I write this blog with the hope that my personal story, matched with scientific knowledge, will help you to better understand who you are sexually. Learning about the places in life where Sex, Science and Nature come together can empower you to find fulfillment in the unique sexual person you are, as well as acceptance of yourself.
Science has answers to some of the most delicate and often overwhelming questions we ask ourselves and one another about sex, but sometimes it can be very difficult to access good knowledge about what is normal or how to approach sexual challenges.
I am a Reproductive Physiologist and the inventor of Pre-Seed, the world’s first “fertility” lubricant. My posts share reviews and commentary on science that illuminates or impacts human sexuality to make the science behind our functioning as natural sexual beings accessible.
Some of you may know me as “Dr. E” from my work helping infertile couples. You may have seen me in the National Geographic special “Sizing Up Sperm” or heard me on National Public Radio talking about my research (with the UPS man delivering semen for breeding my pet 900 lb pig). As a scientist in the field of Andrology (Male Fertility), I’ve spent 30 years studying how to protect sperm to optimize male fertility, among other things. Along the way, my National Institute of Health (NIH) funded research focused on how the female’s Fallopian Tube cells select and nurture the best sperm so they can fertilize the egg.
I’ve learned that human conception is not the “battle” between sexes it is often portrayed as — but rather it is an intricately timed collaboration between the male and female.
The ovaries and Fallopian Tubes work together to provide everything sperm need in order to preserve their DNA (genetic material) and their motility (swimming capacity) so they can create a healthy baby.
During this research, I learned that the leading vaginal lubricants on the market were killing sperm — even the ones labeled “non-spermicidal.” My research revealed that many trying-to-conceive (TTC) couples were using lubricants to try to make “having-to-have sex while conceiving a baby” (“Baby-dancing” in the TTC vernacular) more comfortable, without knowing that these products damage sperm. As my work increasingly moved towards helping infertile couples, I also faced significant challenges conceiving my second son. My life and work came together as I experienced personally how the stress of TTC can adversely impact a couple’s love life.
Following my completely serendipitous discovery of a natural plant sugar (arabinogalactan) that provides antioxidant support for sperm, I teamed with a committed group of colleagues to invent Pre-Seed, the world’s first “fertility” lubricant. It is uniquely and specifically designed to support sperm and provide an optimal environment for their journey to the egg. Since Pre-Seed was launched in 2003, we have sold millions of doses around the world, providing “seriously fun baby-making” for TTC couples, and learning a great deal about the sex and nature of human sexuality.
While doing all this science I am also just like “every woman” who makes her way through life, sex, and intimacy. Each of us feels empowered at times and ridiculous at others — as we move into and out of confident sexual selves. In my case, I can talk about reproduction on national TV but am deeply embarrassed to buy “personal items” at the store (I always try to bury them under other things in my cart, even picking up items I don’t need to cover them up). Just like most of you, I have had to work to maintain a fulfilling intimate life. While doing my scientific work in the science of sex and reproduction, I have also been a mother, wife, and sexual partner navigating prolonged and significant health issues and the emotional stress of attempted hostile company takeovers, as well as divorce, remarriage and blended families. My science is, thus, my life.
From my work as a Reproductive Physiologist I know most of us want a more fulfilling, enthralling sex life, but we often don’t know how to find it.
I have encountered many people, who have experienced deep emotional pain around sex in their daily lives. Whether concerned with fertility, or just with keeping everyday love alive, knowing our sexual self is an important key to human happiness. We each have this self, but finding correct information about it and connecting with it confidently is not always easy.
Science can help us nurture and enjoy this self, especially when we consciously integrate an understanding of scientific findings with an acceptance of our human nature.
My aim is to help you discover science that makes sense of our human sexuality and understand yourself as a natural, sexual person.
Internships and graduate school can make or break a woman’s life and career. I am writing about this as a reproductive physiologist because poorly structured training programs can dramatically interfere with a woman’s romantic, sexual and life goals.
Women in these settings can end up without partners or their fertility (after age 35) as a fact – not as a lifestyle choice.
I was reminded of this last week, when overhearing a young woman tell a friend about her third unpaid internship where she now was having trouble getting a letter of reference and her Master’s Degree advisor had just added a year to her program. I have a strong commitment to mentoring young people and helping them understand how to successfully manage Graduate Committees and Internships. If you don’t use them to gain the position and career you want, they will use you, and use you UP!
When I applied to Cornell for my PhD, my Graduate Requirement Exam scores were too low for me to be accepted. But I had a talent that my advisor wanted very badly (embryo transfer skills in cattle). Before I went to graduate school I had sought out this specialty training.
My advisor petitioned the school and got me in, despite my bad standardized testing skills.
By having a special edge I had some power in negotiating my program, and I had several offers so I could walk if I didn’t like what I was offered.
I TOLD my advisor I could only afford three years away from my profession to complete my degree. But I also explained that I already had a focus and would work my tail off to make this all happen.
Completing a study that lands your boss a big grant or account, or making the graphics they use to win a case…Whatever it is, get yourself and your managers used to writing a brief paragraph of commendation right after it happens.
That is when they remember that “if not for you” they wouldn’t be getting a raise, the partnership etc… If you wait, you could get sideways with them later, or worse they could get offended if you ask for a letter.
Tell them you need the letter now for an online business class you are taking (sign up for one if it makes you feel better saying this). Offer to draft the language for them, if they are busy. It is ALWAYS ok to do this, most managers are too busy to worry much about interns, and grad students.
It is also fine for you to write a glowing but accurate paragraph on your role in a project, that they can either sign off on or edit as they want. In today’s job market, it can be difficult to get letters of reference during upheaval or transition.
Make collecting these an ongoing process with these small successes in emails or letterhead letters from your boss.
I have been in too many Graduate Committee meetings were some minor faculty member suggests another project for the student. Soon scientific excitement and enthusiasm takes over, new experiments are planned and the meeting ends with these people walking out the door without another thought of the discussion, but the graduate student having just been committed to another year of studies.
BEFORE this happens, when the new work is first proposed, rein them back.
Find language that pins them down to admit verbally that they are going beyond what you had discussed and make them explain why it is REQUIRED.
TAKE NOTES every time, so you can reference these when they move the goal post again. Don’t be afraid to challenge the system if they renege.
Too many students get nailed with a project for their degree program where failure means they can’t move forward. Or interns are tasked with a job that requires other people’s input that the intern has no control over (such as physicians at a practice filling out a survey).
Structure science or projects that have publishable or valuable information whether or not your study works exactly as planned, or others don’t come through.
The truth is your advisor or boss has a job and retirement, long past when you are there. They won’t know if you spend 2 or 10 years creating the new mouse trap, not because they are bad people but because you are a very small part of their program and their life.
Find at least one project that you “can’t” fail at by its nature, as your get out of jail card.
Never be afraid to ask the very best people in your field if you can collaborate with them on a small project or shadow them for the day.
Access is key and collaboration is what will build your talent away from your current grunt work.
Most of the top 5% of people in a field are actually nice, kind, giving people (they can be – they are the top of the pile) who appreciate initiative.
Contact them in writing or email. Tell them what you are working on and how you would like the opportunity to talk with them even “just for 5 minutes.” You never know where this conversation can go!
Make your face to face (best case) or phone call succinct and discrete with one or two questions that pertain to their expertise. Also state why you and your project are unique.
Keep your fingers crossed that they will ask more about your work. In a perfect world, they will offer to collaborate or let you work with them for a day or two or more.
I know this isn’t romantic, but stuff happens. People marry, divorce, die, change religions and names, you name it!
If you are in any kind of field where publications happen and a resume or Curriculum Vitae is produced ALWAYS use your maiden name on these publications. Nothing screams success like a list of publications with your name –bolded and underlined– over and over again (e.g. JE Ellington, JE Ellington, JE Ellington).
It is simply not possible to get the same impact with a list of names that changes over time (e.g. AC Smith, AC Jones, AC Smith, AC Brock). Rather this tells a tale of turmoil, and the reader won’t know what name you were using at different times.
Even if you change your name after marriage, publish in your maiden name only!
And of course just use your initials, so your gender isn’t part of the reader’s narrative. There is no reason for it to be.
Hang in there, Have fun and do well. But in the end you are the master of your fate, you are the captain of your soul! Fight for your own success.
I, like 80% of American women, used a hormonal contraceptive (the birth control pill), when I was younger. I didn’t know then that the pill can interfere with our ability to chose the best man for us to have children with.
Just like me, over half of women who use these hormonal contraceptives do so in their mate selection years, between 16 to 34 years of age. But these contraceptives can change how a woman “sees” the world.
In fact, they can interfere with our biologic and instinctual ability to choose the man with the best genes for our future children.
The profound impact that hormonal contraceptives (pills, injections, implants) have on women’s mate selection was just highlighted again in a new study “Assessment of the Relationship Between the Use of Birth Control Pill and the Characteristics of Mate Selection” by Gori and colleagues (The Journal of Sexual Medicine September, 2014). Let’s review how this can happen.
During the normal six days of the month when women are fertile and ovulation is near, gals unconsciously shift their mental imagery of the type of man they are attracted to. They are more drawn to the independent, hunky dominant male.
These men are hot to women because they have “high-value genes.” Their sexy face, body, shape, smell, and voice, all are outward manifestations of their strong genes, genes that this man could pass on to any babies he fathers.
Women instinctually seek this type of man out when they are fertile without realizing it, through smell and sight, including cues of attractiveness and facial symmetry.
Interestingly, fertile women also prefer a man whose face is visually dissimilar to their own face meaning men who are unrelated to them and therefore, look different from the woman. During mate selection for sex that could lead to reproduction (such as when we are ovulating) women choose to be with high-genetic value men, who carry a gene set differing most dramatically from their own.
The external physical appearance (that phenotype) of the face is subconsciously telling women about the internal genetic characteristics of this man she is courting. A man who looks different in appearance from a woman will have a more divergent immune system from her (specifically, that of the Major Histocompatibility Complex or “MHC”) than a man who looks like her.
This MHC is crucial for human health and function. Therefore, when we are fertile we instinctually choose men who will ensure the strongest immune system and best future survival for our babies.
After ovulation, once our estrogen levels decline, ladies quickly switch to preferring to be around men who are coalitional, meaning not as dominant. These are the men who enjoy functioning in a larger social group and are less competitive than the dominant male.
Additionally, at this time we prefer men who are genetically “more like us,” with similar facial resemblance and similar immune MHC genes.
By coding this cycle into our female DNA, nature seems to encourage us to seek out related male kin (non-competitors) as part of our support network while our bodies prepare for potential pregnancy, but then compels us toward the more genetically powerful dominant males during ovulation and fertility.
The evolutionary problem of the pill is that it disrupts this selection cycle.
Women on hormonal contraceptives do not go through the normal cycling patterns with ovulation which would lead them to choose certain immune-superior, genetically diverse (from them) males for mating, versus other males chosen for protection and nurturing.
Women on OC will enter into mating relationships with the similar “kin” men and then wonder what happened to their love when they stop taking the pill to conceive and become fertile.
Gals who choose their marriage partners while taking the pill report less sexual and relationship satisfaction long term and are more often the person to leave the relationship when it starts to fail a few years later.
One of the most prescribed medications of our time “tells” a woman that she wants one kind of man (the coalitional male), yet when she is ready to start a family, her body instinctually realizes that he may not be the best choice to meet her biological “need” to produce the healthiest offspring. Both partners are then left in shock at their somewhat sudden disconnect.
We are just now looking at what happens to the reproductive success and children from pairings of MHC similar parents, such as those that occur while the woman is on the pill.
The time it takes to conceive is greater in couples with MHC similarities. This genetic closeness appears to cause more hurdles for fertility in these couples.
It also appears that miscarriage rates may be higher for these pregnancies once they are conceived.
And evidence is growing that low birth weight of babies occurs more commonly with parental MHC similarity. It is very likely that the next decade will prove out the lack of wisdom in stopping pregnancy by treating women with a systemically (body-wide) active hormone such as the pill.
In providing you with this science, I am not telling you whether to use the pill or not. Surely, it has provided sexual equality for women unlike any other factor in our lifetime. But I hope you will weigh this data into your personal and marital decision making.
More information and perhaps a hormonal birth control hiatus during a couple’s engagement may help many of us look more fully at the partners we choose for long-term pair-bonds.
The pill may be impacting our society and our health in ways we don’t understand. Preterm delivery rates are on the rise in the U.S., which is worrisome because of the impact on childhood development, especially the potential increase in learning disabilities and brain development disorders such as ADHD and autism associated with preterm babies.
There is sufficient evidence to warrant a large national clinical study to evaluate mate immune complex (MHC) similarity for women using hormonal contraceptives and their partners, and any resulting early childhood development differences (including preterm labor) in their offspring.
Gori and colleagues confirmed numerous studies on this topic, showing again that women on the pill had decreased attraction to men with masculine features (as the markers of high genetic quality) than did women not taking the pill.
They suggest “Given the centrality of relationship satisfaction and offspring quality in (the) women and mothers, drug companies marketing hormonal contraceptives should (complete) large scale clinical trials investigating the behavioral and psychological side effects of pill use on mate choice and offspring health.”
Hell yes! Think of the numbers of couples and families impacted.
We need to better understand the impact of hormonal contraceptives on us as individuals and as a species.
Available October 5
Internships and graduate school can make or break a woman’s life and career. But poorly structured training programs can dramatically interfere with a woman’s romantic, sexual and life goals. Women in these settings can end up without partners or their fertility (after age 35) as a fact not as a lifestyle choice.
Over half of women who use hormonal contraceptives do so in their mate selection years, between 16 to 34 years of age. But the pill can change how a woman “sees” the world and interfere with our biologic and instinctual ability to choose the man with the best genes for our future children.
After over a year and a half of research and writing, my first book is finally almost here! With my book I want to make the science of sex more accessible. Sex impacts every person’s life. Most of us shift between feeling confident and content with our sexual selves to feeling naive and flawed. But we commonly ask these same questions about human sexuality.