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Why do men expire younger than women? Men are more violent, and tend to kill each other (even though chick fights are scarier), but statistically that does not account for the discrepancy in life spans. "They get what they deserve" is not scientifically verifiable. However, new research suggests the female advantage is biological, based on a basic difference in their cells.
Mitochondria are intra-cellular structures that turn sugar into a chemical that is the universal fuel for all a living thing does. A billion years ago, plant and animal cells annexed bacteria for their energy-generating ability, and mitochondria, which are shaped like bacteria, are their descendants. Because of this unusual history, mitochondria retain their own genes, and are not controlled by the DNA of the cell.
To prevent genetic conflict between mitochondria, in most species they come from only one parent, usually the mother. Men's mitochondria cannot evolve. No matter how spiffy a mutation a man's mitochondria might make, it dies there. It will not be passed along to another generation.
According to Dr. Madeleine Beekman, author of the study, this difference is not usually a problem for men. But there are a number of diseases, including cardiomyophathy and diabetes, that are due at least in part to faulty mitochondria, and women who inherit them are much less likely than men to be damaged by them. She speculates that greater vulnerability to these mutations might account for shorter average life spans. At the very least, it is time to look for evolutionary biological, rather that psychological or social, explanations.
If middle-aged gentlemen in your life tend to favor TV over long walks on the beach, it might not be a matter of laziness and failure of imagination. They could be in a heroic struggle with their mitochondria.
Or maybe not.
One intrepid young female artist has taken it upon herself to cast light into the dungeon of ignorance that is middle-age sex. "It's appalling and shocking to think that scientifically, the clitoris was only discovered in 1998," says Sophia Wallace. The problem is, you see, that "there's still such ignorance when it comes to the female body."
This comes as quite a shock to the tens of millions of women of our generation who have been quite on top of the clitoris for most of their lives, and the millions of us who have been worshipping at its shrine. Not to beat my own drum–no, actually, to beat my own drum–I devote tender attention to the biology of the clitoris in The Magic of Middle-Aged Women. If she reads it, Ms Wallace may be surprised to find that the physiology is more subtle than she has discovered.
She opines, "It is a curious dilemma to observe the paradox that on the one hand the female body is the primary metaphor for sexuality… Yet, the clitoris, the true female sexual organ, is virtually invisible." So very true. She may be surprised to know that for many women the center of sexuality is the brain, and that is completely invisible.
What is obviously the story here is that Ms Wallace herself has finally discovered HER clitoris, and, with the supreme egoism of youth, assumes that the world is in concert with her–though a few steps behind. She extends her (washed off) hand to us in her campaign for "cliteracy," involving street art and interactive installments.
One hopes that when Ms Wallace reaches middle age and finally experiences vaginal orgasms, she will look back on this campaign as a forgivable embarrassment. Now the rest of us can try to extend similar generosity to the Huffington Post, and other electronic rags that have chosen to broadcast this sophomoric bilge into our lives.
According to a new study by Dartmouth College, female politicians with more feminine features tend to win elections, while those with more masculine features tend to lose. This is independent of other characteristics that have always been thought bear on a candidate's success, such as her competence and attractiveness. The femininity was assessed by 300 participants in the study, who were shown pictures of Senate and gubernatorial candidates between 1998 and 2010.
A video accompanying the study showed the two women above, Judy Baar Topinka, who was defeated in her run for governor of Illinois, and Nikki Haley, who became governor of South Carolina.
What distinction did the authors see? "Larger eyes and rounded features convey femininity whereas lateral bone growth and prominent upper brows signal masculinity."
Larger eyes and rounded features are features of youth. With age, fat in the lips and cheeks, which provides roundness, drains away. Noses and ears lengthen, making eyes less prominent. The differences between male and female faces naturally diminishes.
Which means that, according to this study, the natural aging of a woman's face is a powerful factor against her in the eyes of voters.
THAT health and beauty are linked is not in doubt. But it comes as something of a surprise that who is perceived as beautiful depends not only on the health of the person in question but also on the average level of health in the place where she lives. This, though, is the conclusion of a study just published in Biology Letters by Urszula Marcinkowska of the University of Turku, in Finland, and her colleagues—for Ms Marcinkowska has found that men in healthy countries think women with the most feminine faces are the prettiest whilst those in unhealthy places prefer more masculine-looking ones.
Ms Marcinkowska came to this conclusion by showing nearly 2,000 men from 28 countries various versions of the same female faces, modified to look less or more feminine, and thus reflect the effects of different levels of oestrogen and testosterone. Oestrogen promotes features, such as large eyes and full lips, that are characteristically feminine. Testosterone promotes masculine features, such as wide faces and strong chins.
Previous studies have shown that women with feminine features are more fertile. A man’s preference for them is thus likely to enhance his reproductive success. Ms Marcinkowska speculates that testosterone-induced behavioural characteristics like dominance, which might be expected to correlate with masculine-looking faces even in women (they certainly do in men), help in the competition for resources needed to sustain children once they are born. But why that should be particularly important in an unhealthy country is unclear.As the chart shows, the correlation is remarkable—and statistical analysis shows it is unconnected with a country’s wealth or its ratio of men to women and thus the amount of choice available to men. The cause, though, is unclear.
In the 2012 movie Take This Waltz, there is a magical scene in a swimming pool shower room. Three women in their thirties are talking about their love and sex lives, their happiness and, especially, their discontents (the storyline centers on a married woman who has fallen, quiet unhappily, in love with another man; in this scene she does the listening). Across the room from them are three women perhaps 20 or 30 years older. All are naked, none the least bit self-conscious.
At length, one of the younger women says to her friends, "Sometimes I just want something new. New things are shiny." One of the older woman hears her and says, "New things get old."
Every review I read of the movie seized on this beautiful scene as the high point of the movie. The takes were somewhat different. I thought one reviewer missed the point. She said,
"Ms. Polley [the director] cuts from one set of naked bodies to the other, noting the contrasts of size, shape and firmness. It’s hard to miss the point — young flesh will age; old flesh was once young; time wins in the end."
Two others got it. One wrote: "The real beauty of Polley’s directing is its celebration of imperfection… [in the shower scene] No one is Brazilian-ed or, seemingly, surgically enhanced. No one is self-conscious. Amid all the film’s romance — even the unconventional kind — this turns out to be the most radical scene of all."
Another said: "The naked female body, young and old, firm and saggy, is displayed for us without provocation, and at length, to simply convey the waltz of growing old without shame."
What the reviewers did not comment on was the tone of the older woman–a black woman with a Caribbean accent–who gave the response. She was not sighing: "It is so sad, shiny things get old." She was simply explaining to the younger women something that they did not yet realize–and were better off knowing. While the younger women chattered, the older women were quieter, simply enjoying the pleasure of the shower.
The film features Michelle Williams, who is gorgeous in her muted, flustered struggle. Two comedians check their shtick at the door and perform beautifully: Seth Rogen as the husband who gets the sickening feeling that his wife is drifting away from him, and Sarah Silverman, who cannot help wondering if married life is all there is ("who am I shaving my legs for?").
Here is the shower scene. If you consider women's breasts and pubic hair X-rated, it is. Natural, titillation-free (though you would not know if from the remarks on the site), yet riveting, it is well worth a minute and a half of your day.
According to a statistical analysis conducted by one of the internet's largest porn sites, MILF porn is the third most popular category (among hundreds) in the entire country.
MILF, originally an acronyn for "mothers I'd love to fuck," has become a more general description of porn involving women considerably older than the young ladies who were almost universally favored in generations past.
Have gentlemen abandoned their time-honored preferences? No. The most popular category is "teen." But taste is widening, in a sense. Though the beauty of aging women is not celebrated, the idea of sex with aging women is.
The analysis breaks down site usage by states, and tastes are by no means uniform around our great country. In Delaware, Illinois, New Jersey, and North Carolina, MILF porn is the favorite. In Connecticut, the District of Columbia, Florida, Georgia, Louisiana, Missouri, Nebraska, New York, North Dakota, Ohio, Pennsylvania, South Carolina, South Dakota, Tennessee, Texas and West Virginia, it ranks in the top three. Other states are less enlightened.
The Republican ticket in the Presidential ticket of 2008 was certainly compromised by people's fears about Sarah Palin taking the reins of state; however, because of her oft-discussed MILF-hood, it must be assumed that it also gained some votes because of her.
I think of middle-age as the period of life that begins at the end of the mid-life crisis. This is not to deny the mid-life crisis, which is very real and occurs in one's middle years. But because my focus is the benefit of these years, I begin when the crisis has passed. (An analogy: one might think of the beginning of the Cenozoic era not as the time the dinosaurs were killed off, but rather slightly afterwards, when the mammals began to take over the planet. Putting a happy face on extinction.)
For most people (in many cultures, "developed" and undeveloped, around the world) the sense of happiness or well-being is high in youth and high late in life, but plunges in the middle, usually at about age 50. If charted over a lifetime, this phenomenon makes a "U" shape, high on the ends, low and flat (because it goes on for a number of years) in the center. It is during the low flat time that people often despair, feeling their lives have no meaning, detecting nothing to look forward go, and leading some to get tattoos, buy little red sports cars, or have affairs with maids or gardeners.
It has never been clear why this crisis occurs, especially since cultures around the world pose such different demands on people as they age. It can't be pinned down to children leaving home, or frustration at the stalling of professional ambition, and it seems immune to any kind of counseling.
A new scientific finding may help illustrate why. Researchers assembled observations of more than 500 chimpanzees and orangutans in zoos, sanctuaries, and research centers around the world, controlling for genetics, physiology, social pressures, and stress factors. What they found was quite amazing: When it comes to mid-life crisis, we are not alone. Apes have a similar U-shaped dip (or "lull in happiness") in the middle of their lives. Their life expectancy is roughly 50 years, and the dip is at about age 30.
This means that we should stop struggling to pin midlife disenchantment on our lots or on each other. As one scientist said, for fundamental biological reasons (though the exact mechanism is not known) a midlife crisis is "completely normal," and "apparently out of your control."
What is the practical value of this information? Perhaps those who have not yet reached it can think of it as they would a menstrual period: it's coming, it may well be unpleasant, during it the world will seem inhabited by oppressive clueless assholes who strip away all possibility of joy. But if you can take a longer view, you might see glimpses of life on the far side, when all will be back to normal. Or better.
It is difficult to quantify many benefits of middle age. But every now and again a statistic comes along that may make the seven million American women aged 45-64 (US Census numbers, not my definition of middle age) who live alone count their blessings. According to a recent study single men wash their bed sheets four times a year. (Single women wash them every two weeks.) Though this averages out to once every three months, you just know that there are periods of determination, perhaps following a New Year’s resolution, during which the frequency is nearly civilized–which means that the situation in the intervals that follow is truly crusty.