Sunday, June 07, 2015

Body design problems - for both men and women

I think we can all agree that there are bits of the human body which indicate that, if it was directly designed by God, He did a Him-awful job at working it out.

No where is this on better display than in the reproductive system.  I mean, for men, what's with the prostate gland and it's almost guaranteed destiny to swell and, in far too many cases, cause dire interference with the essential function of urination?   I have a brother who has recently, after quite suddenly developing a problem, had to have the TURP operation, so I have heard all about how unpleasant it is.

This gland is in a seriously dumb position, wrapped around the urethra.  If via gene editing it becomes possible to change positions of organs, I wouldn't be so worried about relocating testicles to an internal spot (as I recall Arthur C Clarke suggested in one of his novels as a feature of future males), but getting the prostate to do its job from a position beside the urethra, like the Cowper's gland, would make a hell of a lot more sense, no?

Moving on to women.  Childbirth is ridiculously dangerous, we know that, and I think I have  mentioned before that if you redesigning the system from scratch, the marsupial system of giving birth to a tiny jelly bean which matures in a pouch has an awful lot to recommend it.

But now to the more fundamental issue of women and menstruation - it seems that of the animal kingdom, the human body has absolutely the worst time of it:
Yes, many animals do menstruate, but only a handful menstruate overtly like humans do (where there is blood flow from the uterus through the vagina). Other animals menstruate covertly (by simply reabsorbing the uterine lining into the body). Female animals with overt menstruation are generally sexually active throughout their cycle. In comparison, females with covert menstruation are only ‘in heat’ mid-cycle.
Overt menstruation occurs in humans; most primates (including chimpanzees, organutans, gorillas & rhesus monkeys); some types of fruit bats; and elephant shrews. The average cycle length in orangutans and opossums is the closest to that of humans, 28 days, while the cycle for chimpanzees is 35 days. Menstrual bleeding in non-human primates is minimal.
The topic of how women deal with the inconvenience of menstrual blood flow got a detailed airing in a recent Atlantic article about the history of the tampon.   First manufactured specifically for this purpose in the 1920's, the article notes its rise in popularity, and the toxic shock crisis of the 1980's.

I found the article particularly interesting for reasons of cultural comparison:   I had assumed that the tampon had very much dropped in popularity due to the toxic shock issue, and the article does say that by 1990, about half of American women surveyed had moved to using pads alone.  Yet further down, someone estimates that usage amongst women there is up to about 80% again.

In Australia, thanks to the campaign against the trivial $1 or so a month of GST women don't want to spend on sanitary items (while nearly 30% of  young women are out getting tattoos at a minimum cost of about 10 - 20 years of said GST), we have some very recent market research from Roy Morgan indicating that only about a third of women are buying tampons.

In fact,  I infer from this lengthy post about the comparative availability of pads and tampons around the world, that tampons might be most popular in American.  Certainly, it looks like they are not readily available in many poorer, third world countries. 

Even where they are available, the Atlantic article does mention the issue of the applicator/digital insertion divide.   Apparently, in Europe and Australia, ones without applicators are most popular. 
In America, applicator use seems extremely popular.

As the Atlantic article notes:
Outside North America, digital tampons have outsold applicator tampons for decades. “If you interview women in Europe and ask why they like digital tampons, they’ll tell you about [environmental] concerns. They’ll also tell you that it’s a hygienic concern—that they don’t trust the applicator being inserted inside their bodies,” Keighley says. Conversely, tampon users in the U.S., who largely prefer applicators, “will tell you it’s a hygienic thing—they don’t want to gunk up their fingers,” he explains. “Consumers develop very strong opinions on usage habits—polar opposites, for the same reason.”
If you want to read an example of how extremely seriously (some) American women take the alleged horror of ever getting their own bodily fluid on their finger, even for the briefest moment (as I assume at least toilet paper will invariably be handy), read this 2012 post from one who is distraught about not being to get applicator tampons of her choice in Australia.  An extract:
First of all, there’s disgusting stuff up inside there during menstruation that I’m not particularly interested in touching. Second of all, my finger is probably not always totally sterile, being a finger and all, and I don’t really want to stick it up there and give myself an infection.

You can sort of get around some of the ew-factor in your own bathroom at home, but let’s say you have to do this in a public restroom. I don’t want to put the same fingers I’ve used to touch the bathroom stall door up inside an infection-prone part of my body. I know that some women probably do this anyway and it disgusts me nearly to the point of vomiting to think of them doing that and then touching the handle on the stall door afterwards. GROSS!!!!! Now all their menstrual germs are all over the handle! Even more disgusting is the number of women who don’t wash their hands at all.

I wonder how many STIs have been transmitted through public bathrooms in Australia for this very reason?

Fortunately, I’m such a germophobe that I always use a paper towel or tissue of some kind to manipulate the handle if I absolutely must use a public restroom. If you ever see a blonde girl doing this in a public restroom, it’s probably me. Feel free to say hello.

So yeah. Tampons without applicators are just a no-go. That is so beyond disgusting that it doesn’t even bear thinking of.
What's worse - there are a stream of comments from fellow American agreeing with her.

Seriously - this woman sounds just short of endorsing the idea that her gaze while menstruating could curdle milk.

It also puts me in mind of the peculiarly American thing about douching, although it is more concentrated along ethnic lines (African Americans and Hispanics are particularly inclined to do it, for reasons I have never seen explained.)

I'm not at all sure as to why, but it seems that an unusually large proportion of American women have developed a particular "thing" about the cleanliness of their reproductive tract, particularly during menstruation.

Which strikes me as rather odd...

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