Mercer at the bat

Rick Mercer visits McMaster University, stabs a man in the neck with a pen and is attacked by a bat.

Happy Hallowe’en from Research Matters.

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What arouses women? It’...

Pippa Wysong | February 9, 2016

For many women Valentine’s Day might be about more than the chocolate. Perhaps the chocolate will be followed by a hug, and then, if the chemistry is there, a more intimate encounter. But what triggers arousal and desire in women? This is a topic Meredith Chivers at Queen’s University tackles in the Sexuality and Gender Lab (Sagelab). Her work explores gender and sexuality as it pertains to sexual attraction, desire and arousal, and sexual functioning. However, it’s her research focusing on women that has gained a fair amount of media attention in recent years. For one, she found that women respond to a wider range of sexual media than people had assumed. The adage that men prefer porn while women prefer romance novels isn’t true. But it’s complicated. “There are multiple components to what happens to women’s bodies and minds when they become sexually aroused,” she says. There are psychological components such as are you having positive feelings about the experience, are you distracted, how do you feel about your partner, and are you comfortable with yourself sexually? And then there is being sexually aroused versus feeling desire, details of which are still being sorted out. Are you sitting comfortably? In several of her studies, women participants were invited to sit in a comfortable reclining chair and told how to attach a vaginal and clitoral photoplethysmograph. This is a device that measures physical arousal. It sits in the vulva and uses light reflection to measure swelling of the clitoris and surrounding tissues. One study compared the physical responses of men and women to a mix of sexual and non-sexual emotionally laden short film clips. The men had a different version of a plethysmograph hooked up. The surprise in this study was that while men responded almost exclusively to what they said they preferred, heterosexual women were sexually aroused by stimuli that went beyond their preferences – including various combinations of male and/or female couples. Chivers cautions this does not mean women who identify as being straight aren’t straight. But the finding is an enigma that has been repeatedly found for sexual arousal and other responses. “Among women who are exclusively sexually attracted to men ... who say they are not turned on by women in the least, why is it they have these kinds of responses? What can that tell us about sexual desire and arousal more broadly?” she asks. Work in Chivers’ lab continues to explore this. The work has implications when it comes to solving problems with sexual desire and the fact up to 40 per cent of women report having trouble becoming sexually aroused. But lack of arousal isn’t necessarily a bad thing, says Chivers. “Everybody at some points in their life experiences difficulties with sexual response. That’s absolutely normal,” she says. One needs to consider whether it’s transient issue (such as unusual stress distracting you from wanting sex), or whether it’s something that’s consistently happening and is interfering with your ability to enjoy and express your sexuality. Those who are distressed by and want professional help for long-term issues represent just 10 per cent to 15 per cent of women. But there is desire to consider as well: arousal alone doesn’t necessarily translate into wanting sex. Various psychological, biologic, and cultural factors contribute to a woman’s ability to engage and enjoy sex. For those with difficulties, it’s important to learn about your own body and explore what feels good for you, says Chivers. Orgasm isn’t the be-all and end-all of enjoying sex, she says. Having a sensual backrub, cuddles and just feeling close to your lover might be enough to make Valentine’s a sweet time. That, and the chocolate.

Outdoor skating goes south

Wilfrid Laurier University staff |

In future winters, Canadians will have fewer opportunities to skate outdoors, according to a new study by Wilfrid Laurier University researchers. The number of days cold enough for outdoor skating in a typical Canadian winter could decrease by 34 per cent in Montreal and Toronto and by 20 per cent in Calgary over the course of this century, according to a newly published study in The Canadian Geographer. Laurier geography and environmental studies researchers Colin RobertsonRobert McLeman, and Haydn Lawrence reached their findings using data volunteered by hundreds of Canadians who maintain outdoor rinks in their backyards and neighbourhood parks. The researchers combined observations of daily skating conditions with climate-warming scenarios used by the Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) for years 2020 to 2090, and found a noticeable decline in the number of days when it is possible to skate. “The opportunity to build an outdoor rink won’t disappear entirely, but, especially in central Canada, the length of the skating season will shorten to the point where some winters it may not be worth the trouble of building a rink,” said Robertson, lead author of the study. The data for the study was obtained through RinkWatch, a citizen-science project that invites people from across North America who maintain outdoor skating rinks to identify the location of their rinks on an interactive website map, then report the daily “skateability” of their rinks throughout the winter. Approximately 11,000 skating condition observations were entered from 961 rinks across Canada and the United States for the two winters of data used for the study (2012-13 and 2013-14). The researchers compared skating conditions at rinks in 10 Canadian cities with temperature data from the nearest weather stations to calculate the relationship between local temperatures and the suitability of outdoor ice for skating. These calculations were in turn used to forecast the number of skating days under simulations of future daily average temperatures under the IPCC’s ‘A2’ greenhouse gas emissions scenario. The researchers found that the number of outdoor skating days in the future would vary considerably from one year to the next, and from one region of Canada to another, with the impacts being most noticeable in southern Ontario and southern Quebec. They also found that when average daily temperatures warm even slightly above –5 °C, the likelihood of outdoor skating is reduced, even though temperatures remain below freezing. “We risk having winters where it’s cold outside, but not cold enough to skate,” said McLeman, co-author of the report. “In the greater scheme of things, the disappearance of skating rinks from Canadians’ backyards is minor compared to the risks climate change poses to people living in water-scarce regions or low-lying coastal areas. It’s more a quality-of-life thing. The reality is, climate change is going to affect all of us, and this is just one way Canadians are going to notice it, right in their own backyards.” Watch the RinkWatch video   A version of this story was originally published by Wilfrid Laurier University. It has been edited for clarity, accuracy and brevity, and is republished here with permission

Marketing women’s fantasies

Eleanor Ty | February 8, 2016

Eleanor Ty is a professor in Wilfrid Laurier University's English and film studies department.  Ty offers Research Matters her take on Jane Austen and the endurance of romance literature, particularly romances that reach back in time. In “The 39 Steps to Being A Gentleman,” Rupert Uloth includes the following: #30 Has read Pride and Prejudice.  However tongue-in-cheek the list is (ex. # 34. Sandals? No. Never), that Austen’s novel is the only book mentioned suggests its importance in our cultural repertoire. Scholars have written many critical interpretations of Austen’s novels, but in popular culture, she is best known for romance and love.  Helen Fielding’s Bridget Jones’ Diary, about a thirty something single woman living in London looking for Mr. Right, is based on Austen’s Pride and Prejudice.  Costume dramas of Pride and Prejudice, most recently the BBC TV series by Andrew Davies featuring Colin Firth (1995) and Joe Wright’s 2005 film with Keira Knightley emphasize falling in love rather than politics, philosophy, or morals. Austen would have been disturbed to find that Pride and Prejudice (1813) has become the prototype for today’s mass marketed romances, but the novel does highlight two of the most often used tropes of contemporary romances: the Cinderella rags-to-riches story, and the taming of the beast by a beautiful woman. While women have made great strides in the last 200 years, it's fascinating how our fantasies have not. Judging by the sales of adult romances, which in 2013 had an annual total sales value of $1.08 billion, love, the search for true love and reading about love are alive and selling very well. In 2014, romance novels constituted 13 per cent of the share of adult fiction in hard and paper books, but a whopping 39 per cent of ebooks. The formula has changed and yet not changed since the days of the queen of Regency Romance, Georgette Heyer. Heyer’s romances, inspired by Austen, featured protagonists from the upper class: men were strong, authoritative, powerful and older than the young, beautiful, and innocent heroines. The romances attempted to give historically accurate depictions of the period’s social activities, such as dinners, plays, assemblies, carriage rides, fencing, hunting, riding, and boxing.  Often, they featured marriages of convenience and mistaken identities, but tended to be comedies of manners. Changing time and place Today’s historical romances are still set in England before the 1950s, but also in the Medieval period, in colonial American, the American West, and in Scotland.  Settings, clothes, weapons, cooking and travelling methods are historical, but attitudes tend to be contemporary.  As publishers realize readers' changing preferences, historical romances have become more explicitly sexual, and reflect more independent and strong-willed heroines, albeit anachronistically. Love and ultimately heterosexual marriage are still the end goals, but the verbal and physical interaction between the couple, and the means to get to the happily-ever-after end distinguish one romance and one author from another. One way present-day authors rewrite the stereotype of the helpless heroine is by making them proficient at wielding weapons. K.J. Jackson’s Stone Devil Duke begins with the heroine disguised as a hack coach driver who coerces the hero into helping her shoot and kill four thugs. In Glynnis Campbell’s Captive Heart, a warrior maid who is trained as a swordswoman kidnaps a lord in order to prevent her sister’s unwanted marriage.  Both of these women are initially not interested in courtship and marriage but rather wish to protect their family or clan. Other authors deal with contemporary women’s issues such as the after effects of violence and rape. Claire Delacroix’s Frost Maiden’s Kiss features a pregnant heroine who has been raped by an army of mercenaries in Medieval Scotland while Barbara Ankrum’s hero in Holt’s Gamble rescues the heroine from an abusive relationship with her saloon master in 19th century colonial America. In both these romances, the handsome hero has to care for a psychologically-wounded woman, reversing the nurse romances of the 1960s and 70s. A favourite plotline of historical romance today is the time travelling story popularized by Diana Gabaldon’s Outlander, about a nurse from the Second World War who is mysteriously transported to the Highlands of 1743. How she and her Scottish husband fight the ruling English soldiers at Culloden has been adapted into a TV series nominated for a Golden Globe recently. Similarly, Tanya Anne Crosby’s heroine in Once Upon a Highland Legend, who is studying Archeology and Anthropology, is searching for the Stone of Destiny and instead finds herself falling for a half-naked Pict in the 9th century. These time travelling women happily forego flushed toilets and penicillin to live with their Medieval or 18th century kilted heroes.  Ah, true love!

How rising temperatures affect ...

Sharon Oosthoek | February 4, 2016

Starting around the mid 1900s, Canada's northern and Arctic areas have seen some of the largest temperature increases in the world — up to 4 C in some cases. As climate change turns up the heat in the North, Indigenous populations, particularly Inuit, are grappling with significant health effects, says the University of Guelph's Sherilee Harper, an eco-health researcher who works with Indigenous communities. "A one degree temperature change can mean the difference between stable and unstable ice," says Harper. "That's important for people's ability to hunt for food, which affects their physical and mental health." Harper says while the consequences are significant, her research suggests communities have a built-in resilience that is too often ignored. "Climate change will have an impact everywhere," says Harper. "It's already affecting the North and we can learn a lot from Inuit wisdom as they adapt. Their ingenuity is amazing." Location, location, location Most Inuit communities in the Arctic are located along the coast on small, rocky outcrops of land surrounded by vast amounts of water. In the summer, people use boats as their main source of transportation. In the winter, when the water turns to ice it forms a highway that links often road-less communities together, while also shaping new hunting grounds. But the “in-between time” can be dangerous travelling. That's when water is a slushy combination of solid and liquid, and people can't trust its stability. Rising temperatures in the North mean these conditions are more common than ever before. Forced to stay put, Inuit are physically inactive and have less access to food, says Harper.  Grocery stores — where a turkey no bigger than a soccer ball can cost more than $200 — are few and far between. Those who do venture out when the ice is unstable do so at their own risk. The possibility of drowning or injury not only affects their own physical and mental health, but the mental health of those left at home to worry over their loved one's safety, says Harper. "There have always been safety concerns, " she says. "But in the last 20 years, changes in temperature have been bigger and more difficult to predict." Word of mouth In an effort to deal with this uncertainty, some Inuit communities have begun posting online photos and videos of unsafe parts of established routes. "They are building on their oral culture and increasing the availability of information," says Harper.  In fact, oral traditions that highlight information-sharing are a crucial part of climate change adaptation in the North, says Harper. That became clear while her team searched for solutions to repetitive problems that were identified during a study she conducted with Inuit in Nunatsiavut, Labrador. The team found heavy rainfall and snowmelt — a more common occurrence as temperatures rise — are followed by significant increases in visits to the local clinic for diarrhea. The connection is fairly simple, says Harper: "Heavy rainfall and snowmelt washes E. coli and other bacteria into the water. If people drink brook water after it rains, it can make them sick." The answer, developed by local high school students, was also simple: radio ads warning people not to drink brook water after heavy rain or snowmelt. While people in the community follow a longstanding tradition of drinking fresh brook water, students urged them to temporarily turn to treated tap water. "Inuit are natural adaptors," says Harper. "Sure climate change is a huge challenge, but they are resilient."

Canada’s vanishing ice ...

Sharon Oosthoek | February 1, 2016

In February 2008, Derek Mueller flew over the Ward Hunt Ice Shelf off the coast of Canada's Ellesmere Island, warily eyeing the enormous cracks along its edge. The Carleton University researcher studies the impact of climate change in frozen parts of the world and was visiting the area's ice shelves to gather data about the changes he and his team had observed via satellite. "When we saw the cracks, we thought, 'Wow, those are really big. It's a sign of things to come,'" recalls Mueller. read more »
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