Sex, gender, and COVID-19
I’ve suspected that people have been thinking about sex, a lot, especially during the lockdown, and that was confirmed when I did a webinar last Friday, well, on sex, gender, and COVID-19.
At one point, I asked the participants (1,600 attended) if they thought people were having more sex, less sex, or about the same during the lockdown, compared to before it. If I remember the figures right, it was something like 60 percent thought there was more sex.
And that’s doing it, not just thinking.
Much of my talk was not so much about sex alone as about sex and gender, starting with very medical aspects.
It has become clear that, globally, COVID-19 has been killing more men than women, and this cuts across all age groups. In the global figures, infection rates tend to be about the same with men and women, but in the Philippines, more men are being infected than women.
It is known that the “male” hormone testosterone tends to suppress immune mechanisms, while “female” hormones like estrogen and progesterone enhance the immune systems.
In addition, progesterone has anti-inflammatory properties, which could make sense for COVID-19 because the disease’s destructiveness comes mainly from the inflammation it causes in the body’s different body systems (and not just the respiratory systems as it was originally thought).
This has gotten some experimental drug trials going, where “female” hormones like estrogen and progesterone are given to male patients to see if they can help the men.
I haven’t seen results yet, but that treatment has been questioned as well by medical researchers who wonder if it’s just a matter of hormones. Notice how I’ve been putting male and female in quotation marks—that’s because these hormones are not exclusive to one sex.
All said, women do have stronger immune systems than men, which could partly explain why females have longer life expectancies than males. COVID-19 is showing us, though, that stronger immune systems may not be a function of hormones or biology alone.
This takes us to “gender,” which refers to the socially-defined roles, norms, and behavior that govern us. More than anatomy and hormones, gender captures the way we are socialized to become lalake, babae, bakla, baklita, les, paminta (further subdivided into pamintang durog and pamintang buo… please ask your LGBT+ friends to define).
Preparing my PowerPoint slides and naming the genders in the Philippines, I realized we had so many categories that I had to just use “atmmp” (at maraming marami pa) instead of “etcetera.”
All those categories and defined behavior for each category shape our susceptibility to illnesses, including, maybe even especially, COVID-19.
We have been warned about “underlying medical conditions” that increase the possibility of complications and death from COVID-19, including hypertension, heart and respiratory diseases, diabetes, and, they’re finding out now in the United States, obesity.
Those problematic conditions tend to have higher prevalence rates among males because men smoke more, drink alcohol more, and don’t watch their diets. All that suicidal behavior isn’t “natural” to men; it’s society pushing men toward unhealthy lifestyles by glorifying the smoking and drinking and bingeing as something a “tunay na lalake (true male)” should aspire for.
In one staid journal article about sex differences in COVID-19, the authors also pointed out something that might make men more infection-prone: Men wash their hands less! Looks like we’ll have to ramp up the campaign with men for more frequent handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, and maybe not have them sing “Happy Birthday” twice but some Masculados song.
Last week, still another example of macho gender norms came up as I was doing street observation on the use of masks. I’ll spare you the numbers now, but let me just say that, first, there were more men than women out in the streets mingling with crowds, and that is already risk behavior.
Among both men and women, mask use was almost universal, but in about 30 percent of the men, the mask was not used correctly—mainly the mask not covering the nose, or the nose and the mouth! Only about 5 percent of the women were using the masks that way.
I’ve run out of space for today’s column. Yes, I did talk about gender justice at the webinar, and that will crop up again in part 2 of last week’s webinar, this time on “Love, Sex, Relationships and COVID-19.” Have lunch with me tomorrow at 12 noon: https://facebook.com/events/s/webinar-on-love-sex-and-relati/563867884279468/?ti=as
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