Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Wealthy men give women more orgasms -- in China

This has been a hugely hyped study -- presumably because people want to believe it -- but the fact that it is based on Chinese data is never stressed. That there may be genetic and cultural differences among the Chinese seems never to be considered. There is a trailing reference to Western research showing body symmetry and attractiveness also to be linked with orgasm but that is a different finding altogether. It is however an important finding. Body symmetry is integral to attractiveness and attractiveness is a sign of good health -- and rich men mostly get attractive and hence healthy women. And healthy women have more orgasms! Big non-surprise. So even the Chinese data were probably misinterpreted. It is good health that confers more orgasms, not the partner's wallet

Scientists have found that the pleasure women get from making love is directly linked to the size of their partner's bank balance. They found that the wealthier a man is, the more frequently his partner has orgasms. "Women's orgasm frequency increases with the income of their partner," said Dr Thomas Pollet, the Newcastle University psychologist behind the research. He believes the phenomenon is an "evolutionary adaptation" that is hard-wired into women, driving them to select men on the basis of their perceived quality.

The study is certain to prove controversial, suggesting that women are inherently programmed to be gold-diggers. However, it fits into a wider body of research known as evolutionary psychology which suggests that both men and women are genetically predisposed to ruthlessly exploit each other to achieve the best chances of survival for their genes. The female orgasm is the focus of much research because it appears to have no reproductive purpose. Women can become pregnant whatever their pleasure levels.

Pollet, and Professor Daniel Nettle, his co-author, believed, however, that the female orgasm is an evolutionary adaptation that drives women to choose and retain high-quality partners. He and Nettle tested that idea using data gathered in one of the world's biggest lifestyle studies. The Chinese Health and Family Life Survey targeted 5,000 people across China for in-depth interviews about their personal lives, including questions about their sex lives, income and other factors. Among these were 1,534 women with male partners whose data was the basis for the study. They found that 121 of these women always had orgasms during sex, while 408 more had them "often". Another 762 "sometimes" orgasmed while 243 had them rarely or never. Such figures are similar to those for western countries.

There were of course, several factors involved in such differences but, said Pollet, money was one of the main ones. He said: "Increasing partner income had a highly positive effect on women's self-reported frequency of orgasm. More desirable mates cause women to experience more orgasms."

This is not an effect limited to Chinese women. Previous research in Germany and America has looked at attributes such as body symmetry and attractiveness, finding that these are also linked with orgasm frequency. Money, however, seems even more important.

David Buss, professor of psychology at the University of Texas, Austin, who raised this question in his book The Evolution of Desire believes female orgasms have several possible purposes. "They could promote emotional bonding with a high-quality male or they could serve as a signal that women are highly sexually satisfied, and hence unlikely to seek sex with other men," he said. "What those orgasms are saying is `I'm extremely loyal, so you should invest in me and my children'."


Early intervention works for stutter

You wouldn't guess from watching her performances in the hit TV drama Underbelly, but 28-year-old actress Petra Kalive started stuttering as a young child. "Basically as soon I was talking I started stuttering," says Kalive, who played Antonella Moran, wife of the gang member Mark Moran, in eight episodes of the award-winning crime series. "It was very frustrating, because I couldn't explain myself. People would always finish my sentences. And I thought I wasn't as intelligent because I couldn't finish sentences. That just made things worse." After an unsuccessful attempt to seek treatment in childhood, Kalive eventually mastered her speech issue as an adult.

And in the last few years, treatment techniques for this debilitating disorder have been refined. Once thought caused by parenting practices and anxiety about speaking, scientists now believe that stuttering is caused by problems in the brain, and is not associated with intelligence, parenting styles, or psychological trauma. Professor Mark Onslow, the foundation Director of the Australian Stuttering Research Centre (ASRC) at the University of Sydney, says people who stutter "process language in a different way to those who don't". This is because the brains of those who stutter both look and act differently to the brains of those who don't. "Reports show both structural and functional anomalies in the brains of people who stutter," explains Onslow. "Reports have shown that those who stutter have larger brain matter and more ridges, or gyri, in speech-related areas."

On a functional level, a study published last year in the Journal of Neurolinguistics showed that neurons in a part of the brain involved in producing sentences in speech do not connect as efficiently in people who stutter (2007;20:353-62). Following from this research, a study from the US last year in the journal NeuroImage suggests that this problem is a cause of stuttering, and not an effect (2008;39:1333-44).

Understanding these physical differences has allowed scientists to explain many, once unexplainable, stuttering phenomena. "By zeroing in on what is going wrong in a person who stutters, a lot of things are making sense that didn't before," says Onslow. "There are many reports of people that stutter having trouble playing wind instruments at concerts, and, as a group, people who stutter find it more difficult to imitate rapid finger-tapping sequences. "The part of the brain that controls fingers is close to the part that controls muscles required for speech, such as the lip, jaw and tongue."

About 1 to 2 per cent of adult Australians stutter, but a recent report in Paediatrics (2009;123;270-277) showed that more than 8 per cent of three-year-olds exhibit signs of the condition. "Stuttering starts to appear in children as soon as they begin putting words together," explains Onslow.

While irregularities in the brain cause stuttering, the condition is triggered once children begin speaking and stressing syllables -- the building blocks of speech. "Stuttering is triggered when children start learning to put different stresses when producing syllables," says Onslow. "In fact, the best treatments for adults who stutter involve reducing syllabic stress a little." It is generally thought that around three quarters of children recover naturally from stuttering within two years of its onset, without the need for treatment.

Brenda Carey, a Melbourne-based speech pathologist who is finalising a PhD on stuttering at the ASRC, says that with current practices, stuttering in pre-school is eminently treatable, and children who stutter "should not go untreated into school". Children have brains that are more plastic and adaptable than adult brains, Carey says. As a result, a child's brain can adjust and respond to stuttering treatment better than an adult. "While many children do grow out of stuttering, there is a small window before entry to school when we can treat the problem," Carey says. "If parents are waiting for too long they may miss the boat."

Kalive is one of many stutterers whose speech issue did not go away naturally. "My parents were really concerned about my stuttering -- they thought I would grow out of it, and I nearly did until I was in my early 20s when it started coming back," she recalls. Kalive visited a speech pathologist when she was six but was misdiagnosed and continued stuttering until she sought further treatment when she was 23.

Once children start kindergarten, teasing and bullying about their speech problem may begin. This intensifies the condition, making it harder to treat. "Anxiety affects speech control," explains Carey. "And if you don't have positive feelings about communication, it creates a negative cycle. You stop talking, or seeing people -- making the stuttering worse when you do speak." For some people, the effect of stuttering has been catastrophic. A study to be published in the Journal of Speech Language and Hearing Research, published online in July, by Onslow and his team at the ASRC found that 60 per cent of stutterers enrolled in a clinical trial suffered from social phobia.

Kalive described the difficulty of stuttering in daily life. "Stutterers are very easy to make fun of -- it's an easy joke and that is what we battle against," she says. "As a consequence of the joking you stop wanting to participate in conversations. I would only speak when people asked me a question, because I didn't want to embarrass myself. The only way to avoid embarrassment was to not talk."

Unlike the growing public awareness towards mental diseases such as depression, Carey says people generally "still feel that it's okay to laugh at people who stutter". "People view it as a weakness rather than an organic process that needs fixing. Those who don't stutter take communication for granted. It's a basic human need, and for those who risk humiliation when trying to communicate, it can be incredibly disempowering."

While treating adults for stuttering is more difficult than treating children, it is possible. The process, called speech restructuring, teaches those who stutter how to co-ordinate elements involved in speech, such as mouth muscle movements and breathing. This process is akin to learning how to speak all over again, says Carey. At the age of 23, Kalive relearned how to control her breathing and co-ordinate her speech. As a result, her stutter was impossible to detect while she spoke to Weekend Health. "Now it only resurfaces when I am incredibly tired or nervous," says Kalive. This is common in stuttering rehabilitation.

Carey explains that when people are tired and anxious, they are less able to deal with the stutter when it happens. She warns against any instant treatment solutions that claim to fix stuttering in the long term. "We know that for adults, getting a change in the short-term is very easy, but whether they will be fluent in a year is the test."

The short-term gains from some treatments are attributed to the boost in confidence and mood that a person who stutters will feel after treatment. "There is no new and glamorous treatment. Right now, we are fine-tuning the delivery of treatments that have been shown to be most effective," says Carey. Research at the ASRC is focusing on delivering treatment to sufferers more efficiently and conveniently than before. "We can now give constructive treatment in fewer hours, making it less inconvenient for the patient and less costly to the community," says Carey. Trials have just been completed into providing treatment for stuttering over the phone, and results, says Carey, "are very exciting".

While stuttering still holds a stigma that other disorders have left behind, research into its causes and available treatments are out in front. Although it is more difficult to overcome the disorder in adulthood than childhood, Australian research is working hard to provide treatment for all ages.


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