This Week in Sex is a weekly summary of news and research related to sexual behavior, sexuality education, contraception, STIs, and more.
First Confirmed Case of Sexually Transmitted Ebola
Researchers have now confirmed that a man who survived Ebola transmitted the virus to his Liberian female partner back in March. However, scientists are urging people to stay calm: Sexual transmission does not appear to be common. Out of 17,000 survivors of the recent outbreak in West Africa, there have been fewer than 20 suspected cases of sexual transmission reported, as noted in the New England Journal of Medicine.
A couple had unprotected sex 155 days after a blood test declared the man free of the Ebola virus, as reported by Science Alert. When she became infected, sexual transmission was suspected—especially because her diagnosis came 30 days after the country was declared Ebola-free. Laboratory tests released this week confirmed that the virus in her blood was nearly identical genetically to the one her partner had.
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Ebola, like other viruses, is present in all bodily fluids, including blood, feces, vomit, sweat, tears, and urine, as well as semen and vaginal fluids. The virus is transmitted through direct contact with infected fluids. Risk of transmission begins when a person starts showing symptoms, and is highest when the patient is the sickest because the virus causes vomiting, diarrhea, and unexplained bleeding. Because so many who contract this virus die from it, less is known about ongoing transmission. Experts believed that the virus could live in sperm for up to 90 days after a person was declared cured, but this couple called that window into question. Research published in the New England Journal of Medicine now suggests that Ebola can live in sperm for up to nine months, though scientists note that it may not be infectious then.
Still, scientists recommend caution in interpreting the findings. In an opinion piece published with the new research, Armand Sprecher of Doctors Without Borders wrote: “If sexual transmission from survivors were an important means of disease propagation, we would have seen a number of cases by now. … Let us not forget that survivors have already endured a painful severe illness, and many emerge from it to find that friends and family members have died. If they are then treated as pariahs and threats, we add a terrible unkindness on top of their suffering. They should be treated with all the compassion we can muster. Marking them as an ongoing threat jeopardizes this goal.”
Survey Compares Europeans and Americans on Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors
DrEd.com, an online pharmacy and health advice site in the United Kingdom, surveyed 1,000 people in the United States and 11 countries in Europe and came up with some interesting results. It found, for example, that the people least likely to cheat on a spouse are American men. Those most likely: European women. Specifically, 49 percent of European men and 64 percent of European women said they had been unfaithful at least once, compared to 31 percent of American men and 41 percent of American women.
When it comes to preferred sexual positions, Europeans and Americans are surprisingly similar, with missionary, doggy style, and cowgirl getting between 20 and 30 percent of everyone’s votes. And our choices of contraception don’t vary all that much by continent either—both Americans and Europeans rely mostly on condoms and the pill. What is interesting, however, is that Americans are much more likely to use withdrawal as a method of birth control. Yep, 23 percent of American men and 17 percent of American women prefer “pulling out” to any other method of contraception, compared to just 11 percent of European men and 9 percent of European women.
One not surprising universal—when asked to name their favorite body part, both American and European men chose their penis. Women, however, did not appear to fixate on their genitals. European women like their stomachs, and American women favor their heads and faces.
Swedish TV Uses Cartoon Penises and Tampon Puppets to Destigmatize Sex
A Swedish television channel hopes to take some of the shame and confusion out of sexuality by creating short programs for young people. A program airing this week, for example, features tampons dressed up like pirates and queens to discuss menstruation. The tampon-puppets sing a song aimed at helping young girls feel less embarrassed about getting their periods. The lyrics:
It’s a thing that happens to girls sometimes
They don’t want to talk about it
Maybe they’re a bit ashamed
They don’t want us to know anything at all
But we know, that it, it’s something totally normal
We just need to be a little extra nice to them
Show a little patience
It’s just a little blood
The song is sung by Swedish YouTube Star Alex Hermansonn, who told a local news site: “I think it’s just fun and cool to talk about periods. The more knowledge and transparency [there is] the less of a stigma that many girls carry.”
But not everyone thinks the programming by Barnkanalen, a public service broadcaster, is so cool. In January, parents got upset about an episode featuring animated genitalia named Willie and Twinkle. On a Facebook page for a song featured in the episode, one commenter wrote, “What on earth? What the hell? Is this supposed to be educational?” Another quipped: “I’ve always wondered how much drugs are being done in the children’s entertainment industry.”
But supporters of the show defend the spots as being necessary for education. Caroline Ginner, who works in children’s programming for a Swedish broadcaster, said flippantly to a Swedish TV website: “Let’s keep the secret that children have vaginas and penises until they are 18. Probably they won’t notice anything in their pants before then, and once they do, then this disgusting thing will be hopefully covered in guilt and shame.”
The clips have gotten a lot of attention on YouTube, where more than six million viewers have met Willie and Twinkle.