Twitter’s Resident Gynecologist and the Crusher of the Gender Binary

February 07, 2019

Dr. Jen Gunter photograph
Dr. Jen Gunter

Dr. Jen Gunter is an OB/GYN, pain medicine physician, and Twitter’s resident gynecologist. She blogs and also writes The Cycle, a column on the intersection sex, science, and society, for the New York Times.
One day she hopes to ask Gwyneth Paltrow for the physics equation that explains how a jade egg can be recharged with lunar energy.

Abby Hafer
Abby Hafer


Abby Hafer is an author, scientist, educator, and public speaker. Her scientific career includes a doctorate in zoology from Oxford University and teaching human anatomy and physiology at Curry College. She has recently broadened her scope to include crushing the gender binary using biology, and giving the same treatment to morality based on the supernatural.


This week on Point of Inquiry, Kavin Senapathy speaks to Jen Gunter and Abby Hafer (recorded during CSICon 2018). Jen chats about how she combats misinformation from Gwyneth Paltrow’s Goop and the settlement the company had to pay for fraudulent health claims linked to their magical Jade Eggs. She also points us to the best resources for accurate, evidence-based information on women’s reproductive health and birth control.

Abby Hafer at podium Freethought day 2018
Photo from California Freethought Day, by Ben Tuason.

Kavin and Abby recount their experiences at California Freethought Day, talk about the Tetrahymena thermophila microbe, and and how the Pulse nightclub mass shooting and various bathroom bills around the US led to her CSICon 2018 gender binary talk, which you can watch here.

If you’re in the Sacramento area check out the California Freethought Day happening Sunday, October 13, 2019.

California Freethought Day 2018 Crowd
Photo from California Freethought Day, by Ben Tuason.

New music heard on this episode

“The Time To Run (Finale)” by Dexter Britain

So they have to the medical claims off. The FDA does have very strict rules about what you can say works medically and which is how sort of the supplement and the wellness industry is allowed to get around. A lot of regulation is that they don’t actually make a claim. So it’s interesting to me that, you know, one of the paultre was interviewed on the BBC and she sort of retreated and said it was just all about their language and not about their product. But I still don’t know how you recharge Jadi Egg with Lenar Energy. 

Hi everyone. It’s me, Kavin Senapathy. Your point of inquiry cohosts. I hope all of my fellow Midwesterners got through the cold snap in one piece and that you got to all of the commentary on the frigid temperatures and global lamming, which did make for some entertaining late night TV. 

And it is pretty laughable, except for the fact that it’s so horrifying. Moving on, we’re back this week with more interviews that I recorded in Las Vegas. Derek Psychon. And the first is with Jen Gunter. Dr Jen Gunter is an obese Julyan and pain medicine physician, and she’s better known as Twitter’s resident gynecologist. That’s a pretty serious title. I love following her for her brilliant commentary, not just on medicine. So if you haven’t heard that Gwyneth Paltrow just inked a deal just in the last couple days with Netflix for a show, I am. I’m still getting over that news. But Dr. Guntur just, quote, tweeted that breaking news about Quittance do show on Netflix with some news about her own new show. That will be and I’m quoting Jenn Guntur here, a science based factual fun alternative. And she doesn’t indicate whether that show is going to be on Netflix or not. But whatever it is, I’m looking forward to it, because if Gwyneth has a show, then we really do need an alternative. Jen Guntur also blogs and writes The Cycle, which is a column on the intersection of sex, science and society for The New York Times. 

Hello, everyone. This is Kevin again, live from Psychon in Las Vegas with a guest that I’m so excited to have been able to see speak today. 

And me. And we even got a selfie. Dr. Jenn Guntur, thanks for being here today. Well, thank you for having me. 

John Guntur, of course, because people love to hear your talk about this for good reason. Talked about Gwyneth Paltrow and group, which we we can certainly touch on. So why don’t we start with that and then I’ll go to some other questions that I have. 

I mean, so how popular do you think goup really is and how much of an influence does she have on everyday people? 

It’s hard to know, obviously, specifics, because there are privately held company and they don’t release stuff. 

But if they are really worth as much as they say two hundred fifty million dollars, then obviously they’re selling a lot of product or they have a lot of trust. People have decided that they’re going to sell a lot of product. So, you know, I think that they’re clearly some type of viable business model. 

How much of that money, though, is being made from non medical or non wellness things? And how much is coming from the wellness division, which is what I’m interested in, is not, you know, so I don’t know if most of their money is coming from selling pashmina scarves, for example. And, you know, maybe some of the crazy wellness stories drive people to the sites, but what they ultimately buy are actually, you know, clothes or other things. So I don’t know. 

Yeah, maybe it’s more of a cultural influence than anything. 

But it’s if anything, it’s it’s alarming, but also entertaining. 

I heard that the it the FDA that that took issue with some of groups claims recently and then customers were then able to return certain products, including jade eggs. And then if so, how did that go? Did you see any interesting stories come out of that? 

Well, I know for a fact the Food and Drug Administration had concerns whether it was a public person, whether it was a person who lodged a complaint or whether they just heard the chatter. 

I don’t actually know how that started, but the pass the case on to a district attorney in California. And apparently you had to pay one hundred forty five thousand dollars settlement and take down some claims about the deejayed eggs, the courts egg and I think some type of spray that was supposed to treat depression or the name of that was. And so they had to take the medical claims off because the FDA does have very strict rules about what you can say works medically and which is how sort of the supplement and the wellness industry is allowed to get around. A lot of regulation is that they don’t actually make a claim. 

So it’s interesting to me that, you know, when it’s Paltrow was interviewed on the BBC and she sort of retreated and said it was just all about their language and not about their product. 

But I still don’t know how you recharge JDA Egg with Lenor Energy. 

I would love to know. Have you heard of this woman on Instagram and maybe others like her? 

I don’t know the name of the device, but it’s like a JD. I would pull limit and even attach a rope and actually hang lift weights with your vagina. 

Have you heard of this? And do we need to strengthen our vagina? And even if we don’t. Is this harmful? 

Sure. So some people have branded this fashionable kung fu, which doesn’t seem at all in any way related to food to me. So not that I’m a food expert, but it just doesn’t seem to be that it seems wholly unnecessary. 

Your pelvic floor doesn’t need to lift 20, 30 pounds. Certainly like any muscle, you can tear it. 

And we don’t know if lifting that kind of weight is something that’s of any value. 

It’s not as if you have to crack a walnut pelvic floor. Right. Right. So I think that people do things on Instagram for attention. 

And unfortunately, people translate that into being something, you know, valid medically. So I would say categorically, do not get any medical advice from Instagram. That’s that would be like all my top. 

Yeah. Yeah. So I can quote you on that. Don’t get medical advice from Instagram. Dr. Jenn Gunter. Yes. All right. Yeah. I’ve seen everything from surfboat surfboards to coconuts to bricks being lifted. 

There’s several people who actually do that now. So, you know, there’s always an offshoot, right? Yeah. So as a JDA, I’d want to be. 

Yeah. Oh, yeah. It’s just not you know, if you just use common sense extremes or obviously not needed, but your pelvic floor is not meant to lift anything. Right. So you think about strengthening your biceps, your arms shipment lift. So lifting makes sense. You know, when you think about your pelvic floor, it’s not designed to lift you. That’s not any point of those muscles. So why how that could be branded as healthy or natural is hard to comprehend, because that’s not what the muscle groups designed for, because it’s already holding up what it’s supposed to hold up. Yeah, it’s essentially it well, it’s it’s involved incontinence and. Ization of the pelvis and to also the pelvic floor of the muscles that contract when you have an orgasm. So certainly keeping them in shape can be beneficial. But, you know, simple legal exercises where you just do isometric contractions are enough. You don’t need to lift weights. I’m a gynecologist. I like to think that I like to represent pelvic floor wise and I do not lift any weights. OK, if that’s too much. 

No, that’s that’s good to know. That’s excellent. 

So speaking of continents, it seems to me at least as a as a young geshe mom with friends who are at the age where they’re having children or have had children a few years ago, we all joke now about like not being able to hold Arpey and needing to needing to use the bathroom all the time and leaking a little bit. Why is this happening to us? 

So there there’s be a lot of different reasons, but most commonly after childbirth, it is related to some weakening of the public for muscles and those can be strengthened with keyhole exercises. And many women doing those exercises can find that their symptoms improve significantly. There’s also an aging related component and there’s a huge genetic component. There’s women who can have 10 babies, Basili, a 10, 10 pound babies and never once like a drop of urine. And there’s women who can have and contents of nerve and pregnant. So there’s obviously a genetic component. But certainly doing if you have any incontinence, learning to strengthen your pelvic floor is definitely a very good thing. You just don’t need to lift a surfboard, right? 

You don’t need to lift a surfboard, you guys. But you can talk to your doctor about it, right? 

Absolutely. So your gynecologist should be able to help you. They should be able to give you information on pelvic floor exercises. Many women can do them just with a sheet. But some people, especially if they’ve had, you know, fairly some significant injury during childbirth, they may have difficulty learning how to recruit those muscles themselves. So working with pelvic floor physical therapist can be very helpful. Kind of like a nod to working with a trainer. Right? Like you’re learning how to to do your exercises correctly. Having somebody who’s an expert in it can be very helpful. And so a pelvic floor physical therapist is also someone to see. And then also there’s other causes of incontinence that can’t be fixed with pelvic floor exercises. So senior gynecologists also can be useful in trying to decide what kind of incontinence you have. 

I want to switch subjects a little bit. The PSI Moms blog covered this recently. 

There seems to be a big discrepancy between the the efficacy and safety of IUD and what people believe about IUD. 


Where does that come from? And. And. 

Should people be less worried about IUD in general? 

Well, you know, everybody has a different risk benefit ratio that they can tolerate. So I think that’s a really important thing to think about, like those people who’ll never get on an airplane because they’re terrified and there’s people who fly almost every day. So, you know, we have different risk benefit ratios. 

So IUD are probably the safest, most effective form of contraception and always a safe. You have to taken everything into consideration. It’s not just the actual safety of the device, but how effective it is. It prevents you from getting pregnant. Right. Because this maternal mortality and risks of pregnancy. 

And so I think that with a lot of scientific information, especially as it relates to women’s health, there are other forces involved. 

So we’re talking about either the sixth, the extreme right or not even the extreme right who are concerned, who have ideas that IUD or abortifacients, which they are not the mechanism of action. 

Action has nothing to do with preventing implantation of a fertilized egg. The other aspect is we have some of this extreme left who wants women to do only natural things because I’m not sure why. Because I guess dying in childbirth is is better. I don’t know. Stick it to Big Pharma. Yeah, I. Yeah, that’s exactly. How are you sticking it to Big Pharma. Bye bye. You know, having no control of your reproductive life. So so we have these forces that perhaps are more vocal now than they were. And it’s easy to scare people. Right. Fear is a big motivator, which is again, why this skeptic community is really here, because we kind of recognize that people are motivated by forces that are not, you know, not necessarily presenting accurate information. So I would say that, you know, you can find excellent evidence, evidence based medicine, about evidence based information about intrauterine devices from the American Congress. What would you weigh in from the World Health Organization? From Planned Parenthood? Those are really good, valid sources. The National Library of Medicine and even currently Health and Human Services. The last time I checked, you never know. But currently they have accurate information. 

So these are highly effective, very high degree of user satisfaction. 

And so when you look at two years into sort of using a method of birth control, if you chose an IUD, you’re more likely be using your method of birth control at two years than if you’ve chosen anything else. So so they’re very effective. They’re very safe. But obviously nothing is risk free. I mean, walking across the street isn’t risk free. 


And there are very true stories about people’s experiences with IUD that, you know, I certainly wouldn’t want to have, but but it is good to know that there’s there’s good information out there and we can kind of breathe a little when making these decisions instead of being so afraid. 

And I know I know what that’s like because fear brought me to the skeptics movement. But I could talk hours. Thanks so much for being here again. My pleasure. Thanks so much for having me. 

And we’ll get right to my next guests. I interviewed her at Psychon as well. Abby Hafer is an author, scientist, educator and public speaker. Her book, The Not So Intelligent Designer Why Evolution Explains the Human Body and Intelligent Design does not debunks intelligent design. Her scientific career includes a doctorate in zoology from Oxford University and teaching human anatomy and physiology at Curry College. She has recently broadened her scope to include crushing the gender binary using biology. 

I’m here live from Las Vegas at PSI Con with Dr. Abby Hafer. 

I had the opportunity to listen to her speak in Sacramento at Freethought today, last week, and she gave a delightful talk on intelligent design and politics and human anatomy. 

Why is evolution education endangered in this country and why do men’s testicles hang outside the body? Find out how these are related. And she certainly didn’t tell us how these are related. 

Did you sum it up for us in just a few minutes, actually, or take as much time as you want? Because I love listening to you talk about balls. 

Sure. Yeah. The basis for that talk actually occurred to me. Oh, probably a decade or so ago when I had kind of finally realized that the whole evolution versus creationism and intelligent design, that whole controversy is only a political controversy. 

It is, of course, not a scientific controversy. It’s all politically based. And when that was finally driven home to me, I’ve worked on political campaigns and I thought, well, no wonder we’re not succeeding. We’re treating this as though it were a scientific issue. So we do experiments and we publish our research and we show that all the evidence is in favor of evolution. But then we publish it in scientific journals and the journals are read by other scientists. And lots of people, including people who want to support our cause, don’t realize how much evidence for evolution there is. And that basically it completely buries creationism or intelligent design or anything else that people come up with. And most people don’t know it, including lots of people, again, who want to support us. And some I’ve heard people say, well, you know, why didn’t I know that? And I thought, that’s a very good question. Why don’t you know that? And I’m talking about people like engineers who are generally technically literate, but they have not taken biology courses. And most people, even those who want to support these cause, are not going to take a course in evolution just in order to be able to converse thoughtfully about it and maybe not even read a book about it. And that’s not their fault. They’re trying. They would like to help but don’t know what to do. They don’t have the words. And frankly, even a lot of scientists aren’t good at talking about it. So I thought, OK, I’ve worked on political campaigns. Political arguments are different. Political arguments are the kinds of things you can put on posters, basically. So political arguments have to be short. They have to be easy to understand and easy to repeat. And there can be lots of good information behind the slogans, but you’ve got to have your talking points. And so I just kind of gave myself the thought assignment of, well, what would a political argument for evolution even look like? I had no idea. But I just gave this self this to myself as an assignment. And so literally, inspiration hit me in the middle of an anatomy and physiology lecture. 

I was standing up at the board and I had the male reproductive system on the chalkboard. And I was drawing the testicles outside the abdomen as they are. 

And I asked the class, does anybody know why testicles hang outside the body? There’s usually somebody who knows. And sure enough, somebody raised their hand and said the correct thing, which is that basically the testicles have to stay cooler than the rest of the body. If they are going to be productive and produce viable sperm, so literally I was turning back towards the board to put this up and I thought, that’s really stupid. 

And I realized at that moment that I had my first terrific argument against intelligent design in the human body, because once I started talking about men’s testicles, people would pay attention. And I just knew I had it. I managed to, you know, complete the class and not let the students know that I had come up with this thing. But on the way home, I was busy composing my arguments as I was driving home in the car and e-mailing my friends and things like this. And I was sure that I had a winner with that. 

And so at that point, I decided to take this on the road and I decided that what I needed to do was talk about this. 

And again, following the rules that I had made for myself, political arguments must be short, easy to understand, easy to repeat. Use humor to puncture bad arguments. And so I came up with a talk that involves five body parts that even when they are working as well as they can possibly work, are still just bad. So I’m not talking about if we get sick or anything like that or when they are malfunctioning, but when they are working as well as they can work, it’s still just bad design. And an engineer could have done better if Galey specifications and a whiteboard. That was what I did. It was five bad body parts and a whole a little bit of explanation about what evolution is and what evolution is not. And a little bit about what a vestigial organ is. But basically, it was just five really badly designed body parts leading with testicles. And I made that into a talk. And again, I set myself a time limit limit. It couldn’t be more than half an hour long. 

And I took it on the road. And I have been giving that talk ever since. That is my unintelligent design talk. After that, I added. 

And I mean, I need to just interject here. You’re talking about this in a very matter of fact way. But I. I saw this talk alive. And I mean, I’m telling you guys, Dr. Hafey Hafer excuse me, had people just yelling balls in front of the Capitol building in Sacramento. 

There’s a crowd outside for Freethought Day. And she’s like, what do you tell people when they when they tell you about intelligent design and everyone just puts their fists up in the air and they yell balls. And it was beautiful. 

Sorry for my interruption. No, no, that is fine. 

And that talk that I gave in Sacramento was based on the unintelligent design. I was told that I could not use slides, which is my usual way of giving a talk. And so I thought, well, can’t do slides. So I can’t kind of do the humor that I tend to do where the slides are the counterpoint to what I say. 

But we can we can work with this. This is you know, this is a rally and it’s outdoors. So maybe I could work with a sign and get people chanting and this kind of thing, because this is what you do at an outdoor political rally or indeed any kind of performance, is that you try to get audience participation. And so I thought, I wonder if I could get the audience yelling balls. 

Right. And you really did. And, you know, we could take at least I’m taking a lesson from what you’re telling me today. I mean, I was vaguely aware, of course, or I know that a political argument is different from a scientific argument in several specific ways. But but this this really hits home, I think. And so it’s great. And so we’re talking about politics. I wanted to ask you, especially when it comes to the state of science education today, when it comes to issues like intelligent design and, of course, climate change and more. What are your thoughts about the state of science education today? And you have some legislation in the works in Massachusetts related to this, don’t you? 

That is correct. This is one of my project. I live in the state of Massachusetts and I’m politically involved there. And just as there are basically anti science, pro intelligent design laws in Louisiana and Tennessee right now that actually permit these things to be taught in public school science classes completely in contravention to the separation of church. State. I decided to. That basically, if the Discovery Institute can do that, then so can we. So I thought, let’s have some model legislation, some place in a friendly state model legislation is what the Discovery Institute does. They put it on their Web site. They give legislators legal help if they want to try and pass a bill that is friendly to their way of thinking in their legislature. I can’t do that, but I can pass model legislation or at least I can try. So I asked my congressman in the Massachusetts statehouse about that. And he was willing to go along with this. So we have a bill right now in the Massachusetts legislature that states that public school science education will be best, will be based on the best available, peer reviewed, age appropriate science. So it’s a pretty simple bill. And people are pretty concerned about education in Massachusetts. So it’s kind of a good, friendly place to try and get this on the books. But it is with the idea that once on the books, one place it can be used as model legislation elsewhere. I’m kind of taking a cue from same sex marriage, which was also passed first in Massachusetts. And granted, that was a court case, but still it became law in Massachusetts and the world didn’t end. And a few states slowly started following suit and then eventually it is now the law of the land. So I’m hoping that if I can get this passed in Massachusetts, that once again, maybe other states can follow suit and we can see where we can go with this. So this is something that I think is very important. And I will make a point of letting people know at such time as this thing actually goes through. And that’s just a matter of timing. 

You know, legislation has its own cycles and people try to put bills through when there are a bunch of related bills that they think they can kind of all put through as a package. So the timing is not under my control, but my congressman is sympathetic. OK, good. 

Well, that’s that’s promising. And I hope to see progress with this soon. 

But like you said, it’s just a matter of time. So since we’re here at Psychon and I met you at at Freethought Day, what’s your relationship to skepticism and free thought and this movement? 

OK, well, where do I start? I’m a scientist. 

And as I said, when I started looking for ways to take my show on the road about a decade ago with unintelligent design and then later talk about evolution in animals. And my current talk about the gender binary and a few others. And I wrote a book on the subject and all kinds of fun things like that. 

I was looking for venues and I just kind of got started. 

Let me see. I made friends with the American Humanist Association by way of David NIOSH, who lives in Worcester, which is just a stone’s throw away from where I live. And we had gone to some events together and gotten to know each other. And then Americans United had me speak at Dartmouth College up in New Hampshire about 10 years ago. And so I got to know people in a you and I have more or less been passed around as my reputation grew. I’ve had a lot of fun with these Secular Students Alliance, which, by the way, everybody should support. It’s absolutely wonderful. I speak for free to any SSA that can get me there. 

And I always have a good time. 

And they’re basically wonderful. And I think that that is something that is growing and should grow and is a wonderful, wonderful thing. Absolutely. And so I have basically been, you know, passed around and gone to conferences. I went to a really fun SSA conference down in Louisiana. Oh, seven or eight years ago. And then I went to Darwin on the palooza a few years ago where I met Harriet Hall. And so I’ve been slowly meeting people in the skeptics movement. And they have been very supportive of what I’m doing. And they are wonderful. And it’s great to get to know people in it. And I went to a logical L.A. last winter. Oh, did you? I missed that. And it’s great. And it was a delight to hear things on so many different topics where there was a skeptical outlook on it. So I remember vividly a talk that was being given by someone who was a long term member of the Los Angeles Police Department who was saying, you know, if you look at the numbers, if you look at the evidence as a skeptic, does basically her argument was that all drugs should be legalized, that it would simply actually help with law enforcement and with recovery and with all of the social ills at 10 tax revenue. All of that kind of thing. That was that was her opinion. And she backed it up with some very good studies and numbers. So and that’s not the kind of thing you hear every day. So it was really refreshing hearing those kinds of things at a skeptical conference. So I’m looking forward to more. 

Yeah, I. I’m looking forward to the rest of Psychon. 

I like to ask about people’s relationship to the skeptics movement, because as my listeners will probably learn about me as I do more episodes, I’m very new to it. Although I was raised atheist, I’ve only kind of been part of this movement, you could say, for the past handful of years. 

And it’s great because I get to meet people like you and I’m gonna get to see you talk on Saturday and your talk is titled Everything You Know About Sex Is Wrong. Part one, the gender binary. 

And so you’re going to in the presentation, you look at the evolution of sexual reproduction and some common misunderstandings about sex. 

Now, tell me your opinion about this thought or this observation I’ve been making. I think. Skeptics are pretty good about listening to scientific information about the gender binary, but even some skeptics do cling to these two biological essentialism and the idea of the gender binary. 

So have you noticed that? And then, of course, I would love to hear a little bit more or a bit of a teaser for your talk tomorrow. 

Yeah. That’s a good question. 

And I don’t know I haven’t heard that much from the skeptics movement about, as you said, sort of biological essentialism. I’m sure there are some in the movement who feel that way. And my job is to crush that. So, as always. My outlook is just that of a biological scientist. I should explain. I have a bit of a peculiar career in biology. My actual doctorate is a detail in zoology from Oxford University. But most of the research and most of the teaching I have ever done has been in the field of physiology. So at some point, I kind of gave up and said, OK, I’m a physiologist too, because that’s the work I keep doing. And these days, I teach human anatomy and physiology at a small college in Massachusetts called Currie College. So these are the two approaches that I tend to have. 

It’s where my largest body of knowledge is. The way that I tend to come up with talks is when I see essentially a hole in the literature, when I am more or less steaming mad about something. That to me seems obviously wrong. And I think it’s obviously wrong to me because I have known this whole bouquet of facts usually since I was an undergraduate or maybe a graduate student. So. So nothing new, nothing new, nothing particularly cutting edge that I basically want. I think to myself, I already know enough to refute this. This would be a good thing to write down because obviously other people don’t know it. And again, as I said earlier, most people are not biologists. So this is my job. 

And so that was what I decided to do with the gender binary talk in the wake of the Pulse nightclub shooting and all the bathroom bills that were in state legislatures in the summer of 2016. That was when I was more or less being irritated and saying they’re wrong and I know they’re wrong and I can prove it. So I should write about this, shouldn’t I? Right. OK. Now I know my job. 

Yeah. Seems like anger’s a good thing for you. 

Well, anger and frustration when it is something that is obviously wrong to me. 

But where, you know, it is useful for a scientist to realize that not everybody can be expected to know the stuff that you learned as an undergraduate. But on the other hand, that it is also not. 

Controversial scientifically, right? 

So anyway, that’s refreshing because a lot of scientists don’t realize that or they don’t think about it. They seem to be I guess I compare it to the forest trees analogy. They’re so into their trees that they don’t see the big picture of what people are perceiving and what people think and what they believe. 

Well, that’s it. Exactly. And so, yeah, I kind of look upon it as my job to give people a guided tour of the forest where they can see the big forest and maybe see the big picture, but then introduce them to some particularly useful and interesting trees so that they can get the idea about it. And so that’s what I am doing. I hope with the gender binary, with this talk that I give, basically showing all kinds of different interesting animals in nature that have all kinds of different reproductive strategies and child rearing strategies and all kinds of fun stuff like that. 

Yeah. So that is what I do. One of the animals maybe. And tell us a little about it. Well, would you rather hear about transsexual fish or would you rather hear about a microbe with an interesting sex life? 

Both of those sounds fascinating. I’m going to be lucky enough to hear about all of them during your talk. 

But let’s go with microbes. You want to go with the microbe? OK. 

The microbe that I’m going to be introducing in my talk is named Tetra Hyman, a thermophilic. And it has the most creative sex life of any organism I’ve come across to date. It has seven sexes. 

Wow. Seven. Seven. Zak’s two. A three. Count them the seven. Exactly right. So much for the gender binary when you have a creature that has seven sexes. 

And this again, this is not actually new news. This is a creature that has been thoroughly studied. It’s biologically interesting in a whole bunch of ways. But the way that I am interested in in this case does have to do with the fact that it has seven sexes. 

And as a fun story, because I’ve been giving these talks about evolution and so on for a while. There was one time when some distant relatives were visiting my mom and she was telling them about this and I had met these folks before. 

And so one of them upon visiting said, oh, Abby’s doing talks now. 

You must tell her about Ed’s creature that has seven sexes here. 

Write this down, Tetra Heimann, the thermal filla. And so, sure enough, I looked up Eduardo or. Who is this distant relative of mine? And I looked up Tetra Highman a thermal. And sure enough, here was all of this research about how this creature has seven sexes. It has, as I said, lots of other interesting things about it biologically as well. But, well, there it is. And these seven sexes actually means that it has a better chance of reproducing sexually than you or I do. It’s a microbe and it can reproduce asexually as well. So it can just clone itself. But sexual reproduction is good for genetic mixing, which is good for getting novel combinations of genes, which is a good way of sort of countering the challenges of a harsh environment because some genetic mixture is likely to be more successful than others anyway. But when you have seven sexes. And any given one sex can mate with any of the other six. That actually means that whereas you or I, if we’re trying to sexually reproduce, have a 50 50 chance of running into a stranger and having them be the correct sex do to do sexual reproduction with, they have an eighty five percent chance of meeting an individual that they could have sexual reproduction with. So as I said, seven sexes wins just in terms of increasing the opportunity for sexual reproduction. 

I see. And so and you said anyone can can reproduce with any of the other six other other six, six. 

And then. So is is each one as when it is. At the beginning of its life, it has. 

It has a certain sex and does it say that sex for the rest of its life cycle? 

I believe it does. OK. 

Now, I’m just going to have to I’m going to have to read all about this. Oh, it has all kinds of complications in how it does surf and say the name of it again. OK. 

It is Tetra. Hi, I’m Anna. 

They’re Marsella Tetra Highman. They’re Modula. Right. We will put that in the show notes. Right. 

And you can also read the work of Edwardo or REI’s. Last name is. Oh. Ah I. A. S. He’s done a lot of work on it. And so you can find out anything you want to know that way. 

Fascinating. Well I look forward to hearing you speak and I thank you for joining me today. Thanks very much. 

This has been your host Kavin Senapathy point of inquiry is a production of the Center for Inquiry CFI is a five hour one C three charitable nonprofit organization whose vision is a world in which evidence, science and compassion rather than superstition and pseudoscience or prejudice guide public policy. You can visit us at point of inquiry dot org. There you can listen to all of piecewise archived episodes. Learn about our hosts and support the show and CFI as nonprofit advocacy work by clicking the blue support button on the site. And remember to subscribe. We’re available on iTunes, Google Play, Spotify and your favorite podcast app. And also, please remember to share episodes on social media, email or whatever app you’re into. We appreciate it. Thanks again. And see you in a couple weeks. 

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin Senapathy

Kavin is an author and public speaker covering science, health, food, parenting and their intersection. Her work appears regularly at various outlets including Forbes, SELF Magazine, Slate, her "Woo Watch" column for Skeptical Inquirer online, and more. When she’s not writing and tweeting, she’s busy being a “Science Mom”—also the name of a recent documentary film in which she’s featured. Follow her on Twitter @ksenapathy and Facebook.