Penny Thoughts

Month: January, 2014

Destiny’s Childless: The Pill’s Wanted and Unwanted Effects

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The pill has been letting women grab life by the balls instead of washing those of unwanted children for over 50 years. Roughly 100 million women worldwide take the pill and this has led to improved quality of living across the globe, huge reductions in numbers of deaths during childbirth and an understandably massive decrease in the number of unwanted pregnancies.

The pill acts by changing hormone levels to trick the body into thinking that it is already pregnant. This stops eggs being released from ovaries and leads to various gruesome sounding things like increasing your cervical mucus. The main aim is to make the womb a pretty inhospitable place for eggs.

So the pill has been having its way with women’s wombs for a long time and has played an important part in allowing women to have better educations and explore further into the working world. It’s unlikely that many female CEOs and even Destiny’s Child could have been such independent women if it weren’t for contraceptives like the pill.

However, along with these many female-empowering outcomes of the pill, there is evidence that the pill may be altering other choices that females make, including their choice of potential suitors and their sexual tendencies.

Normally, when women are not on the pill, they experience alterations in their mate preferences through their menstrual cycle. Research has shown that when women are ovulating, and therefore fertile, they show a strong preference for more masculine and dominant men. Whereas when women are not fertile they shift their preference to more feminine ‘good father’ type men who can look after them and provide them with resources, be it sandwiches or diamonds. So these changes in women’s instincts lead to the exploitation of men for either their potential to shower you with resources or to provide their fantastic genes.

This cycling has been put down as one of the key reasons why women tend to cheat more on their partners when ovulating. Women also tend to act in a more sexually promiscuous way when ovulating, so single men of the world, maybe it would be in your benefit to show some interest in the ladies’ menstrual cycles. However, these women are generally going to be seriously fertile, so kids… use protection.

Preference changes also occur in men in response to ovulating women. It has been shown that men are actually more attracted to women when they are ovulating, be it because the women are acting more confidently or that men are picking up on some kind of pheromone-type signal. So, what better way to test this idea than send a load of awkward scientists to a strip club? They basically looked at female stripper wages throughout their menstrual cycles and found that they earned on average $150 more when they were ovulating. This pretty ridiculous sounding fact is true; it’s been proven using numerous beloved statistical techniques. Therefore, I conclude that ovulation makes me (and all you other women) $150 sexier. So thank you to you ovulation for fuelling that questionably sexy dancing in clubs all over the world for many years to come.

All this normal cycling is altered when women are on the pill. Instead of having a change in mate preference, women on the pill are generally stuck in the ‘good father’ preference. As women don’t actually ovulate when on the pill, the switch in preference to dominant, sexy, genetically matched men does not occur or does to a much lesser extent.

The kinds of relationships that form when women are on the pill therefore tend to be with ‘good father’ type males. Questionnaires of these couples showed that they actually tended to be happier in their relationship and therefore they often lasted much longer than couples that met when the woman was not on the pill. However, a huge majority of these couples stated that they were disappointed with their sex lives and weren’t really very attracted to their partners.

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There are even further issues. Say, there is a lovely couple that got together when the girl was on the pill. They go through life fulfilling numerous dating and romantic clichés until finally he pops the question. What wonderful news! NO. Following this apparent joyous news the inevitable baby conversations are going to come up, and the decision to come off the pill commences. Problem 1: when women come off the pill they show a strong preference for the masculine, sexy male type. This is not the type of man our scenario husband is. This means that these kinds of couples have an increased chance of splitting up at this point when the woman comes off the pill. Problem 2: If the couple do stay together, questionnaires have shown that these couples are more dysfunctional, unhappy and have unfulfilling sex lives. So your options here are either, never have children, stay on the pill forever and continue with your lovely relationship, stop taking the pill and break up with partner or finally stay with your partner and grow into an old bitter couple that probably hate each other.

These problems aren’t even the end of it. As more women are on the pill than ever before, more woman are having to face these potential situations, and many are choosing to stay with their “good father” partner and having their children. These men are not as well matched genetically as those men they would naturally chose to make babies with and it has been suggested that this may lead to some detrimental health impacts in the future. Basically, those men that are better matched genetically have more genetic dissimilarities, particularly in term of genes involved in immunity. Therefore, if more women are having children with poor genetically matched men, there are likely going to be more children with worse immune systems than if women were picking men naturally without the pill’s interference. This could mean more allergy prone children and the potential increase in for example, cases of asthma. With the future for health looking already increasingly bleak with ever increasing waste lines and pint glasses, the addition of more sickly children is not ideal.

But please don’t worry, this is not the case for every woman and these negative health effects aren’t predicted to be severe. Also, if you did meet your partner while on the pill, don’t panic! This is not the case for everyone, you may be the lucky exception.

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Losing the Polar Bear Battle

Polar bears can be legally hunted in Canada for their fur, fangs and other body parts. This is the only country where this hunting is legal but the US put forward the proposal at this year’s CITES conference to ban this hunting altogether.

Polar bears currently fall into CITES appendix 1 which means legal hunting of these animals is allowed with strict monitoring and regulation. The proposal aimed to bump the polar bears up to appendix 2 which would make hunting of polar bears completely illegal.

This is not the first time that this proposal has been considered, but no success has been seen. There were hopes that the ban would get passed at the CITES conference, but this was not to be. 2/3 of the parties were needed to vote in favour of this proposal for it to be passed. Unfortunately, this was not even nearly reached. 38 voted in favour, but 42 voted against (48 abstained from the vote).

This result served for much disappointment for many nations including the US, Russia and the UK. However, with many important nations like China and Vietnam importing these products from Canada the number of opponents added up.

Canada was also strongly opposed to the proposal as the polar bear market provides the native Inuit people with a stable income. With roughly 600 polar bears being hunted and sold each year at a price of $5000 at auction, it is clear that they are a crucial income source for many Inuit people.

Depressing Future For Polar Bears

Polar bears have become a bit of a poster child for species affected by climate change. This is in part due to their popularity in modern culture and the visibly huge effects climate change is having on their habitat. So it does seem rather counter intuitive that there is legal hunting of this already vulnerable species.

The arctic habitat that these polar bears inhabit has decreased by nearly 20% since 1980 and this decrease is set to accelerate in the future. It is predicted that if we do not get a hold of our CO2 emissions by 2060, the ice caps will be committed to melting. That means no habitat for the polar bears at all.

Regulated Hunting

Terry Audla, president of the Inuit Tapiriit Kanatami, argued that their hunting methods are sustainable and that they “hunt for subsistence”. He explains that the polar bears are needed to make money and put food on the table. Cows, chickens and pigs etc are not available to them; they are working with what they have.

This point is fair, however, there is no doubt that the hunting is having detrimental effects on the polar bear populations. Although this hunting has not been a huge problem in the past, it is likely that the combined effect of climate change and hunting in the future will only drive the polar bear populations down further.

My concern is that as the populations inevitably fall and therefore prices of polar bear products increase in price, we will have a situation very similar to that currently seen in the rhino horn trade. I have already written a post relating to these issues so I won’t delve into the details but you can find it here.

I feel that this may be another case of the powers of the world continuing to act in a reactive manner rather than a proactive manner. Yes, right now, the effects of polar bear hunting aren’t having a hugely dramatic effect, but we will not be able to say the same in the near future. Will it then be too late?

If you have any opinions on this or the rhino post, please share.. I’d love to hear what other people’s thoughts are..

Threatened Species of the Week: The Cretan Orchid


You may have noticed that this week’s threatened species is very different to all others I have chosen; it is a plant. Generally when people think about threatened species the first images that come to mind are animals like tigers, pandas and rhinos. I imagine an incredibly small proportion of people would think of for example, a plant or a fungus.

Although an enormous number of non-animal species are at risk of extinction they receive a disproportionately small amount of media coverage and attention. So I thought that this would be a good platform on which to expose a few of these relatively ignored threatened species.

The Cretan orchid (Orchis sitiaca) is endemic to the small Greek island of Crete. The orchid mainly grows on slightly acidic to alkaline soils in the central and eastern mountains of the island.

This area over which they are found is already small and is becoming smaller with the increasing threats of habitat loss. The grasslands are no longer being grazed to maintain them and are therefore developing into more shrub/ forest land; a habitat unsuitable for the Cretan orchid.

Another threat to these orchids is tourism. Crete is one of the most popular Greek islands and with more people comes more picking and more trampling. Although people are encouraged not to pick these orchids, their beautiful appearance can commonly be too tempting for some.

Currently no figure has been estimated for the population size of the Cretan orchid, but due to its already small range and the threats facing it, the IUCN Red List criteria have classed the Cretan orchid as endangered. Without populations figures it cannot be determined whether the population is increasing or in decline; however it is incredibly likely that the latter is the case.

All orchids are protected under the Convention of International Trade of Endangered Species (CITES) and this means that certain actions are recommended to ensure their protection. These actions include habitat protection, fencing vulnerable sites, raising public awareness and monitoring and surveillance programmes.

These actions can be effective, but with already small and fragmented populations it can be extremely difficult and expensive to carry out; and usually the required funding is not available.

This species of orchid is predicted to suffer increased intensity of threats over the coming years. Although there are actions in place to protect the Cretan orchid and others like it, they are still at risk of extinction. So next time you see a pretty flower when you’re wandering about resist that temptation to pick it out of the ground, you never know how precious it could really be.