Category Archives: Women

Excerts from A Blue Moon in China – Musings on the One Child Policy in 1988

People on a bus in Guangzhou, China 1988

People on a bus in Guangzhou, China 1988

From Chapter Three, Black Bicycles set in Guangzhou, China

A billboard caught my eye. It was a picture in pastels of a smiling mother, father, and a very round little girl with rosy cheeks. Curiously, the message was bilingual, both in Chinese and in English: One couple, One child. I had only recently heard of the One Child policy. It was a collective effort; sacrifice really, for the good of the country, a necessary measure for population control, handed down from the government. It looked like Big Brother in action. I wondered how it was enforced.

From Chapter Seven, The Way to Yangshuo

Sherry and I stopped for a moment to sit on a park bench. Across the street was a billboard for the One Child campaign.

“Do you know why it’s in English?” I asked her.

“Propaganda of some nature, I’m sure,” she said. “I did hear that birth control is widely available and that women are ‘encouraged’ to have abortions.” Sherry made it clear there wasn’t much choice. “What grieves me is the killing of baby girls. The rumor is they drown them. At least out in the countryside. The Communist Party doesn’t condone the infanticide, but certainly seems to have turned a blind eye to it.”

I was stunned. I didn’t want to believe it. At first I couldn’t speak, then I stammered feebly, “That must be heart-wrenching for the parents.”

“A male farmhand is more valuable than a female,” Sherry stated matter-of-factly. “Maybe it’s easier to do it because males have always been highly prized in traditional Chinese society. The old concept that females are expendable, less valuable than men – being that they are merely there to serve, lingers tenaciously on. We have Confucius to thank for that.”

“Confucius? How?” I was surprised. “Didn’t he preach virtuous conduct and being a good person? Noble pursuits? How does that translate to favoring men over women? Wasn’t he about the betterment of society?” I felt so upset I was babbling. Confucius says… I took a breath, shut up, and looked out at the city. Who was I kidding? I knew the words of well-meaning influence have often been perverted throughout history. Just about every wise man’s benevolence had been manipulated by the corrupt in search of power. I knew that ordinary men dominated most societies, many with an aim to keep women submissive and in the background. Barefoot and pregnant was the phrase that came to mind.

“It’s all a matter of interpretation, isn’t it?” Sherry’s voice was cold. “Anyway, it is a rare culture than honors women. You know that.”

I stared up at the billboard and wondered what other choices this country might have to keep its population down other than to regulate the number of children born. I had a feeling, religious belief or not, that having an abortion was a big deal emotionally, regardless of the reason. I totally agreed with the legal right for a woman to choose; it is her body and raising a child is a big deal. I was lucky I lived in the U.S. and had the right to decide for myself what I felt was best.

Young girl on a boat to Yangshou

Young girl on boat to Yangshuo

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A Blue Moon in China is my memoir about the 2 months I traveled through China in 1988 when I was 21 years old. I went alone with only $400 in my pocket.

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Blame it on the Bucket List, Part 1

My cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number. I answered anyway. To my surprise it was a friend of my friend’s, a respected artist known by the name, Wisdom. I was jarred, immediately on alert. Wisdom told me he’s not one for drama, “Normally I wouldn’t call… but Keith and I were talking on the phone and he stopped making sense.”

I grabbed my bag and shouted I had an emergency and bolted to my car. My speed was hampered by the winding mountain road – and by the four door sedan I was driving. The drive felt like forever and a second. I pulled up and braked so hard, the tires skidded on the gravel. I jumped out and ran for the door.

The heat of the day was searing and dry. The sun was bright overhead.  The house looked foreboding. I was afraid to look inside.

I entered the room. It was dark.  And quiet. The usual noise of television was missing.

In the shadows I saw him. He was on the floor leaning up against the bed. His legs were straight out, his torso tilted to the right. Drool pooled up in the folds of his faded flannel shirt. But it was his eyes that caught me by surprise – they were full of mischief. He saw me and said, “Hi. I fell. I can’t get up.”

I ran next door for help. I was in luck, he was hanging out with his friend, a paramedic. He took over, asking the questions that are now so routine for treating strokes.  “What time is it?” he asked. Keith blurted out, “333.” That was his favorite number. The paramedic shot me a very concerned look, it was noon. I sighed relief, somewhere his consciousness, the purity of his being, was there. I studied his face; it was glowing with innocence, the bright-eyed look of the Fool.

The ambulance roared him away. I followed behind wondering what this next bit in my life was going to look like in my life, as my hair whipped in the sharp wind as I sped down the highway. The temperature must have been 100.

I felt calm as I crossed the parking lot toward the overhang of the emergency room entrance. This was a familiar sight for me, part of the landscape – my mother worked as a medical technition drawing and analyzing blood. I grew up walking through the automatic glass doors opening wide, into the bright lights, past the receptionists, straight to behind the scenes like I ownded the place. And this time I was ready for a battle. I knew he couldn’t stay, he didn’t have health insurance.

The air-conditioning was a relief. The attendants asked me questions. I said I don’t know and kept walking.  I went through a swinging gray door. Straight ahead the grey-blue privacy curtain around Keith’s bed was open. The drab neutrality was soothing.

Keith was sitting upright, his legs rocking back and forth freely like a child. His bare chest hooked up to machines. His arms punctured by IVs.

I walked to the cold metal railing and stood beside him. He was beaming. A glow was literally coming from his entire being. He looked like a new born baby who delighted in just being.

“I want to go home. I’m all better.”

“If you can get up and walk out of here, I’ll drive you home.”

Curiosity replaced anxiety, I wanted to see how he would handle this particular crisis in his lifetime of physical ailments.

I went to get a nurse to free him from wires and needles. A nurse came over, I explained. She shook her head with a sad expression, she understood and didn’t like it was that way.

My companion swung his legs around, put on his pants, shoes. He pulled his shirt on as he stumbled, with focus, out of the room, bolting for the door.

I thanked the nurse and ran to catch up. I felt surprised and not surprised.

He was already out the second glass door and turning toward the parking lot by the time I went past the attendants. They shouted at me for his billing information. I shrugged and pointed and said, “I’m sorry but I have to go.”

As soon as we got home, he laid face down on the bed and said, “I’m just going to go to sleep now.” I told him okay and went outside to call in reinforcements, convincing him to go to the VA. I knew they would take care of him. He was a Marine.

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Orgasms & Bonding: An Academic Paper by me (posted for the fun of it)

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 Is Orgasm Sufficient to Create an Emotional Bond?

    Various experiments with rodents, monkeys, even sheep, have led to a number of speculations about the role the neurotransmitter oxytocin has in pair-bonding, sexual behavior, social memory and support, and stress coping (Neuman, 2008).  Correlating subsequent behavior observed from hormone manipulation from experiments on animals to humans is proving too simplistic.  However, these initial experiments serve as important preliminary evidence into investigating its cause and effect.  The three types of voles (prairie, mountain, and meadow) have two distinct patterns of pair-bonding and of social interactions.  The prairie vole behaves monogamously, while the mountain and meadow voles are promiscuous.  Noting these differences with one species provoked inquiry into why that may be the case.  The difference was determined to be due to the varying degrees of oxytocin present in each subtype: the prairie voles showed higher levels than the other two.  It would make sense that a prairie vole living in wide open plains and vulnerable to predators, would have adapted biologically to favor receptors that facilitate trust and sociability.  It would also follow that to do so in pair-bonds creates micro-clusters of interactions.  For the purposes of this paper, though, the jump from the mating patterns of voles to the prediction of emotional bonding in humans exhibited as partner attachment or social behavior, will be regarded as premature, as the current research into the effects of oxytocin on human behavior is proving to be contradictory.  
    If when the neurotransmitter oxytocin is released into the bloodstream during an orgasm it facilitates an emotional bond or sets the stage for a monogamous pair bond, what is the essential quality of this bond?  It may not be love, per se, though Janice Hiller (2004) does define love as a neurochemical phenomenon, so perhaps it is.  For what is love but a feeling or emotion, and what is a feeling or an emotion but a complex interaction of neurons following a path of least resistance to a receptor ready to precipitate a behavior.  And it is in our behavior that the outward appearance of a bond, or partner attachment (Fisher, 1998), becomes apparent.  
    The neuropeptide oxytocin has entered into mainstream awareness as the potential key for affectionate partner attachment (Fisher, Aron, & Brown, 2006) and positive social interaction  (Campbell, 2010; Neuman, 2004).  Indeed, the observable behavioral changes in voles do indicate this peptide hormone plays a part in pair-bonding and affiliation for social interaction.  Oxytocin, once released into the blood stream, has both a central and a peripheral effect on the human body.  The central effect of oxytocin is that it works as a neuromodulator when this hormone is released through the hypothalamic pun and goes into the limbic regions before entering the brain stem (Landgraf & Neumann, 2004).  Its peripheral effect, stemming from the pituitary gland, acts to stimulate uterine contractions during labor and excretion of breast milk during lactation.  It is partly due to the connection with breast-feeding, and its calming affect on the woman, that has lead researchers speculate on its effects with bonding.  That idea is in line with the hypothesis behind the attachment theory: a bond is formed between a breast-feeding mother and the newborn infant.  Also, there may be a connection with the release of oxytocin and orgasm as studies on humans have shown plasma levels of oxytocin increase during orgasm in men and a high base level of oxytocin for multi-orgasmic women (Burri, Heinrichs, Schedlowski, & Kruger, 2007).  The same study showed that the simple act of hugging produced an increase in plasma oxytocin levels for men, thereby supporting its role facilitating affinity in affectionate bonding.  A world of speculations and postulations has opened up from these observations and correlations, but as we know, this does not mean there is an actual causal relationship.  There are inherent limitations preventing definitive conclusions to affirm this effect between oxytocin and pair bonding: we can not simply inject a dose of oxytocin into a human brain as we can into a vole brain.
    According to the Affective Primacy Hypothesis (Zajonic, 1980), to form a love bond, the love has to be communicated, i.e., each person has to know it is there.  How is this communicated?  Oxytocin has been shown to have an effect on the ability to trust and create a feeling of empathy (Campbell, 2010) by activating mind-reading abilities (Domes, Heindrichs, Michel, Berger, & Herpetz, 2007).  Indeed the external administration of oxytocin has shown an increase in verbal exchanges among partners, even during an argument (Ditzen, et al. 2009).  Trust and intimacy are interdependent, and the ability to “read” one’s partner to predict their needs is a crucial factor to sustaining a long-term relationship (Neff & Karney, 2005).  There is no doubt that communication styles affect the quality of a relationship or attachment, and knowing that one is loved allows a person to feel secure and relaxed, thereby creating a bond that enables true intimacy.  Cassidy (2001) sums it up by expanding on the definition of trust itself: the sense that the relationship is solid, the awareness of what one actually wants, the trust in oneself, and the trust in the other.  
    A securely attached person embodies these qualities of trust (Ainsworth, 1972). Yet only approximately 60% of the adult population displays this characteristic.  So what about the other 40% of adults who display behaviors of anxious- ambivalence or avoidance?  Does the release of oxytocin during orgasm attenuate these tendencies?  And what about the 20-30% of women who do not experience orgasm (Harris, Cherkas, Kato, Heiman, & Spector, 2008), or men with erectile dysfunction?  Does it follow that neither of these groups form positive emotional bonds?  I should point out that many of the women in the Harris, et al., study were experiencing marital difficulties or were not in a relationship.  This study also revealed a high correlation between emotional instability, demonstrated by high anxiety levels, and the inability to achieve orgasm (Harris, et al. 2008).  Although there are a variety of psychological and physiological factors involved in erectile dysfunction (Levay & Baldwin, 2009), stress and anxiety certainly do play a large role.  If oxytocin is the stress reliever it is reputed to be, then wouldn’t administrating a dose of oxytocin be the answer to these woes?  
    Alvares, Hickie, and Guastella (2010) noted an important component of the desire to be a part of a social circle, and its correspondence to levels of oxytocin: these effects were dependent on the quality of the precipitating social encounter.  When the social cue was encouraging, cooperation ensued after the release of oxytocin into the bloodstream, whereas if there was an element of uncertainty within the context of the quality of social inclusion, the presence of intranasally administrated oxytocin in both men and women did not reduce the state of stress.  This concurs with the idea that human behavior arises from within a psychological context, and that the effects of oxytocin are highly conditional to those psychological states (Hiller, 2004).  
      If patterns of attachment are created when one’s preconceptions from past experience set up paradigms of recurring patterns of behavior, as both Bowley and Ainsworth have proposed, and as many others have noted, then these are the psychological states which may influence the workings of oxytocin on one’s physiology.  In other words, the quality of an attachment is dependent on the expectations a person has before the release of oxytocin, of particular concern here before the orgasm.  The connection between a perceived threat of loss and ensuing anxiety is well known (Bowlby, 1980), and a person who is in a state of constant worry, from fear of rejection or abandonment, is certainly approaching their partner in a state of uncertainty.   
    Taylor, et al. (2008) found high baseline levels of plasma oxytocin in women, both young and old which seemed to correlate specifically to relationship stress.  If the woman was in a partner attachment, this relationship stress was conveyed as a feeling of distance from her partner, of being unable to trust and open up to her partner.  In short, the stressed woman conveyed feelings of anxiety.  There were also indications that these elevated oxytocin levels were shown in women not in a relationship.  Interestingly enough, it was also shown in woman either experiencing estrangement from their mothers or grieving the loss of a pet.  What is not known is whether an influx of oxytocin from an orgasmic release would contribute to a feeling of calm and openness to social connection, as it also not known if these woman were experiencing orgasms or not.  
      If desire is a combination of psychological and physiological responses, particularly for  women (Basson, 2003) (but also for men as evidenced in erectile disfunction studies), then what happens when the psychological precepts are those of anxious-ambivalent attachments or of  avoidant attachments?  Does an orgasm override these tendencies to block secure attachments?  Or does the attachment occur, but then either become manifest in total preoccupation and obsession with the partner or become repressed so as not to be consciously acknowledged?  And further, does gender make a difference?
    The psychological states of mind a person is experiencing, such as those displayed in the attachment theory, may be the key for the subsequent effects oxytocin has on the bond.  The study Birnbaum, Reis, Mikulincer, Gillath, & Orpaz, (2006) conducted reveals some pertinent evidence to support this claim: within the context of a relationship, both men and women demonstrated a decrease in maladaptive behaviors following sexual relations.  The key, though, did seem to be the quality of mindset prior to coitus.  If the mindset was positive, the interactions followed suit, but if it was not, then the opposite was true.  This correlation was most evident in partners who demonstrated anxious attachment tendencies.  In those who were avoidant, their tendency to regard sex as a separate entity continued to be evident (Birnbaum, et al., 2006).   While it can be safely assumed that, unless there was an erectile dysfunction, an orgasm occurred during coitus for the man, what is not known, is whether the women in the study experienced an orgasm during coitus.  According to the statistics gathered by Taylor, et al., only 36% of women are considered to be highly orgasmic, while 16% of women have never had an orgasm.  Granted, this study was geared toward older women- – mean age of respondents was 50, but these statistics may hold true across all age groups.
    Palk (2010) has looked at “state effects” at the time of sexual involvement, and has determined that people self-select into certain relationship types: some for sex, some for love.  His postulation that the quality of a relationship is determined by the mental mindset at the time of sexual involvement reinforces the findings of Alvares, et al. (2010) on oxytocin and subjective responses.  Birnbaum, et al. (2006) suggest that people with avoidant attachment tendencies are more likely to engage in casual sex.  Stinson (2010) has noted that people with secure attachment tendencies do not readily participate in the hook-up culture, and that the avoidant and anxious characteristics of others tend to become more pronounced in that culture.  Faley and Shaver (2000) even go so far as to claim that a relationship does not indicate an attachment.
    Avoidant attachments often work in such a way that no matter what the underlying truth of  the emotion may be, there is a pronounced tendency to deny that truth.  Fisher, et al. (2006) makes the case the sex drive is distinct from both romantic love and partner attachment, therefore a person who is avoidant may engage in sex, even have orgasms, but the act is purely physical; they have detached themselves from any further emotional possibility.  Many studies have shown that highly avoidant people are less likely to fall in love or be interested in long-term relationships, while highly anxious people tend toward using sex to keep their partners from leaving them and yearn to merge with their partner (see Birnbaum, et al. 2006, for full review).
    Oxytocin has been shown to have a direct relationship with estrogen (Taylor, 2006); it needs estrogen to synthesize (Hiller, 2004).  Could this indicate that women are more susceptible to emotional bonding from an orgasm than men are?  Zajonc (1980) has proposed that women use sex as a means of creating bonding.  But does it work?  Do the men they have sex with bond with them?  Since men reach orgasm more frequently than a mere 36% of the time, are they also bonding emotionally with the women they are engaging in sexual relations with?  Hiller (2004) has stated that the oxytocin release for a man does indeed affect a sense of closeness.  The levels of plasmic increase of extraneously administered oxytocin remained high in men for about 80 minutes following their orgasm (Burri, et al. 2007).  This temporary emotional bond, experienced as the oxytocin is circulating through the blood, may simply be the hormone’s calming effect, and not something that creates a sustained secure attachment.  
        I find myself cautious about disregarding the potential effects of oxytocin on emotional bonding, especially for women who display anxious-ambivalent tendencies.  Due to the random occurrence of an orgasm, when it does occur, a woman might mistake the pleasurable feeling to indicate a love for the man.  Unless he can give her the constant reassurance she needs, e.g., he may be an anxious- ambivalent himself and respond in kind, she could find herself at the losing end of an avoidant’s game playing.  Men, in general, are known to play more games than women (Hendrick & Hendrick, 1991).  If a sense of trust is created by the release of oxytocin and the man is experiencing a sense of peace from his own orgasm, the woman may find herself even more vulnerable to rejection than if she had not experienced an orgasm.  She may be at an even greater risk for forming an inappropriate emotional bond, as studies have shown that administered oxytocin decreased fear in situations of betrayal, presumably by decreasing activity in the amygdala (Campbell, 2010).
    Those who are avoidant may have enough autonomy to remain emotionally stable, although if they are intent on using sex as a physical release only (Birnbaum, et al., 2006) with oxytocin’s effect on reducing fear, they may find themselves emotionally attached and in an active fight to resist the intimacy aroused.  And if, as Oberzaucher & Grammer (2009) noted, men tend to overestimate their sense of control in unfamiliar situations, then a relationship that began as a hook-up and then progressed to casual sex (friends with benefits) at the eleventh encounter (Palk, 2010) with reoccurring orgasms with the same person, an avoidant may find themselves experiencing a cognitive dissonance.  That may not lead to a dismal end if their partner is either in a secure attachment pattern, or is another avoidant who understands autonomy and negotiation. This would allow the partners to bond on a cognitive level rather than an emotional one.
    My conclusion is nurture rules the day with regard to how we humans actually do form our attachments, and nature plays a supporting, yet potentially dangerous role depending on one’s true intentions, motives, desires, and needs.  Perhaps what we might now learn from the voles is to be content with different mating patterns, and to know ourselves well enough to self-select into the pattern we want.  Those who have secure attachments may be like the prairie voles, at peace in their pair bonds and social interactions.  Avoidant attachments may be seen in the mountain voles, off on new adventures and seeking out novelty, moving from one vole to another.  Perhaps the meadow voles are caught in the middle and are anxious and ambivalent.  
    The preliminary results concerning the effects of oxytocin released into the blood stream, whether from an orgasm or intranasally, are not straightforward enough to be definite, but what behavior across the spectrum of human nature is?  One thing I have concluded about oxytocin is that it seems it can have a powerful effect, though it may be for only a short period of time. Perhaps if oxytocin is released upon simple affectionate touch, as well as during an orgasm, these intimate caresses may be the key to forming a sustained secure attachment.  I would suggest longitudinal studies could be done to inquire upon this effect.   As far as  emotional bonding occurring, it would seem oxytocin does indeed exert an effect, but the nature of its quality seems to be context-specific.  It does not appear to be as simple injecting oxytocin into the human brain and converting a promiscuous person into a monogamous partner, if that is what one wants.  At least, not yet.

References
Ainsworth, M. D. S., (1972) Attachment and dependency: A comparison. In J. L. Gewirtz (Ed.),     Attachment and dependency, 97-137, Washington, DC: Winston.
Ainsworth, M., Blehar, M., Waters, E., Wall, S., (1978) Patterns of attachment. Hillsdale, NJ:     Erlbaum
Alvares, G., Hickie, I., & Guastella, A. J., (2010) Acute Effects of Intranasal Oxytocin on     Subjective and Behavioral Responses to Social Rejection. Experimental and Clinical     Psychopharmacology Vol. 18, No 4, 316-321. doi: 10.1037/a0019719
Basson, R., (2003) Biopsychosocial models of women’s sexual response: applications to     management of ‘desire disorders’. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 18, 107-115
Birnbaum, G. E., Reis, H. T., Mikulincer, M., Gillath, O., & Orpaz, A., (2006) When Sex Is     More Than Just Sex: Attachment Orientations, Sexual Experience, and Relationship     Quality. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol. 91, No. 5, 929-943.
    doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.91.5.929
Bowlby, J., (1980) Attachment and loss: Vol. 3, Loss: sadness and depression. New York: Basic     Books.
Burri, A., Heinrichs, M., Schedlowski, M., & Kruger, T. H. C., (2008) The acute effects of     intranasal oxytocin administration on endocrine and sexual function in males.     Psychoneuroendocrinolgy 33, 591-600. doi: 10.1016/j.psyneuen.2008.01.014
Campbell, A., (2010) Oxytocin and Human Social Behavior. Personality and Social Psychology     Review 14(3), 281-295. doi: 10.1177/1088898310363594
Cassidy, J., (2001) Truth, lies, and intimacy: An attachment perspective. Attachment & Human     Development Vol 3 No 2, 121-155. doi: 10.1080/14616730110058999
Domes, G., Heindrichs, M., Michel, A., Berger, C., & Herpetz, S. C., (2007) Oxytocin improves     “mind-reading” in humans. Biology Psychiatry 61, 731-733
Ditzen, B., Schaer, M., Gabriel, B., Bodenmann, G., von Dawans, B., Turner, R. A., Ehlert, U.     (2009) Intranasal oxytocin increases positive communication and reduces cortisol levels     during couple conflict. Biological Psychiatry, 65, 728-731
Faley R. C., & Shaver, P. R., (2000) Adult Romantic Attachment: Theoretical Developments,     Emerging Controversies, and Unanswered Questions. Review of General Psychology, Vol.     4, No. 2, 132-154. doi: 101037//1089-2680.4.2.132
Fisher, H., (1998) Lust, attraction, and attachment in mammalian reproduction. Human Nature 9,     23-52
Fisher, H. E., Aron, A., & Brown, L. L., (2006) Romantic love: a mammalian brain system for     mate choice. Philosophical Transactions of The Royal Society B, 361, 2173-2186.
    doi: 10.1098/rstb.2006.1938
Harris J., Cherkas, L., Kato, B., Heiman, J., & Spector, T., (2008) Normal Variations in     Personality are Associated with Coital Orgasmic Infrequency in Heterosexual Women: A     Population-Based Study. International Society for Sexual Medicine, 5, 1177-1183,
    doi: 10.1111/j.1743-6109.2008.00800.x
Hendrick, C., Hendrick, S. S., (1991) Dimensions of love: a sociobiological interpretation.     Journal Social Clinical Psychology, 10, 206-230
Hiller, J., (2004) Speculations on the links between feelings, emotions and sexual behavior: are     vasopressin and oxytocin involved? Sexual and Relationship Therapy Vol. 19, No. 4.
    doi: 10.1080/14681990412331297974
Kruger, T. H. C., Schiffer, B., Eikemann, M., Haake, P., Gizewski, E., & Schedlowski, M.,     (2006) Serial neurochemical measurement of cerebrospinal fluid during the human sexual     response cycle. European Journal of Neuroscience, Vol. 24, 3445-3452.
Landgraf, R., Neumann, I. D., (2004) Vasopressin and oxytocin release within the brain: a     dynamic concept of multiple modes of neuropeptide communication. Front.     Neuroendocrinol. 25, 150-176
LeVay, S., Baldwin, J., (2009) Human Sexuality. Sinauer Associates, Sunderland, MA.
Neuman, I. D., (2008) Brain Oxytocin: A Key of Emotional and Social Behaviors in Both     Females and Males. Journal of Neuroendocrinology 20, 858-856.
    doi: 10.1111/j.1365-2826.2008.01726x
Palk, A., (2010) “Hookups,” dating, and relationship quality: Does the type of sexual     involvement matter? Social Science Research 39, 739-753.     
    doi: 10.1016j.ssreseach2010.03.011
Neff, L. A., Karney, B. R., (2005) To Know You Is to Love You: The Implications of Global     Adoration and Specific Accuracy for Marital Relationships. Journal of Personality and     Social Psychology, Vol. 88, No. 3, 480-497. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.88.3.480
Oberzaucher E., Grammer, K., (2009) Ageing, Mate Preferences and Sexuality: A Mini-    Review. Gerontology 55, 371-378. doi: 10.1159/000203698
Stinson, R. D., (2010) Hooking Up in Young Adulthood: A Review of Factors Influencing the     Sexual Behavior of College Students. Journal of College Student Psychotherapy, 24,     98-115. doi: 10.1080/87568220903558596
Symons, D., (1979) The Evolution of Human Sexuality. New York, Oxford University Press,     1979
Taylor, S. E., Gonzaga, G. C., Klein, L. C., Peifeng, H., Greendale, G. A., Seeman, T. E.,     (2006)     Relation of Oxytocin to Psychological Stress Responses and Hypothalamic- Pituitary     Adrenocortical Axis Activity in Older Women, Psychosomatic Medicine 68, 238-245.
    doi: 10.1097/01.psy.0000203242.95990.74
Zajonc, R. B., (1980) Feeling and thinking: preferences need no inferences. American     Psychology, 35, 151-175

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Abstract: Orgasms & Bonding

I wrote an academic paper titled: Orgasms and Bonding for a college course called Human Sexuality.

Here’s the Abstract.

ORGASMS & BONDING

Abstract
My interest in the inquiry into whether orgasm was sufficient to create an emotional bond was sparked during a lecture in which it was declared there was a ‘predictable bond’ between the two events.  As I have not observed this to be the case, particularly within the context of sexual relations outside the parameters of a monogamous relationship, e.g., sex with prostitutes, hook-ups or casual sex (regardless of its duration or frequency), not to mention the frequency with which adultery has been reported to occur, up to 76% for both men and women (Symons, 1979), I began my research.  My aim to substantiate the claim of this predictable bond led me to the neurotransmitter oxytocin.  As I first read the literature, I surprised myself by conceding that the simple answer may well be yes: the release of oxytocin during orgasm showed considerable evidence for creating emotional or pair bonding.  But these claims were primarily deduced from experiments with animals; humans are far more complex creatures, and thus a simple answer of “yes” to this question cannot suffice.  (Though, alas, such simplicity would save some from a lifetime of either yearning for secure attachment or avoiding the possibility thereof.)  This paper looks to examine to what extent the physiological functioning of the human body affects the nature of an emotional bond or attachment, given that there are extenuating factors in play, in particular those of Ainsworth’s (1972) patterns of attachment: secure, anxious-ambivalent, and avoidant.

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A Bit of Fun: My Essay on Eddie Murphy’s RAW

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In 1987, Eddie Murphy released his movie, Raw. It was simply the stand-up routine from his most recent tour, but Murphy was at the top of his game in the world: he had become the most successful black entertainer of all time (a title which he still holds to this day.) Although I personally prefer not to see a person as a reflection of the color of his skin, I concede that as an influence of society it has substantial bearing. Eddie Murphy could well be seen as the king of the urban people, or perhaps, more aptly, the tenured jester, secure enough in his position to say it like it is and call out our behaviors for all their absurdities, hypocrisies, and contradictions: our prejudices. It is not a fluke Murphy has the power of our attention, he earned it through command of his talent and genius. He brilliantly conveys profound reflections of society and astute perceptions of relationship dynamics while making us laugh at ourselves. We know he speaks the truth. And no one is safe of his pantomime of stereotypes, he hits every demographic equally, including himself, though with varying degrees of intense potency.

On the surface, the writings of Raw may not feel like an aggressive catharsis, but it is my sense that the underlining motive and drive for Murphy himself is the release of anger and pain from a recently felt heartbreak. The choice of opening the movie with the song, Ain’t Too Proud to Beg, reveals his mindset. It is as though he is using the routine to say to the unknown woman, ‘I offered you everything, I would have rolled over and been your puppy dog if you had treated me right.” He, then, shows us his humble roots with a look into his childhood. He tells us where he came from is as though he is saying, “I am one of you so listen to me.”

The opening sequence sets the stage for his influence to persuade us. He is a god, surrounded by a protective entourage. He makes his entrance as a silhouette revealed into a form exuding sexual prowess. He knows it and uses it; he has our attention: women want him and men want to be him.

Right away he reveals his heart by paying respect to the man who made it possible for him to be where he is today – Richard Pryor. Murphy tells us he is human and didn’t come out of a void. He had a role model, just as he has become ours. So there it is: Murphy is real, not raw, and, then, he tells us what is really on his mind: he almost got married; almost being the operative word.

To give the context for Murphy’s rational to marry in the first place, it is necessary to recall what was happening in America at the time. In the late eighties, two pertinent themes in particular give rise to his tirade and what he claims is his fear. The first is the advent of AIDS into mainstream media awareness. For the two decades prior, popular attitudes toward sex had been opening up. Birth control released women from fear of unwanted pregnancy and drugs like cocaine and poppers created an environment of free-for-all promiscuity. Up until Rock Hudson died from AIDS in 1985, the topic was behind the scenes, among homosexuals, intravenous drug users, and from blood transfusions. Even though he was gay, Hudson’s death brought AIDS to the front cover of People magazine. And Murphy took note. It was time to stop partying and settle down with one woman. “I am a realist,” Murphy states emphatically.

The second major movement was women entering the white collar business world of men; they had been, until then, kept out of the professional world en masse. Now women were educated, ambitious, and successful. In conjunction with this shift, women who had experienced the poor end of the stick after a divorce were turning it about and making sure they were taken care of. Too often they had been left with nothing and no real means to give themselves what they had had financially while married. Herein lies the key to the demise of Murphy’s best laid plans of marriage and monogamy.

And so it begins, Murphy has moved through some good routines imitating Bill Cosby, Richard Pryor, Michael Jackson and an assortment of gay men, making sure we know the man standing before us knows his art while he makes his way to the crux of the matter. “I almost got married last year,” he tells us, and turns to face us with the truth about AIDS as a reality: casual sex is “a game of Russian Roulette.” It becomes about the simple task of finding the ‘right’ woman, someone to take him out of the game. He tells us straight up that she has to be intelligent, which is important enough to him to say twice, as well as pleasing to the eye. Then tells us his nightmare, Johnny Carson’s face on the cover of a magazine with the headline: “Half.” Murphy wants his prenuptial protection from gold diggers; he is afraid of the vindictive nature of women. And rightly so, so we laugh. We see ourselves in his portrayal. We know the perils of love, money and sex mixing, whatever level and dynamic it plays out on.

He beseeches women to be fair, to not be greedy. There is an underlying sense of anger in his tone toward this theme. It is as if his woman refused to sign on the dotted line and it hit him so hard in his heart that he is telling us he offered her the world and it wasn’t enough. His choice of opening song tells us all he wanted was sex, just treat him right. And, Murphy is reeling from the rejection. Murphy knows where women’s attitude is coming from and he is well aware who he is as he tells us, “I’m a target.” His safety net from random death is gone and his success may well be what stands in the way of marriage; he is afraid of divorce. And one could easily deduce that he is not happy about it.

Murphy then brings it “to the ‘hood.” He starts to talk to how women play with men and how easy men are to play with. He starts to talk about women joining in chorus with Janet Jackson’s battle anthem: “What have you done for me lately?” He goes on to call out the games women play. The picture he depicts of women’s motives and behavior is skewed, twisted up, and not flattering. For all his re-enactments of gays, Italians, celebrities, and the common man, his portrayal of women is the most harsh. It is as though he is angry women have ‘the power of the pussy.’ Murphy is relentless in his characterization of the insidious and manipulative nature of women. “Let’s just call it a Pussy Trap,” he says, and warns men not to get caught in it. He reminds men that they can take back control; that women love sex and use it to get what they want. Men can do the same. He tells men as soon as they “make a women come real hard,” the power has flipped. Once they have that, men are free to do what they want: to treat women badly, to be cold and distant, to have other women, basically, to pay women back for all the games they’ve played; all they have to do is say “I’m sorry.” Murphy sets up the new battle of the sexes, but with a warning, treat her right or “she will go out and fuck another man.” He defines the terms for what to look for in a mate: “Find someone just as fucked up as you are and settle down.”

Twenty three years later I ask myself what has been the social influence of this film on a generation of urban men and women and their struggle to relate to each other. What has the effect been on those who considered him an authority? Have these become our new heuristics? The idea that women are bitches out to get what they can from men? That “all men fuck other women,” that they are “low in nature,” and “have to do it, it is a man’s thing.”

I see this paradigm played out today. I see it in the paradigm of being ‘single’ as defined by men: no ring, no commitment. I see it in jaded women who seek revenge for perceived wrong-doings, cathartic in their frustration with aggression. I see it in women who take a defensive stance, possibly out of necessity, to take care of themselves, and to not let anyone run them over. I see it in jaded men, understandably wary of women as women can become a bit crazy. If what Murphy said is true, men resent women who withhold sex, and “he don’t like you anymore, but he still wants to fuck you,” it is no wonder there is anger. For how do we know what is real, or is it all a game? It looks to me like the stereotypes Murphy insightfully offered as a warning became, in fact, a model of behavior, rather than as a mirror of change. Perhaps because he made it funny, we didn’t see it happening. It was all a joke.

What else does Murphy tell us? Its a dangerous world out there for sex. To be careful. He brought the taboo subject of AIDS to the people. Unfortunately, he only preached monogamy and not putting on a condom. Had he done so, maybe more would have listened. For as we know, if it was cool for him, it must be cool for us. Even if we get what he’s saying all backwards and wrong.

I know the influence of Raw for myself. I didn’t want to be the bitch he portrayed. I didn’t want to play games. I struggled with the concept men were “out to get as much pussy as possible.” But, for me, it never felt right to use sex as a weapon or tears as a means of manipulation. (I’m too much of a romantic for that.) I felt Murphy’s pain and agreed with the idea, at least, of a prenuptial. I listened to when he said, “a man’s ego is easy to cater to.” To this day, I adhere to this script given to me by the man who became my ideal for a man, a man who wants to fuck, not make love, for better or for worse. And, yes, I made a note to myself to not be shy, and to eat a steak at dinner.

From the archives: Essay by Elizabeth Pilar

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“Ah – I regret to say I was a completely rebellious child,” Xie Bingying. A Woman Soldier. China 1926

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Xie Bingying, Nationalist Army, China 1926

Xie Bingying was a writer, who, once celebrated, was shut out of the homeland she loved, and suffered greatly for.

Born into a small village in China 1906, Xie, was the youngest of five siblings. Her three brothers and only sister were older by almost a decade.  From the moment she was born, her father held her on his chest and he read poetry out loud. She was Precious to her mother.

At an early age Xie had her own idea about how she wanted to be in world – a person with rights.

Her mother tried to beat this useless idea out of her. Yet she held off on Xie’s foot binding until she was eight years old.

 

“Mama, I do not want my feet bound.”

“It is because I love you that I bind your feet…”

Her mother believed being a woman was being wife, to serve her husband’s family, make sacrifices to the alter of the gods, to give birth to more sons. Confucius said. And to be a wife, Xie’s feet must be bound.

Xie’s father was born to a farmer, but his passion for books led him to be a Scholar, the most respected position in Chinese society. She, too, loved to read, and eventually demanded to go to school, even though the only one in the area was all boys. Xie’s mother had mixed responses to this declaration, and eventually cried out:

“What! A girl thinking about study? Really, then heaven and earth are turning topsy-turvy…”

Xie went on a hunger strike to get her way. She was twelve years old.

The year was 1918. One year later the May Fourth Movement would begin.

ImageFrom the front lines of the Nationalist Northern Expedition, Xie sent letters to a newspaper in Shanghai. The collection, War Dairy, was published in 1928. She published many writings over her long and varied career.

A Women Soldier’s Own Story is the most famous of all her work. She began writing this autobiography when she was in her thirties, and finished it many years later.

Xie, Bingying. A Women Soldier's Own Story: Translated by Lily Chia Brissman & Barry Brissman. New York, NY: Berkley Publishing Group, 2001 http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Xie_Bingying

 

 

 

 

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Women for New Culture, May 4th, 1919. China’s First Feminists

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The bas relief pictured above is a depiction of the May Fourth Movement in 1919, and is part of a series of eight on the Monument to the People’s Heroes in Tiananmen Square commemorating key victories for the liberation of China from Imperialist and Dynastic rule.

My eye is drawn to the women and, specifically, the mystery of their feet.
They are unbound, natural. Yet the year was 1919.

For centuries it was tradition in China to break the feet of little girls, shape them in the most extreme arch possible, then wrap them with cloth. Ostensibly for marriageability. The result was mutilated feet that became rank with a putrid odor.

When the Manchurians conquered China in 1644, they banned their own women from partaking in the practice and tried to outlaw it for the Chinese. It didn’t work. The Han Chinese found a new value in the old tradition as an ethnic tie to the glory of the lost Ming dynasty.

In the 1898 Hundred Days Reform, the Manchus, who themselves considered educated women a sign of wealth, included in the reformation a school for girls in Shanghai, and another campaign to end foot binding.

Still, in 1919, the practice was more prevalent than not.* (In my own travels through China in 1988, I saw an old woman with bound feet.)

So, I wonder who these flat-footed women in the sculpture are: How were they lucky enough to be unbound in that day and age?

The protest captured in marble was of a movement merely eight years after the Nationalists were victorious dethroning the Qing Dynasty. The women featured in the relief would have been approximately twelve years old at that time, in 1911, And since the binding usually began when a girl was five years old, one would think the feet of these women would most definitely have been bound.

So what’s the explanation?

Perhaps, the answer is simple: That in 1952, the absence of foot-binding in the sculpture was ordered by the Communist Party to demonstrate progress and equality of the sexes?

But there is the possibility the women who protested in 1919 truly did natural feet.

The reason for this may be found in other aspects of the sculpture: One woman carries a book; another passes out pamphlets. This suggests that they were learned, had time to study, which meant they had to have money. Most likely they had access to literature from the West. They probably came from a privileged, progressive class, or at least, from a family who cherished the feminine voice, and valued the education of women.

The women for the New Culture were writers, readers, teachers, and advocates for new attitudes toward marriage, and sex. They were rebels against the confines of Confucian Tradition. They were vocal debaters on the role of the female in the New China. They wanted to have a profession, to contribute to society. They advocated human rights, independence, and the freedom to choose a life they wanted.

They were China’s first feminists. They believed that for China to progress, women had to be included. And they published works that said so.

They were up against a major current.

Historically, there had been mixed messages for females. One of the most famous female writers, Ban Zhao, born in 45 B.C.E., during the Han Dynasty, wrote a book for women that covered the complexities of astronomy yet also taught them how to be submissive to their husbands. Even behind closed doors, there was a dichotomy: Lu Xun, the most famous male writer promoting a break from Confucian traditions, and the emancipation of women in 1919, lived with a liberated, younger woman, Xu Guangping, but wouldn’t support her pursuit of her dreams; he wanted her to support his. (See pg. 65, Women in the Chinese Enlightenment. Zheng Wang, 1999.)

In spite of the barriers, the young women demonstrating on the streets all over the China on May 4th, 1919, demanded equality, a New Culture for China, and the right to attend university. In 1920, the first women were allowed to study at Beijing University. It was a monumental success.

Seventy years later, the women of May Fourth Movement 1989, students of Beijing universities, equally committed to a better China, equally brave, equally determined, took to the streets calling for democracy and freedom. But their protest will likely never be immortalized in stone, honored for generations to come.

 

 

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Photo: http://www.asiavtour.com/blog/showlist-u19-a209-s10.html

Blog edited by Christopher Ross

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