I am Neuroscience PhD, a humanist, skeptic, feminist, avid reader, science enthusiast, woolly-liberal über-nerd, and, as of October 2015, father to the Lykketroll.

I moved from England to Norway in January 2012 and live in Lørenskog with my wife, the Lykketroll, and our two aging rescue cats, Socrates and Schrödinger. 

I am on paternity leave from the 4th of July to the 18th of November. 

The job I am on leave from is as an  Associate Professor and Head of Studies at the Oslo and Akershus University College of Applied Sciences. My background is in child neurodevelopment (my PhD looked into the relationship between fatty acids like omega-3 and cognitive development in young children) but I now work on a hodge-podge of things roughly within the field of Universal Design of ICT 50% of the time, the other 50% of my time I am Head of the 'General' Studies (Allmenn in Norwegian) Unit, which is comprised of around 24 academics within a range of fields, including mathematics, physics, Norwegian, and technology and leadership.

In between working and doing the usual dad things,  I like hiking and running in the beautiful Norwegian outdoors, cooking and playing video games. 

If I believed in souls I would say that mine was born in Norway. 

I plan to sleep when I'm dead.

Penis length, virginities and paraphilias: Answering some questions 14-year-olds have about sex

This post follows my previous one on the gender word-association game that the confirmants did as part of the love and sexuality module of their humanist confirmation course.

The second exercise I wanted to write about threw up even more interesting questions than the word-association game, only these questions came directly from the confirmants. After practising putting a condom on a banana (and, for fun, a pair of lemons and a pineapple), the confirmants were asked to anonymously write a question about sex or sexuality on a post–it note, which would then be collected and answered by the course leader for the class to hear. Those who didn’t have a question were free to write about what they did that weekend or just doodle.

I have picked the three of the submitted questions that piqued my interest the most to try and look into the answers in a little more detail. One of the most interesting things about writing and researching the answers is trying to figure out exactly where to look. When it comes to matters of sex and sexuality, good scientifically/morally sound advice can be hard to sift from bad, biased or in some cases actively harmful information.

First, I did what any 14-year-old with a question would do, which was to Google it and see what answer came up first. Next, I tried to find some reliable scientific literature to see what that had to say. To be clear, for ease I am using Google UK and looking at articles in English. It would, of course, be good to know what these kids would find on Norwegian sites, but, as interesting as it would be, I don't have the patience to make this a bilingual post – maybe some other time.

How long is the average penis? 

First hit on Google: Netdoctor.co.uk. The first answer offered in the article is that an average erect penis is 16.5 cm (6.5 in) long, but a little later in the article this figure is revised down to 14.9 cm (5.88 in). No reference is given for either figure.

In terms of reliable, scientific research, the best I could come up with (after an admittedly pretty quick search) was a 2007 paper by Wiley and Eardley looking at small penis syndrome. The researchers aggregated the evidence from 15 studies that had looked at various measures of penis size, including flaccid and erect length, girth and stretched length (see table from the study below). From the nine studies that looked at erect penis length (a total sample size of 7763 men), the mean length was 14.8 cm (5.83 in), which is not far off the second figure quoted on the Netdoctor page.

Table 1 - A summary of reports of measurements of penile size from Wiley and Eardley (2007)

Is it normal to have sex as a 13–15 year old?

First hit on Google: The Wikipedia page on Virginity. The first clear statistic quoted comes from a 2001 UNICEF report on births to teenage mothers in developed nations: ‘In Australia, the United Kingdom and the United States, approximately 25% of 15 year olds and 50% of 17 year olds have had sex.’ Interestingly, the same report found that, of the 30 countries investigated, the USA, despite the Christianity and apparent sexual conservatism, had the highest percentage of women who had a child in their teens (22%). New Zealand was next highest at 14%, with Norway at 5% and the UK at 13%.

The table on the Wikipedia page on virginity shows statistics for the prevalence of sexually experienced 15-year-olds based on self-reports, with reference to a 2008 study by Goddeau and colleagues that looked at contraception use in 15-year-olds. The table doesn’t show stats for Norway, but shows that just over a third of 15-year-olds (34.9 for boys and 39.9 for girls) in England have reported to have had sex. The figures actually come from the 2002 World Health Organization Health Behaviour in School-aged Children Study, which indexed a variety of health and quality-of-life measures in children and young adults.

I’ve posted the chart from the report for percentage of 15-year-olds who have had sex below. The differences in the statistics are striking. Whilst nearly 79% of boys from Greenland had had sex by 15, only 9% of Polish 15-year-olds had (for girls the difference was 71% versus 21% for the same two countries). The average for the 30 countries with data was 20.2% of boys and 28.1% for girls. Unfortunately, the report doesn’t include data for Norway.

Figure 3.42 - Young people who have had sexual intercourse, 15-year-olds (%) from WHO (2002)

The 2005 Durex Global Sex Survey of 317, 000 people, which claimed to be ‘the world’s largest ever survey on sexual attitudes and behaviour’, found that the international average age at which people first had sex was 17.3. Youngsters in Iceland lost their virginity earliest at 15.6 years of age, and Indians waited longest, until they were nearly 20. The average age in Norway was 16.5.

How many different types of 'philes' are there (for example dendrophilia)? 

The Fun World of Paraphilias (Dustin Glik, 2007)

I think the question is referring to ‘philias’, and more specifically to those related to sex. ‘Philia’ is one of the four ancient Greek words for love, usually translated to mean something akin to ‘friendship’. The suffix ‘–philia’ is used to denote a love or obsession with a particular thing or subject. The love does not have to have any sexual connotations, with philias ranging from ablutophilia (the love of washing) all the way to zoophilia (the love of animals, which may or may not be sexual).

Paraphilia is the specific term for the sexual arousal some people feel for some objects, situations or individuals, that lie outside what most people are normally stimulated by.

First hit on Google: The Wikipedia list of paraphilias, which refers to Anil Aggrawal’s 2009 book Forensic and Medico-legal Aspects of Sexual Crimes and Unusual Sexual Practices, which catalogued some 547 paraphilias in the scientific and lay literature. Dendrophile (also known as arborphilia or dendrophily), which was given as an example in the question asked by the confirmant, refers to a person who is sexually aroused by plants or trees.

The quote on the Wikipedia page is, I think, a good one, and goes some way towards highlighting the vast diversity of the human sexual experience: “Like allergies, sexual arousal may occur from anything under the sun, including the sun." The total of 547 may have to be taken with a pinch of salt, as Aggrawal himself acknowledges that not all of the philias he listed have been reliably verified.

Not all paraphilias are psychiatric disorders. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, a comprehensive compendium used by clinicians and psychologists to describe and categorise mental health disorders and psychiatric illness, distinguishes between paraphilias and paraphilic disorders.

According to the DSM-4 guidelines, a paraphilic disorder must meet two essential criteria: First, the essential features of a paraphilia are recurrent, intense sexually arousing fantasies, sexual urges or behaviours generally involving (1) nonhuman objects, (2) the suffering or humiliation of oneself or one’s partner, or (3) children or other non-consenting persons that occur over a period of at least 6 months (Criterion A). Second, a diagnosis is made if the behaviour, sexual urges, or fantasies cause clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning (Criterion B).

The DSM-IV lists the following paraphilias.

  • Exhibitionism - Expose one's genitals to an unsuspecting person
  • Fetishism - Non-sexual or non-living objects or part of a person's body
  • Frotteurism - Touching or rubbing against a non-consenting person
  • Gerontophilia - Sexual attraction to the elderly
  • Infantophilia - Sexual attraction to infants
  • Masochism - Wanting to be humiliated, beaten, bound, or otherwise made to suffer
  • Peadophilia - Sexual attraction to prepubescent children
  • Sadism - Acts in which the pain or humiliation of the victim is sexually exciting
  • Transvestite fetishism - Sexual attraction towards the clothing of the opposite gender
  • Voyeurism - Urge to observe an unsuspecting person who is naked, disrobing or engaging in sexual activities, or may not be sexual in nature at all

Very rare paraphilias are called Not Otherwise Specified (NOS)  and include:

  • Coprophilia - Sexual arousal from the smell, taste, or feel of faeces
  • Klismaphilia - Sexual arousal from enemas
  • Necrophilia - Sexual attraction to corpses
  • Partialism - Fetishes specifically involving non-sexual parts of the body
  • Telephone scatalogia - Sexual arousal from making obscene phone calls (usually at random to strangers)
  • Urophilia - Sexual arousal from sight or thought of urine
  • Zoophilia - Sexual attraction to  animals

Because of the diversity of paraphilias and the difficulty of categorising them as ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’, some clinicians have, rather controversially, suggested that they should be removed from the DSM and stopped being labelled as a mental disorder.

So, the answer to how many ‘philias’ there is a complicated one, with the answers ranging from around 18 to right up to 547.

Some more questions that I might come back to if and when I have the time:

  • · I have never seen porn. Is that weird? Should I watch it?
  • · Is it good to masturbate?
  • · What is the best way to shave your nether-regions?
  • · Should you use condoms when having oral sex?
  • · Is it normal to bleed the first time you have sex?
  • · How common are sex toys?
  • · How often do people have sex?
  • · Is masturbating with your fingers the same as sex?
  • · How long do men usually last?
  • · Do women masturbate as much as men?

Blurb for my 2014 Human-Etisk Forbund confirmation course

Flowers and MILFs: 14-year-olds play a gender word-association game