Spider Venom, The New Viagra?

Spider Venom, The New Viagra?
Michael Bell
University of Pittsburgh

Brazilian Banana Spider

A spider, known as Phoneutria nigriventer, or the Banana Spider common to South and Central America produces a venom with some very interesting side effects, one of which is priapism. Kenia Nunes, a researcher at the Medical College of Georgia, has produced a study that has shown that the banana spider’s venom might prove useful in the treatment of erectile dysfunction in men and possibly sexual dysfunction in women who are resistant to current treatment options like Cialis and Viagra. Both of these currently available drugs can cause sometimes dangerous side effects like heart attacks and strokes. Diabetic patients would benefit the most because erectile dysfunction mechanisms in these patients are multifactorial and often lead to resistance to current therapy options. The banana spider boasts the world’s most lethal venom and delivers a gruesome death by oxygen deprivation, loss of motor control, and severe pain (Emma, W., Discover Magazine). The venom of the spider is composed of a variety of polypeptides which have been shown to elicit various biological activities. Most of the polypeptides are neurotoxins which have direct effects on ion channels and produce symptoms like paralysis, respiratory arrest, and other neurological anomalies (Nunes, KP et al, 2011). One particular peptide, Tx2-6, is of interest and has proven to be the culprit for producing priapism, or an extended period of erectile response, in spider bite victims. In Nunes’s study, Tx2-6 was isolated and injected both subcutaneously and directly into the penis of diabetic, impotent, lab mice. After both types of injections, an erectile response was seen. The major pelvic ganglion, which is responsible for erectile response, was stimulated in the test subjects and a measurement of intercavernosal pressure was taken, all of which demonstrated that Tx2-6 was responsible for potentiating an erectile response. In a prior study, also done by Nunes, Tx2-6 was incubated in cavernosal strips taken from the penises of laboratory mice and relaxation of the cavernosal tissue was seen further proving the effectiveness of Tx2-6 in producing an erection (Nunes, K.P. et al, 2011). Nunes theorizes that Tx2-6 operates by increasing local nitric oxide levels. Nitric Oxide is a chemical that is responsible for triggering the chemical chain reaction that leads to an erection. A deficit of this chemical could lead to erectile dysfunction. Nunes also theorizes that the venom could be useful in treating female sexual dysfunction because the female clitoris consists of cavernosal tissue and works via a similar mechanism during sexual arousal. Nunes goes on to say that this naturally occurring chemical could emerge as a new pharmacological tool in conditions where vascular and endothelial dysfunction persists and that increasing nitric oxide, in this case, would be able to reverse the erectile dysfunction. According to the study done by Nunes, the drug could be available as early as 2013, although the issue of naturally occurring availability was not addressed. It is assumed that the drug would be able to be replicated in a laboratory rather than using naturally occurring venom from spiders. Nunes’s research claims to have produced a side effect free solution to erectile dysfunction. No reported side effects were seen in the laboratory animals, however human trials have not been conducted and inferring that Tx2-6 is safe for human use is a bit of a leap at this point. According to Nunes, the population most benefited by the new drug would be diabetics and she makes no reference to how it would generalize to people who have erectile dysfunction who are not diabetic, in fact non diabetic animals were not tested in the study. If this new found drug is truly side effect free and safe for human consumption it would make a viable alternative for E.D. treatment but why would anyone want to use it? To answer this, let’s take a look at the current options for treatment. Currently the most common treatment for erectile dysfunction is the use of either Viagra or Cialis, both of which are contraindicated in patients who are at an increased risk for heart problems or strokes. These drugs work by altering your blood pressure and for a cardiac patient this could lead to some serious problems like cardiac arrest or death. Some of the other more serious side effects include loss of vision or hearing. A second option for treating E.D. is an injection directly into the penis. Drugs such as papaverine, when used in impotence injections, dilate and relax the blood vessels and enable the penis to engorge with blood, thereby creating an erection. They too are not without risks and side effects. Repeated injections can create scaring and lead to more problems with maintaining an erection. Bruising and infection can occur. This type of treatment is also contraindicated in patients who have had cancer. Penile implants are another option. Implants require a surgical procedure and involve placing an inflatable device into the shaft of the penis or sometimes a device that has a flexible core. When a patient wants an erection he can push a button located under the skin and the device will inflate or in the case of the flexible insert, the patient just bends the penis upward. Side effects include surgical complications like infections and damage to the penis and risk of general anesthesia. Flexible inserts make the penis appear erect at all times so they can often be embarrassing and cumbersome to deal with. Lastly, vacuum devices are an option for erectile dysfunction treatment. A clear cylinder, which fits over the penis and forms a seal, is used in conjunction with a vacuum pump. The vacuum device is activated and pulls the blood into the penis which causes the penis to fill with blood and an erection results. This treatment also has some disadvantages. Bruising, damage to the penis from over inflation, and blood clots are a few. Overuse can actually cause more dysfunction. The resultant erection is only temporary and often subsides quickly after the device is removed and before intercourse can occur. The device is cumbersome to use and takes time and preplanning. As you can see, most of the available treatments are not without risk of serious side effects and pain to the person being treated. If a medication like Tx2-6 could be developed for use in humans and was side effect free it would be the obvious choice for erectile dysfunction treatment. In a pill form it would be convenient and wouldn’t require cumbersome devices or pre-planning. The user wouldn’t have to worry about undergoing surgery or have to make the choice to risk dangerous side effects. According to the study done by Nunes, the drug could be available as early as 2013.


Cool Jobs: The National Zoo LIon Trainer

 This is the very nice keeper who was with Jeff and I during my behind the scenes tour at the National Zoo.  The video is her explaining what she does with the big cats.  Very cool!


Cool Jobs: The National Zoo Lion Trainer

  • Gallery: (12 images)

By Jolie Lee
Federal News Radio When the National Zoo's two lionesses gave birth last year, Kristen Clark suddenly had seven more charges.
Clark is an animal keeper in the Great Cats and Bears unit.
"I really have to pinch myself and just step back and think, 'I'm doing this job.' It's a federal job and it's probably one of the coolest ones out there," said Clark, who is one of two keepers training the lions.
Clark is responsible for feeding the giant felines, keeping their living quarters clean and, most importantly, training them.
There are no circus ring tricks. The commands are meant to allow keepers to check the lions without getting into a cage with them. Both the adult and young lions learn to open their mouths on command (to check teeth), lie still against a fence (to receive shots), and stand on their hind legs (to have their underbellies checked). A whistle lets the lions know when their task is completed. The reward - a meatball.
Clark said the training replaces the traditional way of checking animals with a tranquilizer.
Federal News Radio goes behind-the-scenes during a training session. (Story continues below video.)

Cool Jobs in Government: National Zoo Lion Trainer from Federal News Radio on Vimeo.

Cool Jobs in Government: National Zoo Lion Trainer from Federal News Radio on Vimeo.

The lions learn through positive reinforcement, according to Clark. If one doesn't feel like cooperating on a particular day, she moves on to another lion.
"I can't make him do anything and he knows it," she said during a recent training session with the cubs' father, Luke. "That's where the relationship of trust and training comes in."
Clark studied environmental management and biology at the University of Maryland. She did some wildlife rehabilitation before becoming a volunteer keeper aid at the National Zoo. After four years, she was hired in 2005 as a full-time keeper.
The work is humbling because the animals she trains are "so incredible in every way — just size, strength and they're really intelligent, so you feel like you're actually making a connection with this animal," Clark said.
The cubs now weigh a couple hundred pounds. The males are growing crests on the backs of their necks — the equivalent of a teenager's stubble before a full-on beard grows out. Within the next year, the cubs will be fully trained and then move to other zoos to form their own prides. The lions are part of the Species Survival Plan, which helps diversify the gene pool of the captive lion population.
Clark said she'll miss the lions when they're gone.
"I would love to be very scientific and straightforward and say, 'It's part of the process,' but we watched these cubs being born ... To be able to work with an animal from the minute it drops on the ground to when it leaves, there's a lot of deep stuff going on," she said.
But Clark's work won't slow down after the cubs leave. "Then we start the breeding process again," she said.
(Read more from our Cool Jobs in Government series.)
View the lions on the National Zoo's web cam (registration required)
More lion photos from the National Zoo


Accupuncture...my personal experience.

For those of you who know me, first off you know that I hate needles.  Secondly you know that I have horrible migraines. A colleague of mine who happens to be an M.D.  asked me one day if I had ever tried acupuncture for relief and I told him that I had never really thought about it. 

If you have ever suffered from migraines you well know that a person would do just about anything to ward them off.  I decided to give the whole acupuncture treatment a try and have had good results so far.  I also decided to share what I know about it.

Acupuncture is the practice of inserting thin needles into specific body points to improve health and well-being. It originated in China more than 2,000 years ago. American practices of acupuncture use medical traditions from China, Japan, Korea and other countries. In the United States, the best-known type involves putting hair-thin, metallic needles in your skin.
Research has shown that acupuncture reduces nausea and vomiting after surgery and chemotherapy. It can also relieve pain. Researchers don't fully understand how acupuncture works. It might aid the activity of your body's pain-killing chemicals. It also might affect how you release chemicals that regulate blood pressure and flow.

Here are some common questions that I can try to answer:

What can I expect on my first visit?

Well, you can expect to spend about two hours during your first visit.  The practitioner will spend a good hour going over your health history in order to develop a plan of treatment. Unlike traditional medicine, acupuncture takes a whole body approach meaning that they look at physical health and also mental health. The acupuncturist will examine you and will check your pulses in your wrist and also look at your tongue.  Apparently in traditional acupuncture the tongue is used to diagnose a whole host of problems and the pulses are not taken in the traditional way that western medicine does it.  It is checked in several points on your wrist. 

After about an hour of health history and examination you will lay on a massage table and needles will inserted in specific points along meridian lines that lie within your body.  The needles stay in for about 30 minutes and are removed.  Sometimes needles are inserted and removed right away.  Every treatment is different. After removal you are left to rest for about 15 minutes.  Each successive treatment will last about an hour.

Will it hurt?

The needles that they use are hair thin.  Yes, you will feel something...its a needle piercing your skin.  Is it horrible?  No.  The most that I felt was like getting a mosquito bite, the least that I felt was nothing at all.  A lot depends on the point that they are working on.  The worst was in my feet.  The least painful was in my back, legs, and top of my head. I barely felt them. I can tell you that you will feel SOMETHING or else its not working like it should.  Each point is different.  Sometimes I feel a tingle, sometimes I feel a dull ache, other times I feel a sense of calm.  I can tell you that I fell asleep on the table the first time I had it done so that should tell you that its not horrible and painful.  Oddly, its relaxing after the needles are in.

Are there any risks?
From the research I did and also according to my practitioner, there is a slight risk of infection but if your acupuncturist follows sterile technique the risk is very minimal.  There is also a risk of organ puncture and getting a pneumothorax from a punctured lung.  This happens if your acupuncturist needles too deeply and occurs from someone who doesn't know what they are doing.  I can tell you from working in a hospital, that the risk of organ damage or lung puncture is very very very minimal.  I have used way bigger needles and have seen them stuck in lungs and all sorts of organs without any issue.  Bottom line, no...you would risk more harm crossing a street in traffic than going to an acupuncturist.  Make sure that your practitioner is registered and certified and any good practitioner will used needles that are disposable and come in a sealed sterile package.

How many treatments does it take?

From what I have read, as few as three as many as ten.  Everyone is different.   Its the same as traditional medicine.  Sometimes people respond to treatment quickly sometimes slowly, sometimes not at all. 

Is it expensive?

The average rate is around $60.00 per visit and some insurances cover it.  UPMC only covers it if you are pregnant (for nausea control) or for chemotherapy patients.  Your initial visit will run around $90.00. 

My results so far:

I can tell you that I have seen a reduction in the number of migraines that I get per week and can also tell you that I feel very good the first few days after treatment.  This is my third visit so I am still getting treatment.  I am very happy with Dr. Braasch.  He will make you feel very at ease and will answer any possible questions that you might have.  He does not rush and will spend as much time as you need.  He also will not leave you alone while needles are inserted which is nice.  It puts you at ease.

Here is where I go:

Dr. Peter Braasch

5819 Forbes Ave, Pittsburgh, PA 15217


Drag Race Season Four!

Its supposed to be bigger, crazier, and filled to the brim with even more drama!  Hold on to your hats kids....its starts in January on Logo.  Sharon Needles, a local Pittsburgh queen will be on the show....this should be interesting.....or as Ru would say....SICKENING!

Jingle Balls....errr ummm I mean bells!

Tis the season so I thought I'd share a few Santas with you....ahhh u gotta love the gay community....we can make even the most innocent thing over the top! 

Wouldn't mind finding him in my barn on xmas eve!
Jingle Balls? 

And of course no Xmas would be complete without angels as well...



The Pre Dawn of Gay Culture- Boy George

I was born in 1972 and at that time the world was in the middle of a whole host of changes.  The humanistic movement of the 60's had begun to push gay culture into the lime light.  Still grossly unaccepted as a whole, homosexuality was mostly underground.  It wasn't until the early 80's that things began to really transform.  Entertainers like Boy George, Erasure, The Pet Shop Boys, Elton John, and Cindy Lauper had a huge impact on queer culture.

With their over the top flamboyance and larger than life presence they paved the way for young gay people.  They were in a sense pioneers.  I can remember first seeing Boy George on the television.  He was quite shocking with his full makeup, plucked eyebrows, punk hairstyle and crazy outfits.  It was my first real experience with gay culture having grown up on a farm in rural Pennsylvania.   It gave me a sense that it was ok to be different and that it was also ok to be different sexually.

In the mid 80's we were also in the depths of a very scary paranoia about HIV, or Gay Related Immunodeficiency Disease as it was first labeled.  No one knew where it came from or how it was transmitted and since it first showed up in the gay community, it was labeled as a "gay disease" adding more fuel to the already blazing inferno of gay discrimination. Jerry Fallwell publicly condemned Boy George and said that it was against God to be homosexual and then went on to say that HIV was Gods punishment for the queers.

 It was a scary time to be gay and I was in my earl teen years at this point.  Confused, scared, and still learning to accept myself while living in silence about the whole issue.

 Today, I look back and am amazed at how gay culture has changed tremendously over the last two decades.  We went from silence to being front stage in the political arena with recent debates over gay rights and the media has pushed us into the spotlight even more than before.

The videos below are from a Boy George interview with Barbara Walters done at the height of his career in the 80's.  Have a look at them.  Barbara asks George about his sexuality and at the time he was quite brave for being as open as he was about it , although he still hung onto the "bisexual" label, which in my opinion was his way fitting into a world that still was very against homosexuality.


Lions, Tigers, and DC ...

This past week, I ventured down to Washington, DC for a much needed break from Pittsburgh.  Dan had a conference so I was fortunate enough to get to tag along and stay in the historic Shoreham Hotel which is located in the Woodley Park/Adams Morgan area of DC.  For those of you not familiar with DC, both Woodley and Adams Morgan are very nice areas stuffed full of beautiful neighborhoods and fabulous restaurants. 

The Shoreham hotel was build in 1930 and is famous because it once housed the Blue Room, a venue for many great big band musicians and has also had a ton of famous guests like the Beetles and various Presidents over the years.  In the 1990's the hotel went through a 30 million dollar renovation to restore it back to its former splendor. It sits just around the corner from another famous hotel, the Wardman, which is even more lavish.

The Atrium of the Shoreham Hotel

Thursday was a total relaxation day for me.  We arrived at four o'clock and Dan immediately had to leave for work so I was left to my own devices. The hotel room was very comfortable and quite huge.  I almost didn't want to leave!  With a full spa, turn down service, a doorman wearing the classic long coat, and expert room service what was not to love.  I treated myself my first night there to a wonderful meal in my room.  Crab soup and a gourmet steak salad that was bigger than any I have ever seen was ushered in by two of the staff on a mobile table with white linen to the tune of $60.00.  I did enjoy it imensly!
Friday was a great day as well.  I met up with two good friends, Marlon and Jeff for a reunion.  I met both of them in my Body Electric class last year.  Jeff met me in the lobby and we went via the Metro to Dupont Circle to visit Marlon.  We hung out for several hours and then went out for a quick bite at a gourmet burger place where I feasted on a burger covered in sauteed mushrooms, Maytag blue cheese, and black truffles. 
One of the many crazy stores in Dupont Circle

After dinner Jeff and I took a stroll around Dupont Circle and ended up popping into an interesting leather store.  By leather I mean an S and M store called the leather rack,  with various devices available for pucrhase, most of which looked way too painful to even think about! 

Adams Morgan
For those of you not familiar with DC, it has some great neighborhoods.  Dupont Circle has a large shopping area and equivalent to Chelsea or Greenwich in NY.  Its the gay end of town.  Lots of restaurants and clubs and bars.  Georgetown is also a great place to visit.  Huge high end shopping area and very high end restaurants.  Its also a great place to drain your bank account.  Adams Morgan and Woodley park remind me a lot of Squirrel Hill in Pittsburgh.  Tree lined streets with nice homes and a very neighborhoody feel to them. They also have some wonderful ethnic restaurants and shops and are host to the National Zoo.  

Luke the Lion at the National Zoo
A Photo I took of Rock Creek Park from the Adams Morgan Bridge
Saturday, my friend Jeff who just happens to be one of the Keepers at the zoo, met me for a private tour. We took a walk through Rock Creek Park which runs along the old canal lines through the heart of the city.  We wound our way along Rock Creek until we entered the National Zoo.  
I spent nearly five hours at the zoo with Jeff and had a wonderful time.  I was allowed to go into areas not normally open to the public.  I was fortunate enough to be able to meet some of the lions and tigers up close and personally. I was whisked down a set of stairs that led to a facility beneath the lion yard.  In the hallway there were areas where some the of lions and tigers were held until it was ok for them to go out into the yard area.  That's where I fell in love with Luke.  Luke is a male lion who is absolutely beautiful.  I turned a corner with the keeper and there he was.  Huge, with a giant mane and gold eyes that could pierce right through you.  I was about half a foot from him and he sat quietly and examined me after which he rolled over onto his side in a very cat like fashion and seemed quite playful.  He was massive and I can see now how he could easily have ripped me to shreds if he had access to me and really wanted to.  The keeper brought some food out and Jeff warned me that he would become aggressive because apparently male lions can smell testosterone and become very protective of their food.  Its a dominance thing.  The meat tray came out and Luke became a definite lion.  He let out half a roar which was enough to gain my respect and I backed up.

The National Zoo, and most zoos in fact, serve as not only a place to see animals and to raise public awareness of endangered species, but also as a breeding an preservation instrument.   Jeff explained that literally thousands of creatures are endangered due to habitat destruction and that the zoos keep breeding stock in order to serve as a genetic arc.  Careful records are kept about bloodlines and genetics in order to be able to save the species.  I can also tell you that there is a TON of work that is done behind the scenes at zoos.  They aren't just the cute place to take your kid in  a stroller.  They really do serve a very important purpose. 
Luke, taken last year in the snow by one of the official zoo photographers.

Needless to say, I have a newfoudn respect for those who work at the zoo and for zoos in general.  Jeff was a wonderful guide  and could tell you anything you ever wanted to know about most his animals .  It was a fascinating day...and I really did fall in love with Luke. 

Metro Map
Another great thing about D.C. is that you can be anywhere within minutes by using their subway system, a.k.a the Metro.  Its so easy and convenient.   I with that Pittsburgh would get a clue and build our pathetic system out.  

Coming up out of the Metro Station
Saturday night was equally fabulous.  I met up with Jeff, Sean, Dan, Lucio, and Nick for a fabulous dinner at a very famous Moroccan restaurant on NY Avenue called Marrakesh. I knew Sean from Roseland and Nick and Lucio were his two very charming friends.  Marrakesh is truly an event.  You are served in seven courses and are provided with belly dancers for entertainment.  You sit around low carpeted benches covered with rugs and pillows and eat with your hands.  The restaurant is gorgeous and the staff is very attentive.  First we were presented with a huge platter of eggplant dip and fresh baked Moroccan bread brought in a basket.  Next came Bistilla, a traditional Moroccan dish that is chicken and eggs in a philo crust dusted with cinnamon and powdered sugar.  Then came lamb shanks with almonds and honey and a whole chicken stuffed with lemon and green olives, a huge platter of couscous with grilled vegetables and acorn squash followed by a fruit basket and then baklava and Moroccan tea service.  In Morocco tea is poured from very ornate tea pots with very long spouts from about five feet in the air into a very tiny glass cup.   Its quite a site to see. 

In the midst of feeling stuffed and being treated like a Sultan, the lights dim and a belly dancer comes out and performs for about twenty minutes.This girl had hips that could move faster than the naked eye could see and was quite amazing.  She even did a sword dance where she balanced the blade on her head while she danced.
The Belly Dancer

Lucio, Nick and Dan
Jeff Playing the Harem Girl

After dinner we Jeff retired early and headed back and the rest of us went out.  The D. C. Eagle is two doors up from Marrakesh.  The Eagle, unlike the Pittsburgh Eagle, is truly a leather and jeans bar.  Its very dark and very" dungeonesque". We hung out there for a bit but it was still early so not at all busy.  Next Sean drove us all to a club in south east DC, which is in a not so nice area of town but it houses on of the best gay clubs in D.C.   Secrets and Ziegfields.  This club is huge, posh and has a drag stage downstairs and a strip club upstairs.  Clad with red velvet drapes and neon lights galore it really gets hopping the later that it gets. The upstairs has a giant projection screen that shows dance videos along with about ten raised platforms where the guys dance.  Its very metro and very hot!  A good time was had by all.  FYI, you cannot touch any naughty parts on the strippers or you WILL get tossed out.  D.C. is very strict about the look but don't touch policy!   There was a bachelorette party going on and I must say that women are waaaay more obnoxious than gay men when it comes to strippers! 

Just after opening at Ziegfield's'

Its Rupaul!  Not really...but close!

Sunday was our last day there and Dan and I re-parked the car and hung out in Woodley Park for a while.  I took him to meet Luke the lion and then we had yet another fabulous lunch outside at the Lebanese Taverina.  It was a balmy day so dining al fresco on braised lamb was fantastic.  
We packed up and heading back to Pittsburgh in the early afternoon!


The Big Bang Theory

 Recently I have become hooked on "The Big Bang Theory" and one of my favorite shows was when Leonard's mother (played by Christine Boranski) comes to visit.  She plays a cold research psychiatrist and is hysterically funny! Being in the filed of psychology now I find it to be even more funny because a lot of people out there in academics are exactly like her!   Check out the clip below.

The Big Bang Theory is an American sitcom created by Chuck Lorre and Bill Prady, both of whom serve as executive producers on the show, along with Steven Molaro. All three also serve as head writers. It premiered on CBS on September 24, 2007.
Set in Pasadena, California, the show is centered on five characters: two room-mate geniuses who work at the California Institute of Technology, experimental physicist Leonard Hofstadter and theoretical physicist Sheldon Cooper; their neighbor across the hall Penny, a blonde waitress and aspiring actress. The three live at 2311 Los Robles Avenue in Pasadena. Leonard and Sheldon have equally geeky and socially awkward co-workers and friends Howard Wolowitz, an aerospace engineer and a non-PhD from JPL, and Rajesh Koothrappali, an astrophysicist also working at Caltech. The geekiness and intellect of the four guys is contrasted for comic effect with Penny's social skills and common sense. Three other supporting characters have also been promoted to main cast status for a few episodes: Leslie Winkle, a Caltech colleague and, at different times, a lover of both Leonard and Howard; Bernadette Rostenkowski, a doctoral candidate (later doctor) in microbiology, part-time waitress alongside Penny, and Howard's love interest and fianceƩ; and Amy Farrah Fowler, a neurobiologist whose personality is very similar to Sheldon, and who later becomes close friends with Penny.

Everything You Ever Wanted to Know About Homosexuals (scientifically answered)!

This is great scientific based information about homosexuality.  It discusses its historical origins, historical beliefs and attempted therapies to change gender preference, its frequency of occurance, and also the latest theories about what causes someone to prefer same sex partners.  One interesting side note is that therapy to change sexual preference is now considered to be unethical by the Amerian Psychological Association.

The information contained in this article is based on real scientifc research and is not based off from some magazine article or other bogus source and is presented in a scientific and non biased manor.   

This infromation was taken from an online article and was written by Dr. Katrina Cooper, PhD., University of Pittsburgh.

Historical Belief Systems
 The major religions in our society today all view homosexual activity as immoral. Homosexual behavior is not procreative and does not occur in marriage, both preconditions for accepted sexual activity in Christian, Jewish, and Muslim beliefs.
Although conservative religious groups see homosexual activity as immoral, there is one belief system that did encourage this behavior. In the 1960s, the Human Potential Movement  advocated for a wide variety of sexual activity. Sexual experimentation was valued. During this era, those involved in the Human Potential Movement believed that people who had never tried homosexual activity were inhibited. This was influenced by the work of Kinsey arguing that everyone is basically bisexual.
Recent empirical studies of attitudes show that attitudes have changed over the 20th century. Surveys of adults show more acceptance of homosexuality through the 1980s and 1990s than in earlier decades. But, recently with concerns about HIV and AIDS, there appear to be more hate crimes and other evidence of increased prejudice against homosexuals. Even at our most tolerant, society still does not award homosexuals equal legal rights with other groups. Recently, there has been a strong negative reaction against the idea that homosexuals could legally marry.
There are gender differences in attitudes about homosexuality. A meta-analysis of studies through September 1993 indicates that men were less accepting than women of homosexuals and homosexual behavior, especially for male gays (Kite &Whitley, 1996).
Over the years, many types of therapies have been developed to "cure" homosexuality. Most of these therapies are notoriously unsuccessful. Even the behavior therapies are not always successful in changing behavior permanently. However, one problem with assessing the effects of these therapeutic programs is that the people being treated are not always there voluntarily. They may be pressured into trying to be "cured" by family or friends or they may be forced to go by law enforcement agents. In neither case is there a strong motivation on the part of the client. When clients are motivated, the therapy, regardless of the type, is more successful. But, it may be that the people who are so motivated are less strong in their preferences to begin with. All in all, this whole issue of therapy to change sexual preference is still quite controversial.

Therapy To Change Sexual Orientation
Over the years, many types of therapies have been developed to "cure" homosexuality. Most of these therapies are notoriously unsuccessful. Even the behavior therapies are not always successful in changing behavior permanently. However, one problem with assessing the effects of these therapeutic programs is that the people being treated are not always there voluntarily. They may be pressured into trying to be "cured" by family or friends or they may be forced to go by law enforcement agents. In neither case is there a strong motivation on the part of the client. When clients are motivated, the therapy, regardless of the type, is more successful. But, it may be that the people who are so motivated are less strong in their preferences to begin with. All in all, this whole issue of therapy to change sexual preference is still quite controversial.
This type of therapy is not successful with either sex. The documented effects, if any, are to lower all sexual interests. Professional organizations, such as the American Psychological Association, now consider it unethical to offer this type of therapy.
As we have seen, some people view homosexuals as inherently immoral, evil people. Others see them as sick or neurotic, needing to be cured. Some people tolerate homosexuals. Few are supportive outside of the gay community. Thus, it is not surprising that homosexuals are often afraid of telling others about their sexual preferences.

Research on Homosexual Behavior
A good deal of research has been done attempting to show how homosexuals are different from heterosexuals. However, there are many methodological issues in this research. This includes issues such as what should we measure and where do we find a sample? Most data on homosexuals comes from volunteers from large gay communities. Another issue is generalizability. Those who volunteer are typically willing to be identified as homosexual and may not be representative of homosexuals who are not "out."
Data on frequency of homosexual activity is very difficult to get. Both Kinsey's and Hunt's data were highly biased in regards to homosexuals. More recent surveys provide better data.
Survey Findings Relating to Homosexual Behavior
Homosexual orgasm
Klassen et al.
Homosexual relations
Homosexual orgasm
Same sex activity enjoyable
Opposite sex activity enjoyable
Label self homosexual
Homosexual experience since puberty
Had homosexual partner in last 12 months
Had both sex partners in last 12 months
Label self as homosexual
Had homosexual desires

Homosexual Adults' Self-Reports of Childhood and Adult Behavior
Some studies rely on the memories of adults to describe their childhood behavior. Findings of such studies indicate that homosexuals, as compared to heterosexuals, display:
1. Higher levels of cross sex behavior and interests.
2. Problems relating to same sex parent, especially for boys.
3. Preteen sex play with same sex, especially for boys. [Many children report sex play with both sexes. The majority of this sex play is heterosexual activity, especially for girls].
4. Early homosexual arousal.
Other research examines early sexual activities of self-identified adult homosexuals in the teen years and early adulthood. These adults report:
1. They try out heterosexuality. Most date the other sex at least once. This is especially true for girls.
2. When engaging in heterosexual intercourse, homosexual males and females are often not orgasmic: about 50% of males and 10% of females had heterosexual orgasm. [Comparable figures are 90+% for males and much lower for females in first heterosexual intercourse.].
Differences in homosexual women and men tend to parallel gender differences in heterosexuals.
1. Men are more active sexually. They have more partners and are less monogamous.
2. Men are more concerned with attractiveness of partner than women.
3. Men initiate sex more. Often, they start homosexual activity earlier. Lesbian couples sometimes complain about lack of sex in relationships.
Summarizing some of the research described, the typical male homosexual tends to have short‑term sexual relationships. He may or may not be married; many married men still have homosexual relationships, sometimes with strangers. He is not a child molester and he probably first got involved in homosexual activities with boys of his own age. In fact, many boys engage in homosexual activities as preadolescents, although they may not label them as such and they do not necessarily think of themselves as homosexual because they had this experience. Other data suggest that male homosexuals often engaged in some type of "sissy" behavior as children. It is also typical for homosexuals of both sexes to realize that they are homosexual at a young age. Often their first strong feelings are for someone of the same sex rather than the other sex as is more typical for heterosexuals. As they get older, male homosexuals do become involved in long-term affairs with one other man. In one sample of homosexuals over half had relationships of a year or more, but even in these long-term relationships, they typically had occasional contacts with someone other than their regular lover.
The patterns for female homosexuals are somewhat different. The typical lesbian is not married; only a small percentage of married women are primarily homosexual in their sexual preference. Although she has had short term, transient sexual relationships, she is much more likely than her male counterpart to have relationships of a year or more and to be involved exclusively with her partner during this time rather than having side relationships. In the study mentioned earlier where slightly over half the men had affairs of a year or more, the comparable percentage for female homosexuals were 93% having long term affairs. In many ways, this difference corresponds with the general sex differences in sexual experiences for men and women in our society. Men tend to have more casual sexual relationships than women and even during marriage, men are more likely to have extramarital affairs. The male homosexuals fall at the extreme end of the male pattern and the females fall at the opposite extreme end of the overall female pattern.
Girls are less likely than boys to have preadolescent homosexual experiences, again paralleling the findings that girls in general have fewer sexual experiences than boys in our society. Like male homosexuals, they have engaged in "tomboy‑like" behaviors in childhood and they have become aware of their attraction to women as soon as they began having sexual feelings. Lesbians are less likely than male homosexuals to have even been sexually attracted to someone of the opposite sex. Only about half of the lesbians in one study reported having had such an attraction; for the others, all of their romantic interests centered on women. However, most lesbians have tried having sex with a man at some point in their lives and often their first sexual experience is with a man. They typically do not enjoy these heterosexual encounters, though.

Theories Of Sexual Orientation
As we have seen with a number of other issues, there are a number of theories about how we develop our sexual orientation, none of which explains all the data alone.
As with many of the sex-differentiated behaviors we have discussed so far in the course, there are also biological theories about the origins of homosexuality. Probably the most widely held theory among researchers today is that homosexuality and heterosexuality are at least partially genetically based. Certain genes appear to be related to sexual orientation. Some of the evidence in support of this theory comes from studies of identical twins. Although the specific studies mentioned in the text can be criticized since they fail to control for environmental factors, other studies comparing siblings with identical twins do eliminate some of this confounding. In these studies, it has been found that twins are more highly correlated in their sexual preferences than non-identical siblings of the same sex. This theory was also questioned because a homosexual gene would die out if those who have it did not reproduce. Can you think of a counterargument for this line of reasoning? One point that could be made is that historically, most homosexuals did marry and reproduce in spite of their sexual preferences. Even today, many males with a homosexual preference are married and have sex with their wives; they express their preferred sexual feelings in temporary liaisons with strangers or acquaintances. Also, a lot of lesbians marry men, have children, and only later realize that they are mostly attracted to women. However, if this genetic theory is true, as homosexuals feel more accepted and more able to live openly as gays and lesbians, they will probably have fewer heterosexual experiences and the homosexual gene might begin to die out. It is ironic that those who fear homosexuality and cause homosexuals to "stay in the closet" are the ones who are doing the most to perpetuate homosexuality if this theory is true.
Other biological explanations center upon hormone imbalances. It is assumed within this theory that the typical hormone ratio leads to heterosexuality, while low testosterone leads to homosexuality in males and high testosterone leads to homosexuality in females. Studies looking for such imbalances in adults have generally failed to be supportive of this theory. Furthermore, there is almost no research on females.
One reason that researchers may have had this idea about the hormones is that hormone imbalances do lead to cross‑sex sexual behavior in other animals. However, as we have seen, the animal data does not generalize well to humans. Also, studies mentioned in earlier units found no change in sexual orientation when hormone levels were changed in adults. Castrated men do not become homosexual, they simply lose some of their sex drive; it is not refocused. Similarly, women given testosterone do not change their sexual orientation.
Another biological possibility for sexual orientation is suggested by research on birth order. Homosexual men tend to have a greater number of older brothers on average than heterosexual men. This has prompted researchers to suggest that perhaps there is some sort of immune system reaction in the mother that influences the individual's brain development, leading to a homosexual orientation.
There are some reasons for believing that there is a biological basis of sexual preference, even if none of the biological theories yet proposed is adequate. A major fact in favor of a biological theory is the data on the relatively constant frequency in the population for homosexuality. Since Kinsey, there has been little change in the percentage of people who label themselves as homosexual (being exclusively or primarily homosexual in their attractions) in spite of the numerous changes in sexual behaviors of other types. These percentages also appear to be highly similar to those in other cultures and at other periods in history. People's behaviors may vary, with some cultures encouraging homosexual expression and others discouraging it, but the basic frequencies of people with homosexual and heterosexual orientations do not seem to vary that much.
The learning theory approach provides another explanation for sexual orientation. Poor experiences with the other sex might lead one to turn to one's own sex for sexual interactions. Positive sexual experiences with the same sex might have the same effect. Indirect reinforcement from parents or peers could also serve to channel one's sexual interests in one direction or another. Such a theory assumes that sexual preferences can be unlearned since they are learned to begin with. However, remember that data cited earlier in this chapter indicates that it is extremely difficult to change an adult's sexual preference. Also, homosexuals tend to feel homosexual attraction before having any real experiences that could be reinforcing or punishing. And, the early sexual experiences of many heterosexuals are often unpleasant or neutral, rather than being reinforcing, but these people do not turn to a sexual partner of the same sex. Instead, they try again and as they gain experience they find that heterosexual sex becomes more and more reinforcing. Similar processes probably occur with homosexuals, except that they are more likely to try a member of the other sex as a sex partner at some point in their lives.
The text also mentions various sociological theories for the origin of homosexuality. One that is not described in detail in the book is a labeling process, analogous to the cognitive theories we have discussed in the context of how we learn about sex. According to this labeling theory, a person is first labeled by others as homosexual and then starts behaving according to the label. This theory probably best explains how a person comes to view oneself as a homosexual rather than explaining where the orientation comes from to begin with. It is hard to imagine a person being constantly called a homosexual by other people unless there was something in his or her behavior already which would make other people have this idea. The homosexual role is a relatively well-defined role in our society, and once people label themselves as homosexual, it probably follows that this role will become a salient one for them, and they may become even more "gay" than they were before assuming the label as appropriate for themselves.
Theories of homosexuality try to examine it as a deviant behavior, tracing it to some hormonal or developmental disruption, anomaly or mis-learning. Often such theories associate homosexuality with sex‑inappropriate gender role behaviors (e.g., boys who like to play with dolls, are emotionally expressive, or identify with their mothers become homosexuals). Sociological labeling theory and its social psychological offshoots attempt to disentangle the various aspects of sex and gender and remind us that the experience of engaging in sexual (or gender role) behavior which is considered sex‑inappropriate has different psychological consequences than engaging in behavior which is not considered deviant. This is because we are social beings who internalize the standards of the larger society.
Engaging in a homosexual act (or sex‑inappropriate gender role behavior) often causes guilt and self‑questioning: the person is motivated to make sense of this behavior simply because it is deviant in a way he/she would not be if the behavior were considered "normal". Looking back over his/her past behavior (e.g., preference for same‑sex friends, sex‑inappropriate interests, troubled childhood relationships) may lead such a self‑questioning person to label himself/herself as homosexual. If the homosexual (or sex‑inappropriate) behavior becomes public knowledge, parents, doctors, judges, or other authority figures will use the same kind of evidence to "construct" a homosexual identity from a set of apparently deviant or unusual events. Sociological labeling theory suggests that these "deviant" childhood experiences, gender role behaviors, etc. are not the actual causes of homosexuality: plenty of tomboys with a preference for girlfriends and sensitive, non-athletic boys who were close to their mothers become heterosexuals. But they "make sense of" a behavior (homosexuality) which is considered deviant and therefore figure in personal and societal after‑the‑fact constructions of reality. Sociological labeling theory argues that many of the other theories of homosexuality can be better thought of as attempts to construct an explanation of homosexuality designed to justify its societal classification as deviant (by associating it with things considered "bad," "immoral," "sick" or "imbalanced"). As such, these theories are informative about societal values but not about the actual origins of homosexuality.

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