The Appliance Of Science. #1: Sexing The Brain

Posted: April 8, 2011 in Uncategorized

The great question that has never been answered, and which I have not yet been able to answer, despite my thirty years of research into the feminine soul, is “What does a woman want?
– Sigmund Freud, 1907

Dr Brooke Magnanti (aka Belle De Jour) is writing a book about sex. As a scientist and a very successful ‘sex diarist’ and an advocate for sex workers’ rights, she has an interesting perspective on the subject.  Her most recent blogpost though, has caused me some concern about her project; in particular the ‘scientific’ assumptions which seem to be underpinning it.

The article is called ‘What Women Want’ and it introduces the study of women’s sexual desire as follows:

‘For as many times as sex is painted as a natural, enjoyable activity, it’s also portrayed as something women use to get things from men, or put up with in a relationship, or don’t really enjoy. Over and again men are stereotyped as slaves to their desires – and women as scheming pretenders or uninterested partners. Pretty insulting for all concerned…

Of course, women wouldn’t be turned on by something as simplistic as an image of an excited naked man… or would they? We’re used to thinking of men as being the visual ones. Women’s sexual response is a function not of physical lust but of emotional arousal, right?…

But while the popular assumption is that female desire is something unknowable, alchemical, difficult to pin down… research is showing something rather different.’

I can understand why Magnanti is keen to bust the myth that women’s sexuality is this ‘mystery’ that cannot be solved. A phenomenon only ever considered in relation to women’s ’emotions’ or maybe their reproductive capacities. But in order to produce empirical data on women’s physical sexual responses she turns to a science, and a particular scientist, that is at best dodgy, and at worst, misleading, ‘unscientific’, unethical and politically driven.

The scientist is J Michael Bailey, a professor of psychology at NorthWestern University in America. The paper Dr Magnanti references is a VERY controversial one from 2002 (pub 2004 in Psychological Science journal).

Over the next few posts,  I shall take Manganti’s assertions, taken from Bailey et al’s paper, and will show not only why I don’t agree with them, but how they have been comprehensively refuted by academics and ‘sex researchers’ in the nine years since the paper was written.

1. The Male and Female ‘Brain’

Bailey’s research, and Magnanti’s post, is based on the assumption that the categories of ‘men’ and ‘women’ are discrete and differentiated according to the make up of their brains.  His paper is not trying to prove a difference between men and women’s neurological make-up, it is assuming that is a given.  If it wasn’t then Bailey’s ‘experiment’ would not rely on a sample of only 69 men and 52 women (with ‘transexuals’ included as a subset of women).  For that is not enough participants to prove in any way shape or form a definite ‘sex difference’ between two halves of a global population made up of billions and billions of people,  is  it?

Since the paper was published in 2004 there has been plenty of ‘scientific’ criticism of the concept of innate differences between men and women’s brains.

Two books in particular have put a scalpel into the concept, dissected it and shown it to be wrong.  They are both by women scientists. In Pink Brain, Blue Brain (2010)

‘Lise Eliot immersed herself in hundreds of scientific papers (her bibliography runs 46 pages). Marching through the claims like Sherman through Georgia, she explains that assertions of innate sex differences in the brain are either “blatantly false,” “cherry-picked from single studies,” or “extrapolated from rodent research” without being confirmed in people. For instance, the idea that the band of fibers connecting the right and left brain is larger in women, supposedly supporting their more “holistic” thinking, is based on a single 1982 study of only 14 brains.’

Aha. So even the ‘science’ that Bailey is relying on, the science said to ‘prove’ that male and female brains exist, was as scant, unscientific and questionable as his own meagre study of a handful of men and women. And some of it is based on rodents.

Another major book revealing the ‘neurosexism’ of neuroscience is Cordelia Fine’s Delusions of Gender in which the author:

‘takes aim at the idea that male brains and female brains are ‘wired differently’, leading men and women to act in  a manner consistent with decades-old gender stereotypes…’

Delusions of Gender has been shortlisted for The Best Book of Ideas Prize 2011. It is clear from reviews that Fine, Eliot and others have put the ball back in neuroscience’s court. It is up to them to come up with new evidence to prove their case that men and women are ‘wired’ to respond differently to e.g. sexual stimuli. Manganti has referenced a paper that is nearly a decade old, and that has since been proven to be wrong.

Another critic of this neurosexism has come at it from a slightly different angle. Mark Simpson, has looked at how scientists such as Bailey et al, not content with declaring ‘male’ and ‘female’ brains exist, have gone on to say there is also such a thing as the (male) ‘gay’ brain. He questions the idea that gay men would have brains more like ‘women’s,  by looking at differences between gay men and women’s attitudes to sex:

‘you only have to think for less than a minute about the claim that gay men and straight women have the ‘same brains’, especially when it comes to the area that ‘processes emotion’, to see a major flaw with this apparently ‘common sense’ finding. I mean, how many hetero women – or lesbians – have the same attitude towards emotion-free sex that gay men have?’

But, in the studies by Bailey et al that Brooke Manganti quotes, their ‘experiments’ have aimed to show that heterosexual and homosexual men respond in similar ways to sexual stimuli:

‘Previous studies of men and sexual orientation showed that in general, male responses are straightforward. Heterosexual men respond strongly to heterosexual porn, and weakly to homosexual porn. For gay men, it’s the opposite: gay porn turns them on; the hetero stuff, not so much. So for men the psychological and physiological desires are in sync – what turns them on is also what they report enjoying emotionally.’

This puts a spanner in the works for neuroscience. How can gay men’s brains be both ‘male’ and respond like heterosexual men’s brains, and also more ‘gay’ and like ‘female’ brains, responding more like women?

As Mark Simpson has pointed out, Bailey’s work relies on a conflation between ‘gender identity’- the male and female ‘brain’, and sexual orientation – the ‘gay’ and ‘heterosexual’ brain. And if we take the example of a bisexual man, how can he have both a ‘male heterosexual’ and a ‘male homosexual/female’ brain? He can’t. Bailey’s research ignores and attempts to eradicate bisexuality because the existence of bisexuality turns the whole applecart over. Indeed, in the study Manganti refers to, no bisexual participants were included. I wonder why!

I haven’t got onto the main content of Brooke’s post yet, about women’s sexual response to pornography. I have tried to show why I think it is based on assumptions about ‘sex differences’ in men and women that have been disproven. I have attempted to discuss this with her, but she has refused to engage, and has now blocked both me and Mark Simpson on twitter.  She also does not allow comments on her blog, so any discussion about her post there is impossible. This worries me in terms of how ‘public figure’ academics operate in discourse.  But that is possibly  a subject for another post. I will be disappointed if she publishes this piece in her forthcoming book, without any reference to the convincing critiques of Bailey and Neuroscience in general. If anything, it will mean her work is out of date, misleading, and of no use to those of us interested in the study of sex, gender and sexuality.

Like I said at the top, Magnanti has a very interesting and valid perspective when it comes to looking at sex. I also think she is a talented writer.  I just hope she doesn’t emphasise her role as ‘scientist’ over all her other areas of knowledge and interest. Because when it comes to contemporary understandings of sex in society, ‘science’ is possibly the weakest card in the pack.


  1. redpesto says:

    “I haven’t got onto the main content of Brooke’s post yet, about women’s sexual response to pornography.”

    I bet Magnanti will come up with something a lot better than this nonsense from Tanith Corey in the Guardian. Sample passage:

    Although there is much debate about whether “porn addiction” even exists, Caroline, a 21-year-old English graduate, has just finished seeing a sex addiction therapist to help get her porn habit under control. Having started watching porn out of curiosity when it became available over the internet in her mid-teens, she and her mates used it as a graphic form of sex education. She saw nothing wrong with it, particularly as she was raised in a generation of girls for whom it was seen as hip and liberated to enjoy watching sex.

    Then, as she entered a depressed job market after university, it became a form of escape, a default she turned to whenever she felt anxious or bored. “I’d be stuck at home in front of my laptop on my own all day. I’d wake up with all these ideas for the day – and end up surfing for porn, trying to distract myself, eating and then going back for more porn. No one would ever have known. But I didn’t get much done. It was like a constant battle between my sexual urges and my self-control. I’d think to myself: ‘It’s not doing any harm.’ But then I started to loathe myself for giving in and wasting so much time on it.”

    And there’s more junk science where that came from.

    • i am Graunwatching that redpesto.

      My point is no she won’t because her ‘science’ is wrong and equally misleading but for different (non-prudish) reasons from The Guardian.

  2. Great post, and great topic, Elly.

    I have to say, when it comes to the question “why-we-are-the-way-we-are” I don’t think there’s more worth-while work than in brain research – especially between sexes.

    That said, I think that neuroscience might be the wrong field to pursue knowledge here. My vote says that some solid neuroscience correctly overlaid with Endocrinology studies will point us in the right direction.

    For a period of a few months in middle school, I had a bizarre hormone imbalance causing my testosterone to surge and then go flat for weeks at a time. Some people call this puberty, but mine was severe enough that I began to form breasts.

    This was coupled with days of weepyness and then fantasies of fantastic violence.

    Eventually, things leveled out and returned to normal levels for a young man, but I was forever respectful of the ways that hormones “tip the scales” on things.

    Whenever feminists and anti-feminists and MRAs and Joe Blows and Aunt Flos get into the discussion about “biology or culture” I never see anyone say what seems to be the most rational stance:

    Biology gives the motive – culture give permission. And in terms of “culture” in this case I mean “microculture.”

    For example, Elly, and here’s where we might disagree, I do think that “rape cultures” exist. But I think they’re limited to handfuls of young men or women who think it’s OK and is privately encouraged.

    (Sidenote: the notion of widespread rape culture in North America is complete trash. I have never, in my entire life, heard anyone advocate rape in a semi-serious manner. Full stop. I STRONGLY doubt that in 30 years on this planet, living in the U.S., U.K., Italy and Greece, that I SOMEHOW managed to miss all of the supposed encouraging stances of rape. I have, however had 3 of my 14 girlfriends in my life request such a fantasy with me. I don’t know what that means.)

    Back to your point (sorry for derailing – is it only derailing if you DISAGREE with the blogger?) but men and women’s brains HAVE TO BE different. Otherwise, the somewhat common occurrence of botched circumcisions that turn little boys into little girls who have a sex identity crisis later in life would be a HELL of a coincidence.

    If you’ve read Sex At Dawn, you may remember the experiment between goats and sheep, the male and female kids were separated and raised by the opposite species. They were then reunited as adults. What do you know, but the male sheep and goats wanted to mate with females of whatever species they were raised with. The female sheep and goats would quickly readjust and begin mating with their own species.

    I’m looking forward to your followup.

    • Hi Easily Enthused thanks for your comment.

      Your account of hormonal changes as an adolescent sounds quite traumatic!
      But then adolescence is often traumatic but in a variety of ways.

      I haven’t read Sex at Dawn. It sounds interesting but I am not that sure how far goats and sheep really tell us all that much about men, women and people who identify as other gender identities.

      As for neuroscience and endicronology in relation to sex difference, I still don’t buy it. I just can’t see how its findings actually help us understand sex/gender/sexuality.

  3. Well, I suppose it comes down to your feelings regarding evolutionary biology. The book Sex At Dawn mostly refers to Bonobo apes, chimps and gorillas (our closes geneological cousins) for ideas.

    I think that the idea that sex/gender/sexuality are entirely social constructs is as insane as belief in intelligent design.

    Lots of other animals in the world don’t have complex societies, but they don’t have any problem getting it on. To say that you need society to tell you that sex feels good is just inane.

    • I don’t think sex/gender/sexuality are entirely social constructs. We experience them via our bodies which are biologically constructed.

      But even biology, the way we understand and talk about it, has ‘socially constructed’ elements. That’s why people argue about it so much. It is a site of debate and struggle.

      I am sure we have things about us that come from apes-I believe in evolution.
      But I don’t think evolution has a lot to tell us about sex/uality/gender in contemporary society. It is just used to justify certain points of view. eg. I do know Sex at Dawn provides evidence that monogamy is not ‘natural’ in humans/apes.

      BUt my view is so what? Monogamy is so much a powerful discourse that its naturalness or otherwise is irrelevant to me.

  4. Matthew says:

    Valid points, but I don’t really see anything that actually scuppers either Magnanti’s or Bailey’s points. It doesn’t take an assumption of an intrinsic difference in the brain to come to the conclusion that male and female people react differently to sexual stimulation. If there is an intrinsic difference in the brain, then the findings are nicely explained. If there is no intrinsic difference, then the different reactions must, logically, be attributed to social pressures, upbringing or similar.
    The differentiation between these two positions, while interesting in it’s own right, seems tangential to the points being made.

    RE your mention of ignoring bisexuality, I think this is not entirely unreasonable. It’s fairly standard to try to understand the simple, extreme cases (“purely” homosexual/hetrosexual) before you leap into the (presumably) more complex middle-ground.

    • ‘It doesn’t take an assumption of an intrinsic difference in the brain to come to the conclusion that male and female people react differently to sexual stimulation. ‘

      It does to me. Because a) ‘males’ and ‘females’ are so different e.g. there are gay straight men, bisexual men, and lesbian, bisexual and heterosexual women. also there are transgender people. So the ‘binary’ between males and females in terms of ‘sexual stimulation’ is false.

      My point about bisexuality is that bisexual people will prove that the differences between ‘male’ and ‘female’ responses are not significant. And Bailey has been around for years he has had plenty of time to get past the basics into more complex territory.

      My point about the scientific method being discredited is that these differences have not been shown to be significant anyway, as the samples are so small.

      My point about Brooke M is that I can’t debate with her openly as she blocks me from doing so!

      • Matthew says:

        “So the ‘binary’ between males and females in terms of ‘sexual stimulation’ is false.”
        Possibly, but binary is easy to deal with scientifically, I haven’t read the paper in question, but it sounds like a binary situation was intentionally manufactured, and the middle ground consciously excluded. Possibly for simplicity, possibly for other reasons, it doesn’t really matter. The study is saying that the two extremes act differently, not that the two extremes are the only things that exist.

        “My point about the scientific method being discredited is that these differences have not been shown to be significant anyway, as the samples are so small.”
        Sample size of 120 is enough to strongly suggest a trend if results are conclusive, admittedly perhaps not to prove it beyond doubt. I would have to look at the actual results to say whether they are conclusive or not. I may try to find the paper itself later.

        “My point about Brooke M is that I can’t debate with her openly as she blocks me from doing so!”
        True, but tangential.
        She doesn’t seem to allow any comments on her blog, odd.

        • but the ‘two extremes’ in an experiment including approx 120 people are not clear. Some of the people in this experiment are gay men, some are heterosexual men (apparently), some are heterosexual women, some are lesbians and some are ‘transexuals’ which get counted as ‘women’ for part of the experiment.

          How can they distinguish and make GENERALISED points about ALL men and ALL women based on this experiment?

          • Matthew says:

            I don’t think I’m being too controversial saying the two extremes of male and female are clear, at least in the vast majority of cases. You also said they excluded bisexuals, clearly dividing gay and straight. So we have 4 distinct cases with people who fall in the awkward bits inbetween excluded. I’ve no problem with this as long as they acknowledge that’s what they’re doing.

            About generalised points, firstly, I suspect (though don’t know) that a majority of people will actually be clustered quite near one of the 4 extremes. That’s not to say there aren’t people that float about somewhere in the middle, but I think they’re very much in a minority. Secondly, there’s still nothing wrong with a good generalisation, even if it falls down for a minority.

  5. QRG, do you think you could explain a little more clearly what your hypothesis is?

    I understand you’re saying there isn’t just a Blue and a Pink brain – pick one and live with it.

    But are you saying that there’s a sliding scale from pink to lilac to blue? or are you saying that there’s dark red, light pink, grey, light blue and navy blue brains – and yours (as in any individual’s) could fall at any point between those four corners?

    • um, I am saying the brain is not ‘sexed’ in the way our, genitals are, say. And even our genitals do not fit us as neatly into ‘two sexes’ (or even three) as we’d like to believe they do.

      Bailey is a psychologist not a geneticist. Psychology is based on the study of human behaviour, it does not go inside the brain it comes to conclusions based on what people do or say. Even when they are wired up by their genitals to some kind of ‘brain machine’!

  6. Matthew- there is a difference between a ‘male’ and a ‘female’ person, and a ‘male’ and a ‘female’ brain! I am saying male/female/homosexual/bisexual/lesbian/other sexualities are not relevant in the study of the brain, which is what Professor Bailey, as a psychologist interested in neuroscience, professes to be!

    • Matthew says:

      Is your position that physical arousal is not any measure of what’s going on in your brain?

      • no. the brain is part of the body!

        I just think that physical arousal as it relates to the brain doesn’t tell us how the ‘sex’ of the brain relates to that arousal. The ‘brain’ does not have a ‘sex’.

  7. Matthew says:

    How do you reconcile your views with the finding of the study then?
    Male/female and gay/straight have demonstrably different reactions, if the brain is not responsible, then what is your explanation? Or do you reject the findings of the study?

  8. I believe they are not lying about how the participants ‘responded’ physically to the ‘stimulus’. Beyond that, yes I reject the findings.

    I think for example a lot of men are anxious about admitting to being sexually stimulated by other men. This anxiety will affect their response in a test they know is going public.

    Incidentally they have recently used similar technology on men seeking asylum from countries that are very homophobic towards gay men. So the country considering their application hooks them up to the machine. If they don’t respond to the ‘gay porn’ they are considered to be ‘not gay’ and so not at risk of homophobic attack, and so not granted asylum.

    But what if they were so anxious they did not get an erection, as they knew it would be the difference between gaining asylum and not?

    • Good questions, QRG, and I’m glad you’re thinking about this so skeptically.

      They went over this study (or one very similar to it) in Sex at Dawn. The Plemismograph (i think that’s what it’s called) can detect the most subtle amounts of increased blood flow to the genitals of a man or woman.

      It is often used in criminal cases involving pedophilia to determine whether a defendant has a sexual attraction to children (they are shown non-pornographic pictures and even THAT creates a recordable response to the genetalial blood flow to draw conclusions).

      Although nervousness might prevent a man from “full mast” reaction, the subtle increase of blood flow wouldn’t lie.

      As well, they also hooked them up to fake lie detectors and real lie detectors and had them respond with no lie detectors.
      The results showed that without lie detectors, straight men and women denied being turned on by gay porn – with the lie detectors the women changed their story and admitted being turned on by women – which matched what the plemismograph said all along.

      I’m behind a firewall, or else I’d go track down the details of the study myself and give you a link.

      • ‘the subtle increase in blood flow wouldn’t lie’… or maybe it would?

      • Matt Volatile says:

        What’s a “real” lie detector? All the decent studies have demonstrated that polygraphs – lie detectors – don’t work reliably, if at all, and are subject to (for example) operator bias in both questioning and analysis, and are trivially subverted.

        I haven’t read the Bailey study yet. Was it double blinded, for example? Was it the same people doing the testing analysing the imaging? If so, that’s a ringing flaw in the protocol right off the bat. I’d like to see someone like the excellent Steve Novella at NeuroLogica have a look at these studies…

        • They don’t say if it was double blinded or not. But I suspect not. The people analysing the results needed to know the gender id and the sexual identity of the participants. That’s the thing- it is all a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy!

    • Matthew says:

      “I think for example a lot of men are anxious about admitting to being sexually stimulated by other men. This anxiety will affect their response in a test they know is going public.”

      This is bollocks.
      a) The candidates for the study were self-selecting => probably *not* going to be anxious.
      b) It wasn’t going public. It’s entirely anonomous.
      c) If you’re going to take that sort of opinion, you may as well give up on ever finding out anything. Ever.

      Also, from the article (linked above): “We used films of male-male and female-female sex because men’s sexual orientation is most reliably assessed by comparing penile responses to these stimuli (Mavissakalian et al., 1975; Sakheim et al., 1985).”
      That also seems to cast further doubt on your opinion.

      One more thing, you made a point of them counting the transexuals in with the women. They don’t, results for transexuals are given separately and are (to me) one of the most striking bits of the whole paper. I’ve only skim-read the paper, but the results for male-to-female transexuals are very clearly different to females, much closer to results for males.

      • The transexuals were counted as a ‘subset’ of the women participants. This is the exact words of the paper.

        Yes they showed the results separately but the fact they were counted as a ‘subset’ of women is important. For a start they were M to F transexuals, and not F to M. They were considered as identifying as ‘women’ or ‘trans women’. Basically they did not have penises to measure with a penis machine.

        Being self-selecting in this case around sexuality, Matthew, I believe does not strengthen the data but weakens it.
        If you are so keen on presenting yourself as ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ you will be holding onto that throughout the test.

        And even ‘anonymous’ participants can be anxious about ‘public’ published research. I know this as I have conducted plenty of such research myself.

        You seem very passionate about this. Do you have a specific interest in sex research? Neuroscience? Psychology?

        • P.s. This particular study has already been critiqued a lot I will find some other critiques I am not coming up with new challenges. And Dr Magnanti has not come up with any new information supporting Bailey et al’s crap science.

  9. His book ‘The Man Who Would be Queen’ 2004 about M to F transexuals included the results of this paper I think.

    Here are some accounts of the shitstorm surrounding that book:

    • Matthew says:

      I started looking at those and some of the quotes sound very worrying from anyone claiming to be an ethical scientist, even if they *are* actually backed up by studies (I don’t know).
      I don’t really have time to read any further into this, but I would be fascinated to see if you know of a good critical scientific response to this paper in question. Nice guy or not, if the methodology and analysis of the paper are sound on their own merit…

      • No they are not Matthew. I have provided information which shows why the methodology and analysis are not sound, some of which has been written by fellow scientists, e.g. Lise Elliot and Cordelia Fine.

        Lise Eliot: ‘Lise Eliot immersed herself in hundreds of scientific papers (her bibliography runs 46 pages). Marching through the claims like Sherman through Georgia, she explains that assertions of innate sex differences in the brain are either “blatantly false,” “cherry-picked from single studies,” or “extrapolated from rodent research” without being confirmed in people. For instance, the idea that the band of fibers connecting the right and left brain is larger in women, supposedly supporting their more “holistic” thinking, is based on a single 1982 study of only 14 brains.’

        The science has been proven to be wrong.

        • Matthew says:

          From the very next paragraph: “Yet there are differences in adults’ brains…”

          • sorry matthew your references are annoying. please be more clear what you are referring to. and if you really are as interested in neuroscience as you say, I recommend Lise Eliot’s book. Arguing on the internet is one thing, doing your own research/reading is another.


      • Nico says:

        Matthew, Bailey was long ago critiqued at gagging depth for many reasons, from many angles. Elly’s links on this go to one of his (et al) most thorough critics (who also happens to be a scientist, though like BdJ, in an unrelated field.)

        If you want to see Bailey fully drawn, quartered, & skinned, search for his name & Andrea James. Hold on tight!

  10. Matthew says:

    QRG: “The transexuals were counted as a ‘subset’ of the women participants. This is the exact words of the paper.”

    Paper says “We assessed sexual arousal patterns to male versus female sexual stimuli in women, men, and an identified subset of women (postoperative male-to-female
    M to F transexuals were counted separately.

    QRG: “Yes they showed the results separately but the fact they were counted as a ‘subset’ of women is important. For a start they were M to F transexuals, and not F to M. They were considered as identifying as ‘women’ or ‘trans women’. Basically they did not have penises to measure with a penis machine.”

    Paper: “Transsexuals showed a category-specific pattern, demonstrating that category specificity can be detected in the neovagina using a photoplethysmographic measure of female genital sexual arousal.”
    Their inclusion seems to be due to the need to rule out doubts about the method of measuring arousal. Given the exclusion of bisexuals, I doubt transexuals would have been included otherwise.

    QRG: “Being self-selecting in this case around sexuality, Matthew, I believe does not strengthen the data but weakens it.
    If you are so keen on presenting yourself as ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ you will be holding onto that throughout the test.”

    Yes, self-selection is a problem. However, it’s a problem for both sexes. Also, the detection of physical arousal at least partly mitigates this problem. Fig 2 gives a nice demonstration of the effectiveness of this. Very notably with straight women.

    QRG: “You seem very passionate about this. Do you have a specific interest in sex research? Neuroscience? Psychology?”

    Well, partly cause you replied, so I couldn’t just not reply to your reply…
    I don’t know, nothing specific, I guess I just like to understand people (I usually end up failing).
    Plus, it makes a nice contrast to the Quantum Mechanics that occupies my brain most of the time now!

    • Matthew I think we may be at cross wires here. There were two studies mentioned in the paper and I think we may be referring to different ones re: the transexual participants.

      I will have another look but I don’t want to spend much more time on a paper that I know to be bullshit.

      Thanks for your comments. I wish you could discuss this with Brooke Magnanti but she doesnt allow comments on her blog!

    • also please note the numbers of participants: 62 men, 59 women.

      This is not significant to make generalisations about the difference between men and women as a whole. How many billions of us are there on the planet??

      You are deliberately ignoring my main points .

  11. It definitely says the M to F transexuals were a ‘subset’ of the women participants.
    So of the 59 women, some were M to F transexual women. Yes they have been separated in the results. I can’t see the bit you refer to Matthew. But regardless of this hair splitting, the whole study is faulty because it is a) so small b) does not include bisexual people, or F to M transexuals, and c) relates sexual ‘response’ under a lab condition to making rash claims about innate neurological ‘sex’ differences.

    Click to access SexDifferencesInSpecificitySexualArousal.pdf

    • Matthew says:

      a) 60 people isn’t too small to observe a trend. Looking at the results, there seem to be some fairly clear patterns.
      b) I’ve explained before why I don’t think exclusion of bisexuals and transexuals from this study is a problem (related: the M to F transexuals included as a control group).
      c) How else do you propose to gather information about this? It might not be perfect, but it’s a hell of a lot better than guessing.

      Anyway, I think we’ve probably reached a point where we will have to agree to disagree.
      I still haven’t seen a *specific* *academic* response to this paper, there’s a lot of criticism of ethics, of the book, of him, hand-waving criticism, but nothing concrete showing why the methodology used is wrong (or a paper on the same subject showing conflicting results).

      • Great. happy to agree to disagree on this! But there is concrete proof that the methodology used is wrong and unethical. You just have argued with it.

        That’s ok!

        • p.s. you may *sigh* at having to repeat yourself but I am having to repeat myself every time somebody wheels out this shit study and claims it has any credence. *Sigh*

          • p.p.s I have continued to take apart the study in the post above #2 take a look at that as well.

          • Matthew says:

            Heh, sorry if I am dragging you over old ground, but I am very much a newbie here.
            My advice is that if the study is so shit, there must be a specific, *academic* response to it (informal writing by activists on a website sadly don’t count here), which you could just wheel out at will.

  12. Nico says:

    “…Psychology is based on the study of human behaviour…”

    Which in humans is tied up with symbols, meaning, reflection, abstract calculation, etc, beyond what’s found even among those darlingly human bonobos that everyone so loves trotting out.

    It’s not easy being human. Step One: accept it. Step Two: untether yourself.

  13. Nico says:

    “…‘the subtle increase in blood flow wouldn’t lie’…”

    The truth may lie in the corpus spongiosum; its interpretation though is in the eye of the beholders.

    I always wonder how much time passes between each genre of porn shown, and the order in which it’s shown, to those lucky test subjects.

    I believe that when dealing with humans in captivity, you’re generally better off erring on the side of construction. To do otherwise undermines their humanity (while propping up yours), and thus the validity of your approach & your conclusions.

    • thats a very good point Nico about the lapse in time between the shows. Some of our ‘arousal’ could be based on recent ‘memory’ of visual stimuli. I sometimes have sexy dreams after watching sexy films, for example.

      and also ‘humans in captivity’ is a pertinent way to describe these research participants.

  14. Nico says:

    i meant to say ‘corpus cavernosum’, but hey, why quibble?

  15. Nico says:

    “If you are so keen on presenting yourself as ‘straight’ or ‘gay’ you will be holding onto that throughout the test.”

    Indeed, you might very well volunteer for the test in the hope of “beating” it – and then going postal if you can’t?

    I’m thinking of the Col. Fitts character played so beautifully by Chris Cooper in American Beauty.

    • yes he was an example of a man with ‘homo-anxiety’ but in a lot of Hollywood films, that anxiety is translated into ‘psychopathology’ and quite often leads to murder! This is a bit OTT in my view…

  16. The problem is Matthew that people who disagree with Michael Bailey’s research, disagree with his methods. They are not going to do studies wiring people up to penis machines to prove their point as they think this is not an adequate way to study human sexual response. So critiques of his work come from different disciplines to clinical psychology.

    I recommend Mark Simpson’s essays as referenced here for example.

    I also recommend you read the second part of my post on Brooke Magnanti’s piece. Thanks

  17. Mark says:

    *sigh* [Or is it only people presenting themselves in a superior scientistic fashion who can do that?]

    Someone cited as proof of biological determinism the example of botched circumcision operations on boys that resulted in them being raised as girls – but who rebelled against this and wanted to be male.

    It’s a very popular story, to be sure – particularly because of the unimaginable HORROR of boys being raised as girls – but the actual facts of the story don’t quite add up the way the essentialists/fundamentalists want them. And they certainly don’t present the ‘proof’ that gender is all ‘hard wired’. In fact, if I was an essentialist, I’d shut up about them.

    The most famous case was David Reimer ‘the boy who was raised as a girl’ whose life was chronicled by journalist John Colaptino. According to Lise Eliot in ‘Pink Brain, Blue Brain’:

    ‘David was actually quite old – nearly two – by the time he was truly reassigned to a female role…. babies much younger than this already know a great deal about the difference between male and female, already prefer gender appropriate toys, and are often already consciously aware of their own sex. Another crucial variable – and the reason his case became celebrated – was the fact that David was an identical twin. In addition to his own early life as a boy, David could see his male identity mirrored every moment in his twin brother, Brian, a perfect clone with whom he was tightly bonded.’

    Even worse for gender fundamentalists:

    ‘Another, less famous case was reported in 1998. It had a very different outcome, probably because the accident occurred when the child was just two months old. By seven months, this boy had been reassigned, both socially and surgically, to the female gender. Now an adult, she unambiguously regards herself as a woman. Though the patient has had sexual relationships with both men and women, she never cross-dressed and always preferred to play with other girls.’

    In a 2005 review of such cases by Heinz Meyer-Bahlburg of Columbia University, only seventeen of seventy-seven such individuals had chosen to revert to the male gender. The majority were clear in regarding themselves as women.

    Dr Meyer-Bahlburg concluded: ‘These data do not support a theory of full biological determination of gender identity development by prenatal hormones and/or genetic factors, and one must conclude that gender assignment and the concomitant social factors have a major influence on gender outcome.’

    • Those cases are fascinating. It makes me wonder about my gender conditioning as a baby/child, as I was brought up in a ‘feminist’ household including feminist ‘babygroups’ and a feminist ‘playgroup’. Where things like toys were supposed to be ungendered or mixed up. We did woodwork at playgroup I remember.

      But I think it goes so deep even parents aware of gender reproduced ‘traditional’ gender roles. Though I have turned out a bit weird it has to be said.

  18. Mark also made a good point in an email to me re: the results for the women.

    The measure used to gauge their ‘arousal’ is different from the one for the men, and the ‘spread’ of results for the women may be explained by the difference in this measurement.

    i.e. everyone probably has varying degrees of arousal to various porn, but this is more likely to be captured in the tests on women which are more ‘subtle’ than the penis machine ones.

    • Matthew says:

      *sigh* [and yes, everyone is allowed to use this, even those who like sliding in subtle ad hominem attacks at the top of their posts]

      This problem is *explicitly* addressed in the paper, the solution is the inclusion of M to F transexuals, which use the same physical tests as the women, but show comprable physical arousal patterns to the men.

      • Sigh no more ladies, sigh no more. Men were deceivers ever…

        Matthew- The M to F trans women do not have the same biology as the women. There ‘receptors’ and glands etc or whatever you call the bits of our bodies that react to sexual stimuli, are not the same as women’s. This will account for some of the differences in the results I should think.

  19. elissa says:

    Mark – I’m afraid you are mischaracterizing what scientists in the field state. There is no such language as “essentialism / determinism” from any renowned scientist – the language that does exist is statistically descriptive, not individually prescriptive. And as to social theorists with regards to the Reimer story – they should probably shut up even more so. Your examples don’t make much of a case for what you claim. To disprove your claim one only need find examples of socialization not trumping “initial brain sexuality”. Your examples don’t have any information on the “initial brain sexuality” at birth, so stating that reassignments were successful is meaningless, as they could be in-line with “brain Sexuality”. There is no disagreement that secondary sexual characteristics can differ from “brain sexuality”.

    Full admission – I am one of those in the field, very well versed, (past not present) and don’t hold the views you state, nor do I know anyone else who does.

    My own views are that “lumpiness” exists as do predispositions. None of which matters where there is a will to promote change and create new clusters. Social theorists should be spending their time showing benefits, not hitting their heads against theories of evolution. The naturalistic fallacy was coined by my team, after all.

    My first disagreement on your blog Quiet Girl. My cherry has been popped!!

  20. Matthew says:

    Yes, that’s quite interesting. I , like many, was familiar with the David Reimer story, but had been lead to believe that even attempting to reassign a child that young was a practically unique occurrence. Such are (some of) the problems with the mass-media…

    Anyway, I think your comment is mostly tangential, when it’s actually looked at. You’re arguing over whether 8 month or 2 year old boys are already sexed. The Bailey paper, QRG’s post & Magnanti’s blog that “inspired” it are all implicitly or explicitly dealing with sex difference (or lack thereof) in sexually mature men and women.
    You can argue over the cause of the sex difference observed to your heart’s content, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t one. If you argue that your points prove the innate gender of the child isn’t determined at birth, the seemingly logical conclusion from Baileys study is that those raised as boys behave one way and those raised as girls behave another.

    Taking this all the way back to the original point, back to Magnanti’s post, I don’t think that it makes a difference to her argument where the differences between men and women originate, whether they are innate at birth or due to how they are raised or due to social pressure.
    Perhaps the most telling criticisms/extensions of this work might come from analysing responses from different cultures/ethnic groups(/social groups), where treatment of children and social pressures will be different, and so may be reasonably expected to produce different arousal patterns.

  21. […] promoting herself as a scientist as she did. Especially since she has relied upon and peddled such bad science. Share this:TwitterFacebookEmailPrintRedditLike this:LikeBe the first to like this […]

  22. […] regular readers of this blog will know, I am sceptical  about using science to study sex and gender. Of course the physical body can be examined using […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s