Brain structures that control sexual and aggressive behavior in mice are wired differently in females than in males, new research shows.
An existing drug may one day protect premenopausal women from life-altering infertility that commonly follows cancer treatments, according to a new study.
A protein called COUP-TFII determines whether a mouse embryo develops a male reproductive tract, according to new research. The discovery changes the long-standing belief that an embryo will automatically become female unless androgens, or male hormones, in the embryo make it male.
I was given a stack of at-home physical therapy techniques to try, and a list of what can only be described as medicinal sex toys to use in that venture. If that didn’t get me where I needed to be, off to therapy I would go to see if I could spank my inner moppet and deal with any psychological issues that might be complicating things.
From there, if I was in need, there was a light dose of Xanax to help relax my body when sex was attempted, and if I needed to tag in extra help, the vagina therapists at the hospital were standing by to treat the condition. And it’s exactly what it sounds like. If you pulled a hamstring or tore your rotator cuff, you’d use a physical therapist to get your muscles back into fighting shape.
So, that. Except with vaginas.
This all came to a very unfortunate head when the stress and guilt and frustration built up on a PTA-mom play date. Driving back from whatever the newest Twilight movie in theaters was, I sort of half-screamed at this car full of women I’d just met, “DID YOU GUYS KNOW THERE ARE PHYSICAL THERAPISTS FOR VAGINAS?”
Driving back from whatever the newest Twilight movie in theaters was, I sort of half-screamed at this car full of women I’d just met, “DID YOU GUYS KNOW THERE ARE PHYSICAL THERAPISTS FOR VAGINAS?”
Imagine my surprise when yeah, four of them totally knew there were vagina therapists because they had either been to see them, had dealt with vaginismus or a similar disorder in the past, or had known someone who had.
While I suppose I should have been delighted to find other people dealing with fritzing junk, what I did instead was continue screaming. “OKAY BUT WHY IS NO ONE TALKING ABOUT THIS!?”
When I asked my doctor why this wasn’t common knowledge, his frustration was immediate and palpable. He explained that even in the medical profession, any sort of female sexual disorders were wildly under-discussed, perpetually misunderstood, and generally chalked up to women being uptight and “needing to relax.” I got the distinct impression that he was even referring to other members of his own practice.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
He suggested that this is one more—huge—way our system is based upon a male model of health, and women’s issues are relegated to the side. A trend that exists in our current paradigm everywhere from how we deal with heart disease to any complaint of physical pain. And we know how our current administration and GOP would like to view pregnancy as a pre-existing condition. Hell, the way things are headed, I’m waiting for being in possession of a vagina to be considered a preexisting condition.
In general, we’re more willing to acknowledge male sexual health, while speaking about women’s bodies remains taboo. We regularly see ads for erectile dysfunction medication during prime time television, or “male enhancement” vitamin supplements available at your local health store. But outside of birth control (which everyone is happy to sell even though few insurances are willing to properly cover it), there’s barely a peep about vaginismus or vulvodynia or vaginitis or anything related to sexual dysfunction or sexual pleasure for anyone sans penis.
My now years-long quest for information and support led me to even sit down and write a novel. About vaginas.
There is still little consensus about female sexual dysfunction. There are those who think no such thing exists. There are others that think physical disorders such as vaginismus are real, but for the most part could be solved with a glass of wine and a husband doing the dishes to take some pressure off a wife. (Eyeroll.)
Some argue that women are merely trying to steal the Viagra spotlight of menfolk with their real struggles. Some believe this is all a play by Big Pharma to try and trick women into thinking their vaginas aren’t working so they can get pumped full of Vagagra. (Patent-pending.)
I’ve even seen folks say trying to push the medical community to focus on female sexual dysfunctions in the same way we look at male dysfunctions (i.e. in the form of a pill or scientific fix) is antifeminist, and not cognizant enough of our differences, and should therefore be stopped. Head scratching yet?
While I don’t have any official answers to shut down all those voices, I can say that after years of dealing with my own bits on parade, and many a fruitless Google search, and one or two outraged rants geared at pig-headed doctors, there are a few things I know for certain.
Treatment, does in fact, exist. For me, it took about a year of at-home therapy and work with a therapist on finding ways to let the little things go, and forgive my body for well, being human. And now, while this is something that’s just a part of my life, I’ve managed to find a way to not let my rebelling vagina call all the shots
If your sex life isn’t going the way you wish it would, you are 100 percent allowed to talk to a doctor about that. One who will listen to you and not dismiss things as “normal” because that word is subjective and ridiculous in most connotations.
If you are feeling pain during sex, I don’t care how many women can say, “Pssh, I went through that!” It doesn’t make it your fate forever and always, amen. Sure, a glass of wine might actually be a thing that helps you out. But it may also require more than that, and you deserve medical professionals and resources that will treat your vagina as importantly as any penis that should wander their way.
But more than anything, you are entitled to never, ever be told that a physical concern isn’t worth considering with care and empathy.
Because while hot baths are super, and I highly recommend them should they be your jam, I can safely say that after 36 years on this planet, they are not a conclusive treatment for OCD, vaginismus, arthritis, autoimmune diseases, migraines, or hypoglycemia. (All conditions I have been told to let Calgon take away.)
For my next trick, I would like to see detailed studies on how many men get the “hot bath” prescription for whatever ails them.
Malin wears her own uniform and Carrera sunglasses, $149, nordstrom.com
When you listen to Rydqvist talk about flying, it’s obvious that “pilot” would have been her childhood dream job. But didn’t see it as an option for herself.
“My mum is in aviation and when I was a kid, she’d take me on her flights. I got to sit in the cockpit a lot, so my interest in flying started really young, but I never knew I could be a pilot because no one suggested that. Guys play with airplanes and girls have dolls,” she said. “After high school you have to think about what you want to do with your life. I was thinking, ‘What do I like to do?’ I love to travel, to work with my hands. I could never sit in the same office all the time—I like to be outside, meeting people.” A friend gifted her a flying lesson for her 21st birthday, and that was it. She enrolled in the same flight school as Pettersson. Rydqvist found a job first; the two stayed in touch, with Rydqvist offering advice about landing a job, and eventually they became roommates.
She already stands out in her profession, and she’s not afraid to do the same when it comes to personal style. “When I’m off, I really like to express my own style,” Rydqvist said, adding that she loves the classic pilot’s uniform’s crisp look. “I like to dress like a woman; I love to wear high heels. When I’m at work I have to wear the tie, so I like the contrast.”
From left to right: Maria wears Reiss jacket, $375, reiss.com; Day Birger et Mikkelsen t-shirt, Reiss pants, $425, reiss.com; Carrera sunglasses, $149, nordstrom.com; Malin wears Staud top, $90, staud.com, Staud pants, $100, staud.com, Carrera sunglasses, $179, nordstrom.com; Maria wears Longchamp dress, Carrrera sunglasses, $159, nordstrom.com
Standing out from the crowd attracts attention—good and bad.
Chatting with the trio and seeing how confident and self-assured they are, it’s somewhat of a shock to learn the types of comments they’ve overheard.
“Have you ever opened the cockpit door and heard, ‘Oh, thank god we landed safely—we had a woman flying’?” Fagerström asked the group. “If you go to the bathroom in the middle of the flight, a passenger sitting in the front will say, ‘How old are you? Are you able to fly?’ I don’t think they mean anything bad, but I don’t think males get the same kind of comments. It’s a bit exhausting always have to prove you can do a good job.”
“I felt the need to prove myself in school, but the longer you’re in it…I don’t feel that way anymore,” Rydqvist chimed in. “I do my job, I do it well, and I know that. We land the airplane safely, and then people can think whatever they want to think.”
If passengers sometimes have something to say, flight crews and captains have never been dismissive when they see the women coming aboard.
“I don’t feel like I’ve been treated differently from my male colleagues, that’s important to point out,” Fagerström said. “It’s positive, like, ‘Oh, I’m flying with a girl today!’ Never anything negative, and there shouldn’t be—we’re all operating under the same standards.”
“It doesn’t matter if you’re a man or a woman, you’re doing the same thing. We don’t have to pretend to be a man to do the job: We’re good as women,” Rydqvist added. Compared to other jobs where natural aptitude or physical abilities can make a major difference, piloting relies heavily on the fundamentals you can only get through hard work. “It’s one of the few jobs where you really have to study. You have to do the same job as everybody.”
“You can’t cheat your way into being a pilot,” Fagerström said. “You have to go through the same processes.”
Styled by Isabel Dupre, Makeup by Euridice Martin, Hair by Mark Williamson.
Female first-year students earn a higher grade when paired with at least one other female for group projects in introductory college engineering classes, according to new research by a Wake Forest University professor.
Those students also are more likely to declare an engineering major at the end of their first year — another step toward the national goal of getting more women to pursue careers in STEM (science, technology, engineering and math).
“When you’re working on a project with people who are more like you, it makes you feel comfortable,” said Amanda Griffith, an associate professor of economics who specializes in challenges facing women in STEM programs. “That connection can be powerful and could point to something about similar learning processes.”
Griffith and her research partner, Joyce Main of Purdue University, presented their findings June 4 at Cornell University. The research is funded by a National Science Foundation grant.
For “There Is No ‘I’ in Team: Peer Effects in Engineering,” Griffith and Main looked at a first-year engineering course at a selective university in the Midwest. Class demographics were typical of a selective engineering program, Griffith said: few female and minority students, with a high number of international students. Across the board, students had high test scores entering the program.
In this “flipped” classroom setting, students prepared for class by watching lectures and completing assigned reading. During class, they worked in randomly selected groups of four to create a design, such as a toy for use in preschool classrooms.
“They have to work as a team in order to do that,” Griffith explained. “It creates a lot of interaction between students that are randomly put together. Because the classroom is flipped, we actually know the interaction is happening.”
When female students worked with at least one other female in their group, their course grade was higher than those without female peers in their group. Female students with peers in their group also were slightly more likely to declare an engineering major at the end of their first year.
“We definitely see benefits for women not being alone in this type of setting,” Griffith said. “What’s going on here could be happening in other engineering settings like this, both in and out of the classroom.”
The next step is to see if the effect carries over or compounds during the second course in the engineering sequence, where students are reassigned to project groups. Griffith and Main also want to see if working with same-gender peers influences whether women graduate with an engineering degree and pursue careers in engineering.
Griffith and Main received the NSF grant, totaling $247,412, in August 2015. They are using a mixed-methods approach to analyze data from a college of engineering in the Midwest to see how peers and role models affect women and under-represented minorities in engineering. The aim is to provide information that can help universities retain more women and minorities in STEM disciplines.
In previous research, Griffith has reported that:
- Students earn higher grades in courses taught by same-gender instructors in fields traditionally dominated by the opposite gender. (“Faculty Gender in the College Classroom: Does It Matter for Achievement and Major Choice?” in Southern Economic Journal.)
- The presence of same-gender graduate student role models in the classroom inspires female students to continue with STEM majors. (“Persistence of women and minorities in STEM field majors: Is it the school that matters?” in Economics of Education Review.)
Materials provided by Wake Forest University. Original written by Alicia Roberts. Note: Content may be edited for style and length.
The sex of animals frequently has an effect in biomedical research and therefore should be considered in the study of science, report scientists from the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute and the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium. In the largest study of its kind, researchers found that the differences between male and female mice had an effect that could impact research results in more than half of their studies.
The study, published today (26 June) in Nature Communications, quantified the differences between males and females — known as sexual dimorphism. The results have implications for the design of future animal studies which underpin research into treatments for human diseases.
Historically, a woman has been thought of as a small man in medicine and biomedical research. Even today, medical practice is less evidence-based for women than for men due to a bias towards the study of males in biomedical research.
Sex influences the prevalence, course and severity of the majority of common diseases and disorders, including cardiovascular diseases, autoimmune diseases and asthma. In spite of this, the usual approach in biomedical research is to ignore sex or to analyse only one sex and assume the results apply to the other sex.
In this new study, researchers have quantified the difference between male and female mice, looking across multiple experiments and institutes. In the largest study of its kind, scientists analysed up to 234 physical characteristics of more than 50,000 mice.
The team found that in the standard group of mice — the control mice — their sex had an impact on 56.6 per cent of quantitative traits, such as bone mass, and on 9.9 per cent of qualitative traits, including whether the shape of the head was normal or abnormal. In mice that had a gene switched off — the mutant mice — their sex modified the effect of the mutation in 13.3 per cent of qualitative traits and up to 17.7 per cent of quantitative traits.
Dr Natasha Karp, lead author who carried out the research at the Wellcome Trust Sanger Institute, and now works in the IMED Biotech Unit at AstraZeneca, said: “This was a scientific blindspot that we really thought needed exploration. A person’s sex has a significant impact on the course and severity of many common diseases, and the consequential side effects of treatments — which are being missed. Now we have a quantitative handle on how much sexual dimorphism has an impact in biomedical research. In the movement towards precision medicine, we not only have to account for genetic differences between people when we consider disease, but also their sex.”
In the study, scientists analysed 14,250 control mice and 40,192 mutant mice from 10 centres that are part of the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium (IMPC). At each institution, scientists studied up to 234 physical characteristics of the mice, including body composition, metabolic profile, blood components, behavioural traits and whole body characterisation — whether the head shape, coat, paws and other areas of their bodies were normal or abnormal.
In the first half of the study, scientists studied the differences between the physical traits of control male and female mice to see if their sex had an effect.
In the second part of the study, scientists then looked at how the sex of a mouse impacted on the effect of a genetic modification. For example, researchers switched off a gene and assessed whether any differences in the resulting trait depended on the sex of the mice.
Professor Judith Mank, an author of the study from University College London, said: “This study illustrates how often sex differences occur in traits that we would otherwise assume to be the same in males and females. More importantly, the fact that a mouse’s sex influenced the effects of genetic modification indicates that males and females differ right down to the underlying genetics behind many traits. This means that only studying males paints half the picture.”
This study presents implications for the design of future animal studies and clinical trials. It has been more than twenty years since it became a requirement that women were included within clinical trials in the US*. Whilst more women are taking part in clinical trials, increasing from 9 per cent in 1970 to 41 per cent 2006, women are still under-represented.
The bias is even stronger in the earlier stages of biomedical research. A review of international animal research between 2011 and 2012 found that 22 per cent of studies did not state the sex of the animals, and of those that did, 80 per cent of studies used solely males and only 3 per cent included both males and females.
Professor Steve Brown, an author of the study who is Director of the MRC Harwell Institute and Chair of the International Mouse Phenotyping Consortium Steering Committee, said: “It is likely that important scientific information is missed by not investigating more thoroughly how males and females differ in biomedical research. Rather than extrapolate the results to account for the opposite sex, these results suggest designing experiments to include both sexes in the study of disease. This study is a major step to highlighting the impact of sex differences in research and will help in accounting for those differences in the future of biomedicine.”
Ten years ago Sarah Thomas was feeling stuck. She was officiating football games for a local high school and didn’t see where her career was going next—there were no female referees in the pro leagues. “They said they would never hire a woman for a junior college,” she recounts to ELLE.com. “So I thought, ‘Oh, well. I need to be home with my kids and be around them.'” But one game changed all that. It was a championship game and NFL scout Joe Haynes happened to be there. “He recognized something I did on the field and he got me plugged in with [retired referee] Gerald Austin,” Thomas says. “I went to Division 1 and it changed my career.”
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Several years–and a lot of hard work–later, Thomas became the first female official for the NFL. Her big game debut, at a match-up between the Kansas City Chiefs and the Houston Texans in September of 2015, marked a historical moment in American sports history and set the stage for Thomas, who spoke with us as part of her participation in Activia’s “It Starts Inside” program, to break down gender barriers in the sports world.
The football first is major, but if you ask Thomas, who was raised in Pascagoula, Mississippi and grew up playing basketball and softball, there hadn’t been much sexism to overcome. Sure, the NFL had to figure out what uniform she would wear since they’d only made them for male officials. And Thomas has to keep her hair covered with a hat and moderate the amount of makeup she wears. But when it comes to her role at the NFL, she’s never felt any resistance.
“I was raised with brothers,” Thomas says. “I played in a men’s basketball league. I have never allowed my gender to be a crutch or a reason for people to act a certain way. If they have a feeling towards me, that’s their issue. It’s not mine.”
While Thomas never imagined herself as a football official when she was growing up, she now recognizes that she has always had a lot of the essential characteristics of the career.
“This [role] is definitely in tune with who I am,” she says. “You have to be able to take constructive criticism. You have to have an air of confidence–a swagger–but not any cockiness. You need a sixth sense. You can’t take things personally. That’s all a reflection of my upbringing and my years of playing sports.”
As an official, Thomas spends a lot of time studying and learning. She watches and re-watches plays to continue to improve herself, and she’s been fortunate to have a strong mentor in Austin. While she sets goals (say, officiating the Super Bowl) the main one is to be the best she can be. “Now it’s about the longevity of this career,” she notes. “Staying here and being great at it.”
The demands of her job require she stays in peak physical condition (watch a game and pay attention to how much sideline running refs do), and Thomas makes an effort to work out and eat right. “It all goes hand in hand,” she says of her physical wellness and professional success. “If I wasn’t physically fit, I wouldn’t be able to perform at a high capacity; if I wasn’t able to handle the stress and compartmentalize, I would not be able to do this job.” Her workout routine, which consists of at least four 30-minute high-intensity interval training (HIIT) sessions a week made up of cardio and toning, is just the start: She also reads and talks to her mother to manage stress (“I think you just truly should not let the negative consume you—make a choice to filter whatever stress you can out of your life”) and tries to eat a balanced diet that kicks off with Activia yogurt in the morning.
Although Thomas is still the only female official in the NFL, several other women are following in her path. “What I have learned the most from this job is that you better do something because you love it,” she says. “Don’t set out for the recognition. If you work hard the recognition will come. You need to believe in yourself.”
Earlier this month, 600 women invaded Brooklyn wearing millennial pink shirts and Catbird stacked rings. But they weren’t coming for avocado toast and unicorn lattes—they were there for Create & Cultivate, a conference that fosters female leadership in business, tech, and the creative arts.
With speakers like Gloria Steinem and our own Nikki Ogunnaike, the event is part of a C & C tour that’s hit Atlanta, Los Angeles, Chicago, Austin, and soon, Maui. (Nice, right?) The organization has even hit spinoff status, launching their first list—called Create & Cultivate 100—of female role models, and recording their advice for internet consumption.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Who made this happen? Jaclyn Johnson, a 30-something woman who turned her First Big Fail—a digital job gone wrong—into a Next Big Thing. We spoke with the California resident about what she’s learned, who she’s watching, and (yep) exactly how much money she makes.
Thousands of women attend Create + Cultivate conferences. What’s the most common career question they ask?
It’s different in every city, but the universal theme that keeps popping up is “When do I quit my fulltime job? When do I ‘out’ myself as an entrepreneur?”
Well, I’ve found that women won’t say “I’m an entrepreneur” or “I’m a business owner” until they’re successful, whereas most guys don’t have that problem. Women, they want to build the company, finance the company, run the company, and then maybe they’ll give themselves the credit. We need to work on that.
You started C & C before Trump became president. Has your mission changed since the last election?
Coming off the Women’s March and the election, there’s a lot of politically focused conversations about being a woman in the workplace. We want to tackle that and want to talk about that at the conferences, because it seems like the most pressing thing for us. But also, for women, there’s a lot of interest on maternity leave and healthcare.
There must be a lot of healthcare talk right now.
Some of our attendees have small businesses or work for small businesses. How do they tackle healthcare, parental leave, and things like that at a small company? Nobody’s talking about it. Everyone assumes, “Okay, you have a job, then you have healthcare.” What about people with a million side hustles? Employees, freelancers, bosses, right now, everybody has reached a tipping point where we need help. And that can’t happen until we talk about it.
Advertisement – Continue Reading Below
Who’s been the most useful speaker you’ve heard?
The founder of Shabby Chic in Dallas spoke about going bankrupt. That’s powerful. Women feel like they can relate to that. Raising $150 million is impressive, absolutely. But struggling, going bankrupt, and starting over, that’s another level of inspiring. And it plays into my story a lot.
Oh sure. I worked at CitySearch in New York. I was transferred to LA. I got laid off within 3 months. It was the worst. I had left my home, where I was the career girl. I was blowing up and making money, and then boom… I was devastated. It took a chunk of my personal identity. But the more I shared what happened to me, the more inspired other people seemed to be, because I bounced back! And for so long, I was so embarrassed! I was ashamed!
So you encourage your panelists to talk about bad choices.
And bad business-partner breakups. Credit card debt. Nobody wants to talk about that. But when you start talking about it, the more it helps women everywhere, and therefore helps you.
Your panels have had Nicole Richie, Chelsea Handler, and Lauren Conrad on them. Were you one of those Insta-Girls with lots of famous friends before you started your company?
Not at all. You have to believe me. This is something I always tell people. When I first started out, I would cold-email people and ask if they’d speak. The first person I got was Garance Doré. I was like, “I’m a big fan, please come speak at our conference.” And she wrote back. 99% of my job is following up. And then those people have a good experience, and tell their friends. We got Rachel Zoe to speak, and then Rachel Zoe told Jessica Alba that she had to speak. I am not friends with Chelsea Handler, but everyone wants to put their voice out there, and we can give them a great platform.
If the recent Women’s March revealed anything, it’s that we have the power to stand up and demand change. Voices are meant to be heard, and it’s important to use them. Over the past century, there have been tons of amazing women who have dedicated their lives to supporting certain causes. Their work—whether through protests, social activism, or online campaigns—has made real change happen, ensuring that they leave the planet a better, more equal place. Here, ten women who fought for, and achieved, change.