Human Nature


The joy of spray-on condoms.

New column 11/30. (For the latest Human Nature columns on gluttony, cybersex, and police shootings, click here.)

Regular doctors are invading the cosmetic medicine business. Examples: Obstetricians, family doctors, emergency-room physicians. Plastic surgeons’ complaint: Cosmetic medicine is too important to be done by these inadequately trained nonspecialists. Ethicists’ complaint: Cosmetic medicine is too unimportant to be done by these real doctors. Invaders’ arguments: Cosmetic medicine is too unimportant to 1) require my availability at all hours, 2) stress me out like high-stakes surgery, 3) generate the crazy malpractice awards that are driving me out of regular medicine, 4) be covered by health insurers with their cheap payments and stupid paperwork, or 5) require much training before I can enter the field. And patients are so oblivious to the difference between real and cosmetic medicine that 6) they’re just as grateful as if I’d helped them with an illness and 7) they’re willing to pay through the nose. (For previous updates on cosmetic surgery, click here, here, here, and here.)

A German institute is developing spray-on condoms. Rationale: Unlike regular condoms, which may not fit you, a spray-on is a custom job. The technology consists of a “spray can into which the man inserts his penis.” It “works by spraying on latex from nozzles on all sides … once round and from top to bottom. It’s a bit like a car wash.” Idealistic prediction: The spray can will prevent pregnancy and disease by sheathing men. Cynical prediction: It will prevent pregnancy and disease by replacing women. (For Human Nature’s take on condoms and fat, click here. For birth control and abortion, click here. For the safety of cybersex, click here.)

Males prefer older females in the chimp world. Evidence: The older the female, the more males pursue her, fight over her, and copulate with her. Question: Why is it the other way around in humans? Theories: 1) Unlike chimps, human females lose fertility over time, so evolution has favored males who target younger females. 2) Unlike chimps, human couples bond for a long time, so evolution has favored males who select mates for future, not just present, fertility. Researchers’ conclusion: “Male preference for youth is a derived human feature, likely adapted from a tendency to form unusually long term mating bonds.” Creationist view: God established the family, which is why men shouldn’t lust after young women. Evolutionist view: Nature established the family, which is why men lust after young women. (For Human Nature’s takes on the logic of monogamy, click here and here. For the logic of female promiscuity, click here.)

A birth dearth is forcing Singapore to promote sex. The birth rate there is 30 percent below what’s needed to replace the population. One big reason: Economic pressure makes Singaporeans work so hard, they have no time or energy for sex. The government warns that if births don’t increase, the country will need more immigrants. So, it’s promoting sex therapy, loosening its control of porn, and offering benefits to working moms. Optimistic liberal view: Nature 1, Repression 0. Pessimistic liberal view: Capitalism 1, Nature 0. Cynical liberal view: Xenophobia 1, Prudery 0. (For Human Nature’s take on birth control and “girth control,” click here. For the shift from sex to cybersex, click here.)

The government is promoting embryo-protective health precautions for “all women of childbearing age.” Rationales: 1) Premature babies and low birth weights are increasing. 2) More women are starting pregnancy overweight, which raises the risk of complications. 3) You can’t wait till you’re planning a pregnancy, because half of U.S. pregnancies are unplanned. 4) Weight loss, smoking cessation, and folic-acid supplements need to begin well before conception. 5) You can’t wait for a prenatal-care checkup at 10 weeks gestation, because birth defects happen before then. Objections: 1) Women are more than incubators. 2) Where are the rules for men? 3) If this “preconception care” is so important, why doesn’t Medicaid cover it? (For Human Nature’s takes on women as incubators, click here and here.)

Smoking while pregnant may hook your fetus. In a study, kids of women who smoked while pregnant “were three times more likely to start smoking by the age of 14 and twice as likely afterwards compared to other children.” To rule out the possibility that an inherited trait accounts for smoking in both generations, the researchers ascertained that “smoking patterns among thoseadolescent offspring whose mothers stopped smoking during pregnancy,but who then smoked at other times during the child’slife, were similar to those whose mothers had never smoked.” Hypothesis: Nicotine goes through the placenta to the fetal brain. Approved conclusion: Stop smoking so your kid won’t get hooked. Unapproved conclusion: You can’t stop smoking, because your mom hooked you. (For Human Nature’s previous updates on smoking and pregnancy, click here and here.)

A former KGB spy died in London of radioactive poisoning. He said the Russian government ordered his death to stop his investigation of a dissident’s murder. Russia denies it, but experts say you’d need a nuclear reactor—like, say, the ones in Russia—to make as much of the poison, polonium-210, as was found in his body. British government’s public-safety talking points: Don’t worry, polonium-210 can’t make you sick unless you eat, inhale, or get injected with it. Non-talking points: 1) It’s 250 million times more deadly than cyanide, so a speck can kill you. 2) Normal radiation detectors can’t spot it, so it’s easy to smuggle anywhere. 3) You can’t taste it. 4) There’s no antidote. (For Human Nature’s take on assassination by remote control, click here.)

Birth defects roundup: 1) In China, a boy was born with “mermaid syndrome,” in which the legs “are joined together from thigh to heel.” He has a bum heart, “no kidney or urinary tract,” and other defects. Odds of survival: very bad. 2) In the United States, a boy was born with his heart sticking out of his chest. Doctors moved it inside him and will protect it by grafting bits of his ribs across his chest. Odds of survival: very good. 3) In Chile, a boy was born with a twin fetus in his belly. It was 4 inches long and “had limbs and a partially developed spinal cord but no head.” Odds of survival: excellent, but not for the fetus. (For Human Nature’s take on birth defects, click here. For previous updates on a girl with an external heart and a girl born with fetuses inside her, click here and here.)

Latest Human Nature columns: 1) The perils of contagious shooting. 2) Food and sex without consequences. 3) The mortal combat of biotech politics. 4) Rush Limbaugh’s reality problem. 5) The perils of policing cybersex. 6) Pro-lifers against contraception. 7) The first penis transplant. 8) Is eugenics better than sex? 9)  Buried alive in your own skull. 10) The global explosion of fat.