Ask a Sexologist: Are Women “Less Promiscuous” than Men because of Biology, or Societal Oppression?

It’s a common assumption: gay men fuck the most and lesbians fuck the least, with straight people falling somewhere in the middle. But is that true, and if so, why? Dulcinea Pitagora—sexologist and the creator of Kink Doctor—goes deep on this one! Continue reading “Ask a Sexologist: Are Women “Less Promiscuous” than Men because of Biology, or Societal Oppression?”

Hamilton Morris gives you Weird Science

Cover art by Philip Hood; right: Hamilton Morris being casually glamorous

I thought I’d do a favor for your collective minds and spirits, and let you know that the current issue of VICE mag was guest edited by the much-loved chemistry hottie, Hamilton Morris, and centers around the theme of Weird Science. You may recognize Hamilton from your favorite VICE series (after mine), Hamilton’s Pharmacopeia–an expansive investigation into the world of psychoactive drugs.

The issue is #fabulous, and includes such gems as a short story about the mutant anatomy of turtle boys by Motorman author, David Ohle; an article about an ancient herb that cured William Burroughs’s cat of feline leukemia; and excerpts from Timothy Leary’s currently unpublished, The Periodic Table of Energy. There’s also an interview by Hamilton with a clandestine chemist whose operation of an underground laboratory landed him in jail, which I pasted below for your reading pleasure.

But first, a note from the editor:

The days of the gentleman scientist have long since passed, the chemical-supply stores have shut their doors, and some states have made unlicensed Erlenmeyer-flask possession a criminal offense. Our collective mouths froth over evidence of an intangible boson while medicinal chemists found guilty of forbidden syntheses are locked in cages and forgotten. The promises of human cloning are squelched by a UN ban, leaving such investigations the sole province of UFO-worshiping sex cults. Science is confined to industry or university, where research is largely dictated by market demands or grant-writing abilities, and experimental freedom is a luxury some toil a lifetime to achieve. That is science—so what is weird science? I’m not talking about using Antarctic krill oil to decalcify your pineal or the guzzling of monoatomic gold. I’m talking about real science––that’s a little bit weird. The syringe of chimpanzee semen plunged into a willing human female surrogate; Darwin investigating insectivorous plants with a cane topped by an emerald-eyed, ivory skull; radioresistant tardigrades and the use of cesium-accumulating mushrooms to decontaminate nuclear exclusion zones. Not mad science, not pseudoscience, weird science.

I was denied access to the unpublished pages of Philip K. Dick’s Exegesis and declined by Ray Bradbury one month before his death. Harlan Ellison possessed not a single unpublished story, and chemists working in industry bridled at this publication’s name, stubbornly refusing to acknowledge that a vice is simply a tool, invented by the Greek astronomer Archytas of Tarentum, a disciple of Pythagoras. So I looked deeper and found newer, better things that palpate the tender abdomen of what we call science with a cold, ungloved finger. I also threw in a dash of science fiction for good measure. 

Inhale the alkyl nitrites of curiosity and penetrate the puckered sphincter of knowledge, scientia! – Hamilton Morris

Criminal Chlorination

An Interview with a Clandestine Chemist

by Hamilton Morris

In the popular imagination, the landscape of clandestine chemistry is a monotonous one, peppered with pastures of GBL saponification and bluffs of pseudoephedrine reduction. But there exist lone experimenters, tinkerers, gentlemen scientists, who seek to further the field of psychoactive-drug synthesis in the privacy of their own homes. For their participation in the ignominious marriage of proscribed neucleophile and electrophile they often pay a dire price: their freedom. Here I present an interview with a clandestine chemist acquaintance whose curiosity regarding forbidden molecules left him locked in a cage.

VICE: I wanted to talk about clandestine chemistry and what it’s like to operate an underground laboratory. How did you first get started?
Anonymous chemist: In the early 90s there was a massive outpouring of information on psychedelics. You had Terence McKenna parading around in a DMT T-shirt, talking about salvia, yet nobody knew where to get either salvia or DMT. It seemed criminal to have to go to a Grateful Dead concert or a rave—these awful scenes—to try to acquire interesting and unusual drugs, but there were few other choices. There were some compounds that had always been commercially available from chemical-supply companies, but most of the phenethylamines were really hard, if not impossible, to get.

I was a scientific kid, and I followed my curiosity to its natural end. My first actual synthesis was DMT. In retrospect that seems ridiculous, but it was something that I just could not find. Nobody was doing extractions; these were the days before the widespread availability of botanical sources. I studied the synthesis and decided to go the classical route via indole, but my first DMT synthesis was pretty shitty—literally, indole smells like crap—and it just reeked up the building I was living in. This was pre-meth-lab hysteria, so while it wasn’t normal to have your apartment smelling like shit and solvents, it didn’t ring any alarm bells. By the time I successfully produced DMT, I’d learned enough chemistry that I had a much broader synthetic palette to work with. This was probably 1993 or so and there was all this hype around MDMA. Like I said, the terrible raves were in full force. It started out as a very expensive hobby and I gave away whatever I made, but that’s not sustainable in the long term so I began to sell the material as well.

What was your motivation for distributing the chemicals in large quantities?
You hear all this messianic bullshit from chemists. My motive was very clear: I just wanted the opportunity to try drugs that were unobtainable otherwise. I tried MDMA and moved to DOM, mescaline, 2C-B, and various others. I really enjoyed watching the ripple effect of throwing these things out there, to see question marks stretched across people’s faces, and it became my primary source of income for about seven years.

It’s interesting how things have changed. Now most of these drugs can be obtained without much effort, but the precursors for their syntheses are closely guarded.
It’s different. Back then, trying to get any of the substituted benzaldehydes was a serious bitch; those aren’t exactly linchpins of chemical commerce. The straight-to-consumer international chemical trade was in its infancy. But now there’s also a lot more heat on certain things—back then you could buy a 55-gallon drum of camphor 1070 or ocotea oil for $3,000. There’s just no way you could do that kind of thing anymore. I wouldn’t say it’s harder or easier, it’s simply different and it’s always evolving.

I’ll give you an example: Around 1998 there was a group of us that were trying to work on some of Shulgin’s thio-compounds, the 2C-Ts. They were a lot more difficult than the standard phenethylamines and we just couldn’t do it effectively. So eventually a private group of chemists and investors pooled their resources and commissioned a laboratory in Poland to produce a kilogram of 2C-T-7. It was ridiculously expensive, and the entire process felt like a really extreme measure. To the best of my knowledge, that group effort was the first instance of custom syntheses of a gray-market drug by the end users. Less than two years later, the chemical took off and was introduced as Blue Mystic in the Netherlands, and then as a pure chemical in the States. 2C-T-7 was one of the first “research chemicals” in the modern designer-drug sense, and I think some of its initial popularity came from the fact that it had been totally unavailable due to the difficulty of producing it in a clandestine lab.

Back then the internet served to disseminate knowledge about drugs. There was less emphasis on disseminating the drugs themselves.
Starting in the 90s, there were a series of forums where chemists would convene to discuss their work. One of the results of these discussions was that a lot of these syntheses got translated into plain English anyone could understand. To people without formal training in organic chemistry, the terminology used in chemical journals and pharmaceutical patents is so technical that it is effectively a foreign language. PiHKAL made things a lot easier—Shulgin speaks in a language closer to what the average dude can understand. But the online discussions took things even further, and the result was that a lot more people decided to try their hands at synthesizing MDMA.

The biologist Eva Harris described a simple technique that allows people in developing countries to run PCR via manual thermal cycling, and the work is widely considered to be a masterpiece of science communication. What struck me while reading her book is that she was effectively doing for genetics what clandestine chemists had done for amphetamine synthesis—they’re both results of the same impulse to simplify, increase accessibility, and bring technology to the people who need it.
I used the proceeds from my work to get proper equipment, but some of my fondest memories are from when I was just starting out. I was trying to make remarkable things using completely unremarkable tools. Everyone was doing mercury amalgam reductions or lithium aluminum hydride reductions, and that was it. There was this meth-lab lore about bikers who would supposedly take an aluminum keg, pump methylamine and phenylacetone inside, and throw the keg into a river to keep the reaction cold enough to prevent it from exploding. It was certainly a bullshit story, but some dudes actually ran with it and began using 55-gallon PTFE kegs as reaction vessels in the reductive amination of MD-phenylacetone and nitromethane. This is a violent reaction on the small scale, so they’d just throw in a kilo, hook up a pressure-relief valve, and hope for the best! Everybody thrived on improvised equipment.

I can understand improvising certain things, but without any analytic equipment you are essentially working blindfolded. So much chemistry revolves around figuring out exactly what you’ve got sitting in your flask—working without access to sophisticated analytic equipment is like traveling back in time 50 or 100 years.
Even in university labs, analysis was more difficult; there were no references for most of these chemicals, especially not the phenethylamines. It was really a guessing game. I had no recourse other than thin-layer chromatography to monitor reaction progress, and then taking a melting point of the final product. That’s why the forensic reports were so fascinating to me when I was raided. Of course, it’s unfortunate that the first glimpse into the true chemical identity of my products was occasioned by my arrest, but even as I was having my freedom taken away I was totally fascinated by what the forensic chemists had found.

What exactly were you charged with?
My first charge was actually for the manufacture of methamphetamine. For reasons I won’t get into, I wasn’t arrested at the time of the raid and promptly fled overseas to await the forensic report. I was charged in absentia with manufacturing methamphetamine because that was all the cops knew how to process. They were taken aback by my laboratory. The 2C-C I was making was just not in their chemical lexicon. They thought it had to be methamphetamine and were determined to prove it. That charge stuck for the better part of a year. At one point, my defense attorney and I said, “Let’s go for this meth thing. We can beat that one.” The field tests came back positive for methamphetamine, but the narcotics officers knew something else was going on, so they sent for a private contractor to test for traces of scheduled compounds. These guys tested everything; they were quite literally analyzing the paint on the walls of my laboratory. Then they outlined possible synthetic routes based on their findings, and I must say they hit every fucking nail on the head. I was halfway hoping when I was hiding out overseas that they might not find anything. Not a fucking chance!

And what did they find?
Well, one thing they didn’t find was methamphetamine. I was extremely careful not to keep large quantities of anything scheduled in the laboratory while it was active—it looked simply like a well-equipped organic-chem lab. I think they chose to pursue the 2C-C because it was the only material present in quantities large enough to warrant a serious charge according to the sentencing guidelines. I was experimenting with various procedures to chlorinate 2C-H. Shulgin’s original method was a bit messy and low-yielding. I used sulfuryl chloride, which resulted in better yields, but there was a problem with not being able to separate polychlorinated impurities with recrystallization or distillation. The trick I found was to chlorinate the benzaldehyde, which made for easy separation. It was really cool to look postmortem at the lab report and see exactly what had come out of it. I actually got a thank-you card from a few of the staff at the forensics lab for giving them what they said was the most interesting work they had done in ages.

Wow! How did their report play out in court?
A jury of your peers often isn’t the greatest thing, as apparently my peers are not that bright. A bunch of talk about differing functional groups just confuses them; all the prosecutor needs to do is get up there, point out the laboratory equipment and chemicals, and talk about the tragedies of the meth epidemic, and you’re fucked. It was amazing to me how idiotic it all was. They were claiming that my 2C-C intermediates were 2C-B, of which there was not a nanogram in my lab. When we tried to point out that the two chemicals contained an entirely different halogen, they just rolled their eyes as if to say, “Oh, here you come with this chemistry goobledygook again.” And I had to plea out of that charge. The whole thing was like tending an apple orchard and being charged with running an illegal orange grove. I ended up with a few years. Arguably, I was lucky.

Yes, arguably. Do you feel as if you garnered more respect from the police and prisoners than the typical inmate because you had committed an intellectual crime?
I found it easier in jail to just lie and say, “Yes, I was cooking meth.” That went over so much better than trying to explain, “Well, I was working on an unusual halogenated psychedelic phenethylamine.” Other prisoners come up to you and want to talk about chemistry—all the other purported meth cooks assault you with these totally fantastical syntheses that they swear were working. You just stop arguing and say, “Yup, that’s awesome, I also did that when I was cooking meth.”

After your release, how did you reconcile your relationship with chemistry? It’s rare, but some people involved in chemistry crimes have gone on to successful academic careers.
If you’ve figured out a way to transmute mercury into gold then it’s really hard to ignore that. You never forget how to ride the bicycle that is synthesizing MDMA. Of course, it’s a vicious cycle: You receive a prison sentence for illegal chemistry, and when you are released the illegal income is even more attractive because you’re unemployable. It’s a bitch to replace all of your reagents and equipment, but that’s nothing compared with the difficulty of learning organic chemistry in the first place.

What did you do when you were released?
An unanticipated thing happened while I was in prison: The market changed dramatically, and my job was effectively outsourced to China. By the time I had returned to normal society, things were unrecognizable. I was blown away. The research-chemical market was going full speed ahead, and all it took was mephedrone to really blast that into the public consciousness. In retrospect, those early days of 2C-T-7 seem so quaint. The synthesis community has fractured; there are some pockets out there, but the original need no longer exists. I have mixed feelings about the increased availability of these chemicals. In today’s climate I might have never become a chemist. Half the chemicals that motivated me to sit down with a chemistry textbook can be purchased online with a debit card. Strangely enough, the research-chemical market put scores of hardworking American clandestine chemists out of business. I can’t compete with China, so I’m yet another victim of globalization!

So what now?
For me, I still have a great interest in chemistry—perfumery has been something that’s really been exciting me lately. So yeah, perfumery. Maybe.

Vice Slutever Show: Orgasms: Where R They?

As we all know, sex is really fun. But then sometimes it can randomly be a frustrating nightmare. Did you know that only 30 percent of women achieve orgasm during sex? TRAGIC! In this episode, I take matters into my own crotch and investigate the ins and outs of female pleasure, speaking with Dr. Barry Komisaruk, who has been studying the science of orgasms for over a decade; celebrity sex therapist Sari Cooper; and porn superstar, Bobbi Starr. You’re welcome.

Natacha Merritt: Sex, Bondage, Biology, etc

In 2000, Natacha Merritt became an instant girlpower sex icon with the release of her debut photo book, Digital Diaries. The book documented Merritt’s sexual history through intimate portraits of herself and her friends having sex. So basically think bondage, blow-jobs, self portraits of Merritt masturbating in the shower, and a peak into her involvement in San Francisco’s BDSM scene. Hot! Digital Diaries was the first book of entirely digital photography ever published, and went on to become a best seller. Next, Merritt proceeded to do what every rising photography star does after her first book: she went back to college to study science.

Now ten years later, after taking a time-out to become a biologist, Merritt is releasing her second book, Sexual Selection. The book contrasts the sexual intricacies of plants and insects with images of people (again, herself and her friends) fucking. The juxtaposition of the images is incredible; it makes you view the human body in a totally different light. Like, you know how when you’re having sex while you’re tripping, and you look down and see yours and your lover’s sex organs colliding and everything suddenly becomes a bit too real, and you’re like, “Wait… eww” but you’re also like, “Wow, the world is pretty amazing”? Well Sexual Selection is kind of like that.

The book’s introduction is written by Richard Prince. According to Merritt, when she contacted Prince about writing the intro, his reaction to her work was, “Oh my god, I love it, I want to hang the book on my cock and walk around with it like an appendage!” I had a similar response.

VICE: Was science something you were interested in while you were making Digital Diaries?
Natacha Merritt: It wasn’t. Digital Diaries happened because I just had a great sex life, and I wanted to document it. I was taking photos of strippers and dancers in the San Francisco S&M, slut-sex scenes, and having a great time, but there was nothing intellectual behind it. I was a wild child, like, “I just like to shoot sex and I don’t know why!” But now, having studied biology, I understand that sex is actually the most interesting thing we do as a species, so my photographs have more of a context. What turns me on now is more complicated, and often more twisted.

What was your involvement in the San Francisco S&M scene?
Mainly photography, and then within my relationship there was some cock and ball bondage and mild dominatrix stuff. So I wasn’t fully in the scene, per se, but I was definitely inspired by my environment.

Why did you decide to put your sex photography on hold to study biology?
Well, I found that over and over I was asking myself questions like, “Why does this turn me on?” and “Why do I find fetish so interesting?” and I found the answers in biology. I took my sexual investigation all the way down to the genetic level. And then it clicked: all of our fetishes and perversions are justifiable, and we’re not even close to as kinky as so many other species, and evolution is the ultimate art form!

It’s cool that science can teach us why we’re sluts.
It is! And the science of sex is becoming more interesting, because scientists are starting to look like us. Girls, gays, minorities—all of these people are coming to science with new questions. The stereotype of the straight male scientist is gone. The lab is full of crazy people now! It’s really exciting, and the artistic potential of the sciences is really cool.

What was the genesis of the idea behind Sexual Selection? What were you trying to get across by combining the photographs of insects, plants, and people?
It was as organic as Digital Diaries. I was studying biology and I began photographing insect genitals, mainly—I made what’s called a taxonomic key in order to identify spiders local to San Francisco based on their penises. And also during this time I was meeting up with other students for study groups, and by the end of the semester I was asking the girls, “Hey, should we do some erotic photography together?” Ninety percent of the time they said yes. And then I started putting the images together, and I realized I could make all of these amazing connections.

After reading Sexual Selection I presumed you were a lesbian because most of your subjects, and most the people you are with in the photos, are women.
That’s funny. Well, if it weren’t for my husband, I would definitely be a lesbian. I have ongoing relationships with other girls now, and that’s fine with him. On a purely sexual level I think lesbian sex is better, because men haven’t really understood the clitoris yet.

Why don’t they get it? I know a lot of girls who identify as straight, but who cum easier when having sex with a woman.
Exactly, because women understand the female body. I think that porn has just really gotten in the way of our orgasms. Like sometimes I’ll watch my husband’s porn with him or his friends, and it’s all wrong! It’s all a lie—none of those girls are actually enjoying themselves—and so this lie is perpetuated. And incomplete sex-ed is also a problem.

In your studies, did you ever figure out why most girls are open to fucking both girls and boys, while guys tend to be more regimented and say either “I’m gay” or “I’m straight”?
I think that’s more of a social stigma than a biological question. I read an interesting article recently about a girl in San Francisco who did a casual study of all her male friends, and she found that most had at least kissed another guy, and some had even had sex with another man, but still identified as straight. So I think that’s changing.

Yeah. Also there are more sexually fluid male icons now, like James Franco, for example.
That’s true. Also, there are roughly 30 species now that biologists have identified as behaving in this way, like for example two female birds will “adopt” an offspring and raise it. So we’re finding examples of this everywhere, and I think it’s really natural, it’s just taken science a long time to ask these questions.

Did you ever have any apprehension about photographing yourself having sex, since many people have difficulty making the distinction between art and porn?
Well, it is an issue, but the world that can legally fire you for showing your pussy with a cock in it is bullshit! I don’t want to be a part of that world. I realize that not all people are in a financial or cultural position to fight this, but if you are a privileged Western person and you don’t fight it, then I think that’s just weakness. I see it as a big “fuck you!” Also, I’ve been doing this for 15 years now, so I have had a huge stack of model releases from people I’ve photographed, and as the years pass many of them have asked me to retract their release, but I never give in. I wonder what it is that makes people become more conservative as they get older. It’s really creepy, like society is pulling everybody down.

Earlier you said that many other species are way more kinky than we are. Do you have a favorite example of this?
There is a bit in my book about cannibalistic spiders that I really like. In the spider world, the females are huge and the males are tiny. There are very few females, given that it takes a lot of resources to become so big, and there are lots of males who die young, so if a male finds a female he goes above and beyond to try and mate with her. Often the males become a meal, often while trying to escape. But in the genus Latrodectus the male will literally get on top of the female, and after he fucks her he will put his upper chest into her mouth and she will eat him, slowly. And if she pushes him off, or it doesn’t work out, he will literally do a somersault and come back and try again. At first scientists couldn’t understand why he would want to be eaten, but then they discovered that the females who have that meal will be much healthier and have more of his offspring. It’s Sexual Selection at its greatest—the male is sacrificing himself for what he believes is the ultimate use of his body. I think that’s so romantic!

Totally cute!