And all the vaginas are well above average

At Double X Science, Jenny Morber has an excellent piece about the wide range of diversity seen in human lady parts. "Are you normal? Yes. Are you average? No. Most likely," she writes. What follows is a fascinating tour of human biology, from the different lengths and colors of labia to the wide range of shapes exhibited by the inside of the vaginal canal, itself. Even better, all of this can change over the course of an individual woman's life, rendering "average" even more meaningless. Read the rest

Publicly funded birth control saves public money

A public investment of $235 million in helping the poorest women in America access birth control would save the public $1.32 billion, according to the Brookings Institution. Read the rest

Uterine fibroids, hair relaxers, and why some evidence is better than others

There's a story making the rounds right now suggesting that the use of hair relaxers—products that are used more often by African American women than women of other ethnicities—might cause uterine fibroids—a painful condition experienced more often by African American women than women of other ethnicities.

Nobody really knows why African American women seem to be more prone to uterine fibroids, and, on the surface at least, this connection seems like it might make sense. Relaxers and other products contain hormones and chemicals that act like hormones. So, maybe, those things are getting absorbed into the body and leading to the growth of fibroids.

Trouble is: That's just speculation. And the evidence used to back it up is pretty flimsy. The study this story is based on looks at nothing but broad correlations: African American women have more fibroids and African American women use more of these hair care products. That's a problem, because broad correlations can be really, really misleading.

At The Urban Scientist blog, Danielle Lee (a scientist who has experience with both fibroids and hair relaxers) talks about why the "evidence" being presented in this case isn't even close to the same thing as "proof".

Parabens and phthalates can do some funky things. (I don’t trust these chemicals.) They are problematic and should be evaluated for safety, especially by the US Food and Drug Administration. Parabens can be an estrogen mimic – but only slightly it seems. But it’s everywhere – not just in Black hair care products like shampoos and perms.

Read the rest

From the department of Horrible Sounding Ideas That May Actually Be Good Ideas

An acidic tampon? In my vagina? It's more likely to be a reasonable and healthy idea than you might think. (Also: If you aren't reading the Context and Variation blog, you're missing out on the best in lady parts science, and I pity you.) Read the rest

Birth control is safer than pregnancy: Day 1 at AAAS 2012

It's that time again. Maggie is back at the largest science convention in the Western Hemisphere for four days of wall-to-wall awesomeness. Each day, she'll tell you about some of the cool things she learned watching scientists from all over the world talk about their work. Check the bottom of each post to find links to earlier posts in this series!

Each year, the American Association for the Advancement of Science holds a conference. Scientists from every discipline you can think of attend. They come from all over the world bearing fascinating studies they're dying to talk about, and Power Point presentations they'd probably rather I didn't critique. The result: The worst part about this conference (besides the aforementioned poorly done Power Points) is trying to choose which session you want to see. There's often as many as a dozen occupying the same time slot. Usually, three or four of those will strike me as something I MUST find out more about.

Friday morning, I picked a session that I hoped would provide some background and context on issues you and I are already talking about. Birth control—and, specifically, who should have access to it—has become a major issue in the current presidential campaign. Along with that has come a lot of confusion and misinformation about how birth control works, how effective it is, and what we know about its potential side effects. My first session of the day: Fifty Years of the Pill: Risk Reduction and Discovery of Benefits Beyond Contraception. Read the rest