Elizabeth Reis

Sex in the Nursing Home

By Elizabeth Reis

Last week Bloomberg News published a two-part story about sex in nursing homes, which has sparked an interesting conversation among ethicists: Should the elderly living in a residential facility, particularly those suffering from dementia, be forbidden to have sex with other residents? The possibility of banning sex is controversial, as it is at odds with the fact that residents are not inmates under confinement, without basic rights and freedoms. As Americans are living longer lives, often spending their final years in nursing homes, we need to address their well-being and quality of life.

Let’s Talk About Gene Therapy

By Elizabeth Reis

It is exciting to read about promising new gene therapies that might make living with various disabilities easier or even render them extinct. Researchers at University of Massachusetts Medical School are working on a way to “turn off” the extra chromosome found in people with Down syndrome. If the gene therapy works as they hope, turning off the chromosome would mitigate some of the effects of Down’s. So far this possibility has only been glimmered in a laboratory dish, but ultimately the goal would be to turn off the extra chromosome prenatally, so that the brain would form without developmental and intellectual encumbrances.

Do No Harm: Intersex Surgeries and the Limits of Certainty

By Elizabeth Reis

The Southern Poverty Law Center and Advocates for Informed Choice have filed a lawsuit against the South Carolina Department of Social Services (SCDSS), Greenville Hospital System, the Medical University of South Carolina, and several medical personnel for allowing physicians to remove the atypical genitals of a 16-month-old toddler because that child, in the state’s custody at the time, was born with an intersex condition. M.C. had been identified male at birth, but his genitals were sufficiently indeterminate that surgeons removed his ambiguous phallus, a testis, and testicular tissue on one gonad, and surgically created an ostensible approximation of female genitals. The suit asserts that there was no medical need for this surgery, which was meant to permanently “fix” this child and turn him into an unequivocal girl, but it did him more harm than good. M.C., now eight years old, feels more like a boy, lives as a boy, and heartbreakingly has asked his mother, “When will I get my penis?”

What’s in Your Vulva?

Thirty years ago I went to the Berkeley Women’s Health Collective to get fitted for a cervical cap. “What is that?” some of you might be wondering. The cervical cap is a barrier form of birth control, which fell out of favor when easier hormonal methods became more popular and more effective. It worked by… Read more →

Rites and Wrongs: Changing a Ritual from Within

By Elizabeth Reis

The previously obscure ultra-Orthodox Jewish rite of metzitzah b’peh (oral suction) has burst into the news lately and raised critical questions about genital surgery, consent, First Amendment rights, tradition, and the representation of Jews.

I would guess that most Americans, even Jewish-Americans, had never heard of metzitzah b’peh (oral suction) until the recent controversy between ultra-Orthodox Jews and the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene. It refers to a custom performed after a circumcision in which a mohel (ritual circumciser) orally sucks the blood away from the baby boy’s penis. To insure the requirement that blood be shed and then hygienically removed (sucking was deemed the best means of achieving this hygiene anciently), metzitzah b’peh became part of circumcisions in the 2ndcentury, according to scholars. Most Jews, even observant Modern Orthodox Jews, have abandoned the practice. But a small minority adheres to and defends it, based on the First Amendment – somewhat surprisingly now on free speech grounds in addition to its religious liberty provisions.

Feminist Conversations: Elizabeth Reis Talks Intersex

Elizabeth Reis is a professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon and is the author of Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). This year (2012-2103) she is a visiting scholar in the History of Science Department at Harvard University. This interview originally appeared in Feminists for Choice and is reprinted with permission.

1. What was the motivation behind writing Bodies in Doubt?

So much of the “history” of intersex begins in the mid-1950s with a critique of John Money and his colleagues at Johns Hopkins University. This was an important period, of course, because Money’s protocols became widely adopted, but it was hardly the beginning of the story of the medical management of intersex. As an early American historian, I wondered what happened to those born with unusual bodies in earlier eras. I wanted to find out how the gradual process of medicalization affected our understanding of how male and female bodies were supposed to look.

The Flip-flop over Foreskin

This is a guest post by Elizabeth Reis, professor of women’s and gender studies at the University of Oregon. Professor Reis is the author of Bodies in Doubt: An American History of Intersex (Johns Hopkins University Press, 2009). This year (2012-2103) she is a visiting scholar in the History of Science Department at Harvard University.

The American Academy of Pediatricians recently released a statement saying that the health benefits of circumcision outweighed the risks. This pronouncement contradicts the Academy’s earlier ruling, just thirteen years ago in 1999, which stated unequivocally that the health benefits of the procedure were slim. The 1999 statement reversed a previous one made in 1989 that said there were good medical reasons for it; but a few years earlier, in 1971, the Academy had officially concluded that it was not a medical necessity. Clearly, circumcision is one of those surgeries about which opinion shifts back and forth over the years.