For many postgraduate students, a Ph.D. thesis will be their magnum opus – the zenith of their academic achievement. And with such a significant amount of time and effort being invested, it’s important that study topics are chosen wisely. Hence, it’s comforting to know that the world of academic research is a far more inclusive, eclectic and remarkably unusual place than one might first assume. However left-field a particular subject might seem, there are almost certainly countless other research papers that wipe the floor with it in the weirdness stakes. Here are 30 of the very strangest.
30. Ovulation: A Lap Dancer’s Secret Weapon
To investigate the theory that estrus – the interval of amplified fertility and sexual awareness often referred to as “heat” in mammals – is no longer present in human females, researchers turned to an unlikely source: lap dancers. A team from the University of New Mexico led by evolutionary psychologist Geoffrey Miller enlisted the help of 18 professional dancers. These dancers documented their ovulatory cycles, shift patterns and the amount of tips they received over the course of 60 days. Published in 2007 in the journal Evolution and Human Behavior, “Ovulatory cycle effects on tip earnings by lap dancers: economic evidence for human estrus?” noted a distinct correlation between estrus and greater income from gratuities, representing what the researchers called “the first direct economic evidence for the existence and importance of estrus in contemporary human females.”
29. Which Can Jump Higher, the Dog Flea or the Cat Flea?
Froghoppers aside, fleas are the overachieving long jumpers of the animal kingdom. Fleas have body lengths of between 0.06 and 0.13 inches but can leap horizontal distances more than a hundred times those figures. But were all fleas created equal in the jumping stakes? To find out which would triumph between the dog- and cat-dwelling varieties, researchers from the Ecole Nationale Vétérinaire de Toulouse, France meticulously recorded the leaping efforts of a collection of both species of flea. Published in 2000, the resulting paper, “A comparison of jump performances of the dog flea, Ctenocephalides canis, and the cat flea, Ctenocephalides felis felis,” declared the dog flea the winner. Yes, the canine-inclined insect jumps both higher and further than its feline-partial opponent. In 2008 the research team scooped the Annals of Improbable Research’s Ig Nobel Prize in the biology category – the Ig Nobel Prizes being awards that recognize the feats of those who “make people laugh… and then think.”
28. On Ethicists and Theft
Death row pardons, lottery wins and rain on your wedding day – all (arguably non-ironic) subjects referenced by Alanis Morissette in her 1996 single “Ironic.” One topic that would probably merit inclusion – despite the research not being published until 2009 (in Philosophical Psychology) – is the revelation that books on ethics are more liable to be absent from the shelves of university libraries than comparable books on other philosophical subjects. “Do Ethicists Steal More Books?” by University of California, Riverside professor of philosophy Eric Schwitzgebel revealed that the more recent, esoteric ethics books “of the sort likely to be borrowed mainly by professors and advanced students of philosophy” were “about 50 percent more likely to be missing” than their non-ethics counterparts. However, Professor Schwitzgebel believes this is a good thing, as “the demand that ethicists live as moral models would create distortive pressures on the field.”
27. Wet Underwear: Not Comfortable
Even babies know it: wet underwear is uncomfortable. Yet precisely why this is so is a question that went unanswered by hard science until 1994, when the journal Ergonomics published “Impact of wet underwear on thermoregulatory responses and thermal comfort in the cold.” The authors were Martha Kold Bakkevig of SINTEF Unimed in Trondheim, Norway and Ruth Nielson at Kongens Lyngby’s Technical University of Denmark. Bakkevig and Nielson had investigated “the significance of wet underwear” by monitoring the skin and intestinal warmth, as well as weight loss, of eight adult male subjects wearing wet or dry underwear in controlled cold conditions. Apart from the obvious “significant cooling effect of wet underwear on thermoregulatory responses and thermal comfort,” the research also discovered that the thickness of the underwear exerted a greater effect on these factors than the material used to make the garment. So now you know.
26. Do Woodpeckers Get Headaches?
In much the same way that we’d presume dragons don’t get sore throats, it would be a reasonable assumption that woodpeckers don’t suffer from headaches – but assumptions are a poor substitute for the authoritative grip of scientific fact. Published in 2002 in the British Journal of Ophthalmology, “Cure for a headache” came courtesy of Ivan Schwab, an ophthalmologist at the University of California, Davis. Schwab’s paper details the raft of physiological traits that woodpeckers have developed to avoid brain damage and bleeding or detached eyes when hammering their beaks into trees at up to 20 times a second, 12,000 times a day. In addition to a very broad but surprisingly squishy skull and sturdy jaw muscles, the woodpecker has a “relatively small” brain – which probably explains a lot.
25. Booty Calls: the Best of Both Worlds?
Compromise, according to U.S. poet and author Phyllis McGinley at least, is what “makes nations great and marriages happy.” It’s also the backbone of the booty call, if research published in 2009 is anything to go by. Appearing in The Journal of Sex Research, “The ‘booty call’: a compromise between men’s and women’s ideal mating strategies,” was written by researchers from the department of psychology at New Mexico State University. The study analyzed the booty-calling behavior of 61 students from the University of Texas at Austin. What’s more, it confirmed its central thesis that “the booty call may represent a compromise between the short-term sexual nature of men’s ideal relationships and the long-term commitment ideally favored by women.” Lead researcher Dr. Peter K. Jonason, now working at the University of Western Sydney, shared follow-up papers in 2011 and 2013, for The Journal of Sex Research and Archives of Sexual Behavior, respectively.
24. Mosquitoes Like Cheese
The mosquito is a formidable and destructive pest. And while it’s known that exhalation of carbon dioxide by its victims acts as a highly compelling invitation to dinner, other smelly signals have been less well documented. Published in The Lancet, Bart Knols’ 1996 research, “On human odor, malaria mosquitoes, and Limburger cheese,” changed that. The entomologist described how Anopheles gambiae, Africa’s most prolific malaria-spreading mosquito, exhibited a keen partiality for biting human feet and ankles. Crucially, the research also showed that these mosquitoes can be attracted to Limburger cheese, a stinky fromage that shares many characteristics with the whiff of human feet, offering potential use as a synthetic bait for traps. Interestingly, Knols is one of the few people to have won an Ig Nobel (for entomology in 2006) and a Nobel Peace Prize (shared in 2005 as part of the International Atomic Energy Agency).
23. Weighing Up Lead and Feathers
It doesn’t require a degree in physics – or philosophy – to understand that a pound of lead and a pound of feathers weigh the same. Yet the question of whether or not they feel the same is rather less straightforward. To examine this, researchers from the department of psychology at Illinois State University enlisted the help of 23 blindfolded volunteers, recording their perceptions of the weight of either a pound of lead or a pound of feathers contained within boxes of precisely the same shape and size. Published in 2007, the paper – “‘Which feels heavier – a pound of lead or a pound of feathers?’ A potential perceptual basis of a cognitive riddle” – discovered that participants rated the pound of lead as seeming weightier with an “above chance” frequency. The suggestion is that factors such as the “muscular forces” required to handle an object could also play a role in perceptions of weight.
22. Cat Food – Yummy?
Despite their notorious penchant for fully, or sometimes partially, dead rodents in their mouths, cats are surprisingly fussy eaters. What’s more, the pet food industry has found that kitties themselves represent unreliable and expensive test subjects in the pursuit of more appealing cat food flavors. Professor Gary Pickering of the department of biological sciences at Brock University in Ontario, Canada detailed a better option in 2009: the human palate. “Optimizing the sensory characteristics and acceptance of canned cat food: use of a human taste panel” describes the bizarre methodology for human tasters to “profile the flavour and texture of a range of cat food products” – including evaluating “meat chunk and gravy/gel constituents.” The impact of this on the number of job applications to the beer- and chocolate-tasting industries remains to be seen.
21. The Unhidden Dangers of Sword Swallowing
While “cat food taster” is unlikely to appear on anybody’s dream job list, at least that profession is unencumbered by the daily risk of serious injury. Sword swallowing, on the other hand, though occupying a similar position on the league table of tastiness, is a rather more hazardous occupation. In order to establish just how hazardous, radiologist Brian Witcombe and world champion sword swallower Dan Meyer analyzed the “technique and complications” of 46 members of the Sword Swallowers’ Association International. Published in 2009 in the British Medical Journal, their research, “Sword swallowing and its side effects,” found that performers had a heightened chance of injury when “distracted or adding embellishments” – as in the case of one unfortunate swallower who lacerated his throat after being disturbed by a “misbehaving macaw on his shoulder.” In 2007 Witcombe and Meyer together received the Ig Nobel Prize in medicine in view of the pair’s “penetrating medical report.”
20. Beer Bottle vs. Human Skull
Common weekend warrior tales would suggest that a beer bottle makes a good weapon in the event of a bar brawl. But would a full or an empty bottle inflict the most damage, and would that damage include fracturing a human skull? These important questions were answered in 2009 by a team of researchers from the University of Bern with their seminal paper, “Are full or empty beer bottles sturdier and does their fracture-threshold suffice to break the human skull?” Dr. Stephan Bolliger and his colleagues tested the breaking energy of full and empty beer bottles using a drop tower. Moreover, they discovered that a “full bottle will strike a target with almost 70 percent more energy than an empty bottle,” but that either is capable of breaking a human skull. Good to know. In a great twist of irony, Dr. Bolliger and co. picked up a 2009 Ig Nobel Prize in the “Peace” category.
19. The Propulsion Parameters of Penguin Poop
The titles of scientific research papers can sometimes be fairly impenetrable to the layman; other times they may take a more direct approach. Published in 2003, “Pressures produced when penguins pooh – calculations on avian defecation” certainly belongs to the latter category. The paper’s authors, Victor Benno Meyer-Rochow of the then International University Bremen (now Jacobs University Bremen) and Eötvös Loránd University’s Jozsef Gal, decided to address the question of how much internal pressure penguins generate for poop-firing purposes. With knowledge of just a few parameters – including the thickness of and distance covered by the fecal matter – the researchers were able to calculate that the birds employed pressures of up to 60 kPa (kilopascal) to eject their bodily waste. The project was inspired by a blushing Japanese student who, during a lecture, asked Dr. Meyer-Rochow how the penguins “decorated” their nests.
18. Lady Gaga and Pop Art
Lady Gaga clearly sees herself as something of an artist: her third album is called Artpop, and last year she voiced her desire to “bring art culture into pop in a reverse Warholian expedition.” But does anyone else agree? In 2012 University of Cambridge student Amrou Al-Kadhi decided to write a few words – 10,000 to be precise – on the subject for his final year undergraduate dissertation. The paper, looking at Lady Gaga’s place in the history of pop art and her role as a voice of cultural criticism, initially encountered some resistance from the Cambridge history of art department. However, after several meetings, the provision of a barrage of YouTube links to Gaga videos such as “Telephone” (which apparently demonstrated her postmodern aesthetic) and “a bit of work,” permission for Al-Kadhi to undertake the research was granted.
17. Even Chickens Prefer Beautiful People
A 2002 research paper by Stefano Ghirlanda, Liselotte Jansson and Magnus Enquist at Stockholm University decided to make inroads into the question – most likely contemplated by very, very few people – of whether “Chickens prefer beautiful humans.” The study saw six chickens trained to “react to” images of an ordinary male or female face. They were then tested on a series of images ranging from the average face to a face with exaggerated male or female characteristics, and a group of 14 (human) students were given the same test. Perhaps surprisingly, the chickens “showed preferences for faces consistent with human sexual preferences.” The researchers claim this offers evidence for the hypothesis that human preferences stem not from “face-specific adaptations” but from “general properties of nervous systems” – perhaps overlooking the possibility that their human test group just had very unusual tastes.
16. Erase Bad Memories, Keep Good Ones
Painful, embarrassing, or traumatic memories have an annoying habit of accumulating over the course of an average lifetime. As Courtney Miller, assistant professor at the Florida campus of The Scripps Research Institute, puts it, “Our memories make us who we are, but some of these memories can make life very difficult.” With that in mind, Miller led a team of researchers to try and find out whether certain unwanted memories – specifically, drug-related ones – could be erased without damaging other memories. Published in 2013, “Selective, Retrieval-Independent Disruption of Methamphetamine-Associated Memory by Actin Depolymerization” found that, in mice at least, this kind of bespoke amnesia is entirely possible. How? By means of inhibiting the formation of a particular molecule in the brain. “The hope is,” said Miller, “that our strategies may be applicable to other harmful memories, such as those that perpetuate smoking or post-traumatic stress disorder.”
15. The Rectal Route to Curing Hiccups
When beset by a flurry of hiccups, a few minutes of putting up with the involuntary jolting is usually sufficient to get them to subside. However, other times they can become a far more unmanageable problem, beyond the healing scope of even the oldest of wives’ tales. In such situations there’s a surprising but highly effective cure. Published in 1990, “Termination of intractable hiccups with digital rectal massage” details the case of a 60-year-old patient whose seemingly non-stop hiccups were brought to an immediate halt by a massaging finger in the rectum. A second occurrence a few hours later was curbed in a similar fashion. The research from the Bnai Zion Medical Center in Israel notes that “no other recurrences were observed.” The inspiration for the report was Dr. Francis Fesmire, who penned a medical case report with the same title in 1988 and with whom the researchers shared an Ig Nobel in 2006. Fesmire passed away in 2014, and one fitting epitaph from an entertainment-oriented research magazine mused, “Dr. Fesmire found joy and fame by putting his finger on – nay, in – the pulse of his times.”
14. Can Pigeons Tell a Picasso From a Monet?
Theirs is a list dominated by flying, pecking and defecating, and pigeons can now add “appreciation of fine art” to their skill set. Published in 1995, “Pigeons’ discrimination of paintings by Monet and Picasso” came courtesy of Shigeru Watanabe, Junko Sakamoto and Masumi Wakita at Keio University in Japan. And sure enough, the paper presents evidence that pigeons are indeed able to distinguish between works by the two artists. The birds were trained to recognize pieces by either Monet or Picasso; and crucially they then demonstrated the ability to identify works by either creator that had not been shown to them during the training period. Not bad for rats with wings. Professor Watanabe – who went on to explore paddy birds’ appreciation of the spoken word – put the paper into context, saying, “This research does not deal with advanced artistic judgments, but it shows that pigeons are able to acquire the ability to judge beauty similar to that of humans.”
13. The Nature of Navel Lint
It’s a phenomenon that most people will be familiar with: small balls of lint accumulating in the belly button. Still, until fairly recently the mechanism behind this process lacked a satisfactory explanation from the realm of science. Fortunately, that all changed in 2009 when Georg Steinhauser, a chemist and researcher at the Vienna University of Technology, published a research paper entitled “The nature of navel fluff.” After gathering 503 samples of navel lint, Dr. Steinhauser concluded that the culprit behind this common occurrence is hair on the abdomen, which dislodges small fibers from clothing and channels them into the belly button. As the Austrian himself has pointed out, “The question of the nature of navel fluff seems to concern more people than one would think at first glance.”
12. The Effects of Cocaine on Bees
The effects of cocaine on human body movement can be observed in nightclubs the world over on just about any given weekend. And as it turns out, the tediously familiar overestimation of dancing prowess is not just limited to humans. In a 2009 paper entitled “Effects of cocaine on honey bee dance behavior,” a team of researchers led by Gene Robinson, entomology and neuroscience professor at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, analyzed how honey bees are affected by low doses of cocaine. Honey bees are known to perform dances when they locate an abundant food source; and the team found that administering the drug prompted bees to circle about 25 percent quicker as well as dance more exuberantly and for longer. The bees also exaggerated the scale of their bounty. No surprise there then.
11. Fruit Bat Fellatio
Though its contents are difficult at first to make out, the grainy black and white image above actually depicts two bats engaged in some X-rated nocturnal activity. And that’s precisely the topic that a group of researchers from China and the U.K. chose to explore in their 2009 paper, “Fellatio by fruit bats prolongs copulation time.” The group looked at the copulatory behavior of the short-nosed fruit bat and observed that “females were not passive during copulation but performed oral sex.” More interestingly, the researchers also discovered that the longer the bats spent engaged in fellatio, the longer the copulation itself lasted – and that when fellatio was absent, pairs spent much less time mating.
10. The Possibility of Unicorns
It’s a question that has plagued the internet for decades: could unicorns really exist? The short answer, at least, is no. Still, King’s College London philosophy undergraduate Rachael Patterson decided to investigate whether a full dissertation on the more theoretical aspects of the subject would yield the same conclusion. Her paper, “The Possibility of Unicorns: Kripke v Dummett,” picks up on previous theses by British philosopher Michael Dummett and American logician and philosopher Saul Kripke. Why? In order to see if any more rainbow-hued light could be shed on this important question, of course. Reassuringly, perhaps, neither Kripke nor Dummett claim that these mythical creatures live in reality – although Dummett does posit the idea that in another world they might.
9. Does Country Music Make You Suicidal?
Country music is one of the most popular genres of music in the United States, with a huge audience that encompasses all age ranges. Yet given its recurrent themes of wedded disharmony and excessive drinking, Steven Stack of Wayne State University and Auburn University’s Jim Gundlach decided to probe whether country music might have an influence on municipal suicide rates in America. Published in 1992, their research paper, “The Effect of Country Music on Suicide,” actually discovered a strong link between the amount of country music radio airplay in any particular city and the suicide rate among the white population in that area. The reaction was mixed: Stack and Gundlach initially received hate mail, but in 2004 they won the Ig Nobel Prize for medicine.
8. Do Cabbies Have Bigger Brains?
The notoriously demanding exam that London’s black cab drivers must pass is called the “Knowledge” – and with good reason. Covering around 25,000 streets inside a six-mile radius of central London, the test generally requires three to four years of preparation and multiple attempts at the final exam before success is achieved. University College London neuroscientist Eleanor Maguire was inspired to take a closer look at this feat of memory after researching similar examples in the animal kingdom. Published in 2000, the resulting study, “Navigation-related structural change in the hippocampi of taxi drivers,” discovered that “cabbies” had physically larger posterior hippocampi – the areas of the brain responsible for spatial memory – than their non-cabbie counterparts. Professor Maguire’s follow-up study (with Dr. Katherine Woollett) in 2011 confirmed that trained cabbies were better at remembering London landmarks but not as good at recalling complex visual information compared to the unsuccessful trainees.
7. Shrews: To Chew or Not to Chew?
Ever felt so hungry that you could eat a horse? How about a shrew? While such scenarios are never likely to present themselves to the average person, scientists can be an altogether more experimental bunch. Take 1995 paper, “Human digestive effects on a micromammalian skeleton,” by Brian Crandall and Peter Stahl, anthropologists working at the State University of New York. Said paper investigated what would happen to a shrew – which was first skinned, disemboweled, parboiled and cut into segments – if it was swallowed, sans chewing, by a human. Interestingly, many of the rodent’s smaller bones “disappeared” on their transit through the human digestive system, while other portions of the skeleton showed “significant damage” despite the lack of chewing – a promising result to those studying human and animal remains. Following this peculiar paper, Brian Crandall became a science educator hoping to motivate future generations of (hungry) scientists.
6. Gay Dead Duck Sex
In 1935 Austrian physicist Erwin Schrödinger tried to highlight the absurdity of newly developed aspects of quantum theory. In his thought experiment, the strange quantum properties of a system are drawn on to suspend a hypothetical cat in a state of being simultaneously dead and alive. Sixty-six years later, a new piece of research saw the cat replaced by two ducks, in far less paradoxical though no less opposing states of life and death – but now with the crucial addition of gay sex. Published in 2001, “The first case of homosexual necrophilia in the mallard Anas platyrhynchos” describes Kees Moeliker’s bizarre experience. The Dutch ornithologist witnessed a male duck administering a 75-minute raping of the corpse of another male duck, freshly deceased after flying into a window. More recently, Moeliker has presided over an annual commemorative event and public conversation on how to make sure birds stop flying into windows. The event’s name? Dead Duck Day.
5. Love and Sex With Robots
“Intimate Relationships With Artificial Partners” – ludicrous science fiction, or serious science fact? According to the paper’s author, and British International Master of chess, Daniel Levy, “It may sound a little weird, but it isn’t.” Levy earned a Ph.D. from Maastricht University for his thesis, which covered sociology, psychology, artificial intelligence and robotics, among other fields. He conjectured that human-robot love, marriage and even consummation are “inevitable” by 2050. Roboticist Ronald Arkin from Atlanta’s Georgia Institute of Technology points out, “Humans are very unusual creatures. If you ask me if every human will want to marry a robot, my answer is probably not. But will there be a subset of people? There are people ready right now to marry sex toys.”
4. A Better Approach to Penile Zipper Entrapment
Unfortunately, the horror injury that befalls Ben Stiller’s character Ted, in 1998’s There’s Something About Mary, often traverses the realm of fiction to bestow real-world agony upon boys and men who wish they’d opted for a button fly. A 2005 paper by Dr. Satish Chandra Mishra from Charak Palika Hospital in New Delhi, India looked at reported methods of intervention for this most unpleasant of problems and found that many common approaches either take too long or can actually make the circumstances worse. The researchers’ paper, “Safe and painless manipulation of penile zipper entrapment,” details instead a “quick, simple and non-traumatic” method using wire cutters and a pair of pliers – though “painless” does seem a highly ambitious adjective in this particular context.
3. Flatulence As Self-Defense
The idea of a correlation between fear and bodily emissions of one variety or another is not surprising, but a 1996 paper by author Mara Sidoli detailed a much more extreme example of this relationship. In “Farting as a defence against unspeakable dread,” Sidoli described the miserable tale of Peter, a “severely disturbed adopted latency boy” who endured a difficult and traumatic early life. Despite various setbacks in his later growth, Peter demonstrated “considerable innate resilience.” However, he also developed what Sidoli called a “defensive olfactive container,” using his flatulence “to envelop himself in a protective cloud of familiarity against the dread of falling apart, and to hold his personality together.” With such a vivid and prose-rich approach to scientific research, it should come as no surprise that SIdoli scooped the Ig Nobel for literature in 1998.
2. Harry Potter = Jesus Christ
Putting an end, once and for all, to the notion that literary theory sometimes lacks real-world application, “Jesus Potter Harry Christ” is a thesis by Ph.D. student Derek Murphy that looks at “the fascinating parallels between two of the world’s most popular literary characters.” What’s more, after successfully exceeding his Kickstarter funding goal of $888, Murphy’s thesis has been transformed into a commercially available book, published in 2011, which won the Next Gen Indie Book Award for Best Religious Non-Fiction that same year. Though the idea of analyzing the similarities between J.K. Rowling’s boy wizard creation and the Son of God might seem like a frivolous endeavor, Murphy – who is currently doing his Ph.D. at Taiwan’s National Cheng Kung University – assures his public that the book’s contents are “academic and heavily researched.” Now, where’s the fun in that?
1. Rectal Foreign Bodies
Published in the journal Surgery in 1986, “Rectal foreign bodies: case reports and a comprehensive review of the world’s literature” does exactly what it says on the tin. The research, by doctors David B. Busch and James R. Starling, based in Madison, Wisconsin, looked at two cases of patients with “apparently self-inserted” anal objects, as well as available documentation on the subject.
Other factors taken into account included the patient’s age and history and the number and type of objects removed. The resulting list of 182 foreign bodies makes for an eye-watering read: of particular note are the dull knife (“patient complained of ‘knife-like pain’”) and the toolbox (“inside a convict; contained saws and other items usable in escape attempts”). The doctors’ paper was recognized for its literary value with an Ig Nobel Prize in 1995. One person’s pain is clearly another’s pleasure.
“The subject of sex preoccupies us. It's the source of our most intense pleasures. Often it's also the cause of misery, much of which arises from built-in conflicts between the evolved roles of women and men.”
"Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality" by Jared Diamond (1998)1
Sex and sexuality are hot topics. Cheap trashy newspapers are full of it, rumour and gossip centre on it, lawmakers deliberate over where the limits of expression are, and sociologists try to get as much of it into their studies are possible wherever there is the slightest link to it in their research. The porn industry is the oldest enterprise known to mankind, and it fuelled (and largely paid for) the expansion of the Internet. Debates have raged about acceptable differences between partners in terms of age, race, height, education and social status. Some people are very much concerned with other's sexualities: only in the last few decades has homosexuality found itself with partial legal equality. Contests between religious interest groups and human rights groups are ranged across the battle lines of abortion, contraception, homosexuality, stem cell research and sex education (religious organisations being angrily opposed to all those things whereas human rights actors, scientists and medical industries being are in support of them all). These things all clearly get a lot of people very hot under the collar, and I haven't even yet mentioned masturbation, nudist colonies, female orgasms, fetishists, FGM, paedophilia or polygamy!
"Current research suggests that maintaining an active interest in sex and other aspects of life helps prevent the onset of senility and other problems in older individuals"2
The average man lasts a mere 4 minutes during penetrative sex3.
Shocking sexual fantasies can be surprising, but are normal. Sometimes people fantasize or daydream about sexual encounters that they would never actually act out. Thought crime is not a crime. They are only abnormal if they affect us or others in unwanted or harmful ways.4
"The more in love a woman is with a man, the more physically attractive she finds him (Price & others, 1974). And the more in love people are, the less attractive they find all others of the opposite sex (Johnson & Rusbult, 1989; Simpson & others, 1990)."
"Social Psychology" by David Myers (1999)5
Sexual desire is regulated by the organs of the brain called the limbic system6.
"Poor communication between sexual partners is one of the major factors contributing to an unsatisfying sexual relationship"7.
Because human sexuality is such an important part of our psychology and life drives, lots of people become gullible, desperately buying into cultural fads and commercial products that promise to aid sexual conquests. In "Fads & Fallacies in the Name of Science" by Martin Gardner (1957) the author skeptically advises all that "methods for overcoming impotence have likewise been the object of considerable quasi-scientific investigation. An authority can be found for almost every folk belief about the sexually stimulating qualities of certain foods"8.
"A number of authors have begun to argue that masculinity is a burden as much as a source of reward. Much male sexuality, they add, is compulsive rather than satisfying" -- "Sociology" by Anthony Giddens (1997)9.
2. Gender and Sexuality
2.1. Human Sexuality Today Verses Ancient Greece10
Human sexuality has been understood in widely different ways in history. It is only the current era that it is truly understand as a result of a mixture of genetics, upbringing and culture. In history, different portions of this have had prominence at different times. We have gone through periods of considering sexuality to be purely fixed by our genes - as being purely biological. The theory of evolution propelled our understanding forwards in leaps and bounds. Sigmund Freud ushered in an era where sexuality was mostly seen as a driving energy that we subconsciously channelled into various behaviours. Therefore, that most of the colourful variation in sexual practices in our species was the result of psychological processes11,12. Since then, evolutionary theory and genetics have worked hand in hand with social science to produce our current, much fuller, picture of sexuality: Our genes, upbringing and culture define our inner sexuality in about equal parts, but mostly, in ways that are beyond our own control; whereas our outward expressions of sexuality are mostly the result of upbringing, culture and personality.
In human history, the very concept of 'having' a 'sexuality' is modern, and is not universal across human cultures13. It results from the modern desire to catalogue and index human behaviours. There have been times and places where there was no sexuality: people had sexual encounters with other people, in different ways in different situations, and there simply was no worry about 'sexuality'. "The ways in which different cultures and different time periods have made sense of erotic pleasures and dangers vary widely", says the sociologist Veronique Mottier14.
Many cultures have come and gone without leaving clear records of their attitudes towards sexuality. We can see evidence of ancient practices, from brothels to sex toys, but we often have little idea of their opinions and concerns. The one famous exception is ancient Greece, where widespread literacy and a long record of social commentary have given us much insight into a culture where sexuality was understood in very different ways than in the Western world today. Everything was about social status, rather than about gender.
“... the classical world has been described as a world 'before sexuality' by historians such as Michel Foucault, Paul Veyne, David Halperin, or John Winkler. The ways in which sex was conceptualized and the cultural meanings that were attached to it were radically different from today. [...] For most Graeco-Romans, the idea of classifying people according to the gender of the person they have sex with would have seemed downright bizarre. [...]
Questions of sexual etiquette centred instead on penetration. Penetration symbolized male as well as social status, but it mattered little whether the penetrated was a woman or a boy. What did matter was who penetrated whom. Penetration was seen as active, submission to penetration as passive. It was considered unnatural and demeaning for a free-born man to desire to be penetrated, since that would reduce him to the socially inferior role of a woman or slave. 'Proper' objects of penetration were women, boys, foreigners, and slaves, all categories of people who did not enjoy the same political or social citizenship rights as the free Athenian male citizens. Social status was negotiated around the active/passive distinction, not on the basis of heterosexual/homosexual categorization, which only emerged much later in history. [...]
Attitudes on male-to-male sex were not homogeneous, however, and disputes on whether desire for young men or for women was superior abounded. Some argued that love for men was superior to that for women, since love between equals was preferable to that for inferior creatures. As the Erotes, an ancient Greek dialogue of uncertain authorship on the respective advantages of love for men and for women, puts it: Marriage is a remedy devised by the necessity of procreation, but male love alone must rule the heart of a philosopher. [...]
Given the importance of the penetrative role for male social and political status, relationships between adult men were a source of great anxiety, since one of the partners would have to adopt the submissive role. Relationships with boys solved this problem to some degree, since adolescent men achieved citizenship status only when reaching adult age. Classical culture had a sexual revulsion towards the idea of hair growing on a young man's cheeks or thighs. Boys were considered sexually desirable from the start of puberty until late adolescence, but stopped being so at the appearance of the beard and pubic hair. Athenians considered love affairs between adult and adolescent males as natural and honourable, on condition that sexual etiquette was respected. The term used to describe the sexual pursuit of adolescent males by adult males was 'paederastia'. In stark contrast to modern attitudes towards sex between teachers and students, paederastia was usually conceptualized as a pedagogic and erotic mentoring relationship between an adult male, the 'erastes' (lover), and a young, passive 'pais' (boy) called the 'eromenos'.”
"Sexuality: A Very Short Introduction" by Veronique Mottier (2008)15
It is hard to imagine such a society, being as it was, so different to our own. In modern Western society, sexuality is expressed between equals. Someone with authority and a duty of care (a teacher, for example) are judged to be grossly immoral if they engage with sexual activity with someone in their care. Likewise, we do not tolerate much of an age difference between partners. Nor do we even think that it is possible for people to move on from homosexual to heterosexual relationships based purely on changing social statuses! The main lesson that we should learn is that our current categorisation scheme for human sexualities is too simplistic. People don't have "a sexuality". Modern culture, in enforcing us to tie our self-identity to "a sexuality" is itself forming that sexuality. This is why, nowadays, we understand sexuality to be a mixture of genetics, upbringing and culture.
2.2. The Evolution of Sex, and Animal Sexual Diversity16
The best discussion of how the human set of two-genders evolved, and why the ratio between men and women is 50:50, is found in the groundbreaking "The Selfish Gene" by Prof. Richard Dawkins (1976). Many animal species share a common set of sexualities: heterosexuals, homosexuals and plenty of dysfunctionals, plus lots of situation-dependent behaviour. Monogamy, polygamy, polyandry and all those other social combinations of the basic sexualities are also present throughout the animal world (including Humanity of course). But although this may look like enough diversity, there is more, because all of these are variants of bi-gender behaviour alone. Throughout half of the history of life on Earth, living things reproduced asexually, through simple duplicative division, in a variety of ways. The ancient single-celled animal Tetrahymena thermophilia manages a total of seven different sexes18. Sexual diversity, like the rest of living complexity19, had to undergo a slow process of evolution, proceeding first through isogamy where there are no genders.
“Sex seems to have been invented around two billion years ago. Before then, new varieties of organisms could arise only from the accumulation of random mutations - the selection of changes, letter by letter, in the genetic instructions. Evolution must have been agonizingly slow. With the invention of sex, two organisms could exchange whole paragraphs, pages and books of their DNA code, producing new varieties ready for the sieve of selection.”
"Cosmos" by Carl Sagan (1995)20
Even then, evolution did not simply jump straight to bi-gender heterosexuality of course. Sexual reproduction started out with cells that were no different to each other; there were no genders. The first sexuality in history was therefore isogamy, which we mentioned above. Isogamous species still exist today:
“In certain primitive organisms, for instance some funghi, maleness and femaleness do not occur, although sexual reproduction of a kind does. In the system known as isogamy the individuals are not distinguishable into two sexes. Anybody can mate with anybody else.”
"The Selfish Gene" by Prof. Richard Dawkins (1976)21
All this should put human wranglings about the sanctity of the nuclear family, or arguments about what sexualities are 'normal' into perspective, because truly everything is natural in nature. We have to work out simply how to live in peace with the realities of sexual diversity in our own species.
2.3. Human Genders are Often More Complicated Than Boy or Girl
A human foetus - like other animals, too - starts out with no particular gender. Although it (probably) has a set of chromosomes that determine genetic sex, the translation of these genes into physical reality is a complicated and tedious affair. 1.7% (more than one in a hundred) of us are intersexual22.
“Already in the eighth week of gestation the testes begin producing the steroid hormone testosterone, some of which gets converted into the closely related steroid dihydrotestosterone. These steroids (known as androgens) convert some all-purpose embryonic structures into the glans penis, penis shaft, and scrotum; the same structures would otherwise develop into the clitoris, labia minora, and labia majora. Embryos also start out bet-hedging with two sets of ducts, known as the Mullerian ducts and Wolffian ducts. In the absence of testes, the Wolffian ducts atrophy, while the Mullerian ducts grow into a female fetus's uterus, fallopian tubes, and interior vagina. With testes present, the opposite happens: androgens stimulate the Wolffian ducts to grow into a male fetus's seminal vesicles, vas deferens, and epididymis.”
"Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality" by Jared Diamond (1998)23
There is much that can go wrong with these biochemical pathways, and much can be wrong with the genetic makeup itself, giving some people little chance of belonging simply to one gender or the other. Sometimes, boys and girls have odd combinations of the sex chromosomes; either gender can be born with extra X-chromosomes, some women have an extra Y22. All variations have effects on how our bodies are built and how our hormones behave. Prof Diamond continues:
“A long series of biochemical steps is required to produce all those other structures besides ovaries or testes. Each step involves the synthesis of one molecular ingredient, termed an enzyme, specified by one gene. Any enzyme can be defective or absent if its underlying gene is altered by mutation. [...] One type of pseudohermaphrodite looks like a normal woman [...] because 'her' breasts are well developed and 'her' legs are long and graceful. The problem isn't even likely to be recognized until the adolescent 'girl' consults a doctor over failure to begin menstruating. [...] The patient has no uterus, fallopian tubes, or upper vagina. Instead, the vagina ends blindly after two inches. Further examination reveals testes that secrete normal testosterone, are programmed by a normal Y chromosome, and are abnormal only for being buried in the groin or labia. In other words, the beautiful model is an otherwise normal male who happens to have a genetically determined biochemical block in his ability to respond to testosterone.”
"Why is Sex Fun? The Evolution of Human Sexuality" by Jared Diamond (1998)24
Many other genetic abnormalities give rise to gender gray-areas at all levels, from genetic and phenotypical, to biochemical and hormonal. Some factors cause people to be prone to becoming criminal sexual predators; and the 'normal' range of human genders range from the stereotypically female to the stereotypically male with many steps in-between. All this arises as part of nature, and if you believe a God designed animalkind, then all these variations on the basic male-female gender spectrum that are found both in nature and in humankind, are all part of God's multicoloured plan.
3. Religion and Widespread Sexual Disorders
Different religions have different attitudes towards sexuality, but in general, the major monotheistic religions have had very negative attitudes towards sexuality, leading to a statistically high number of psychosexual disorders as a result of suppression and abnormal teachings on sexuality. The scholar of comparative religion, Moojan Momen, attempts a comparison between the major world religions, opening with the forward statement that Christianity is the most negative:
“Of the major religions, Christianity is perhaps the most negative towards human sexuality. [...] there are several statements in the New Testament that advocate celibacy (with monogamous marriage being a second-best option) and condemn homosexuality. Such passages have formed the basis of the view of most Christian churches up to modern times.
[In Buddhism:] During the whole of [The Buddha's] ministry, however, he embraced a world-renouncing life which excluded sexual contact. The rules for the Buddhist monks reflect this example of the Buddha. Such rules are still applied in Theravada Buddhism, but married monks are found among Mahayana Buddhists. Of the major Indian traditions, however, it is Jainism that has the strictest attitude against any expression of sexuality among its monks and nuns. In Islam, the attitude to sexuality is, again, set by the example of the founder, Muhammed, who married some fourteen wives and had a number of children. There is thus a much more positive approach towards marriage, sexuality and family life. Monasticism is prohibited and the number of wives is limited to four. Homosexuality is again prohibited. The attitude to sexuality in Judaism is much the same as in Islam, except that polygamy was prohibited in the Middle Ages.
In modern times, the more liberal elements in Western Christianity have responded to social realities by relaxing the strict sexual morality that has characterized most traditional religion.”
"The Phenomenon Of Religion: A Thematic Approach" by Moojan Momen (1999) [Book Review]25
Nearly all fundamentalist religious organisations reject human rights, and in particular, reject women's rights and are also hostile to homosexuality, transvestitism and any other sexuality that is not traditional patriarchialism. They "typically exclude women from the senior ranks of religious leadership. All or almost all express concern about control of female sexuality"26. But in history, all these things were not the preserve of extremists: they were the mainstream positions of mainstreamChristian churches. There have been periods in history when there existed a determined repression of all overt sexuality. Such times were always the result of religious idealism dictating negative sexual morality and forming culture from the top down. Secular grassroots movements have tended to be relatively libertarian and accepting of the realities of sexuality. Although there are exceptions, in general religious expression has been the arch enemy of sexual expression. The psychological problems that such repression or oppression causes can be severe and sometimes even pandemic.
In "Abnormal Psychology", the psychologists Davison & Neale write that "therapists with a psychoanalytic bent point out that in the second half of the nineteenth century, when the incidence of [some disorders] was apparently high in France and Austria, repressive sexual attitudes may have contributed to the increased prevalence of the disorder"27. Sexual dysfunction may be caused by religious orthodoxy28 and that "pedophiles and perpetrators of incest are often rigidly religious and moralistic"29. The philosopher and academic Friedrich Nietzsche points out that frequently, sexual repression is religiously motivated:
“Up to this point, wherever religious neurosis has appeared on earth we find it tied up with three dangerous dietary rules: isolation, fasting, and sexual abstinence.”
"Beyond Good and Evil" by Friedrich Nietzsche (1886)30
Suppression and distortion of sexual drives is a leading, and dangerous, cause of psychological dysfunctions. British Government statistics in 2006 on the prison population revealed "a strong tendency for prisoners who declare a religious faith to be serving time for sexual offences"31. Irrational and superstitious beliefs concerning sexuality are two leading causes of socially destructive behaviour, in particular when it comes to the rejection of human rights.
Child abuse and paedophilia has been a particular problem for Christian institutions. Christian clergy have been under much scrutiny over the last two decades after a long series of immoral scandals involving child abuse. The cases have been shocking, wild, numerous, public, and they keep coming. It seems that the Church's teachings on sexuality lead to a development of sexual dysfunction amongst its priests. Christian Churches, the biggest example being the Catholic Church, have fought to conceal paedophile priests and move them from place to place when allegations arise. They have tried to deal with paedophilia by sending priests on sick leave or to rehabilitation centres ran by other Christians, but, it appears that Christian hierarchies are the last places you should trust when it comes to dealing with sexual abnormality. The scale of the scandals has led to various Churches declaring themselves bankrupt as they attempt to pay some of the court costs and settlement fees demanded of them. No other industry - even those closely associated with children such as boarding schools - has a rate of abuse anywhere near the rate found amongst Christian clergy. Counting is difficult, but, around 3% of all priests appear to be prone to recurring sexual indecency with children. Catholic Archbishop Silvano Maria Tomasi represented the Vatican before the United Nations Human Rights Council, and stated that Jews and Protestants have worse rates of child abuse, but still admitted that in the last 50 years "somewhere between 1.5% and 5% of the catholic clergy has been involved in sexual abuse cases". Police have called for routine checks of all priests, and a growing distrust of Christian religious professionals is finally beginning to become apparent amongst the general public.
The details of sexual abuse of children by professional Christians is harrowing reading. Sometimes, it is the sheer scale of abuses which hurts the poor reader. Other times, it is the specific comments made by the abusers, or the little lines of defence given on their behalf by their church superiors. If you can stomach it, read Organized Coverups of Sexual Child Abuse by Priests, Clergy and Christian Institutions.
4. Soft Porn and Modern Society
4.1. Some Common Criticisms of the Porn Industry
Conservatives say that porn is unhealthy, damaging and causes crime, rape and misogyny. Liberals say that unnatural suppression of natural desires causes all those things. Feminists pour scorn strongly on the sexual objectification of women that occurs in porn and say the result is misogyny and deep sexual confusion of males and females. Clearly caution must be taken when evaluating such views, as the porn industry is large and old, and if such negative effects really were apparent, questions must be asked as to why society is not as broken as these ideas predict.
4.2. The Growth of Soft Porn
Soft porn is photography or imagery of semi-naked or fully naked skinny women who are there to be looked at and admired in a wholeheartedly shallow fashion, but who are otherwise striking natural poses, and not purely sexual poses. In the media, soft porn has become much more prevalent. Young men's magazines have proliferated in Britain, so much so that teenagers of all ages prize the latest easily-obtainable soft-porn magazines such as Zoo, the latest hot-seller that features naked and near-naked amateur models and professional models on every page combined with a complete sexual objectification of all women. Amidst the ubiquitous photoshopping and image editing, there is very little of the genuine woman left in the photos, worrying some that it leads entire generations of young boys into false expectations of what to expect of femalekind.
“The once-concealed symbols and attitudes of hardcore porn are now flooding mainstream culture. While the internet and mobile-phone services were pivotal in offering easy access, sex-trade terminology is standard even on primetime TV (Pimp my Ride, Wife Swap, Faking It), pop videos show rappers groping near-naked girls, and even shampoo ads address the product's orgasmic potential. All this is voraciously consumed by boys, and girls, who have only just graduated from the Beano. [...] My 12-year-old [...] like almost every other kid in his class, [watches] TV, he likes rap and when a mate sneaks a copy of Nuts into school he is ordinary enough to want a look. Consequently, they are all heading to an adulthood of deeply confused - and, potentially, deeply misogynistic - attitudes to women.”
Flic Everett (2005)
The year 2006 has seen a backlash against the increasingly explicit soft-porn magazine and trash newspaper industry. The Salvation Army has stopped stocking The Sun and various lads' mags (citing their religious principles)32, and the National Union of Students has make moves towards banning/obscuring them (based on their being demeaning to women), the same way as some supermarkets now do (for the same reasons). MPs have called "for them to be consigned to the top shelf", including magazines such as Zoo and Nuts. "MP Claire Curtis-Thomas introduced a bill to the House of Commons in July calling for magazines such as Nuts, Zoo, FHM and Arena, along with publications such as the Daily Sport, to be consigned to the top shelf".33
4.3. Pop Idols and Thin Models
Television promotes an anti-human attitude and sexuality in Western culture. We have developed into a society where mass marketed media causes us to be biased towards overly thin women. This is bad for the self esteem of all normal sized girls, and causes an obsession with an appearance that is basically unhealthy and unnatural. The fitness and health of our bodies affects our mental health too. It does harm to our society. People yearn (for social reasons) for a body type that is unhealthy.
“Throughout history, the standards society has set for the ideal body have varied greatly (especially those pertaining to the ideal female body). [...] In Renoir's time, beautiful women were overweight by today's standards. Even in the 1950s and 1960s, the feminine ideal was considerably heavier than it became in the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s. [... A] large percentage of young women [...] although of normal weight, perceive themselves as fat. [...] As society's negative attitude about fat became stronger, the prevalence of eating disorders increased.”
"Abnormal Psychology" by Davison and Neale (1997)34
The sexual objectification of women leads to young adults judging women almost purely by physical, shallow standards. Women are come to be seen as bodies, sexual bodies, not personalities or people with achievements, desires, feelings like they think of fellow males. A continual social talk of women purely as sex objects reinforces an abusive mentality towards women. The process is slow, and give the intense peer pressure, sometimes all-encompassing and the only education a male gets about women arises from the soft porn industries! This leads to young adults who are deeply confused and incapable sexual partners, with their aims and desire completely skewed from what they should realistically be looking for in a relationship.
Males end up needing to unlearn the behaviours they learned as a child in order to even start the journey towards being a satisfying partner; it delays sexual maturity and relationship maturity and some men never really grow out of the misguided habits and opinions taught to them whilst young. The ethos of much of the soft porn industry is a social travesty causing potentially long-lasting psychological damage. Even if the images themselves are harmless, the culture surrounding them is not.
Women, too, suffer as a result of the objectification of women in the mass media.
“Girls at school bear no resemblance to these full-bodied, wet-lipped, Photoshopped images. But a recent survey discovered that the profession of choice for teenage girls is glamour model. In their short lives, they have learned that the greatest female achievement lies in allowing men to judge their breasts [...] while they writhe round a pole. [...] The old argument that no one's being exploited - we're all adults - no longer works, chiefly because we're not all adults. Most consumers of pop culture are children.”
Flic Everett (2005)35
The body-image of a female, important to female psychology, is damaged and harmed by the prevalence of soft porn in popular culture. Where cultural options do provide more holistic and sensible depictions of women in film and elsewhere, these are rarely the forms chosen by the young who become addicted to the simpler and more shallow women that the soft porn industry supplies us with.
4.4. Does Soft Porn Change How Attractive We Find Our Partners?
“Attraction is not all hard-wired. What's attractive to you also depends on your comparison standards. [...] To men who have recently been gazing at centerfolds, average women - or even their own wives - seem less attractive (Kenrick & others, 1989). Viewing pornographic films simulating passionate sex similarly decreases satisfaction with one's own partner (Zillmann, 1989). Being sexually aroused may temporarily make a person of the other sex seem more attractive. But the lingering effect of exposure to perfect "10s,", or of unrealistic sexual depictions, is to make one's own partner seem less appealing - more like a "6" than a "8." It works the same way with our self-perceptions. After viewing a superattractive person of the same sex, people feel less attractive than after viewing a homely person (Brown & others, 1992; Thornton & Moore, 1993).”
"Social Psychology" by David Myers (1999)36
It isn't appropriate or healthy to try and eradicate porn; nor is it appropriate to allow teenagers to immerse themselves in it before they learn how to treat people in a more complex way. Boys need to learn to treat women as they are, not as soft-porn potential, and girls need to know that the models they see lusted after are only shallow, semi-unacceptable caricatures of what it means to be a woman. The liberalisation of the soft porn ethos has gone too far, so that a mass re-education of boys and girls is required. Trash culture has infringed too far upon mainstream culture to the point that the mainstream is no longer sensible, or balanced, and a redress needs to be found.
“Despite the superstitions spread by religious groups, masturbation is clearly natural, normal, completely safe and beautiful. It is a required release which Human beings find comforting and necessary for their emotional well-being. Masturbation teaches us about our bodies and how we can feel pleasure. Lack of masturbation in women may cause an inability to orgasm37. Nearly all people masturbate, whether they are in a steady sexual relationship or not. Also, it is common throughout most species wherever it is physiologically possible. It is natural and normal across all of nature. It also confers health benefits and prevents certain types of cancer, such as prostate cancer in males38,39. The New Scientist (2004) reported that "a large study by the National Cancer Institute in the US has found that frequent ejaculation - either through sexual intercourse, masturbation or nocturnal emissions - protects men against prostate cancer, backing the result of an Australian study reported by New Scientist last year (19 July)"38. Also, abstinence from sex for more than three days harms semen, as revealed by analysis of fertility treatment sperm donation centres40. There is clearly a health benefit to male masturbation, for both productive health and continued normal physical health. It is a relaxant, provides pain relief (especially for women at certain times of the month, from headaches, stomach ache, vague lower back pain), allows you to learn about your own body, teaches you to be better at sex and control, it is free, safe and personal.”
"Masturbation, Relationships, Honesty: 1. Mental and Physical Health Benefits"
Vexen Crabtree (2002)
“Homosexuality is thoroughly natural. It occurs in a massive range of animal species, including humans, so appears to be part of the genetic makeup of life in general. The colourful and varied ways that wild animal species find to express intentional same-sex sexuality with other is surprising and sometimes ingenious, like the male dolphins who penetrate each other's blowholes. Biological causes of homosexuality have been found in Human beings. All this points to the fact that homosexuality is a part of the design of nature. If nature was designed by God, then watching Bonobo Apes for a while is convincing proof that God certainly does not mind gay sex! But explicit homosexuality in most cultures has faced a prolonged period of general dislike, outright oppression, arbitrary criminality and mass-misunderstandings. Dishearteningly, even the World Health Organization categorized homosexuality as a mental illness until 199241. Homosexuals still are, persecuted by religious bodies throughout the world (who are by far the greatest and most bitter enemies of LGBT tolerance). They are discriminated against by Christian and Muslim organisations in Western countries, and imprisoned and criminalized in others. Thankfully modern religions such as Paganism and the New Age are accepting, as is the rest of society in general.”
"Homosexuality in Animals and Humans" by Vexen Crabtree (2013)
7. Birth Control
Few people doubt the severity of the problem that overpopulation presents for this planet. Its consequences are poverty, famine, disease and death, sometimes on very large scales. Minor problems include overcrowding, strained infrastructure and social instability. By facilitating contraception and women's medical services we enable family planning. "Allowing women to plan their pregnancies also leads to healthier outcomes for children. A recent study showed that if all births were spaced at least two years apart, the number of deaths among children younger than five would decline by 13%. The number would decline by 25% if there were a three-year gap between births"42. Making birth control accessible to all is a moral requirement for anyone who has the power to help. It is inconsistent, for example, to say that contraception and abortion is "murder" whilst ignoring the fact that poverty and overpopulation are far bigger killers.
Aside from population control, "the health benefits of contraceptive use are substantial. Contraceptives prevent unintended pregnancies, reduce the number of abortions, and lower the incidence of death and disability related to complications of pregnancy and childbirth"42. The numbers of abortions that are prevented by contraception is staggering. A Guttmacher Institute report on the developing world predicts that "in 2012, use of modern contraceptives in the developing world will prevent 218 million unintended pregnancies, which, in turn, will avert 55 million unplanned births, 138 million abortions (40 million of them unsafe), 25 million miscarriages and 118,000 maternal deaths. It will also prevent an estimated 1.1 million neonatal deaths (those within 28 days of birth) and 700,000 postneonatal infant deaths (those from 28 days to one year of age)"42. Condoms help prevent the spread of disease - their effect is strong enough that long-term use by a community can gradually eradicate strains of sexually transmitted diseases from the community. Venereal disease causes unimaginable suffering and can affect the purely innocent. Babies are frequently infected with the diseases of the parents; in this way, the prevention of disease with contraception is vital because once women in a local area are infected with a disease, children will also be directly infected. In the case of incurable diseases, such an event can lead to unsurmountable suffering. Such a terrible state of affairs is prevented by the correct use of contraceptives such as condoms. The number of women with unmet needs for contraception in the developing world is still increasing - between 2008 and 2012 the figure rose from 153 million to 162 million42. Those 69 countries are the ones that are least able to support growing populations.
“Some of the religious traditions have presented recurring obstacles to open discussion of certain kinds of birth control at UN population conferences. These religious groups are associated largely with Islam, Roman Catholicism, and evangelical Christianity.”
"Religion and Ecology"
Mary Evelyn Tucker (2011)43
Religious opposition to abortion, birth control and contraception: Despite the practical necessity of birth control, the benefits of disease prevention, the moral responsibility we have towards the future of our children and the responsibility we have with regards to the stewardship of our planet, many religions have opposed birth control for various superstitious reasons. On the other side of the fence, it is worth knowing that all of the pioneers of contraception were freethinkers44,45 (that is, people who are opposed to the influence of organized religion on people´s opinions and beliefs). Why have religions determined to prevent family planning? The answer is in a kind of survival of the fittest amongst religions themselves. As most religious people simply abide by the religion of their parents46, religions that encourage parents to have more children will attain a stronger and longer-lasting base of adherents. Barber (2011) notes that religions promote fertility by encouraging marriage at a much earlier age than amongst the non-religious47.
Bearing this out is Catholicism, which has an infamously strict suite of dogmas that forbid all kinds of birth control. The Roman Catholic Church is the most notable, powerful and active organisation that lobbies against birth-control wherever it can, internationally. Thankfully Most Catholics routinely ignore the Church on this issue, especially in educated and developed countries, but there are still plenty of fast-growing countries where the Catholic Church is still prospering the old-fashioned way. It took the government of the Philippines 13 years to force through legislation to allow government-funded contraception and for sex education in schools because of the strength of the opposition of the Catholic Church there - in a country where 11 women die of pregnancy-related problems every day. The Catholic Church "ferociously" opposed it, warning of moral and social collapse, the destruction of family life, and divine wrath, if it was passed. The bill is considered "a major step toward reducing maternal deaths and promoting family planning in the impoverished country, which has one of Asia's fastest-growing populations. [...] The United Nations said early this year that the bill would help reduce an alarming number of pregnancy-related deaths, prevent life-threatening abortions and slow the spread of AIDS"48.”
"Abortion, Birth Control and Contraception: How Religion is Making Overpopulation Worse: 1. The Necessity of Birth Control and Contraception and the Opposition of Religious Organisations " by Vexen Crabtree (2013)