavior, by Peter Gray and Justin Garcia. © 2020 Hermes Solenzol

  • Man or Bear?

    Real-life examples of man and bear encounters in the woods Man She walks to the swimming hole just as he dives into the cold water. She catches a glimpse of his naked buttocks sticking into the air. They are pale, hairless and deliciously round. He surfaces, wipes the water from his eyes, and sees her. He has a short beard, green eyes and hair that falls in cute curls down his forehead. He’s gorgeous. His clothes lay piled on a rock nearby. “Oh! Hi there!” he says. “Sorry, I’m naked! I didn’t expect anybody to hike this far up Lundy Canyon today.” “Oh, I don’t mind at all! In fact, I think I’ll do the same thing. It’s hot today!” She drops her backpack, pulls out her sneakers without bothering to untie the laces, gets rid of her socks. Her shirt, bra, shorts and panties soon are piled on the rock next to his clothes. He stands on the river bed, the water up to his shapely pecs. He’s shaved down there, his uncut cock slowly waving in the current. She steps into the water. The cold cuts her feet like a knife. “Wow! It’s freezing!” “I love it! But you have to get used to it. I take a cold shower every day. It’s very healthy!” Wow! A manly man! But if she wants him, she has to stand up to his game. Without thinking twice, she drops into the deeper part of the pool. She comes out gasping for air. The cold water makes her whole body hurt. He is climbing the rocks of the shore, offering her an unrestricted view of his perfect bottom and muscular thighs. He grabs his fleece jacked and starts towering himself with it. He looks down at her, freezing in the water, teeth chattering. “Got to catch up with my boyfriend before he gets too far ahead,” he says. “Nice talking to you!” Bear She aims her rifle at the black bear. It scratches at a log, licks something from it. She will teach the boys in town. They think only they can hunt. Ha! She squeezes the trigger. The bear jumps in the air when the bullet hits him. Then falls to the ground, convulsing in agony. “I got him! Yay!” She walks slowly to the bear. Kicks him. He surely is dead. She leans her rifle against the log and takes out her hunting knife. She rolls the bear on his back. With the knife, she makes a long incision down his chest. It will be hard work, but the bear's skin will do a great job as a rug in her living room. She hears steps on her side. Looks up with alarm. A bear cub has come out of the bushes, staring with a sad look. She looks down at the chest she has begun skinning. Notices the nipple there. Man “Good God! You scared me!” “¡Señora, por favor, un poco de agua! ¡Me muero de sed!¨ “I don’t understand a word you’re saying… What were you thinking, jumping out of the bushes like that!” The man approaches her, extending his hands helplessly before him. “Por favor, deme algo de agua para mi mujer y mi hija. Las tuve que dejar atrás. Ya no podían caminar más.” “What are you trying to do? Rape me? I have Mace, I warn you!” The man stares anxiously at the plastic tube sticking out of her backpack. “Stop staring at my tits, you creep!” She reaches for the container of bear maze in the side pocket of her backpack. “¡Sólo un sorbito de agua, se lo suplico!” He stumbles forward, grasping for the tube. She sprays Mace right into his face. “¡Ay! ¡Ay, qué dolor, por favor! ¿Pero yo qué le he hecho? ¡Yo sólo quería un poco de agua!” He brings his hands to his face, bends over and falls to his knees. “That will teach you to try to assault a woman, you creep! Now, go back to your country! We don’t want dirty scum like you in America!” Bear “Heavens! A grizzly!” The humongous bear has come into view suddenly. It completely blocks the trail. It looks at her menacingly. Slowly, it raises up to stand on its hind legs. It’s taller than her. If she runs, the bear will catch up with her in a matter of seconds. Luckily, she’s come prepared. There are many dangers in these woods in Montana. In fact, a grizzly bear is not the worst thing that can happen. A man would be much worse. She draws the handgun from its holster just in time. The bear falls back on its four legs and charges. She aims at its head and fires. She has time to squeeze the trigger twice before the bear falls on her. Its jaws go straight for the gun, as if he knows that’s where danger lays. The bite almost cuts her wrist clean off. The bears front paws fall on her hips with full force. Then the bear walks away. She cannot walk. With her left hand, she undoes her shoelaces and makes a tourniquet to stop the blood flow in her wrist. Just in time before she passed out. She wakes up in the hospital. Her first instinct is to look at her right arm. The bandages stop a bit further down the elbow. There is nothing beyond that. A gray-haired lady with a clipboard gives her a sad look from the end of the bed. “They had to amputate it. Your hand was necrotic by the time that man found you.” “God, no! How am I going to live without my right hand.” “And that’s not the worst of it… There is no easy way to tell you this, so I’m just going to say it… That bear broke your spine. You are paralyzed from the waist down.” “No! They can do something! They can cure me… Can’t they?” The gray-haired lady just shakes her head. “You are lucky that man found you. Nobody goes up that trail.” “Lucky? Oh, God! I wish that bear had killed me!” Copyright 2014 Hermes Solenzol

  • Computer Models Are Not Replacing Research on Animals, and They Never Will

    The number of papers using computer models in biomedical research is insignificant compared with those using animals The claim: computer models are replacing animals in scientific research The buzz is everywhere when animal research is mentioned: experiments in animals are outdated because computer models are replacing them. You may have read statements like these: “Researchers have developed a wide range of sophisticated computer models that simulate human biology and the progression of developing diseases. Studies show that these models can accurately predict the ways that new drugs will react in the human body and replace the use of animals in exploratory research and many standard drug tests.” PETA. “Sophisticated computer models use existing information (instead of carrying out more animal tests) to predict how a medicine or chemical, such as drain cleaner or lawn fertilizer, might affect a human.” The Humane Society of the United States. “But research shows computer simulations of the heart have the potential to improve drug development for patients and reduce the need for animal testing.” Scientific American. “Beginning in 2012, the Endocrine Disruptor Screening Program began a multi-year transition to validate and more efficiently use computational toxicology methods and high-throughput approaches that allow the EPA to more quickly and cost-effectively screen for potential endocrine effects. In 2017 and 2018, ORD and OCSPP worked with other federal partners to compile a large body of legacy toxicity studies that was used to develop computer-based models to predict acute toxicity without the use of animals.” Directive to Prioritize Efforts to Reduce Animal Testing memorandum by Andrew R. Wheeler, Administrator of the Environmental Protection Agency, September 10, 2019. Papers using animals, mice, rats and non-mammals There is a way to check if these claims are true. The final product of scientific research is scientific articles. Therefore, we can compare the number of papers generated with computer models with those that used animal research to evaluate the actual productivity of the two approaches. An additional problem is that a tally of the number of animals used in research is not kept for many species, including mice, rats, birds and fish. However, every paper published must report the animal species that was used. A good place to start is to look at the number of papers using all animals, mice, rats, rodents (rats & mice) and non-mammals (birds, fish, insects, worms, etc.). Figure 1 shows that the number of papers using any kind of animals increased linearly from 1975 to 2017, reaching well over 100,000 papers per year. A large fraction of these papers are from research on rodents. Their number increase in parallel with the number of papers using all animals. However, studies using rats remained constant since 1990, while the number of papers using mice increased exponentially in that period of time. The blue line in the graph is an exponential curve, which provides an excellent fit for the mouse data. Therefore, scientists have been dropping rats in favor of mice, likely because of the increasing availability of transgenic mice, which allow performing sophisticated experiments. The number of papers using non-mammals (mostly birds, fish, insects and worms) has also been increasing exponentially, and recently surpassed the number of studies using rats. Papers on humans and clinical trials A search with the MeSH Term ‘animal’ without excluding humans yields a very high number of papers. This is because there are numerous papers on humans. They are shown in Figure 2 together with the results for non-human animals and mice or rats. Note the change in the scale of the Y-axis from Figure 1. Clearly, there are many more papers on humans than on animals. They increase exponentially, while the studies on animals increase linearly, so that the difference between the two becomes greater with time. While in 1975 the number of papers on humans was roughly the double of the papers on animals, today there are six studies on humans for every study on animals. However, this does not mean that animal research is being replaced with research on humans. Strictly speaking, research on humans is conducted in clinical trials, so let us see what happens when we do a PubMed search on clinical trials. Looking at the Y-axis scale of Figure 3, we can see that papers reporting clinical trials are much less numerous than papers on humans in Figure 2. In 2017, there was one clinical for every 50 papers on humans. This is because most papers on humans are medical case reports, epidemiological studies and other medical observations. These could be considered research, but certainly not the kind of research on physiological and biochemical mechanisms that can replace animal research. The number of clinical trials has increased over time, but does not follow a clear trend, either linear or exponential (Figure 3). There was a steep drop around 1990 followed by a rapid increase up to 2003. Since then, the number of clinical trials has remained constant. The result of my search is consistent with the reports in, which lists 268,786 completed clinical trials in 2024. Since each clinical trial takes several years to run, this is consistent with the annual number of clinical trials shown in Figure 3. Papers using computer models Now we have enough background information to compare the number of papers using computer models with those reporting research on humans and of animals. Figure 4 shows the evolution in the number of papers using computer models over time. Again, note the big difference in the Y-axis scale with Figure 1. As we could expect, barely any papers using computer models were published before 1985. After that, the number of studies increased slowly until 2001 and rapidly from 2001 to 2008, when it seems to have stopped growing. At that point, the number of studies using computer models was 40 times less than the number of animal studies. Overall, the number of papers using computer models fits quite well an exponential curve, but this is largely due to their initial growth. However, many of these papers use computer models in combination with animal experiments, not instead of them. As shown in Figure 4, excluding the papers that used animals in addition to computer models reduced the number of papers using computer models in 2017 by almost two-thirds. Moreover, the stagnation in the number of computer model studies after 2008 becomes more apparent. There is even a decrease after 2011. If computer models were replacing animal studies, what we would see is an increase in the papers exclusively using computer models. Instead, what we see is that numerous papers use both computer models and animals. This is probably because the models are used to analyze results obtained with animals. Alternatively, animal experiments could have been used to validate the computer model. Computer modeling categories The MeSH Term ‘computer simulation’ has six different subcategories: Augmented Reality, Cellular Automata, Molecular Docking Simulation, Molecular Dynamics Simulation, Patient-Specific Modeling, Virtual Reality. Searches with ‘augmented reality’ and ‘virtual reality’ as MeSH Terms in PubMed yielded very few hits. “A cellular automaton (pl. cellular automata, abbrev. CA) is a discrete model of computation studied in automata theory. […] Cellular automata have found application in various areas, including physics, theoretical biology and microstructure modeling.” Cellular automaton, Wikipedia. Therefore, cellular automata do not seem to be a replacement for research on animals. According to Wikipedia, molecular dynamics “is a computer simulation method for analyzing the physical movements of atoms and molecules.” It is used in biomedical research to study the 3-dimensional structures of proteins and other biomolecules. Molecular docking is used to study the interaction of small molecules with their ‘docking pockets’ or ‘binding sites’ in proteins like enzymes or neurotransmitter receptors. This is a great tool for designing new drugs that interact with these proteins. However, new drugs designed this way have to be tested in vitro, then on animals and then in clinical trials to be considered useful as medication. The computer model is just the first step in a long process that has to include research on animals. Patient-specific modeling is “the development and application of computational models of human pathophysiology that are individualized to patient-specific data.” It is used to plan surgeries and to model organ function. Clearly, none of these techniques can be used to replace animal research. Rather, they complement it. As we can see in Figure 4, molecular dynamics and molecular docking comprise a good fraction of the recent papers using computer models. Patient-specific modeling generates a very small number of papers. Number of papers with computer models and using different animal species Figure 5 shows a comparison between the number of papers generated in 2015 with computer models, those from clinical trials, and those using different animal species. It shows different bars for all papers with computer models (CM) and for papers with computer models without animals (CM -animals). Most of the papers that year used mice or rats. Computer models produced many fewer papers, and this number was similar to the number of papers on clinical trials. When we consider papers using exclusively computer models, their number was much smaller and comparable with those using dogs, cats and primates. Interestingly, papers using non-human primates are similar in number to those using zebrafish, the fruit fly Drosophila or the worm C. elegans, showing the relative importance of studies in non-mammals and invertebrates. If we add the number of papers using these species, they vastly outnumber the papers using exclusively computer models. Figure 1 shows that the number of papers using any kind of animal in 2015 was 120,000. ‘Replace, reduce and refine’ research on animals — is it working? ‘Replace, reduce and refine’ (the ‘3Rs’) is the approach adopted by scientific institutions since the 1960s to address criticism from animal rights activists. This policy assured the public that the number of animals used in research would be reduced, that animals would be replaced by other methods or by less sentient animals, and that the way animals were used would be refined to decrease animal suffering. While it is true that the ways animals are used in research have improved substantially, the analysis I present in this article shows that the ‘reduce’ and the ‘replace’ objectives are far from being accomplished. It is true that research on charismatic species like monkeys, dogs and cats has been replaced by research on mice. However, it has not been replaced by experiments in vitro or by computer models. Figure 1 shows that, overall, the use of animals in research has been increasing since 1975 and will likely continue to grow in the future. A major part of this increase is due to the exponential growth in the use of mice and non-mammal species. The 3Rs were a foolish promise because the only way we can reduce the use of animals in research is by doing less science. This would imply decreasing scientific progress, which would have a tremendous negative effect on society. We would miss cures for old diseases like cardiovascular problems and new ones like Covid-19. Computer models are not replacing research with animals It is clear is that computer models are not replacing animals in research. The number of studies using computer models is relatively small and is not increasing. When we count only studies that use computer models without animals, their number is smaller and did not increase from 2008 to 2017. At present, many of the papers using computer models deal with molecular dynamics and molecular docking, methods that complement but do not replace animal experiments. These types of papers have been increasing and many include the use of animals. Of course, the number of papers using animals does not reflect the actual number of animals used in research. Studies using monkeys use just a few of them, while papers on mice and rats typically use hundreds of animals. Fruit flies are used by the tens of thousands. However, the number of papers does tell us the relative contribution of each species to the scientific endeavor. Also, given that the number of animals per paper for a given species is not likely to change much over time, an increase in the number of papers for that species is likely to reflect an increase in the number of animals used. The use of animals in research is not being reduced. It continues to increase. Regarding replacement, charismatic species like dogs, cats and monkeys are being replaced by mice and non-mammals. However, animal research overall is clearly not being replaced by computer models. Why computer models will not replace animal research in the future Predictions about the future are risky. Why do I dare to forecast that computers and artificial intelligence (AI) will never replace research on animals? Surely, the rapid growth of computer power will determine that sooner or later biomedical research will move from animals to computer models. Right? Well, no. There are some fundamental issues that determine that, for the foreseeable future, we will need the actual bodies of animals or humans to extract information from them. Even though future computers will help enormously to accelerate biomedical research, they will not be able to tell us what happens inside our bodies or the bodies of animals. We will have to look inside those bodies and tell the computers. The reason for this lies in the nature of life itself. Living beings have been created by evolution, which is a contingent process. The word ‘contingent’ means that there is an element of randomness in a process that makes it impossible to predict its outcome. In the words of evolutionary biologist Stephen Jay Gould, if we went back in time and run evolution again, we would end up with a completely different set of living beings. While natural selection funnels the direction of evolution through the survival of the fittest, it sits on top of random mutations and genetic drifts, which are non-deterministic processes. It is impossible to know what the animals species on planet Earth will look like a million years from today. All the enzymes, intracellular signaling pathways, ion channels, neurotransmitter receptors, hormone receptors, membrane transporters, etc., responsible for the functioning of our bodies were created by contingent processes. Not entirely random, but still impossible to predict. For example, imagine that you were to design a new car. You will be constrained by physics if you wanted the car to work, but the car could still have infinite different looks. It may have four wheels, or three, or six. It could ride high as a truck or low as a sport car. An external observer could not predict how it would look and how it would work. Likewise, if you told a computer ‘find out how neurons in the spinal cord process pain’, the computer would not be able to tell you. Somebody would have to look at those neurons and find out. You have to feed that information to a computer before it can do anything with it. The amount of information in our bodies, in each of our cells, is staggering. We have barely started to scratch it. The human genome contains 20,000 to 25,000 genes, and we still don’t know what most of them do. A computer, no matter how powerful, is not going to tell us. And knowing what each of those genes does is only a small part of the story. We need to know how the proteins encoded by those genes interact with each other to generate metabolism. The only way to do that is to take the body of an animal and look inside. A computer cannot guess what goes on inside the body, just like it cannot guess the content of a book that it has not read. The mirage of the computer revolution The advancement of computer technology in the information revolution has been so amazing that we have become convinced that there is nothing an advanced computer can’t do. That is why it is so easy for animal rights organizations to convince the public that we can eliminate animal research and replace it with computer models. Even organizations that supposedly defend animal research have helped this misconception by promoting the idea that eventually it will be replaced (one of the three Rs) by computer models, in vitro research or clinical trials. That is simply not true. As I have shown here, as scientific productivity increases, so does the use of animals. What has happened is that we are using fewer animals of some species (dogs, cats, rabbits and primates) by using more animals of other species, like mice and zebrafish. Research using computer models is relatively small and is not growing fast enough to ever catch up with animal research. Computers can do amazing things, but they cannot guess information that they do not have. That is why computer models will never replace animal research. There are limits to what is possible, and this is one of them. How I made the graphs: data mining in PubMed There is a freely accessible repository of all the papers published anywhere in the world: PubMed. It is run by the United States government, specifically by the US National Library of Medicine, part of the National Institutes of Health (NIH). In PubMed, you can do keyword searches to find articles on any topic, so I used it for data-mining to compare the number of papers using animal research and computer models. In the “Search results” page, there is a nifty graphic on the top left, with bars representing the number of papers per year containing the keyword used in the search. Below is a “Download CSV” link that allows you to get those numbers in a spreadsheet. I imported the numbers into a graphics program (Prism 8, by GraphPad) to create the graphics that I am going to show you. There are several ways to enter a keyword in a PubMed search. You can search for the keyword anywhere in the article (“All Fields”). However, this was not useful for my goal because if an article mentions “computer model”, this does not mean that this was the primary method used in the paper. My favorite method to restrict a search is to look for the keyword only in the title or the abstract of the paper (“Title/Abstract”). Still, this is not optimal because different authors may use different words for the same concept. For example, the terms “computer model” and “computer simulation” are synonyms. To deal with the problem of synonyms, PubMed uses Medical Subject Headings (MeSH homepage, Wikipedia), a sort of thesaurus to facilitate searching by linking synonymous terms, so if you enter one of them it retrieves all the terms that are related. This is called doing an “extended search”. PubMed can perform MeSH searches by MeSH Major Topic, MeSH Subheading or MeSH Terms. These different types of MeSH record types are explained here. A descriptor, Main Heading or Major Topic are terms used to describe the subject of each article. Qualifiers or Subheadings are used together with descriptors to provide more specificity. Entry Terms are “synonyms or closely related terms that are cross-referenced to descriptors”. Therefore, I performed my searches using MeSH Terms to avoid having to find the exact wording of a MeSH Major Topic. When you introduce a keyword as MeSH Term, for example ‘mice’, PubMed searches that word and all its synonyms, in this case ‘mouse’, ‘Mus’ and ‘Mus Musculus’. The figures that I show represent the number of papers in the period 1975-2017, because 1975 seems to be the year when PubMed starts gathering most of the papers written in the world. Records appear incomplete before that date. It seems that it takes up to two years for PubMed to complete its collection of citations, since the number of papers in every search drops substantially during the last two years. Hence, I excluded data from 2018 to 2019. This article was originally published in 2019 on the website Speaking of Research and then deleted. I am re-publishing the original version, so my research does not extend to 2024. Also, because the Covid-19 pandemic closed labs for a couple of years, scientific productivity was anomalous after 2020.

  • Who Is Afraid of the Big Bad Viagra?

    It treats erectile dysfunction and has beneficial effects on prostate enlargement, cardiovascular problems and other diseases Viagra has a bad press. Many experts, when discussing erectile dysfunction (ED), will tell you that Viagra can eliminate it, but… there is always a “but.” Maybe they’ll say something about addressing the psychological causes of ED. Other times is some drivel about “aging naturally.” Often, it’s the inevitable “but what about the women?” feminist swerve. A lot of ideology comes into play when discussing something that links men and sex so intimately. Let me start by clarifying that Viagra is the commercial name for sildenafil, which is just the best known compound of a class of drugs called phosphodiesterase-5 (PDE5) inhibitors. I used Viagra in the title because of its name recognition, but this article is about all PDE5 inhibitors. This article is a summary of the scientific information about PDE5 inhibitors written in accessible language. I want to address this controversial subject with scientific rigor, so I support what I say with references to scientific papers in peer-reviewed journals. I use links to Wikipedia to back well-established knowledge. Disclaimer: I am not a medical doctor. This article is for information purposes and should not be considered medical advice. In the USA and many other countries, PDE5 inhibitors are prescription-only. Before taking them, you should always consult your doctor. Buy them from a reputable pharmacy. How erections work To penetrate the vagina and to be able to thrust during sex, the penis must be hard. There are many ways to achieve an erection. Penises could have a bone inside—in fact, the penises of dogs,  wolves, gorillas and chimps have it (it is called baculum). There could be a muscle inside the penis that contracts to achieve that hardness, as happens for nipple erection. In humans, erections are achieved by pumping the penis full of blood. This happens even in animals with a baculum. In the stem of the penis there are two large bodies, called the corpora cavernosa, that are filled with blood during an erection. The corpus spongiosum, which runs along the urethra and fills the glans, also fills with blood, but to a lesser extent. The mechanism that keeps the blood in the penis is counter-intuitive, but key to understand how PDE5 inhibitors enhance erections. Erections are initiated by erotic stimuli in the brain. This mental state of sexual arousal activates nerves in the parasympathetic branch of the autonomic nervous system. The autonomic nervous system controls the cardiovascular state of the body: how fast the hard beats and the contraction of the arteries that set blood pressure. A particular set of parasympathetic nerves goes from the sacral spinal cord to the penis. There, they release the neurotransmitter acetylcholine, which acts on receptors on other neurons and  endothelial cells to make them release nitric oxide (NO) (Goldstein et al., 2019). NO is a gas that acts as a neurotransmitter. It diffuses from the endothelial cells into the walls of the trabecular arteries inside the corpora cavernosa, penetrating the smooth muscle cells that control the dilation of these arteries. Smooth muscle is quite different from the striated muscle that we use to move and exercise. Its contraction is involuntary. It is involved in the functioning of hollow organs like the arteries, stomach, intestines, bladder and uterus. The smooth muscle in the walls of the arteries determines blood pressure and the blood flow into particular parts of the body. Here, we are interested in blood flow into the penis. The counterintuitive part is that relaxation of smooth muscle is what makes the penis hard, while relaxation of other muscles makes them flaccid. The more relaxed the smooth muscle, the wider the arteries. Wider arteries mean more blood flow into the corpora cavernosa. This causes erection by making the corpora cavernosa inflate like two elongated balloons. At the same time, the veins that drain blood from corpora cavernosa are compressed by its expansion, making sure that blood stays inside the penis. How Viagra and other PDE5 inhibitors increase erections In the smooth muscle cells, NO activates the enzyme guanylate cyclase, which produces the second messenger cyclic guanosine monophosphate (cGMP). cGMP activates protein kinase G, which opens calcium-dependent potassium channels in the membrane of the smooth muscle cells. The resulting increase in membrane potential (hyperpolarization) reduces their contraction. In turn, cGMP is degraded by a series of enzymes called cyclic nucleotide phosphodiesterases (abbreviated here as PDE), of which there are 11 families (PDE-1 through PDE-11). PDE5 is  particularly active in the trabecular arteries of the penis (Wang et al., 2023). Since cGMP is necessary for smooth muscle relaxation, the pooling of blood in the corpora cavernosa and erection, the more active PDE5, the less of an erection. Viagra, Cialis and similar drugs inhibit PDE5, so they increase erections. Erectile dysfunction (ED) “Erectile dysfunction (ED) is defined as the consistent inability to attain and maintain an erection sufficient to perform satisfactory sexual intercourse.” (Wang et al., 2023) In the United States, ED affects between 14.6% and 33.7% of men, according to two surveys done in 2011 (Goldstein et al., 2019). ED increases with age: it is present in 64% of men over 40 and in 70% of men over 70 (Wang et al., 2023). Contrary to what you hear from anti-porn and anti-masturbation ideologues, viewing porn or masturbating does not cause ED. This was demonstrated in a study with a sample size of 3,586 men (Rowland et al., 2022). Quoting from the abstract of that paper: Results indicated that frequency of pornography use was unrelated to either erectile functioning or erectile dysfunction (ED) severity […]. Masturbation frequency was also only weakly and inconsistently related to erectile functioning or ED severity. […] Frequency of pornography use did not predict either sexual or relationship satisfaction. (Rowland et al., 2022). The same paper shows that ED is caused by: age, anxiety or depression, low sexual interest, low relationship satisfaction, chronic medical conditions. These chronic medical conditions include cardiovascular disease and the impairment of erections caused by nerve damage during prostate surgery. ED is usually diagnosed using the International Index of Erectile Function questionnaire (IIEF) (Goldstein et al., 2019; Stridh et al., 2020). The lurid history of treating ED with PDE5 inhibitors The development of PDE5 inhibitors to treat ED is full of lurid tales and chance discoveries. On April 18, 1983, in front of a large audience at the meeting of the American Urological Association in Las Vegas, doctor Giles Brindley wiped out his penis and proceeded to inject phenoxybenzamine into his corpus cavernosum (Goldstein et al., 2019). His penis became instantly erect. His bold demonstration was meant to convey an important point: that ED could be treated with drugs. Until then, ED was considered having psychological causes and was treated with psychotherapy, much to the despair of the male patients and their sexual partners. If they complained too much, they were considered being one of the few men with “organically caused ED” and treated with penile implants: surgically implanted prostheses that made their penises permanently hard (Wang et al., 2023). Today we know that 80% of ED is due to non-psychological causes (Stridh et al., 2020). Psychological counseling to treat ED was a failure. Something to keep in mind when you hear criticisms of PDE5 inhibitors because they supposedly hide some obscure mental causes of ED. Dr. Giles’ shocking public experiment set off a search for pharmacological agents to treat ED. Phenoxybenzamine, the drug he self-injected, is a blocker of α-adrenergic receptors used to treat high blood pressure. Other compounds that showed efficacy were smooth muscle relaxants like phentolamine, thymoxamine, imipramine, verapamil, papaverine, and naftidrofuryl (Goldstein et al., 2019). Scientists were on the right track. They knew that, to induce lasting erections, they needed to relax the smooth muscle in the walls of the arteries that supplied blood to the penis. What eluded them was the compound that directly caused smooth muscle relaxation. That compound was found in 1991-1992 by three groups of researchers. It turned out to be a gas, nitric oxide (NO). In 1998, Dr. Ignarro, Dr. Furchgott and Dr. Murad received the Nobel Prize in Medicine and Physiology for this discovery. It was important not only for ED but also to develop medicines to treat hypertension and cardiovascular diseases. The next step was to find the enzyme where NO acted. It turned out to be PDE, and PDE5 was found to be the main PDE in the penis. There was a search for ways to increase NO production, instead of decreasing its degradation, but this turned out to be a dead-end street. The discovery of Viagra to treat ED was due to sheer luck. In 1986, the pharmaceutical giant Pfizer was looking for drugs to treat angina—chest pain caused by lack of blood supply to the heart. They focused on PDE inhibitors as a way to relax the smooth muscle in the carotid artery. One of the compounds tested was coded UK-92,480 and was later named sildenafil. There is an urban legend about the Pfizer sildenafil clinical trial: “Anecdotes from early clinical trials describe study participants being unwilling to return unused pills because of the positive erectile effects of the study drug.” (Stridh et al., 2020) In any case, scientists at Pfizer noted that powerful erections were a side effect of sildenafil. In contrast, its effects on chest pain were a disappointment. Less than a week before sildenafil was going to be taken out of the research studies, Pfizer scientists Peter Ellis and Nick Terrett proposed a mechanism by which it could increase erections (Goldstein et al., 2019). A large series of clinical trials on the effect of sildenafil on ED ensued. They showed that it was effective when taken orally and increased erection within one hour. It was more effective than a placebo when given instead of sildenafil, or when sildenafil was switched to placebo without the knowledge of the patient. Importantly, sildenafil did not produce erections on its own, only when coupled with sexual stimuli. It acts on the penis, not on the brain to increase sexual desire. Sildenafil was given the commercial name of Viagra. It was approved by the FDA for the treatment of ED on March 27, 1998 (Goldstein et al., 2019). Soon afterwards, on September 14, 1998, it was approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Since November 2017, Viagra is available without prescription in pharmacies in the UK. At present, four PDE5 inhibitors have been approved by the FDA: sildenafil (Viagra), tadalafil (Cialis), vardenafil (Levitra) and avanafil (Stendra or Spedra) (Wang et al., 2023). Beneficial cardiovascular effects of PDE5 inhibitors The failure of Viagra to treat chest pain was because PDE5 is absent from the heart. However, all the arteries in the body have a layer of smooth muscle. When it contracts, it makes the arteries thinner, which increases blood pressure. The sympathetic and parasympathetic branches of the autonomous nervous system control the dilation of arteries in different parts of the body. For example, if you swim in cold water, the arteries that supply blood to your skin contract to avoid losing too much heat. Arterial smooth muscle has PDE5, which means that NO controls arterial dilation. It also means that PDE5 inhibitors dilate the arteries and therefore reduce blood pressure. So, even though the initial studies of sildenafil on heart pain didn’t show an effect, PDE5 inhibitors may affect the heart indirectly by dilating the arteries of the body. The bad news is that men with low blood pressure may have to avoid taking PDE5 inhibitors for ED. The good news is that men with high blood pressure—which are most aging men—may derive additional benefits from taking PDE5 inhibitors. Numerous studies support the idea that PDE5 inhibitors have beneficial cardiovascular effects. Here I discuss just a few of them. Tadalafil decreased blood pressure in men with ED, who generally had higher blood pressure than men without ED (Özdabakoğlu et al., 2017). Tadalafil produced this effect by decreasing aortic stiffness and increasing the elasticity of  arteries, both large and small. Apart from increasing the diameter of the arteries, PDE5 inhibitors may improve cardiovascular function by increasing the health of the endothelium of blood vessels, by directly protecting the cells of the heart, by having an anti-inflammatory effect, or by reducing the aggregation of platelets to form blood clots (Kloner et al., 2024). A meta-analysis of animal studies (Ölmestig et al., 2017), which included 32 papers and 3,646 animals, showed that PDE5 inhibitors protected against the brain damage produced by stroke. PDE5 inhibitors decreased neuronal death, oxidative stress and neuroinflammation, and increased cerebral blood flow and the formation of new blood vessels in the damaged area of the brain. Treatment with PDE5 inhibitors was effective when given up to 24 hours after a stroke. A recent study (Kloner et al., 2024) looked at health insurance claims database for men taking tadalafil for ED (8,156 men) and not taking it (21,012 men). Then it examined the occurrence of major cardiovascular events in both groups. It found that the men that had been taking tadalafil had 19% lower cardiovascular events than those who didn’t. In particular, they had less coronary revascularization (p=0.006), less angina or chest pain (p=0.003) and reduced cardiovascular-related mortality (p=0.032). There were significant reductions of stroke, heart failure and myocardial infarction in men who had taken the larger doses of tadalafil. Death by any cause was 44% lower in men that had taken tadalafil (p<0.001). One paper (Cai et al., 2019) advocates giving PDE5 inhibitors to men with high blood pressure since they will take them to improve their sex lives, while compliance with regular blood pressure medication is low. What does all this mean for you? Well, first of all, if you have problems getting erections, it may be a sign that you are at risk of cardiovascular disease. How high is your blood pressure? If it’s in the normal range, you are probably fine. However, if you have high blood pressure and ED, you may want to take a daily dose of 5 mg Cialis or another PDE5 inhibitor. Cialis is preferable to Viagra because it will stay in your body for a whole day—its half-life is 17.5 hours—while Viagra is short-lived (Kloner et al., 2024). PDE5 inhibitors will lower your blood pressure, protect your arteries and your heart, and reduce brain damage if you had a stroke. Talk to your doctor! Prostate enlargement A common problem in aging men is the enlargement of the prostate. Since the urethra traverses the prostate, it gets compressed with this enlargement, impeding urine flow. Urinating becomes difficult, with discontinuous flow, incomplete voiding of the bladder and, sometimes, pain during urination. Older men often have to get up several times at night to urinate (nocturia). Tadalafil (Cialis) has been approved by the FDA for the treatment of prostate enlargement (benign prostate hyperplasia, BPH) and lower urinary tract symptoms (LUTS) (Cantrell et al., 2013). Tadalafil is preferred over the other PDE5 inhibitors because it last longer in the body. However, similar effects on prostate enlargement were produced by other PDE5 inhibitors, like Viagra (Ko et al., 2017). If you are a man over 50, you have to get up often at night to pee, and your urine stream is not what it used to be, PDE5 inhibitors may offer an additional advantage to you. Not only they will give you better erections and lower your cardiovascular risk, they may make peeing easier and reduce those nightly trips to the bathroom. More things to mention to your doctor. Other beneficial effects of PDE5 inhibitors Pulmonary artery hypertension is a deadly disease consisting of an increase in blood pressure in the arteries of the lungs. It causes death in 2-3 years by triggering heart failure. It affects more women than men. After it was proposed that it could be treated with PDE5 inhibitors (Singh, 2010), the FDA approved tadalafil to treat it. Premature ejaculation: Tadalafil reduced premature ejaculation. Its effect improved when given in combination with the serotonin reuptake inhibitor fluoxetine (Mattos et al., 2008). Kidney protection: Experiments in salt-sensitive rats show that tadalafil protects the kidneys against damage produced by a high-salt diet, an effect independent of its lowering blood pressure (Tomita et al., 2020). Alzheimer’s disease: Icariin, a plant aphrodisiac that acts by inhibiting PDE5, improved learning and memory in transgenic mice that model Alzheimer’s disease (Jin et al., 2014). Adverse effects of PDE5 inhibitors Everything in life comes at a price, so there are drawbacks to taking PDE5 inhibitors. PDE5 inhibitors have interactions with α-adrenergic antagonists, nitrates and cytochrome P450 inhibitors (Cantrell et al., 2013). They should not be taken with these medications, or taken under close medical supervision. Moderate side-effects of PDE5 inhibitors include back pain, dyspepsia, headache and dizziness. More serious side effects may include ischemic optic nerve neuropathy (Pomeranz, 2017), in which the optic nerve is damaged for lack of adequate blood flow. However, it is still controversial that PDE5 inhibitors do this. A survey of 615,838 men treated with PDE5 inhibitors for ED and 175,725 men treated for prostate enlargement showed no association of PDE5 inhibitors and any ocular event, including ischemic optic neuropathy, serous retinal detachment and retinal vascular occlusion (Belladelli et al., 2023). Another possible side effect is sudden hearing loss, for which there is an incidence of 4.35-5.58 /10,000 person-years for users of PDE5 inhibitors compared with 2.38 /10,000 person-years for non-users (Liu et al., 2018). This is just a moderate increase. Recreational use What happens when men without ED take PDE5 inhibitors? Well, what happens is that these men have erections that are harder and last longer than usual. Which, for most men, means a more enjoyable sexual experience because a harder penis produces more pleasure. A strong erection causes the pleasure nerves in the penis to become more sensitive to mechanical stimulation. Many women derive more pleasure from having sex with a man with a harder penis. However, there are also women who experience more pain during penetration if the penis is harder. The same goes for male gay couples, although there seems to be a general enthusiasm for strong erections among them. Therefore, whether to use PDE5 inhibitors to have a stronger erection during sex is a personal decision to be negotiated between the persons having sex. One aspect that I have not seen discussed is that PDE5 inhibitors improve the enjoyment of men during masturbation. One study (Korkes et al., 2008) surveyed 167 young (average 21 years, range 17-31) male medical students. Although they all said that they had perfect erections, 9% of them had used PDE5 inhibitors. Of this group, 13% turned out to have ED. Interestingly, their erection problems often occurred when using condoms, so the PDE5 inhibitors served to encourage condom use. Another study (Harte and Meston, 2011) surveyed 1,944 male undergraduates in the USA. Of them, 4% reported recreational use of PDE5 inhibitors. The authors found that recreational use increased with age and in gay/bisexual men. It also correlated with drug and alcohol use, risky sexual behaviors and number of sex partners. This is hardly surprising because the same disregard for societal norms that leads to the use of PDE5 inhibitors without prescription also leads to drug use, promiscuity and risky sexual behaviors. The fact that recreational use of PDE5 inhibitors correlates with difficulties with erection indicates that such use may indicate a borderline ED and not just the desire for better sex. The good news is that PDE5 inhibitors facilitate condom use. Many of us had the experience of losing an erection when putting on a condom, which makes it more difficult and risks not doing it right. Besides, our sexual partner may lose interest in sex in the process of regaining the erection and getting that condom finally on. Obviously, this discourages condom use. Using a PDE5 inhibitor may help keeping that penis hard during that gap in arousal. Is the effect of PDE5 inhibitors on ED a placebo effect? One frequent dismissive comment about Viagra is that its effect on ED is due to the placebo effect. In fact, placebo effects are common in many diseases, including chronic pain, anxiety, depression, asthma and Parkinson’s disease (Stridh et al., 2020). However, many of the clinical trials on PDE5 inhibitors showed that their effect on ED was statistically larger than that of placebo. A meta-analysis of PDE5 inhibitors in ED clinical trials (Stridh et al., 2020) showed that they do have a substantial placebo effect. In common words, this means that if you get a man to take a pill thinking that it’s Viagra, he will experience a stronger erection if he takes it before sex. Results showed that placebo produced a “small to moderate improvement of erectile function” in men with ED, while PDE5 inhibitors produced “a large response” and there was “a large difference in favor of the active drug” (p<0.001). Therefore, there is a placebo effect, but the effect of PDE5 inhibitors is larger than placebo. What do the naysayers say? The scientific research I summarized above shows that PDE5 inhibitors are an efficacious treatment of ED. Their side effects are rare and they have positive effects beyond increasing erections, mainly in reducing high blood pressure and prostate enlargement. Then why do they have such a bad reputation? Who is, indeed, afraid of the big bad Viagra? Actually, my PubMed search found just a handful of articles critical of the use of PDE5 inhibitors to treat ED, other than the ones dealing with the side effects discussed above. I saved three of them into my database (Potts et al., 2003; Potts et al., 2004; Barnett et al., 2012). I could not download the full article of Barnett et el. (2012), which seems to be a review of the points made by the other two articles. I found these two articles (Potts et al., 2003; Potts et al., 2004) appalling in their lack of scientific rigor and their peddling of ideology as science. Instead of an unbiased testing of hypotheses, the openly try to prove a series of feminist ideas, which the authors explain at length in the introduction. Here are some of the statements made in the introduction: “In western medical discourse, the ‘healthy’ and ‘functioning’ male body must be capable of producing ‘normal’ erections which deliver sexual satisfaction (via penetrative sex) to both the man and his (female) sexual partner; loss of ‘erectile function’ becomes synonymous with loss of manhood or masculinity.” (Potts et al., 2004). It seems that erections and sexual satisfaction are suspect to the authors. “Critics have long argued against the deterministic and reductionist view of bodies, ‘health’ and ‘illness’ espoused by medicine.” (Potts et al., 2004). In other words, PDE5 inhibitors are bad because western medicine is bad. The genuine suffering experienced by patients and the loved ones who must care for them is disregarded in the name of an ideological celebration of ‘difference’ instead of disease. “Nicolson has identified three prevalent discourses operating in medical and sexological constructions of ‘normal’ sex: a reproductive model of sexuality (that is, the privileging of biological, procreative aspects of sex), a coital imperative (the notion that penile–vaginal sex is the most ‘natural’ and ‘usual’ form of sexual activity), and an orgasmic imperative (the idea that orgasm—particularly male orgasm—is the goal towards which all sexual activity is directed, and the measure of ‘successful’ sex).” (Potts et al., 2004). This points out that the real reason some feminists dislike PDE5 inhibitors: reproduction is bad, penetration is bad, and male orgasms are bad. Hence, PDE5 inhibitors are triply bad because they aid in all these things. In reality, PDE5 inhibitors only make more sexual choices available. If people want to have non-penetrative sex or sex without orgasms, the existence of PDE5 inhibitors does not prevent them from doing so. The actual studies consisted of a series of interviews with men who use Viagra to treat ED and their female partners. The sample size is very small: 33 men (average age 60, age range 33-72) and 27 women. The first paper (Potts et al., 2003) interviewed the same 27 women. The authors warn that the studies a purely qualitative and, indeed, there is not the slightest attempt at quantification. This becomes a problem because, after stating that some men expressed views contrary to those of the authors, only supportive statements are given thereafter. The questions asked are not given, raising the suspicion that the authors just had a conversation with the subjects, leading them to their pre-established conclusions. To summarize, this paper criticizes ED medication because: “Erectile changes [are] a natural part of ageing.” And so is death. Having an erection reaffirms a man’s self-esteem and masculinity. And this is bad, somehow. Viagra is a “quick fix” that reinforces “the prevalent division in western culture of human subjectivity into mind (psychological) and body (physical) components.” For some men, Viagra didn’t work or “produce desensitized or ‘numb’ erections.” No recognition is given to the numerous clinical trials proving the efficacy of PDE5 inhibitors. There is no evidence that PDE5 inhibitors desensitize the penis. The effectiveness of Viagra declined over time. The technical name for this is tolerance. I could not find any evidence that there is tolerance for the effect of PDE5 inhibitors. Conversely, some men said that they required lower doses of Viagra over time or experienced a permanent improvement in their erections after taking it. So, go figure! Viagra produce “psychological addiction” because some couples needed it to have sex. Viagra had detrimental effects on women, who felt pressured to have sex or preferred to have sex without penetration. Viagra did not fix broken relationships, as advertised in some promotional material by Pfizer. Viagra may encourage men to commit infidelity because of their “newfound sense of youth and virility.” Viagra is “a tool that allows men to continue to function as machines in their presumably intimate relationships.” Viagra promotes a sex life that centers intercourse and the erect penis. The earlier paper (Potts et al., 2003) centers on the claim that Viagra is bad for the female partners of the men that take it. In particular, it argues that the decision to take Viagra should be taken by both members of a couple, and not the man alone. Contrast this with the feminist idea that taking birth control or having an abortion are decisions that women should be able to take by themselves. While Viagra does impact a couple’s sex life, a man could take it to improve his masturbation. PDE5 inhibitors improve women’s sexual experience In contrast to what the ideologues say, two papers reported that women enjoy sex more when their male partners take Viagra. One double-blind, placebo-controlled study (Heiman et al., 2007) recruited 180 heterosexual couples in which the woman reported unsatisfactory sex at least half of the time. Women whose partners took Viagra, compared with women whose partners took placebo, reported a clear increase in satisfaction during sex (p<0.0001). Improvement in the sexual satisfaction of the man correlated with the improvement experienced by the woman. It’s a win-win situation! The second study was done in France in 2006 (Chevret-Measson et al., 2009) and included 67 heterosexual couples. Sexual life satisfaction improved in 79% of the women (p<0.0001) compared with their previous experience—there was no placebo group in this study. The improvement in the women’s sex life correlated with the improvement in the men’s erections. How I did the research for this article This article references 24 scientific papers, all of them in peer-reviewed journals. I disregarded articles in magazines or in humanities journals publishing opinions and not actual evidence. Science advances by reaching a consensus. Therefore, giving reliable scientific information requires summarizing a lot of information contained in many papers. That is why this article has so many scientific references. I gathered them as follows. I did a search in PubMed with “phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitors” [Title/Abstract], which retrieved 962 papers. Combining that search criterion with “erectile dysfunction” [Title/Abstract] selected 264 papers among them. I screened all those papers one by one, judging from the title and the journal if they were related to the topic I am discussing. This resulted in 68 papers, which I exported to a group in my EndNote database. Then I browsed their abstract and gave them one to five stars according to their quality and relevance. I downloaded the full version PDF of the papers that contained interesting information not given in the abstract. For the background, I relied on my knowledge of physiology and biochemistry. I have a Ph.D. in biochemistry and 40 of research experience in molecular biology, physiology, neuroscience and drug development. References Barnett ZL, Robleda-Gomez S, Pachana NA (2012) Viagra: the little blue pill with big repercussions. Aging & mental health 16:84-88. PubMed Belladelli F, Li S, Zhang CA, Muncey W, Del Giudice F, Glover F, Seranio N, Basran S, Fallara G, Montorsi F, Salonia A, Eisenberg ML (2023) Use of phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitors is not associated with ocular adverse events. The journal of sexual medicine 20:1399-1406. PubMed Cai Z, Zhang J, Li H (2019) Two Birds with One Stone: Regular Use of PDE5 Inhibitors for Treating Male Patients with Erectile Dysfunction and Cardiovascular Diseases. Cardiovasc Drugs Ther 33:119-128. PubMed Cantrell MA, Baye J, Vouri SM (2013) Tadalafil: a phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor for benign prostatic hyperplasia. Pharmacotherapy 33:639-649. PubMed Chevret-Measson M, Lavallee E, Troy S, Arnould B, Oudin S, Cuzin B (2009) Improvement in quality of sexual life in female partners of men with erectile dysfunction treated with sildenafil citrate: findings of the Index of Sexual Life (ISL) in a couple study. The journal of sexual medicine 6:761-769. PubMed Goldstein I, Burnett AL, Rosen RC, Park PW, Stecher VJ (2019) The Serendipitous Story of Sildenafil: An Unexpected Oral Therapy for Erectile Dysfunction. Sexual medicine reviews 7:115-128. PubMed Harte CB, Meston CM (2011) Recreational use of erectile dysfunction medications in undergraduate men in the United States: characteristics and associated risk factors. Arch Sex Behav 40:597-606. PDF Heiman JR, Talley DR, Bailen JL, Oskin TA, Rosenberg SJ, Pace CR, Creanga DL, Bavendam T (2007) Sexual function and satisfaction in heterosexual couples when men are administered sildenafil citrate (Viagra) for erectile dysfunction: a multicentre, randomised, double-blind, placebo-controlled trial. BJOG : an international journal of obstetrics and gynaecology 114:437-447. PubMed Jin F, Gong QH, Xu YS, Wang LN, Jin H, Li F, Li LS, Ma YM, Shi JS (2014) Icariin, a phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor, improves learning and memory in APP/PS1 transgenic mice by stimulation of NO/cGMP signalling. Int J Neuropsychopharmacol 17:871-881. PubMed Kloner RA, Stanek E, Desai K, Crowe CL, Paige Ball K, Haynes A, Rosen RC (2024) The association of tadalafil exposure with lower rates of major adverse cardiovascular events and mortality in a general population of men with erectile dysfunction. Clin Cardiol 47:e24234. PubMed Ko WJ, Han HH, Ham WS, Lee HW (2017) Daily use of sildenafil 50mg at night effectively ameliorates nocturia in patients with lower urinary tract symptoms associated with benign prostatic hyperplasia: an exploratory multicenter, double-blind, randomized, placebo-controlled study. Aging Male 20:81-88. PubMed Korkes F, Costa-Matos A, Gasperini R, Reginato PV, Perez MD (2008) Recreational use of PDE5 inhibitors by young healthy men: recognizing this issue among medical students. The journal of sexual medicine 5:2414-2418. PubMed Liu W, Antonelli PJ, Dahm P, Gerhard T, Delaney JAC, Segal R, Crystal S, Winterstein AG (2018) Risk of sudden sensorineural hearing loss in adults using phosphodiesterase type 5 inhibitors: Population-based cohort study. Pharmacoepidemiology and drug safety 27:587-595. PubMed Mattos RM, Marmo Lucon A, Srougi M (2008) Tadalafil and fluoxetine in premature ejaculation: prospective, randomized, double-blind, placebo-controlled study. Urol Int 80:162-165. PubMed Ölmestig JNE, Marlet IR, Hainsworth AH, Kruuse C (2017) Phosphodiesterase 5 inhibition as a therapeutic target for ischemic stroke: A systematic review of preclinical studies. Cell Signal 38:39-48. PubMed Özdabakoğlu O, Güllülü S, Sağ S, Şentürk T, Kiliçarslan H, Tütüncü A, Keçebaş M, Baran I, Aydinlar A (2017) Evaluation of arterial stiffness and cardiac function in patients with vascular erectile dysfunction: acute effects of phosphodiesterase-5 inhibitor tadalafil. International journal of impotence research 29:96-100. PubMed Pomeranz HD (2017) Erectile Dysfunction Agents and Nonarteritic Anterior Ischemic Optic Neuropathy. Neurol Clin 35:17-27. PubMed Potts A, Gavey N, Grace VM, Vares T (2003) The downside of Viagra: women's experiences and concerns. Sociology of health & illness 25:697-719. PubMed Potts A, Grace V, Gavey N, Vares T (2004) "Viagra stories": challenging 'erectile dysfunction'. Social science & medicine (1982) 59:489-499. PubMed Rowland DL, Castleman JM, Bacys KR, Csonka B, Hevesi K (2022) Do pornography use and masturbation play a role in erectile dysfunction and relationship satisfaction in men? International journal of impotence research 35:548-557. PubMed Singh TP (2010) Clinical use of sildenafil in pulmonary artery hypertension. Expert Rev Respir Med 4:13-19. PubMed Stridh A, Pontén M, Arver S, Kirsch I, Abé C, Jensen KB (2020) Placebo Responses Among Men With Erectile Dysfunction Enrolled in Phosphodiesterase 5 Inhibitor Trials: A Systematic Review and Meta-analysis. JAMA Netw Open 3:e201423. PubMed Tomita N, Hotta Y, Naiki-Ito A, Hirano K, Kataoka T, Maeda Y, Takahashi S, Kimura K (2020) The phosphodiesterase 5 inhibitor tadalafil has renoprotective effects in a rat model of chronic kidney disease. Physiol Rep 8:e14556. PubMed Wang CM, Wu BR, Xiang P, Xiao J, Hu XC (2023) Management of male erectile dysfunction: From the past to the future. Front Endocrinol (Lausanne) 14:1148834. PubMed

  • Just Deserts

    How would Europe react if faced with the same problem as Israel? On October 7, 2025, forces of Islamic Jihad enter the Spanish cities of Ceuta and Melilla, situated in the coast of Morocco. They quickly overwhelm the Spanish Guardia Civil and Policia Nacional and went on a rampage, killing Spanish civilians, even children, and raping numerous women in the most gruesome ways. Other people are kidnapped and taken into hiding places in Morocco to be held as hostages. The military garrisons in both cities are slow to react. They just manage to defend themselves inside their barracks. The terrorists release video from body cameras that show them smiling while they kill, mutilate and rape. The population of Spain rushes to the streets in outraged demonstrations. The time and method of the operation are chosen intentionally. They are modeled on the October 7, 2023, attacks on Israel by Hamas, which are by now considered a huge success by Islamic organizations. Claiming to want to restore order in both cities, the Moroccan army enters them, surrounding the Spanish garrisons. The Spanish government of socialist Pedro Sanchez hesitates. Finally, it demands that the Moroccan military withdraw from Spanish territory. Mohammed VI, king of Morocco, states that his army is there to protect the peace and refuses to move it. Spain declares war on Morocco and invokes article 5 of NATO. Donald Trump, newly reelected President of the United States, sides with the king of Morocco, claiming that his army is sufficient to restore order in the invaded cities. The UK government, remembering how the Spaniards reacted to the Argentinian invasion of the Falkland Islands in 1982, calls it a “colonial war” and refuses to respond. The EU nations ponder how to act. Eastern European countries are still enmeshed in the war in Ukraine and do not want to open another front. Finally, France comes to the aid of Spain. A joint Spanish-French navy confronts the Moroccan navy that is blocking access to the cities. The superior air force of both countries sinks several Moroccan vessels. Other ships flee into Moroccan ports. Spanish and French soldiers disembark in Ceuta and Melilla. A bloody door-to-door battle ensues. It last several days, with numerous casualties on both sides. Finally, the Islamic Jihad forces regroup on the Moroccan side of the border. The Moroccan army gives them shelter. In front of a demonstration of millions of his people, Mohammed VI declares that the war is a holy jihad to reconquer Islamic territories. The European press debates if this includes Spain, which was conquered by Islam in the Middle Ages. The 500-years war of “Reconquista” against the Moors is still in the Spanish DNA. But the colonization of Morocco by Spain and France during the 19th and 20th centuries is even more recent in the memory of the Moroccans. The war leads to a crisis in the government of Spain, which ends up splitting the coalition between the socialists of PSOE and the leftist Sumar. The latter argues that Spain should seek peace by abandoning Ceuta and Melilla, which it calls “colonies.” Conservative party Partido Popular and the extreme right party Vox want an all-out war with Morocco. PSOE is driven out of power and elections are called. Partido Popular and Vox run on the promise that they will avenge the offenses against Spain by Morocco and the terrorists it supports. Taking advantage of the turmoil during the Spanish elections, the Moroccan navy invades the island of Lanzarote, the easternmost of the Spanish Canary Islands. Afraid that the Moroccan would invade the whole Canary archipelago, Germany, Italy and other EU nations finally decide to respond to the invocation of NATO article 5 and join Spain and France in the war against Morocco. Again, several Moroccan ships are sunk by European submarines. The Moroccan navy is forced to withdraw from the Canary Islands, but an important part of their army is left occupying Lanzarote. The Europeans blockade the island. Partido Popular wins the absolute majority of Congress in the Spanish elections. With unimpeded control of the government, it launches an all-out assault on Morocco from Ceuta and Melilla. The joint European air forces relentless bombard the cities of Tangier, Tetouan and Nador, which are then invaded by land. Seeking to reduce casualties in the small volunteer European forces, the cities are razed mercilessly. Islamic Jihad and guerrilla Moroccan forces wage deadly urban warfare. For the enraged Spaniards, civilian casualties are an afterthought. The Moroccan government propaganda inflates their casualties. They soon breach 100,000. The Islamic world reacts with outrage. In Egypt, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Irak, Yemen, Iran and many other countries there are calls for holy jihad against the Christian invaders of Morocco. They start sending arms and soldiers to Morocco. They have to do so by land, because any ships carrying soldiers in the Mediterranean are promptly stopped or sunk by NATO warships. Unfortunately, so are ships carrying humanitarian relief to Morocco from Islamic countries. There is not enough food and medicines in the hospitals to take care of the numerous Moroccan casualties. The United Nations declare a humanitarian crisis. Putin’s Russia throws its full support behind Morocco. Xi Jiping offers China’s mediation in stopping the war. He advocates giving Ceuta, Melilla and Lanzarote to Morocco. It’s a non-start. Spain and the Europeans do not even bother to come to the negotiating table. Why would they? They are winning the war. Soon, Morocco will be forced to negotiate, or it will be utterly destroyed. After several months of blockade, there is famine in Lanzarote. Both Spanish civilians and Moroccan soldiers are dying like flies. Finally, the Moroccan soldiers agree to surrender, on the condition that they are given Spanish citizenship. Mohammed VI has promised to execute them if they return to Morocco. The Spanish government agrees but, when its army enters Lanzarote, they confine the Moroccan soldiers to improvised prisoner camps inside the desert island. Islamophobia is out of control in Europe, especially in Spain and France. Mosques and Muslim-own business are set afire. There are fights in the suburbs of Paris, Marseille, Barcelona and Madrid. Finally, the Spanish and French governments opt for the massive detention of Muslims, confining them to concentration camps. Germany hesitates at first, then follows suit. There are demonstrations all over the world against the European carnage in Morocco. In particular, the American Left is adamant in its opposition to the “new colonial war.” It supports Trump’s decision not to get involved. There is a vote in the United Nations calling for a ceasefire in Morocco. A majority of nations support it, including Russia and China. To the Spaniards' chagrin, Venezuela, Nicaragua, Mexico, Cuba, Ecuador, Bolivia, Brazil and Argentina vote against them. The USA and the UK abstain. The resolution is blocked by France in the Security Council. Egypt closes the Suez Canal in retaliation. All ships are forced to go around Africa. International commerce suffers, triggering sky-high inflation. Especially in Europe. The Trump administration starts to have second thoughts about its decision to stay out of the conflict. Pushed by the American economic oligarchy, it finally agrees to respond to NATO’s article 5, but only to re-open the Suez canal. The EU decides to invade Egypt to take control of the Suez canal. They ask Israel to allow them to use their land as a staging area to enter Egypt. Israel refuses. It has a long-standing peace treatment with Egypt, it argues. Besides, when Israel was in a similar predicament the year before, what did Spain and the Europeans do?

  • Andrew Huberman, I Am a Little Mixed Up About You

    Preaching against porn and masturbation and then cheating on five women? I have to confess that, when I first heard about Andrew Huberman, I was envious. He is a neuroscientist like me who has managed to create an enormously successful podcast, the Huberman Lab. I should have done that when I retired. On top of that, when I checked his publication record in PubMed, I found that he has great papers in some of the most prestigious scientific journals: Nature, Science, Cell, Cell Reports, Neuron and the Journal of Neuroscience. He is the senior author in most of these papers (last author), which means that the research was done in his lab.  I have also published a bunch of papers, but not quite as good as his. So I got his podcast and listened to some episodes. Some of them were great. Some of his guest I had known for a long time, like Robert Malenka, a pioneer in the field of synaptic plasticity. I learned a lot from other episodes, like the one about sleep. Another one about nutrition confirmed my suspicion that sugar is slowly poisoning us and that carbs are the cause of metabolic syndrome and the diabetes epidemic. Dopamine pseudoscience Other episodes are disturbing, though. He invited twice Dr. Anna Lembke, a psychiatrist at Stanford who wrote Dopamine Nation. I read that book and it’s total pseudoscience. Dr. Lembke promotes a new form of puritanism based on the idea that pleasure causes “dopamine spikes” in the reward system of the brain (ventral tegmental area to the nucleus accumbens). These spikes supposedly lead you to become addicted to everything that causes pleasure, but especially to porn and masturbation. Her book contains accounts of what I think is mistreatment of her patients. For example, she told a patient named Jacob to get on his knees and ask God for forgiveness for masturbating. Sounds a lot like conversion therapy to me. She told another patient, a teenager who was forced to see her by her parents, that she was addicted to cannabis, which is considered non-addictive except for a small percentage of the population. I debunked the whole “dopamine spike” story in this other article. I posted a comment in the Huberman Podcast alerting him that what Dr. Lembke says about dopamine doesn’t match what science says. He ignored me. Questionable ads Dr. Huberman uses ads to finance his podcast. The ads are interspersed in the podcast and are voiced by him in a compelling tone. He often remarks that he would not promote a product that he didn’t believe in. He uses a lot of the things he advertises, especially a multi-vitamin drink called Athletic Drinks. Its claims were discussed in another podcast I regularly listen to, Conspirituality, dedicated to “dismantling New Age cults, wellness grifters and conspiracy-mad yogis.” It is run by Derek Beres, Matthew Remski, Julian Walker and Mallory DeMille. They lean left. They do a great job of exposing the connections between some gurus, anti-vaxxer propaganda, climate denialism and right-wing conspiracy theories. Puritanical views Conspirituality also criticized Dr. Huberman for “coming to Jesus” in a recent episode. This kind of makes sense, because Huberman’s defense of Dr. Lembke’s ideas boils down to a new kind of puritanism. He regularly condemns masturbation and porn, saying that they are addictive. They are not. A lot of the appeal of the Huberman podcast is the advice he gives about how to live a healthy life. Some of it, like avoiding alcohol and sugar, makes sense. Some of it is pseudoscience, like saying that masturbation is addictive. And some of it, we simply don’t know. The scandal There seems to be a special curse on people who preach against sex: they become the center of a sex scandal. Alas, Dr. Huberman was not an exception! On March 25, Kerry Howley published an article in New York Magazine detailing the problematic sex life of Andrew Huberman. You can read the details there, if you want. The whole story can be summarized quite quickly. Dr. Huberman had relationships with five women at the same time while telling them that they were exclusive. Eventually, one of the women found out. Then they found each other and became friends. There was a sixth woman, but they could not contact her. There is a joke going around saying that Huberman's health advice must work. Otherwise, he would not have the energy to have sex with so many women for years on end. Not to mention managing the logistics to keep all those affairs hidden. In comparison, running a research lab must be trivial. Andrew Huberman, a lying scientist? Jokes apart, the main problem, for me, was that he lied to these women. For years. I am polyamorous, so I don’t have a problem with somebody like Dr. Huberman having multiple love partners. And I say “love” intentionally, because I don’t have any trouble believing that he loved these women. You can have multiple romantic loves. That’s what polyamory is all about. Oh, but the lying! In polyamory, being honest is a big deal. You go into a lot of trouble so you don’t have to lie to anybody. And, most of all, the people that are closest to you and you claim to love dearly. I’m really sick and tired of people I admire getting metooed (yes, that is a new verb). I am tempted to say: “Okay, look, he’s a mess, no question about it. But, still, he’s brilliant. He is doing a great job of popularizing neuroscience and enriching people’s lives.” There is a problem, however. Science is all about finding the truth. Science is based on a set of ethical values, and perhaps the most important one is a radical respect for the truth. In science, telling the truth is not just not lying. It’s saying “I don’t know” when you don’t have an answer. It’s saying exactly how sure you are about something. If there is more than a 0.05% chance that you are wrong, then you are not sure. That’s called statistics and error theory. There is a lot of trust going around in science. Scientists believe that other scientists love science as much as they do. Falsifying results would be equivalent to a priest desecrating the most holy thing in his religion. Some scientists do publish fake data, it is true, but many are found out. The consequences when that happens are normally a career-extinction event. So, here is the problem: if Dr. Huberman was able to lie to five women he loved, who else is he lying to? The audience of his podcast? The reviewers of his papers and grant proposals? Losing credibility, in science, is death-serious. Where do we go from here, doctor Huberman? I don’t think this scandal will sink the Huberman Lab podcast. Or, at least, I hope it doesn’t. Dr. Huberman's credibility has been seriously undermined, however. He will not be able to discuss sex, love and relationships in his podcast without addressing his past or sounding like a hypocrite. And those topics cover a big chunk of what is interesting in neuroscience. I hope he doesn’t turn all this into another great American redemption story. I’m sick and tired of those. Besides, a coming-to-Jesus moment would not go down well with an audience that loves science and that probably includes many atheists. He needs to get on top of this, though. And fast. He needs to explain what he did, publicly, in his podcast. It would be best if he dedicated a whole episode to it. He needs to apologize to his exes, sincerely and profusely, and then leave them alone. He needs to apologize to his audience for having disappointed them. To build back his credibility, he needs to take a huge step back from his most extreme claims. He needs to start speaking like a true scientist, with less assurance and more careful consideration of opposing ideas. Maybe some of his advertising needs to go, too. It will be interesting to see what happens.

  • How to Recognize Abuse in BDSM Relationships

    The things that a define the boundary between BDSM and physical and emotional abuse One of the key issues in the BDSM community has always been how to distinguish a healthy BDSM relationship from one based on abuse and exploitation. To achieve that, an agreement was reached back in the 80s based on the criteria “safe, sane and consensual” (SSC). This means that there should be no serious physical injuries (safe), there should be no emotional manipulation (sane) and that everything that happens has the consent of all participants (consensual). Later come other formulations, like “risk-aware consensual kink” (RACK), but in my opinion they lack the simplicity and directness of SSC. I will not talk here about rape or physical sexual abuse, which are hideous but easily identifiable, but about more devious forms of abuse based on psychological manipulation and the subversion of common BDSM practices. Abuse in vanilla and BDSM relationships In most cases, abuse in BDSM relationships is not very different from abuse in vanilla relationships, and there is no evidence that it is more frequent. However, it is unfortunately true that BDSM lends itself to facilitate and hide abuse. First, there are some myths in BDSM culture that make abuse more difficult to recognize. Here are a few examples. That dominance and submission are valuable by themselves. That a “true submissive” must obey the dominant unquestionably. That limits are meant to be overcome. That a BDSM relationship must progress to 24/7 or consensual non-consent. Second, the lack of acceptance of BDSM by the society makes it more difficult for victims to denounce abuse, because that would entail for them to come out as practitioners of these “perversions” and therefore risking being victimized again by society. Third, some people are intent on labeling healthy BDSM relationships as abusive for ideological reasons, ranging from social conservatism to radical feminism. Because of all this, I think it is crucial to discuss the different ways in which BDSM can be used as a pretext for abuse, emotional control and exploitation. A list of red flags I have created a list of issues that might lead to abuse situations. My goal is to alert potential victims and to call the attention of the BDSM community on this subject, This list may be incomplete and should be considered an ongoing project. The issues are not meant to refer to specific behaviors but broad attitudes. The fact that a person has one or two of them may not be a cause for alarm, but several should turn on the red light. I have tried to use gender-neutral language. Although is statistically more frequent that the abuser is male and the victim is female, abuse can occur in all kinds of gender combinations. Also, I alternate between referring to dominant and submissives (which implies a dominance/submission or D/s relationship) and Tops and bottom (implying a sadomasochist or SM relationship). Jealousy and possessiveness Jealousy is often at the core of abuse. A lot of intimate partner violence, even murder, is motivated by it. Dominance-submission forms a perfect cover for possessive relationships because it normalizes control by one partner and total surrender by the other. Hence, the difference between a healthy and an abusive D/s relationship can be hard to tell for anybody outside it. The key could be in how the dominant reacts to the friendships and social environment of the submissive. Continuous suspicion and using dominance as an excuse for exaggerated control over most aspects of life should be warning signs. For example, demanding access to your cell phone is a sign of unwarranted control and intrusion in your privacy. In the specific context of BDSM, an abuser will seek to bypass SSC and subvert BDSM practices to achieve emotional control. This is the common characteristic of the next points. Not respecting limits In BDSM, limits are one of the instruments to ensure consent. They are simply the things that a person refuses to do, which are established in a previous negotiation. Some people differentiate between hard and soft limits. The former are to be respected always, whereas the latter are something that the submissive may be willing to overcome in the future or in some special circumstances. An abusive top may consider the limits as a personal challenge and set to work to undermine them or just break them directly. This is often rationalized as the need for the submissive to “grow” in order to experience BDSM more deeply. In reality, the abuser sees your limits as an impediment to the absolute control he wants to exercise over you. He will consider overcoming your limits as a personal success. Objecting to a safeword Another instrument to ensure consent is the safeword: a word that is used by the bottom to stop the kinky play when something goes wrong. It complements limits by providing a way to object to something unexpected. Some BDSMers do not like to use a safeword because they have other ways of communicating when there is a problem. Some D/s relationships may evolve over time to an extreme form in which the submissive is able to surrender to the Dominant with such trust that a safeword is no longer necessary. Abusers take advantage of this controversy around safewords to discourage the bottom from using them. Another strategy is to agree to use a safeword while making it clear that the submissive will be punished for using it. The punishment may consist of stopping the scene and refusing to go back to it, which is unnecessary unless the bottom asks for it. The Top may also become unkind, passive-aggressive, or outright angry. In extreme cases, she may berate or reject the submissive. Adopting extreme forms of BDSM Normally, BDSM is practiced in “scenes”: periods of play that last a few hours, after which the participant abandons their roles and return to an egalitarian interaction. Some couples have such a deep desire for kink that, after some time decide to do it full time. For them, being dominant and submissive is not a role that they take for a limited time but an essential part of their interaction. Another extreme form of D/s is “consensual not-consent”, in which the submissive agrees to endure anything that the Dominant decides to do, as an act of complete surrender. To maximize their control, abusers may try to quickly escalate relationships to 24/7 or consensual non-consent. This is rationalized as the myth that these types of relationships are the truest form of BDSM, or that they are somehow more desirable because they would make the submissive happier or more prestigious in the BDSM community. The reality is quite different: 24/7 and consensual non-consent are reached after a couple has gone through a long evolution in their practice. They are never taken casually. Another difference is that 24/7 is most often practiced by monogamous couples that are deeply committed to each other, whereas an abuser may try to impose 24/7 on multiple partners simultaneously, creating what is called a “stable” of submissives. Of course, polyamory is very common in BDSM. What is uncommon is 24/7 relationships with multiple partners. An honest 24/7 relationship is very demanding for the dominants, who have to continuously interact with the submissives so that they get something in exchange for their surrender. Abusers, however, will neglect the submissive once they have obtained the control and exclusivity that they seek. Secrets Abusers may demand that you keep complete secrecy of what happens between you and them, perhaps with the excuse of protecting your privacy or under the fear that your BDSM relationship would not be understood by your family and friends. That deprives you of seeking advice and contrasting what they do with what other people do. Of course, it is reasonable to ask that some intimate things remain private, but excessive secrecy should be a warning sign. Exaggerations and lies Abusers are not usually honest people. They are surrounded by a thick net of exaggerations, half-truths and outright lies. That serves to hide who they really are and to inflate their egos. They will make you believe that they are attractive and desired by many people. You are lucky that they have chosen you. You will lose big time if they leave you. A low self-esteem is often at the root of the need for control that drives manipulative behavior. Encouraging lying and other bad behavior Eventually, abusers will try to make you an accomplice to their lies. It is very easy to progress from asking you to keep a secret to making you lie to protect that secret. The abuser may also enlist your cooperation in abusing other people. This would make you feel special, that you have progressed to his inner circle, unlike all those submissive losers that crave his attention. If this creates feelings of guilt and shame in you, they will only serve to encourage you to accept the abuser’s rationalizations. This way, your own bad behavior will cause you to become more entrapped in the abuser’s web of lies and self-aggrandizement. Blaming and shaming The worst abuser is the one who most adeptly uses psychological manipulation to control you. Guilt and shame are powerful emotions that can be used for psychological control. A common tactic is for the abusers to cast themselves as the victim, especially if you are trying to leave them. They may tell you how much you have hurt their feelings and how cruel you are for doing so. If you apologize, as most people would, this would only start a dynamic in which you continually have to atone for your fault. You find yourself constantly on the defensive. Your behavior is always questioned, but never theirs. Of course, this may happen in vanilla relationships, but in BDSM there is the added element that you are supposed to be submissive, to give yourself completely to the dominant. Submission becomes an obligation, something that defines your value as a person, instead of being a choice that you make for your own reasons. Drug abuse It is a widely held belief in the BDSM community that drug use should be avoided in a BDSM scene. Personally, I make an exception for the use of cannabis by bottoms who I know well, because this enhances their experience. Still, I believe that tops should refrain from consuming drugs and alcohol before or during a scene, because they need a clear mind to ensure safety and consent. A submissive that is inebriated or high on drugs may be unable to give consent and to adequately process pain sensations and powerful emotions. This is particularly true for opioids and stimulant drugs like cocaine and amphetamines. Needless to say, inducing submissives to take drugs would be an easy way for an abuser to gain complete control over them by decreasing their critical thinking and weakening their will. Attacks to other people "If you want to know how your boyfriend will treat you, see how he treats his mother," says the popular wisdom. You may find that your new dominant is prone to road rage, starting flame wars on the internet and other violent behavior. That should be a clue of how they are going to behave with you once the relationship settles down. The infliction of pain and the giving of orders in BDSM should be done without anger. The dominant should be in a state of self-control all the time. Otherwise, a scene can slip into physical abuse before you realize what is happening. Social isolation This is a technique widely used by religious cults. They convince you that your family and friends are not good for you, that they are to blame for all the problems you have before. Jealous dominants may use the same method by, first, ordering you to break up with your friends and, second, by surrounding you with their friends. This way, integrating in the social environment of the abuser deprives you of the referent of people who can advise you, putting you in a situation of psychological vulnerability. Sophisticated abusers interact with people who think and act like them. They mutually confirm their lies and can even organize elaborate schemes of gaslighting. They cultivate collective beliefs that justify abusive behavior. Taking control of your life The worst abusers will try to take control of your money, work, housing, etc. It could be a great temptation to go live with your dominant. To let them support you financially or use his connections to get you a nice job. Especially if the dominant is wealthy your financial situation is not so great. You may have fantasized about finding your own Christian Grey, a powerful alpha male who will completely envelop you with his amazing power, providing safety and security forever. This is the fantasy promoted by 50 Shades of Grey and countless other romantic novels. However, this can be the biggest mistake of all. Not only this would increase your social isolation, but once your dominant is in control of your finances and living arrangements, it may become impossible to leave. This would require a lot of external help from friends and family. But, if they have managed to destroy your relationship with them, what can you possibly do? Is it malice or ignorance? After #MeToo, it has become fashionable to divide people between abusers and victims. Abusers are evil people who are irredeemable and should be avoided and ostracized, while victims are blameless souls who should always be believed and protected. Unfortunately, life is much more complicated. Yes, there are predators out there who are unscrupulous, selfish, and full of bad intentions. However, there are also people who are ill-informed, unconsciously possessive, jealous and mindless. And this applies to both dominants and submissives. Just like dominants may become over-controlling and exploitative, submissives may rush into a type of relationship that they are not prepared for, be it 24/7, consensual non-consent, a live-in situation or financial dependency. Which is to say, unhealthy BDSM relationships may happen more out of ignorance than malice. What to do when these issues are detected? If the relationship is starting and the signs are clear, it is best to cut it as soon as possible. However, breaking is not always the best option. There are relationships that are worth being rescued. The important thing is to realize that extreme forms of BDSM are incredibly powerful and intoxicating. They can easily lead to psychological dependence by undermining your self-esteem. It is hard to talk about these things without feeding into the narratives of those who want to condemn BDSM. Let me emphasize that 24/7 and consensual non-consent are legitimate forms of BDSM, that they can be practiced safely and enrich the lives of the people who adopt them. They are just things not to rush into, especially when you are inexperienced. My advice is to practice BDSM by scenes, returning to your independent, autonomous self in between. Only after doing that for many years you should venture into extreme BDSM like 24/7 and consensual non-consent. Read a lot about it, integrate yourself in the BDSM community, make lots of friends, get a mentor who is not your dominant, and always stay alert for those who want to use BDSM to exploit and control you. Copyright 2024 Hermes Solenzol.

  • Healthy Masculinity and Toxic Feminism

    Rescuing positive manhood from feminist criticism What is toxic masculinity? It is thought that toxic masculinity originates in traditional gender roles that suppress women and make men dominant over them. This is right. However, the role of religion in creating these traditional gender roles it is usually ignored. Instead, men are blamed, insinuating that they gained a lot of privileges from this situation. Wikipedia says this about the definition of toxic masculinity: “Popular and media discussions in the 2010s have used the term to refer to traditional and stereotypical norms of masculinity and manhood. According to the sociologist Michael Flood, these include ‘expectations that boys and men must be active, aggressive, tough, daring, and dominant’.” Toxic masculinity, Wikipedia. A paper in the journal Men and Masculinities (Harrington, 2020) criticizes the idea of toxic masculinity. Quoting from its abstract: “Since 2013, feminists began attributing misogyny, homophobia, and men's violence to toxic masculinity. […] While some feminist scholars use the concept, it is often left under-defined. I argue that talk of toxic masculinity provides an intriguing window into gender politics in any given context. However, feminists should not adopt toxic masculinity as an analytical concept. I consider the term's origins, history, and usage, arguing that it appears in individualizing discourses that have historically targeted marginalized men.” The men’s mythopoetic movement The idea of toxic masculinity originated in the mythopoetic men’s movement of the 1980s and 1990s, in particular in the writings of Shepherd Bliss. I fell in love with the mythopoetic movement in the 90s, when I read Iron John, by Robert Bly, one of its founders. That book made me realize for the first time that masculinity was something to be cherished, explored and cultivated. I was intrigued by ideas like the wound from the father and the archetypical struggle between men and women. However, I explored these ideas individually, never assisting to any of the retreats of the movement. I continue this trend today by practicing the Way of the Warrior, which is not gender specific but endorses many of the positive aspects of masculinity. Too bad feminism criticized the mythopoetic men’s movement as sexist. Even as women came up with their own version of the mythopoetic movement with books like Women Who Run With the Wolves. Does masculinity exist? In biology, sexual dimorphism refers to differences in body shape and behavior between males and females. In some animals, like peacocks and Siamese fighter fish (Betta Splendens), the sexual dimorphism is so strong that males and females look like they belong to different species. In other animals, like the Rasbora Espai fish in my aquarium, it is impossible to tell males from females until they lay eggs. Yet other animals are hermaphrodites or change sex during their lifetimes. Our closest relatives, the great apes, are highly sexually dimorphic. Males gorillas are much larger than the females and have crests on their heads. Something similar happens to orangutans: male are larger, solitary and have face plates. In chimps, males are larger and more aggressive. Even the bonobos, despite their reputation for being peaceful and matriarchal, have larger males and different behavior between the sexes. I have to remark this because today it is fashionable to deny that there are differences between men and women. On average, men have larger bodies and larger brains than women. Although there are no differences in intelligence between men and women, there are subtle psychological and cognitive differences, which I explored in this article. To summarize them (Archer, 2019): Women are better at language, including reading and writing. Women are better at emotional intelligence and face recognition. Men have better spatial abilities, particularly in mental rotations. Men have a better understanding of mechanics and how machines work. Men are slightly better at understanding science. Women are more prone to anxiety, sadness and depression. Women have better emotional memories (Canli et al., 2002). Men are less fearful and more risk-prone. Men have higher pain thresholds and pain tolerance. Men are more prone to physical aggression, especially using weapons. Men are worse at self-control. Men are more prone to revenge, while women are better at forgiveness (Zak et al., 2009; Zheng et al., 2017). In general, men are more interested in things and women are more interested in people and social activities. These differences show at an early age, for example, in toy preferences (Lauer et al., 2015). The default sex is female and maleness is driven by testosterone, especially before birth (Hines, 2006). Sex is set epigenetically in each cell of the body (McCarthy et al., 2009). However, hormone therapy during adulthood can largely reverse sex differences, making possible sex change in trans people. This, and more evidence too large to include here, shows that masculinity exists and has a biological basis. It has good aspects, bad aspects and neutral ones. The importance of a culture of masculinity Importantly, the tendency of men to be more aggressive, more risk-prone and less social requires that young men are taught how to deal with these things so that they are not a danger to themselves and others. In most cultures, this takes the form of special social norms for men. This creates a cultural masculinity that is essential for the mental health of men. Therefore, cultural differences in gender are linked to biological sex differences and cannot be carelessly eliminated without dire consequences. I think that many of the problems of men in modern society arise from the absence of this culture of masculinity. If this is true, toxic masculinity should be blamed not only of traditional masculinity, but on the denial of the fact that men need to learn how to deal with their especial way of being. Is there a healthy masculinity? Instead of viewing masculinity in the negative, as toxic, it’s be better to focus on how to take advantage of its positive qualities. When men cultivate healthy masculinity, this helps both men and women, because it makes men less aggressive and more cooperative. Healthy masculinity should be a way of living that takes advantage of the positive qualities of biological maleness while avoiding the problems of its negative qualities, like excessive aggression, risk-taking and social isolation. It is not so much that certain virtues are unique to men, but that men need to cultivate these virtues to avoid becoming abusive assholes or whimpering wrecks. I listed the virtues that characterize healthy masculinity is a previous article: Here are some: Integrity: being honest and abiding by an ethical code. Courage: acting according to our moral code in the face of danger and fear. Stoicism: the ability to withstand emotional and physical pain. Resilience: the ability to recover quickly from setbacks and trauma. Self-sacrifice: being able to set aside our interest and well-being for the benefit of others. Generosity: sharing resources with others, including emotional, educational and financial assets. Self-reliance: being able to solve problems without help; not being dependent on others. Confidence: cultivating inner strength; having clear goals. Purpose: having goals to improve the world; to be on a mission. Responsibility: accepting the consequences of our actions without blaming the circumstances or other people. Self-restraint: being able to control aggression, anger and other negative emotions. Playfulness: actively engaging with the world with energy, joy, curiosity, humor and self-abandon. Of course, women have these qualities, too, but they are central to men’s identity. Without them, men lose of control of the dark impulses of maleness. Hence, they need to be consciously cultivated. Men feel a strong attraction for these ideals whenever they hear about them. This explains the popularity of personalities like Jordan Peterson, who extol the positive qualities of masculinity. Unfortunately, he does so in the frame of traditional gender roles, with their load of sexual repression, homophobia and misogyny. Progressives need to create a new ideal of healthy masculinity without these burdens. In fact, gay culture has become a reservoir of positive masculine outlooks. Hence the Tom of Finland drawing at the head of this article. Why the feminist conception of healthy masculinity is wrong You may have noticed that several of the virtues I list above are considered aspect of toxic masculinity. For example, stoicism, resilience, self-reliance and self-restraint. This is one of the main problems with the idea of toxic masculinity: it includes things that are intuitively valuable to most men. When we men hear that it is wrong to be brave, or stoic, or self-reliant, something inside us rises in rebellion. Feminists respond by saying that we have been indoctrinated by the patriarchy, and that we would be much happier if we abandoned these qualities. For feminism, the definition of healthy masculinity is for men to become more like women: vulnerable, accepting of help, sensitive to pain, uninhibited and nurturing. Modern feminism promotes the idea that men are victims of the patriarchy. While it is true that some of the ideas of traditional masculinity are wrong, seeing yourself as a victim is not emotionally healthy. And, least of all, for men. Feminists invoke the image of men that have been hurt by forcing them to fit into a masculine stereotype that does not suit them. They don’t realize that they are hurting many more men by forcing them to adjust to a model of feminized men that clashes against their innermost feelings. What is worse is that when you don’t teach men how to deal with rage, lust, aggression, risk-taking and imperviousness to punishment, you create a generation of dangerous men. Precisely the men that are more likely to hurt women. Hence, these feminists are working against the goals of feminism. Only good men can teach other men to be good men because only men know the dark impulses we have to deal with. Conversely, good men can make them discover the beauty and awesomeness of masculinity. How feminism became toxic for men Feminism became toxic for men when it wanted to control men by turning them into something that they are not. This ideological feminism dovetails with the Identity Politics ideology that sees men as oppressors and women as victims. It also sees masculinity and femininity as social constructs that need to be destroyed to create a more equitable society. Therefore, any effort by men to live according to a healthy masculinity should be fought as another trick of the patriarchy. Feminism has always carried a certain amount of hostility against men. Thus, the anti-porn feminists of the 70s and 80s tried to use sex as a weapon to control men, by limiting their access to sex by outlawing pornography and prostitution. The War on Sex that ensued was won by sex-positive feminism, creating third wave feminism. However, the #MeToo movement started fourth wave feminism by exposing how powerful men have been sexually abusing and raping women. That was wonderful. However, the previously defeated anti-porn/radical feminists took advantage of that to bring back to life their crusade against men and sex. In their twisted logic, they stated that #YesAllWomen have been sexually abused, and therefore #AllMen are rapists. The contempt for men that had been lingering in feminism came to the surface in celebrated books like Moi les hommes, je les deteste, Men Explain Things to Me and The Right to Sex. Today, it has become perfectly okay for feminists to say that they hate men. One of the favorite misandrist tricks of fourth wave feminists is to tarnish men who dare push back against them by accusing them of male fragility or insecurity. These words are offensive to men because we highly value courage, stoicism and self-reliance, three of the masculine virtues I list above. Being fragile and insecure is their exact opposite. Besides, dangerous men are not fragile and insecure, but overly tough and self-confident. Believe me, you don’t want to push men to become too much like that. Internalized misandry Recently, I became aware of my own internalized misandry. In a reversal of the feminist stereotype of men disliking the company of women, most of my friends are women, most of the postdocs working in my lab have been women, and most of my scientific collaborators have been women. This has nothing to do with sexual attraction. It’s just that, somehow, I find it easier to communicate with women. I am not alone in that. It seems that men dislike other men and don’t have many male friends. The reasons for this are not clear to me. It could be that men see other men primarily as competitors for women and professional success. Excessive competitiveness is one of the characteristics of toxic masculinity and has been exacerbated by our capitalistic culture. But I suspect that men have internalized the negative stereotypes of feminism, making us suspicious of other men. This is not normal. Men are naturally cooperative and form strong male friendships. The presence of internalized misandry should alert us that the contempt of men in toxic feminism can have dire consequences. Perhaps the most important health problem of men today is social isolation and loneliness. This is what drives a lot of men to suicide, An uneasy future for men and feminism If modern feminism has become toxic for men, it would be better for us to stay away from it. Don’t go to feminist demonstrations. Don’t read their books and articles. Don’t listen to their advice. Most of us love women, embrace equality and want to help. However, contact with feminism is sapping our self-esteem and feeding our internalized misandry. Even worse: experiencing the constant anger of feminists is turning some men into misogynists. Let’s hope that, eventually, feminism will get rid of the misandry in its ranks. But, looking at the dangerous rise of the extreme Right, we cannot wait. We urgently need a new progressive Men’s Movement to counter the migration of men towards the ideas of traditional masculinity of the Right. Then we will be able to support the worthy goals of feminism. References Archer J (2019) The reality and evolutionary significance of human psychological sex differences. Biological reviews of the Cambridge Philosophical Society 94:1381-1415. PDF. Canli T, Desmond JE, Zhao Z, Gabrieli JD (2002) Sex differences in the neural basis of emotional memories. Proc Natl Acad Sci U S A 99:10789-10794. Harrington C (2020) What is “Toxic Masculinity” and Why Does it Matter? Men and Masculinities 24:345-352. Hines M (2006) Prenatal testosterone and gender-related behaviour. Eur J Endocrinol 155 Suppl 1:S115-121. Lauer JE, Udelson HB, Jeon SO, Lourenco SF (2015) An early sex difference in the relation between mental rotation and object preference. Frontiers in psychology 6:558. McCarthy MM, Auger AP, Bale TL, De Vries GJ, Dunn GA, Forger NG, Murray EK, Nugent BM, Schwarz JM, Wilson ME (2009) The Epigenetics of Sex Differences in the Brain. Journal of Neuroscience 29:12815-12823. Zak PJ, Kurzban R, Ahmadi S, Swerdloff RS, Park J, Efremidze L, Redwine K, Morgan K, Matzner W (2009) Testosterone administration decreases generosity in the ultimatum game. PLoS One 4:e8330. Zheng L, Ning R, Li L, Wei C, Cheng X, Zhou C, Guo X (2017) Gender Differences in Behavioral and Neural Responses to Unfairness Under Social Pressure. Scientific reports 7:13498.

  • Altered States of Consciousness in BDSM

    Understanding the different sub-spaces and their neurological basis BDSM BDSM stands for Bondage, Dominance-Submission and Sado-Masochism, which are alternative sexual practices also called “kink”. Bondage consists of tying people up in exposed or provocative positions. Dominance-submission occurs when one partner becomes subservient to the other in a sexual or romantic way. Sadomasochism consists of using pain and humiliation as a source of pleasure and joy. There is considerable overlap between these three practices. Many people use them all to a certain degree, but there are also people who practice just one of them. One of the most fascinating aspects of BDSM is its ability to induce altered states of consciousness. In the kinky community, there is a lot of talk about “sub-space” as a desirable mental space to be achieved by the submissive or bottom in a BDSM “scene” - a session of play. Unfortunately, this has generated a series of myths and dubious techniques to induce endorphin release and attain that coveted sub-space. In this article, I want to use my experience as both a BDSM practitioner and a scientist doing research on the neurophysiology of pain to shed some light on this confusion. I must start with a warning: there is practically no scientific research on the neurochemical phenomena that occur in sadomasochistic scenes. However, although at the moment we are not ready to talk with certainty about what happens in the brain during a BDSM scene, we still can use scientific evidence to debunk some existing myths and set the foundation for some future research. What are altered states of consciousness? Consciousness is the fact of being aware of everything that happens, both in the outside world and inside our mind. Our consciousness flows like a river of experiences that forms the story of our lives. From our subjective point of view, our consciousness is everything. Of course, there is an external reality unaffected by what we make of it. However, our state of consciousness shapes and colors the events of our everyday lives. The reality that we perceive is altered by the filter of our consciousness: it disappears when we sleep and takes an exceptional intensity in situations of danger in which our brain becomes more alert to our surroundings. The quality of our consciousness determines to a great extent our capacity to be happy. This is because our consciousness is shaped by our emotional state, and this is able to make our world heaven or hell. Since the dawn of our species, humans have tried to alter our consciousness by consuming drugs or by undergoing certain rituals and practices. BDSM is an example of the second case. Not every BDSM activity is going to produce an altered state of consciousness, but those which do will leave us an unforgettable memory. Here I propose a classification of the altered states of consciousness that can be reached in a BDSM scene. This classification is based on my own experience, on discussions with other people that practice BDSM and on my knowledge of neuroscience. Endorphin release Morphine and other opioids like codeine, heroin and fentanyl are the most powerful pain-inhibiting (analgesic) drugs known. They also produce states of well-being (euphoria) that lead to their abuse. As everybody knows, opioids are highly addictive. Opioids produce analgesia and euphoria by acting on four opioid receptors, which are proteins embedded in the membrane of certain neurons in the brain, the spinal cord and the gut. There are also opioid receptors in immune cells and other non-neuronal cells. Three opioid receptors were named with the Greek letters mu, delta and kappa. All three decrease pain. Apart from their analgesic effect, the mu and delta opioid receptors induce euphoria. Kappa opioid receptors also produce analgesia but induce dysphoria (a state of emotional distress) instead of euphoria. A fourth opioid receptor was discovered in two different labs, which named it the nociceptin or the orphanin receptor, respectively. Unlike the other three receptors, it increases pain. The four opioid receptors didn’t evolve so we can take morphine to alleviate pain. They are activated by small proteins, called peptides, that are produced by the body and bind to the same site as morphine. These peptides were called “endorphins”—“endogenous morphine”. There are about 40 of these peptides, belonging to three different families: the endorphins, the enkephalins and the dynorphins. However, the term endorphin is commonly used to refer to all of them. These peptides are produced by three different genes. Since these genes are induced separately, different types of neurons release different endorphins. A fourth gene encodes for nociceptin/orphanin, the peptide that activates the fourth opioid receptor. Endorphins are released into the bloodstream from the pituitary gland, but this does not produce analgesia or euphoria because endorphins in the blood cannot cross the blood-brain barrier to have an effect on the brain. The only endorphins that can induce an altered state of consciousness are those that are released inside the brain. In the blood, endorphins regulate the immune system and gut motility, among other things. Therefore, we need to keep in mind that the presence of endorphins in the blood doesn’t mean anything in terms of our mental state. The other myth about the endorphin release is what I call the “endorphin soup”: the belief that endorphins are released all over the brain leading to a generalized state of euphoria. The reality is far more complicated. Endorphins are independently released in different brain areas, leading to multiple states depending on where in the brain they are released. For example, endorphin release in the spinal cord produces analgesia but not euphoria, whereas their release in the amygdala decreases fear and stress. Endorphin release in the nucleus accumbens (the “pleasure pathway”) induces euphoria, a decrease in motivation and addiction. In view of all that, does endorphin release happen during a BDSM scene? I believe so. Pain induces endorphin release, so it is likely that it occurs in sadomasochistic play involving pain. Opioids are downers, so endorphin release would also induce feelings of calm, relaxation and dreaminess. The submissive turns his or her attention inward, disconnecting with the surrounding environment and entering a fantasy world. The optimal way to induce endorphin release would be to gradually increase pain intensity in an environment of emotional support in which the submissive can absorb the sensations without having to give a response. Endorphin release can be detected by a decrease in heartbeat. Noradrenaline release Noradrenaline or norepinephrine is a neurotransmitter similar to the hormone adrenaline, which is released in the blood by activation of the sympathetic system in the fight-or-flight response. The difference is that noradrenaline is released by neurons in specific brain areas. As in the case of the endorphins, we shouldn’t confuse the release of adrenaline in the blood with the release of noradrenaline in the brain, although both things often happen at the same time. Noradrenaline activates several receptors named alpha and beta-adrenergic receptors. In particular, alpha-2 adrenergic receptors in the spinal cord produce analgesia. Like the endorphins, noradrenaline is released by pain-controlling neural pathways to induce analgesia. Noradrenaline can induce euphoria, but it also induces fear and stress. Often, this is a good kind of stress, called “eustress” (bad stress is called distress)—think of the feel-good fear that we seek in horror movies and roller-coasters. There are inhibitory connections between endorphin and noradrenaline pain-controlling pathways that ensure that endorphin and noradrenaline release do not happen simultaneously. Although both states entail analgesia, they are different in other things. If endorphins are downers, noradrenaline is an upper. Noradrenaline release produces a state of increased awareness to external stimuli, which appear more intense. The noradrenergic response evolved to inhibit pain in fight-or-flight situations, whereas the endorphin response may be related to freezing behavior. I suspect that many states of decreased pain sensitivity in sadomasochistic scenes that are attributed to endorphins are in fact generated by nor-adrenaline. Submissives in a noradrenergic state cry, move and react. Their heartbeat increases. This state can be as euphoric and pleasant as that produced by endorphin release. If we want to release noradrenaline, we should couple pain with fear in a situation that demands a response from the submissive. Sub-space in dominance-submission The term “sub-space” is used indistinctively to refer to any of the altered states of consciousness described above. However, its name suggests that it should be used only to refer to dominance-submission scenes and not to sadomasochistic scenes, that is, to states generated by pain. In dominance-submission, sub-space is a mental state in which the attention of the submissive is completely focused on the Dominant and feelings of surrender and obedience. From the point of view of neuroscience, it seems likely that this sub-space is related to the release of oxytocin, a social hormone that induces trust and bonding. It may also involve dopamine release in the so-called “reward pathway” linking the ventral tegmental area of the striatum with the nucleus accumbens. The nucleus accumbens is the site of action of most drugs that produce addiction, like the opiates, cocaine, amphetamines and nicotine. Serotonin, a neurotransmitter of complex actions due to its many receptors (up to 16), could be related to a state of calm surrender in dominance-submission. In contrast to endorphin and noradrenaline release in sadomasochism, the sub-space in dominance-submission is more complex than a simple reflex. Instead, it seems to be an emotional state entered largely at will and subject to many variants and levels. Achieving a deep sub-space in dominance-submission often requires a period of training to create trust and bonds between the submissive and the dominant. Top-space Top-space is not mentioned as often as sub-space, but there is little doubt that it exists and is as important for the top as sub-space is for the bottom. One of the characteristics of a good top is to be able to read the physical reactions of the bottoms to know their mental state. Both the top in a sadomasochist scene and the dominant in a dominant-submissions relationship have to focus all their attention on the bottoms, feeling empathy and establishing a tight bond with them. Top-space may share some physiological features with sub-space. In it, oxytocin release may be accompanied by the release of vasopressin, a social hormone important in males that induces feelings of possession and territoriality. In sadomasochistic scenes in which the top inflicts a lot of pain to the bottom, a substantial release of nor-adrenaline may occur in the top because of empathy with the bottom. This would strengthen his focus on the scene. Sub-drop Many submissives complain of entering a period of low energy, apathy and dysphoria after an intense BDSM scene, called sub-drop. This may be due to a withdrawal effect from the release of euphoric neurotransmitters. However, sub-drop may have more complex causes because, on a closer examination, it seems to be a collection of different states that vary from person to person. Some people never experience sub-drop, while is quite strong in others. There seem to be at least two types of sub-drop, one that happens immediately after the scene and that can be addressed with aftercare and another that happens two or three days afterward and can last one or more days. We should not accept sub-drop as unavoidable. Perhaps the scene has stirred some deeply buried emotions from the past that the submissive should examine. Using the information that I gave above, the submissive should consider whether the scene has involved endorphin release, noradrenaline release or sub-space, and how sub-drop relates to each of these mental states. This way, we can start building up information on how sub-drop relates to these different altered states of consciousness. Final remarks We should not treat altered states of consciousness in BDSM in a frivolous fashion, as if BDSM was just another more drug. After all, if all we want is to get high we could just take drugs, instead of going through the painstaking process of doing a scene. I think that altered states of consciousness in BDSM are valuable because of their context, that of a profound personal relationship between the participants in the scene. Hence, it is not so much a question of whether we release this or that neurotransmitter, but of the meaning that the scene brings to our lives. This could be a catharsis, or maybe the surfacing of psychological issues buried in our minds for a long time that are released by the scene. Or maybe we discover a part of ourselves that we didn’t know before. More and more people understand BDSM as a process of self-discovery and personal transformation that enriches our lives and contributes to make us happier and self-fulfilled.

  • How Identity Politics Sabotaged the Left

    How we went from universalist humanism to the denial of progress Call me an old-fashioned leftist. I believe in wealth redistribution, redistributive taxation, state control over corporations, state-funded health care, free universities, contraception, abortion, defense of the environment and free speech. Among other progressive causes. However, for a long time I had felt that the Left was leaving behind these worthy causes in favor of some questionable ones. The ideology without name A new ideology has been growing like a cancer inside the Left, sapping its strength and turning a lot of people against it. The unthinkable has happened: the Left has lost the working class. Farmers and workers are increasingly voting for the populist Right, which is not your usual tame form of conservatism, but the fascist, radical Right incarnated in Donald Trump. Outside the USA, conservatives have been in power in the UK since Brexit. The Extreme Right has taken over Italy, the Netherlands and Hungary, and is ascendant in France and Spain. It’s all too easy to blame this on the stupidity of voters. The truth is that the Left is also to blame. It has been espousing radical, cryptic ideas rejected by common people, while abandoning the poor and the middle class to the ravages of capitalism. It is difficult to denounce this new ideology because it has no name. It pretends that it is just the Left. That its ideas are mainstream and common-sense, so nobody should criticize them. The growing polarization of politics creates an us-versus-them scenario in which you are denounced as a conservative if you oppose these ideas. Some people call this ideology wokenism. But this term was immediately hijacked by the Right to attack the Left. Besides, being woke has a nice pedigree as a term to oppose racism, so many progressives are reluctant to use it. Today, nobody knows what “being woke” really means. The dismissal of Progressivism This nameless ideology may be leftist, but it is certainly not progressivism. “As a political movement, progressivism seeks to advance the human condition through social reform based on purported advancements in science, technology, and social organization.” Progressivism, Wikipedia. The core of this nameless ideology is precisely to question progress, particularly denying the ability of science to find objective truth and questioning the improvements in human condition brought by technology. It is also critical of social progress. For example, it questions that the Civil Rights movement has brought any real improvements over racism. The Identity Trap Finally, an article in The Atlantic by Yascha Mounk led me to his book The Identity Trap. It explains quite well the inner workings of this nameless ideology, which Mounk labels the Identity Synthesis. In The Identity Trap, Mounk takes you through the origins of the Identity Synthesis in its successive stages. He then explains how it invaded the universities first, and then general society. The book ends with a thorough rebuttal of this ideology and a roadmap of what progressivism can do to regain control of the Left. Much of what I write in this article is based on that book, but I will add my own twists as a scientist and university professor. However, I will use the term Identity Politics instead of Identity Synthesis because it has more traction and has its own entry in Wikipedia. An internet search revealed that the Identity Politics is more widely used than Identity Synthesis, although its meaning is not as narrow. The seven themes of Identity Politics Mounk identifies seven main characteristics of the Identity Synthesis: “Rejection of objective truth.” Based on postmodernism, it asserts that science is just another ‘grand narrative’ created by the structures of power. “Using discourse analysis for political ends.” Instead of defending free speech, it declares that the truth needs to be subjugated to attaining political goals. “Strategic essentialism.” While denying that identities like race and gender have any real existence, it embraces them with the goal of fighting the oppression structures that created them. “Pessimism about overcoming racism, misogyny and other forms of bigotry.” It questions past successes of feminism and the Civil Rights movement, claiming that they have been hijacked and perverted for the benefits of the oppressors. “Policies that distinguish people based on their identity.” Instead of continuing to fight segregation, Identity Politics wants to reinstate it because people of the same gender and race understand each other and fight better when they are together. Thus, it proposes the creation of ‘safe spaces’ for women and Blacks. “Intersectionality as a strategy for political organizing.” Since different forms of oppression compound each other—the original idea of intersectionality—, fighting against one form of oppression requires fighting against all forms of oppression. This leads to a mindless division of the world between victims and oppressors in all spheres of life. “Standpoint theory,” which asserts that people with different identities cannot communicate their experiences to each other. It also prioritizes subjective ‘lived experiences’ over scientific fact-based objectivity. Postmodernism Yascha Mounk places the origin of Identity Politics in the postmodernists ideas of the 1980s, particularly those of Michel Foucault and Jean-François Lyotard. At its core, postmodernism represents a rejection of objective truth and universalist leftism—what I have been calling progressivism. “The historical mission of the left consisted in expanding the circle of human sympathy across the boundaries of family, tribe, religion, and ethnicity.” The Identity Trap, Yascha Mounk. Michel Foucault started his career as an orthodox Marxist, but eventually became disenchanted with it. This led him to a nihilistic philosophy consisting of rejecting any ‘grand narrative’ because they are hijacked by oppressors to perpetuate themselves in power. In his book Madness and Civilization, Foucault explains that grand narratives are ideologies that offer a comprehensive explanation of how the world works and what to do to improve it. Therefore, science figures prominently amongst these grand narratives. But so are any ideas of social or moral progress. Jean-François Lyotard, in his book The Postmodern Condition, similarly dismisses the necessity of ‘metanarratives’—which are theories that bring together several disciplines under a common understanding. Any such universalist theory, he said, is just a matter of opinion and inherently unjust. The main examples of grand narratives or metanarratives are: The progress towards rationality promised by the Enlightenment. The socialist revolution promised by Marxism. The scientific method as a way to determine the truth or falsity of a statement. Interestingly, the rejection of grand narratives led to the rejection of essentialism, which is the idea that there are stable identities like proletarian, woman or race. According to postmodernism, the identity labels that we use to make sense of the world are a source of power because they enshrine the norms that create the moral structure of society. This is the origin of the current idea that there is no biological sex, because ‘gender is a social construct.’ That is, gender is just a narrative imposed by the power structure of the patriarchy. This way, fourth wave feminism has become an ideology anchored in postmodernism. However, if identities are not real, and gender and race are just illusions created by the oppressors, how on Earth did we get to Identity politics? This is the reason why Identity Politics refuses to label itself. It’s not just that, at its core, it does not believe in identities. It’s that adopting any label would be a grand narrative and therefore intrinsically problematic. So Identity Politics camouflages itself as a collection of apparently unconnected ideas that cannot be construed as a grand narrative. Regardless, identities were brought back into the equation, and eventually became dominant. It was a twisted process. Postcolonialism Edward Said (1935-2003) was a Palestinian-American educated in Princeton and Harvard. His book Orientalism, published in 1978, criticized the notion of ‘the orient’ because it put in the same category the diverse cultures of Arab countries, India, China and Japan. He correctly pointed out that viewing the world through the lens of Western civilization creates a distorted view in which poorly understood cultures are considered inferior. This hides a great injustice: how the idea that the West had a superior culture that needed to be taught to other countries created a justification for the colonial exploitation of those countries. This criticism of Western cultural supremacism, however, was used to reinforce the postmodernist idea of grand narratives. And, in particular, that science was part of Western culture and needed to be rejected. In reality, science arose from the merger of Greek philosophy with Arabic expertise in astronomy, chemistry and medicine, which in turn they transmitted from Chinese and Indian civilizations. As soon as it developed in the West, science was promptly adopted by countries like Japan, China and India. Therefore, science is universal in its origin and application, forming a common tool for all humanity to discover and share objective truths. Another unfortunate development of Said’s idea was starting the current division of humanity between victims and oppressors. His goal was to change the dominant discourse to help the colonized countries. However, as decolonization became prevalent in the second half of the 20th century, formerly colonized countries began to engage in war against each other. For example, India and Pakistan fought each other, as did numerous African countries. Other countries, like the D.R. of Congo and Rwanda had bloody civil wars. The framework of victim/oppressor is not very useful to understand these conflicts, as one year’s oppressor becomes the next year’s victim. How strategic essentialism brought back identity Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak is an Indian literary scholar considered one of the most influential intellectuals of Postcolonialism. Following on the footsteps of Said, she argued that the oppressed masses in Asia did not have the luxury to disregard identity markers, as did Foucault. Even though she rejected essentialism as universal discourse, following postmodernism, she realized that the citizens of India, China and other Asian countries had to embrace their cultural identity to rescue it from Western influence. Identity had to be supported in a temporary, strategic way. Thus, strategic essentialism was born. This is how the victim versus oppressor discourse of Said and Spivak led to the adoption of the identities that postmodernism had rejected as essentialist. Soon enough, strategic essentialism was adopted by feminism and in the fight against racism. Just when scientists were ready to accept that race had no biological basis, anti-racists brought it back to organize their political fight around it. Apparently, intellectual consistency can be sacrificed in the political fight to dethrone the oppressors. After all, rationality is something scientists do. And science had been discarded long ago by the postmodernists and other philosophers. Critical Race Theory Derrick Bell (1930-2011) was a lawyer, university professor and civil rights activist. In 1970, he published Race, Racism, and American Law, the book that started Critical Race Theory. He argued that the progress of the Civil Rights movement was only apparent because it did not translate to improving the conditions of Blacks. In fact, it ended up working in favor of racism. Among other things, he said that it was a mistake to make desegregation of schools the main goal. He saw American racism as a permanent condition that just changes shapes to perpetuate itself. Thus, in contrast to what you may hear, Critical Race Theory appeared in opposition to the Civil Rights movement of Martin Luther King and Rosa Parks, not as a continuation of it. Critical Race Theory applied to law practice the ideas of postmodernism and Critical Theory. “In the 1970s, Bell and these other legal scholars began using the phrase "critical race theory" (CRT) a phrase based on critical legal studies, a branch of legal scholarship, that challenged the validity of concepts such as rationality, objective truth, and judicial neutrality.” Development of Critical Race Theory, Wikipedia. Eventually, CRT gave rise to ideas often brandished by Identity Politics, like microaggressions, implicit bias and intersectionality. Intersectionality Kimberlé Crenshaw (1959) is a law professor who used CRT in her research. She came up with the idea of intersectional theory, which states that different forms of oppression add to each other to create an even more pronounced oppression. Although intersectionality is true in many cases, it does not account for the fact that sometimes different forms of oppression do not add up. For example, Black men are often more oppressed than Black women: they are killed by police and incarcerated more often. The main problem, though, is that intersectionality produced two ideas that are not supported by Crenshaw. That activism against a particular form of oppression needs to translate into fighting all other forms of oppression. That people with different identities cannot understand each other’s lived experiences. Standpoint Theory This second idea became Standpoint theory. Standpoint Theory states that “there were key insights about the social world—and even that would be needed to fix injustices—that members of marginalized groups would never be able to communicate to members of dominant groups.” The Identity Trap, Yascha Mounk. Patricia Hill Collins (1948), among others, reasoned that since each group experiences different combinations of oppression, that means that subjective experience cannot be shared between different identity groups. Therefore, Identity Politics ideologues enshrine subjective experience as the ultimate arbiter of truth. In contrast, neuroscience has documented numerous cases in which subjective experience is unreliable because the brain has many ways to deceive itself. Standpoint theory also looms large in fourth wave feminism. It criticizes science, arguing that it has been dominated by men that are biased by their gender, so that they give us a distorted view of the world. In particular, they say, science has created many false beliefs about women and their bodies. Of course, science makes mistakes all the time. It’s in its nature, as it is to constantly test its ideas and eventually come up with the truth. But this doesn’t matter to feminists. One mistake damns you forever. This idea grows on the fertile ground of the rejection of science promoted by postmodernism. Since there is no objective truth, and science is wrong, we need to take the testimony of women at face value. It’s “believe women” taken to the extreme. Of course, Standpoint theory is valid only when we consider the subjective experience of an oppressed individual. The subjective experience of a person belonging to an oppressor group—men, Whites—is irredeemably subjected to implicit bias. Attacks on free speech Attacks against free speech are a common staple of the Right, mostly in the form of the banning of books about sexuality and LGTB rights. However, there is also a long tradition of attacks on free speech in the radical Left. Herbert Marcuse was a political philosopher that emigrated to the USA from Germany. In his book Repressive Tolerance, he argued that free speech was not possible in Western democracies because of domination of the mass media by the wealthy classes. He proposed a revolution that would bring to power a leftist government that would outlaw speech and assembly of any group that opposed its political goals. Stanley Fish took over the ideas of Marcuse, arguing that the boundary between allowed speech and banned speech (like “shouting fire in a crowded theater” or “fighting words”) is arbitrary and a matter of politics. Ibram X. Kendi is one of the main proponents of anti-racism and the idea that all Whites are racist. He defends the banning of racist ideas, which he defines broadly as anything that contradicts his thought. These ideas have infiltrated Identity Politics as a wide disregard for free speech. It is considered as something secondary, or even opposed, to the fight for racial liberation or to destroy the patriarchy. The result was cancel culture: the permission to viciously attack anybody who deviates from politically correct dogma. Many people have lost their careers for voicing their opinions. For example, evolutionary biologist Carole Hooven had to take leave from Harvard for teaching that sex is binary, an opinion shared by many scientists. “While some activists insist that asserting the biological reality of the sex ‘binary’ is entirely wrong-headed and pernicious, the true threat to science, and to human dignity is the idea that in order to support anyone’s rights we must deny or ignore reality.” Carole Hooven. Negativity and inefficacy By its essence, Identity Politics is full of negativity. It’s good at criticizing society, canceling people and demanding privileges, but poor at proposing solutions. Faced with real-life problems, like the separation of immigrant families or the Russian invasion of Ukraine, it remains baffled and silent. At most, it would propose largely symbolic solution, like calling for a ceasefire in Gaza, without spelling out how to resolve the underlying issues of the existence of Israel as a refuge for displaced Jews and taking the Palestinians out of their perennial refugee status. CRT and intersectionality has led to Diversity, Equity and Inclusion (DEI) policies in universities and corporations that have proven divisive, leading to compelled speech. DEI is leading faculty to sue their universities for curtailing their academic rights and threatening their jobs. Identity Politics is a threat to the core values of democracy The denial of objective truth and science by Identity Politics in the Left mirrors the same reactions in the far Right. The Left cannot criticize the conservatives when they deny the climate crisis and the effectiveness of vaccines while opposing science in subjects that it finds objectionable. More to the point, if there is no objective truth, dialogue becomes impossible, and we are doomed to an endless struggle between opposing ideas. Western civilization emerged from a thousand years of religious wars when it was able to accept that there are better ways to establish truth than blind faith and belief enforced by military power. Science created a comprehensive, internally consistent repository of knowledge about the world and ourselves based on evidence. Now the whole of humanity can move forward with a shared reality anchored in scientific knowledge. The technological fruits of science are made public for all to share. Identity Politics takes a huge step back by denying this scientific knowledge and going back to ideologies established by raw power. At stake is nothing less than the basis of our modern civilization. Democracy is based on recognizing the right to free speech, which in turn is based on the right to hold different opinions. Human rights are based on the recognition that we all share a common humanity and basic interests. Identity Politics emphasize the things that make us different from each other, in the name of diversity. It even tells us that these differences are so profound that we cannot understand each other. Identity Politics presents society as a zero-sum game in which “equity” is based on privileging certain races and genders over others. We need to purge this noxious ideology from the Left, not by canceling their proponents, as they do, but by debating it publicly. Like a vampire, it will wither away once we shine light on it.

  • Consent Is Not As Simple As It Seems

    Exploring the nuances of consensual sex Consent: the devil is in the details Consent doesn’t seem to be very complicated, at first sight. If two people are having sex, either both of them want it or one of them does not. If one person did not consent, then it’s non-consensual sex, which the same as rape. Simple, isn’t it? Well, it’s actually not that simple. When you get down to it, there are many cases in which saying yes to sex does not imply consent. For example: One the individuals involved has a sexually transmitted disease (STI) and has not told the other. A man removes his condom before penetration. A woman has agreed to have intercourse. While they are having it, the man chokes her. The boss has sex with his secretary. Consent is not just saying yes. It requires having adequate information (case 1), respecting all the details of what have been agreed (case 2), not doing things that have not been agreed (case 3), and lack of coercion (case 4). There are also cases in which it’s hard to tell if the sex was consensual or not: Two strangers are having impromptu sex without first agreeing about what they are doing. A woman has sex with a man after telling him that she is single, but she is actually married. A professor has sex with a junior faculty at her university. A landlord has sex with a tenant in exchange for rent. Whether you consider these cases consensual or not depends on your beliefs about what is ethical and what is not in sex. For example, you may believe that consent needs to be explicit (case 1), that being tricked into adultery is not consent (case 2), that any power imbalance makes sex non-consensual (case 3), or that sex should not be exchanged for money or perks (case 4). However, not everybody would agree with you on this. And, if we used the force of the law to persecute people doing these things, wouldn’t we be violating their consent by infringing on their personal autonomy? Some people may want to use consent to try to enforce their moral or ideological agendas. And, isn’t sexual repression a form of non-consent? Yes means yes, no means no and rape paralysis The situations that I am going to discuss pertain to the yes means yes approach to consent, or affirmative consent. It means that some kind of active consent is given, even if it is non-verbal. The other approach, which needs to be strongly discouraged, is no means no. It means that consent is assumed unless the person says that the sex is unwanted. The problem with this is that rape paralysis—an automatic brain response called tonic immobility—may prevent a person from saying no to sex while having strong feelings against it (Möller et al., 2017; de la Torre Laso, 2023). The stronger the fear and revulsion produced by the sex, the more likely is rape paralysis to occur. FRIES A nice step towards defining full consent was done by Planned Parenthood with their FRIES criteria. Quoting from their website, consensual sex should be: “Freely given. Consenting is a choice you make without pressure, manipulation, or under the influence of drugs or alcohol.” “Reversible. Anyone can change their mind about what they feel like doing, anytime. Even if you’ve done it before, and even if you’re both naked in bed.” “Informed. You can only consent to something if you have the full story. For example, if someone says they’ll use a condom and then they don’t, there isn’t full consent.” “Enthusiastic. When it comes to sex, you should only do stuff you WANT to do, not things that you feel you’re expected to do.” “Specific. Saying yes to one thing (like going to the bedroom to make out) doesn’t mean you’ve said yes to others (like having sex).” FRIES covers a lot of the details about sexual consent. And Planned Parenthood does a good job of explaining what each of the criteria means. What is lacking are ways of putting these things into practice. I have some ideas. Does consent needs to be enthusiastic? But, first, I want to take issue with the “enthusiastic” criterion. Here are some dictionary definitions of the word “enthusiasm”: Cambridge Dictionary: “A feeling of energetic interest in a particular subject or activity and an eagerness to be involved in it.” Merriam-Webster: “1a) strong excitement of feeling: ARDOR; 1b) something inspiring zeal or fervor; 2a) belief in special revelations of the Holy Spirit; 2b) religious fanaticism. Leaving aside the religious definitions, I think it’s clear that we don’t always have an “energetic interest” is sex, are eager to do it, or get a “strong excitement” about it. A lot of sex is just meh. And it’s not because it didn’t work out the way we expected. A lot people engage in sex knowing beforehand that it’s going to be mediocre or boring. And they still do it, and they want to do it. My point is: going into sex with lack of enthusiasm does not make it non-consensual. And I’m not the only one with this objection. There are lots reasons why we may want to have sex without feeling particularly great about the perspective: Getting pregnant to have a child—and it’s the right time of the cycle. Keeping the spark in your relationship alive. Keeping your spouse from cheating. Satisfying the desire of someone you love. Trying new things that scare you (bondage, spanking, anal sex, pegging). Lots of the thing we do in life we do them without enthusiasm. How enthusiastic do you feel about going to work? I guess what Planned Parenthood meant by enthusiastic is that sex has to be wanted. And there are many reasons to want sex, other than sexual desire or the pleasure we are going to get from it. However, FRIWS is a lousy acronym. That’s too bad, really. Because the problem is that this created the wrong idea that consensual sex had to be based on a strong sexual desire and the expectation of great pleasure. With the unfortunate effect of devaluing the experience of people who have lost their sexual drive (some post-menopausal women, people taking certain medications, survivors of sexual assault) or have difficulties experiencing sexual pleasure (anorgasmic women, men with erectile problems or premature ejaculation). Added together, these people are a multitude, and they may get the wrong idea that they shouldn’t be having sex. That is somehow unethical if they do it. Or that their partners are monsters for simply desiring them. It may also cause women who had a bad sexual experience to wonder if they had been raped. However, nobody can guarantee you good sex, no matter how hard they try. Some people are simply sexually incompatible, and they won’t find out until they have sex. Bad sex is not rape. Good, Giving and Game Dan Savage is a sex advisor and writer who does the Savage Lovecast podcast. He has promoted the creation of many sexual neologisms, like pegging. Another one is GGG sex. According to it, sex should be: Good - We should have a good knowledge of our body, our desires and what makes us enjoy ourselves during sex. We should also have good technical skills about how to please our partners. Good sex doesn’t just happen. It takes work. Giving - We should approach sex with a spirit of generosity and not selfishness, getting pleasure from the other person’s pleasure. We should do things that our partner likes, not only the things that we like. We should engage in foreplay and provide aftercare. Game - We should be adventurous is sex, willing to try, at least once, new things that excite our partner. This doesn’t mean that we should continue to do things we actively dislike. I think that these are good alternatives to the “enthusiasm” criteria. Instead of focusing on the negative, it calls our attention to the adventurous, exploratory and generous nature of sex. GGG sex implies risks, mostly of having a bad sexual experience. We should accept this as part of life. Those risks should be shared with our partner, instead of putting on him (it’s usually him) all the responsibility for the sexual decisions. We have every right for sex to be consensual. However, we need to recognize that sex also involves taking risks and accepting responsibility for our decisions. Explicit and implicit consent There are different types of consent according to how it is established. While they are not all equally ethical, there are many gray areas. Whether some type of consent is ethical or not depends on the context. Consent can be explicit or implicit. Explicit consent is when it is given before sex, verbally. If it fulfills the FRIES criteria, it is the most desirable and ethical form of consent. Still, explicit consent can be unethical. For example, if it is not given with full information about STIs, risk of pregnancy, previous experience, power dynamics, etc. There could be trouble, also, if explicit consent cannot be revoked or if it is given under duress. Implicit consent is when it is not given verbally but assumed because of a variety of circumstances. Although this may seem problematic, it depends on context. For example, it may happen in a couple that values spontaneous sex. Or there can be lots of non-verbal signals leading to it. Implicit consent happens a lot in established relationships in which the partners know each other well enough to know if they want sex or not. There could also be a previous agreement of “unless I say no, it is yes.” Even more edgy, there could be a consensual non-consent (CNC) agreement, which normally is along the lines of “you can do it do me even if I don’t want it at that moment.” Implicit consent is more problematic in casual sex, but it can also be ethical if it fulfills the FRIES criteria. However, it is difficult for the sex to be fully informed if it has not been discussed verbally beforehand. Verbal and no-verbal consent While discussing the ethics of sexual choking (Herbenick et al., 2022), a paper classified consent into four categories: verbal, non-verbal, assumed and non-consent. “Verbal consent, defined as when partners spoke about desires relating to choking, occurred before sex, during sex, and after sex” (Herbenick et al., 2022). This is explicit consent, but it can be given during sex by checking in with the partner, or after sex by confirming if what happened was okay. Of course, verbal consent before sex is the ideal situation. Non-verbal consent is a form of implicit consent that usually happens during sex and consists of gestures, body movements and facial expression that signal that the sex is okay. Assumed consent is another form of implicit consent that happens when partners assume that sex is wanted because they do it regularly or have prior knowledge that it is desired. Some sexual acts may be assumed to be okay because they are normal in their social environment. This is problematic when dangerous sexual practices, like choking, become normalized. In these cases, consent is not informed or specific. Non-consent is the extreme case of assumed consent in which the assumption turns out to be wrong. “The major distinguishing factor between ‘assumed because normal’ and non-consensual was the response of the person being choked” (Herbenick et al., 2022). The only difference between this situation and outright rape is that the person suffering the non-consent could have said no and didn’t do it. As we can see, there is a whole sliding scale that goes between fully negotiated, verbal and explicit consent, to assumed consent, all the way to non-consent. Still, these are not simple, one dimensional situations. To the dimension of how the consent is given we need to add an orthogonal one represented by the FRIES criteria. We could have paradoxical situations in which explicit, verbal consent is non-ethical—because it was not informed, for example—while assumed consent turns out to be okay. External and internal consent Some scientific papers about consent make a difference between internal and external consent.  Internal consent is the willingness and intention to engage in sex, whereas external consent is the communication of that willingness to the potential partner (Willis and Smith, 2022). However, nobody has the obligation to be a mind-reader. Hence, nobody should be accused of violating internal consent. It is the obligation of everybody who is about to engage in sex to communicate their limits and desires. There is also a reciprocal obligation to listen to those limits and desires, and to provide an environment in which in this communication can take place free of pressure and coercion. I think that the discussion on internal versus external consent should take place with the goal of enabling this communication by teaching people how to identify and express their inner feelings. Consent in BDSM (bondage, dominance, submission, sadism, masochism) In the 1980s, the BDSM community that started to get organized faced the double problem of eliminating abuse from its members and legitimizing its existence in front of society and the law. Whereas sex is something commonly done, hitting people, tying them up or making them obey our orders are things that infringe upon the most basic norms of behavior. BDSMers faced an uphill battle to convince society that these things are okay provided that they are consensual, safe and arising from a sane frame of mind. This is how the criteria of safe, sane and consensual (SSC) were born. Later, the debate continued about whether they needed to be replaced by other criteria like Risk-Aware Consensual Kink (RACK). In this article I limit myself to discussing consent, which is common to both approaches. People in the BDSM community use explicit consent more frequently than vanilla people (Harris et al., 2023). BDSMers also show more opposition to a variety of attitudes that condone sexual abuse and rape (Klement et al., 2017). Indeed, BDSMers have a lot to teach us about consent. Negotiation, limits and safewords Over the years, BDSMers developed three practical tools to ensure consent: negotiation, limits and safewords. They could be used for regular sex to establish explicit consent according to the FRIES criteria. Particularly for sexual practices a bit out of the norm, like anal sex. Negotiation is simply to discuss what is going to happen and not going to happen during sex. Here, all the required information can be exchanged. It also provides a space to discuss likes and dislikes. Negotiation doesn’t have to be formal. It can serve as an exciting preparation for sex, full of intimacy and anticipation. Limits are things that are a turnoff or considered too dangerous to happen during sex. The safeword is an especial word that signals withdrawal of consent during sex. When used, sexual activity should cease. A discussion of what went wrong and emotional care should ensue. In BDSM, a traffic light system is often used, with yellow signaling a small problem to be addressed and red the complete interruption of the activity. Importantly, safewords protect both the top (dominant, sadist, rope rigger) and the bottom (submissive, masochist, rope bottom) by putting on the bottom the responsibility to signal when something goes wrong. Still, the top has to take into account that some BDSM scenes put the bottom in a non-verbal state in which using the safeword is not possible. Consent continues to be a problem Unfortunately, there is a big gap between the ideal consensual sex and what happens in reality. Ideally, there should be explicit, verbal consent according to FRIES. In practice, a lot of sex happens with non-verbal or assumed consent, with no means no as the last-resort barrier to stop rape. Problems are also common regarding receiving full information, particularly regarding STDs and risky practices like choking. There is also a lack of specificity regarding what is being consented to. The use of a safeword could improve reversibility of consent during sex. The BDSM community has shown how education and techniques like active negotiation, limits and safewords can be used to improve consent without detracting from the fun of sex. Definition of consent by the American Law Institute Recently, the American Law Institute (ALI), working with the National Coalition for Sexual Freedom (NCSF), proposed the following legal definition of consent: (a) “Consent” for purposes of Article 213 means a person’s willingness to engage in a specific act of sexual penetration or sexual contact. (b) Consent may be express or it may be inferred from behavior—both action and inaction—in the context of all the circumstances. (c) Neither verbal nor physical resistance is required to establish that consent is lacking, but their absence may be considered, in the context of all the circumstances, in determining whether there was consent. (d) Notwithstanding subsection (3)(b) of this Section, consent is ineffective when it occurs in circumstances described in Sections [reserved]. (e) Consent may be revoked or withdrawn any time before or during the act of sexual penetration or sexual contact. A clear verbal refusal—such as “No,” “Stop,” or “Don’t”—establishes the lack of consent or the revocation or withdrawal of previous consent. Lack of consent or revocation or withdrawal of consent may be overridden by subsequent consent. ALI also proposed a revised Model Penal Code on Sexual Assault. The NCSF hopes that it would help decriminalize consensual BDSM practices. Consent and sexual repression In the wake of the #MeToo movement, there has been a push towards the intervention of the law, the state, universities and the HR departments of companies and in the consent decisions of adults. The fact that this introduces a serious element of coercion and brings the interest of third parties into intimate decisions has been overlooked. The power differential between a citizen and the state, or between a corporation and its employees, far surpasses any possible unbalance of power between individuals. And yet, we have been granting paternalistic powers of oversight to universities and corporations over private matters. Corporative HR departments can now destroy love relationships between employees if they are deemed a legal risk for the company, independently of the feelings of the people involved. Universities have a track record of extralegal persecutions of students and faculty based on spurious accusations or rules tailored to the interests of the university. Conservatives and radical feminists have been interested in sexual repression for their own ideological motives, and use consent as a Trojan Horse to introduce doubt and fear into sexual relationships. Conservatives want to eliminate casual sex and confine it to marriage. Radical feminists have been persecuting BDSM, pornography and sex work for half a century, and now want to cast them as non-consensual activities. For example, PSOE, the socialist party currently in power in Spain, tried to use a new law to “guarantee sexual freedom” to make sex work illegal. At the same time, this new law does not include a clear definition of consent, or takes into account any of the problems discussed in this article. In this article, I have tried to show that consent is a complex issue with many gray areas. Discussing this issue with attitudes of outrage, blaming, and absolutism is not helpful. Labeling as rape instances of non-consent that were caused by lack of information and miscommunication can backfire by minimizing cases in which rape is accompanied by extreme violence. People who infringe on the sexual consent of others should be held accountable, but in a way that is proportionate to their offense. Better yet, we need to prevent sexual abuse and rape through education, disseminating tools that facilitate consent and communication about sex. References de la Torre Laso J (2023) The Reality of Tonic Immobility in Victims of Sexual Violence: "I was Paralyzed, I Couldn't Move". Trauma Violence Abuse:15248380231191232. Harris EA, Morgenroth T, Crone DL, Morgenroth L, Gee I, Pan H (2023) Sexual Consent Norms in a Sexually Diverse Sample. Arch Sex Behav. Herbenick D, Guerra-Reyes L, Patterson C, Rosenstock Gonzalez YR, Wagner C, Zounlome N (2022) "It Was Scary, But Then It Was Kind of Exciting": Young Women's Experiences with Choking During Sex. Arch Sex Behav 51:1103-1123. Klement KR, Sagarin BJ, Lee EM (2017) Participating in a Culture of Consent May Be Associated With Lower Rape-Supportive Beliefs. J Sex Res 54:130-134. Möller A, Söndergaard HP, Helström L (2017) Tonic immobility during sexual assault – a common reaction predicting post-traumatic stress disorder and severe depression. Acta obstetricia et gynecologica Scandinavica 96:932-938. Willis M, Smith R (2022) Sexual Consent Across Diverse Behaviors and Contexts: Gender Differences and Nonconsensual Sexual Experiences. Journal of interpersonal violence 37:Np18908-np18934. Copyright 2023 Hermes Solenzol.

  • What Has Philosophy Ever Done For Us?

    While science has been enormously successful, philosophy has failed at its stated goals What has science ever done for us? The title is based on a sketch of the movie Life of Brian, by Monty Python. In it, the leader of the People’s Front of Judea asks “what have the Romans ever done for us?” He ends up saying: “All right, but apart from the sanitation, the medicine, education, wine, public order, irrigation, roads, a fresh water system, and public health, what have the Romans ever done for us?” What the Romans had done for the people of Judea is quite similar to what science has done for us. It’s a long list! Our wonderful Western civilization would not exist without science. However, material progress is not the only gift of science. The biggest contribution of science is giving us a comprehensive, internally consistent, detailed and actionable view of ourselves, the world and our place in it. Far from being nihilistic, as claimed by many, the scientific worldview is full of meaning, as I explain in this article. And yet, philosophers often criticize science. For postmodernists like Michel Foucault, science is just another ‘grand narrative’ built to support power structures. Other philosophers fail to recognize the specialness of science as a reliable purveyor of knowledge, equating it to religion, mythology, shamanism and other ‘narratives.’ Of course, this is a bit self-serving, because they don’t want to recognize that science surpasses philosophy as a source of knowledge. One thing becomes clear from this antagonism between science and philosophy: they are different things. This prevents philosophy from claiming science as one of its accomplishments. So, maybe it’s time to turn the tables on these philosophers and ask: what has philosophy ever done for us? What is philosophy good for? Doing a Google search with this question, these websites came on top: Why Study Philosophy? at James Madison University. Why Study Philosophy? at Central Michigan University. Why Study Philosophy? at the University of Washington. 10 Reasons Why You Should Study a Philosophy Degree in 2023, University of Glasgow. Some of those reasons are self-referential, like “learn to read and write like a philosopher.” Other are vague, like “philosophy is a constantly modern subject.” This seems dubious, given that, unlike science, philosophy doesn’t seem to make progress. It constantly refers back to ancient philosophers. Otherwise, philosophers create their ideas anew, instead of building on the work of others like science does. This has created a labyrinth of ideas, instead of a self-consistent body of knowledge. Perhaps the best approach would be to analyze what the main branches of philosophy have done for us. These include epistemology, metaphysics, ethics and aesthetics. Epistemology: the worker and the critic There is an old joke I heard while growing up in the Franco dictatorship in Spain, a time when my country was backward and unmotivated. If you found three men working at the side of the road, one of them will be doing the hard work while the other two just hang around and criticized what he was doing. I think that this describes quite well the relationship between science and philosophy. Scientists do the hard work of unraveling the mysteries of nature, while philosophers write long papers explaining how everything they do is wrong. Philosophers in charge of criticizing science call themselves epistemologists. They should not be confused with epidemiologists, the scientists who study the propagation of diseases. More formally, epistemology studies how we know things. It includes philosophy of science, logic, critical thinking and philosophy of language. Epistemology: Has Popper been falsified? Karl Popper is one of the most respected epistemologists. He came up with the idea that scientific hypotheses cannot be verified, they only can be falsified. This idea was popular among scientists for a while. Later, it was deemed too negative. Scientific ideas can and should be verified, not just falsified. Hypotheses are used to make predictions, which can then be tested experimentally. If the predictions confirm the hypotheses, the hypothesis is verified. This is a gradual process in which the hypotheses are subject to increasingly rigorous tests. Or, as I like to put it: A scientist should formulate the most beautiful hypothesis he can. And then torture it with experiments until it confesses the truth. Epistemology: Kuhn’s scientific revolutions never came Another famous epistemologist was Thomas Kuhn, who came up with the idea of the paradigm shift in his book The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. I read it and was quite taken by the romantic idea of the young revolutionary scientist fighting against the scientific establishment. However, as I pursued my scientific career, scientific revolutions never happened. Instead, what I witnessed was a slow, grinding process of science. Sometimes there were breakthroughs, of course, but these were more technological—like PCR, CRISPR or optogenetics—than conceptual. There isn’t really a scientific establishment. This idea applied to early 20th century Europe, but not to modern science in the USA. Young and old scientists compete for the same research grants. For the last dozen years, I have participated in one of the core institutions of modern science: the Study Sections of the National Institutes of Health (NIH) were million dollar research grants get scored. The NIH goes out of its way in keeping a gender and race balance in the Study Sections. They also rotate scientists, so relatively young scientists can participate. Cliques tend to form, of course, but the system actively discourages them. I have seen grant proposals by famous scientists do down in flames, while grants by relatively unknown scientists get the highest scores. Some scientists write in their grants that their ideas are a paradigm shift. That’s usually a bad sign. My colleagues in the Study Section considered Popper’s falsifiability as a criterion, but dropped it in favor of hypothesis-testing. The first half of the 20th century was rich with paradigm shifts: the two theories of Relativity, Quantum Mechanics, the discovery of DNA and the genetic code. However, for the last 50 years, there have not been any scientific revolutions as defined by Kuhn. Yes, there was the computing revolution, but this was a technological change that emerged from existing scientific concepts. It didn’t change the core ideas of any science. Science has made a lot of progress, probably more than ever, but at a gradual pace, not the shattering revolutions predicted by Kuhn. Epistemology: the failure to understand science Science and philosophy became divorced when science opted for induction and philosophy for logic. Inductive reasoning consists of extracting a common truth from many observations. It forms the core of the experimental approach of science. Logic, or deductive reasoning, consists of driving an idea from previous ideas, called premises. Modern philosophy is also big on intuitions. Scientists use intuition to formulate their hypotheses, but then proceed to test them rigorously. They are well aware of how intuitions feed on our biases and blind spots. David Hume criticized induction by showing that it is not logical. It is based on the assumption that things behave in a regular matter, an assumption that is itself based on induction. Therefore, induction is circular. He was wrong because it just happens that nature is organized following certain rules that can be studied and understood. We call these rules the laws of nature. In another article, I propose that some of the laws of nature arise from natural computing processes. However, the most basic laws of physics seem to have been there since the beginning of the Universe. Nobody knows where they come from. While philosophy got stuck in logic, which led to an increasing number of opposing schools of thought, science perfected induction into highly sophisticated technologies: statistics and mathematical models. Philosophy will never understand the scientific method because there is no scientific method. Each science has its own. In fact, the scientific method is part of the discovery process. We make it up as we go along. Epistemologists will never be able to catch up with science. Only scientists can understand how science is made. Metaphysics: philosophers lost in space “Metaphysics is the branch of philosophy that studies the fundamental nature of reality. This includes the first principles of: being or existence, identity, change, space and time, cause and effect, necessity, actuality, and possibility.” Metaphysics, Wikipedia. The problem is that this is largely the job of science. And it left philosophy in the dust a century ago. Studying space and time is the job of physics. It’s not finished, of course. We will not understand the basic nature of the world until we unify Relativity and Quantum Mechanics. But don’t expect any philosopher to do that. The nature of existence is also being tackled by physics by unraveling the fine structure of matter and the large structure of the Universe. Consciousness: philosophers gone batty On another front, neuroscience is trying to understand the processes that give rise to subjective experience and consciousness. This will reveal how we exist as human beings. Meanwhile, modern philosophers like David Chalmers loiter by the side of the road and try to convince neuroscientists that their job cannot be done. That consciousness is forever mysterious. Neuroscientists study some of the neural underpinnings of consciousness, like the switch from the default mode neuronal network to the executive attention network during flow. Meanwhile, philosophers talk about qualia, what is like to be a bat, and philosophical zombies. It sounds like philosophers are going batty trying to raise from the dead old ideas about the soul. Ethics: none of the schools get it “Ethics or moral philosophy is a branch of philosophy that ‘involves systematizing, defending, and recommending concepts of right and wrong behavior’.” Ethics, Wikipedia. There are three schools of ethics: deontology, consequentialism and virtue ethics. Deontology is either old time religion—following God’s commands—or the stuff invented by Emmanuel Kant. I was done with religion by age 15. Even if there is no God, Kant believed that there are universal moral truths. The problem is, where do they come from? It seems obvious to me that moral rules were invented by humans. They cannot preexist humanity since they are part of culture. If we invented them, they have to be based on some previous knowledge. And there has to be some logic that takes us from fundamental ideas to ethical rules and laws. Hence, there cannot be universal moral truths. There has to be a way to invent ethical rules. Consequentialism poses that things are good or bad depending on their consequences. The problem is, how do we know if consequences are good or bad? We need an ethical system to decide that. Therefore, consequentialism is not self-sufficient. It is either circular reasoning or it needs to refer to a system of ideas in which to base morality. I think that any system of ethics has to be based on previous beliefs about the world and humanity. And science is the only reliable system on which to base those beliefs. Otherwise, we are back to religion. One form of consequentialism is utilitarianism, which poses that we should maximize happiness and minimize suffering for the largest number of individuals. The problem is that we need good definitions of happiness and suffering to do this. In the articles I link to, I show how these concepts can be based on neuroscience. We also need to understand what is an individual. Since the beginning of utilitarianism with Jeremy Bentham and culminating with Peter Singer and his Animal Liberation, utilitarians wanted to include animals as individuals. This resulted in the most vicious attacks against scientists who use animals in their experiments, who had their laboratories ransacked, their homes sieged, their children harassed and their cars burned. If this is ethics, who needs evil? Virtue ethics blossomed into several philosophical schools of Greek and Roman antiquity, like the Stoics, the Epicureans and the Cynics. Stoicism has gotten quite popular lately. However, virtue ethics suffers from the same problem as consequentialism: it fails to establish a firm foundation for morality because it does not provide a convincing definition of the concept of virtue. It depends on the beliefs of each particular culture. For example, being rich is virtuous in modern capitalistic America, but immoral in socialist societies. Casual sex is unethical in many societies, but not in modern sex-positive culture. Ethics cannot be formulated independently of beliefs about human nature and how to establish a free, egalitarian, prosperous and peaceful society. And any such beliefs need to be based on knowledge acquired through science to be rational and based on reality. Ethics: a long list of missed opportunities With all their accumulated wisdom, you would think that philosophers would have stepped in to give us guidance on the biggest moral decisions in our civilizations. For example, slavery, genocide, racism, misogyny, gay rights and sexual liberation. In every single one of these moral crises, philosophers were missing in action. Regarding slavery, the great philosophers of antiquity apparently thought that Virtue Ethics were perfectly compatible with it. Neither was a big uproar by philosophers while Blacks were slaved in the United States, the Caribbean and Latin America. The concept of different races at the root of racism was not challenged by philosophers. Neither was a social order based on racial apartheid. Admittedly, it took a little time for science to catch up with those, too. However, it was the job of philosophers to dictate morality, not of scientists. The fight against slavery and racism was carried out by regular people. So was feminism. Then, philosophers stepped in and appropriated these ideas, corrupting them in the process to give birth to the monster of modern identity politics. Gay rights were fought by gays, particularly during the dark times of the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. Scientists helped to dispel some of the stereotypes and misconceptions about AIDS transmission, and eventually come up with a cure. Philosophers did nothing. Sexual liberation started in the 60s. Philosophers have always been big in puritanism and sexual repression. In the 70s, academics like Andrea Dworkin and Catharine MacKinnon started a war against pornography, BDSM and sex work, that eventually spilled over to harm gays and lesbians. People into BDSM organized and fought back. Nowadays, new relationship standards like ethical non-monogamy and polyamory are flourishing. Philosophers either oppose them or remain oblivious. Every time they had an opportunity to lead the way towards new moral standards, philosophers missed it. The reason why the world is such a mess these days is that we have several competing cultures—mainly Western secularism, Christianity, Islam and communism—with mutually exclusive ethical values. They go to war with each other to see which one will rule the world. Science is at the essence of Western secularism. Philosophers remain undecided between secularism, communism or something of their own making like postmodernism or identity politics. How ideologies corrupted philosophy Maybe I am being too uncharitable. I agree that, if we go sufficiently back in time, philosophy has done good things for Humanity. It led the way in antique Greece and Rome. It brought us out of the dark Middle Age, being at the center of the Renaissance and the Enlightenment. Without it, we would not have developed modern democracy, discarded theocracy and fought back against the injustices of the nascent Industrial Revolution and capitalism in the 19th century. At that time, philosophers developed the ideas of the Enlightenment into Socialism. Then, in the 20th century, things went awfully wrong. Communism split from socialism and became dogmatic and dictatorial. The dialectic of power of Nietzsche fueled the Fascist and Nazi ideologies that took over Europe. Philosophy, it seems, lost its ability to think and became mired in one ideology after another. With the advent of postmodernism, it became openly hostile to science. This opened the door to a long list of irrational ideologies: standpoint theory, anti-racism, radical feminism, intersectionality, the denial of sexual differences. In a society divided between irrational conservatism and the dogmatic Left, scientists almost have to go underground to do their work. What shall we do about philosophy? I’m sorry to tell you that the philosophy emperor has no clothes. He’s been butt-naked for a century. And we are in a global situation too dire to enjoy the porn show. We cannot waste our time reading long books in deliberately obscure prose. We need to move on. Many scientists have a critical view of philosophy: “There’s a certain sub-group of famous, publicly visible scientists — biologists Lewis Wolpert and Richard Dawkins, and physicists Neil de Grasse Tyson, Lawrence Krauss, and the late Stephen Hawking among them — who’ve made no bones about the fact that they deride philosophy and philosophers.” @Austin Hackney in Philosophy vs. Science: There’s a Clear Winner (and It’s Not Philosophy). “Why are we here? Where do we come from? Traditionally, these are questions for philosophy, but philosophy is dead. Philosophers have not kept up with modern developments in science. Particularly physics.” Stephen Hawking. “Of course, philosophy is the field that hasn’t progressed in two thousand years.” Lawrence Krauss. Some philosophers are starting to take those criticisms seriously: The Unreasonable Ineffectiveness of Philosophy. A common counter to criticisms of philosophy is that such criticisms are themselves philosophy. Of course! I’m not arguing that philosophy—the pursuit of wisdom—is bad. What I am saying is that modern philosophers have done a terrible job of doing philosophy. It’s time we take philosophy away from them. Regular people should engage in philosophy by doing what they have been doing all along: decide what is right and wrong. No need to study complicated philosophy textbooks to do that. Scientists should do philosophy by exploring the implications of the scientific worldview. I think that the amount of knowledge that science has gathered about the world is vast and deep enough to answer many of the fundamental questions of life. In fact, some philosophers—Daniel Dennett, Paul and Patricia Churchland—are already doing this by studying and embracing science instead of fighting against it. Other philosophers have made substantial contributions to immunology and cognitive science. And yet, I am worried that philosophy could become a Trojan Horse to infect science with ideology and political correctness. Philosophers have to earn the trust of scientists by showing the same commitment to intellectual honesty and independence from ideology. A good start would be stopping their misguided war against science.

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