New Zealand's abundance of aggression, Special K's reversal of depression and a trio of teen sex findings guaranteed to worry any decent parent.

The Zeal in New Zealand
When a researcher announced at an Australian genetics conference that Maori men, the indigenous people of New Zealand, are twice as likely to carry a gene linked to aggression as European men, Maori leaders responded with anger (not aggression). Maori leaders say that the announcement that their people are more likely than others to carry monoamine oxidase, labeled the “warrior gene” by some, only contributes to the stereotype of the Maori as a violent and criminal people. That stereotype was fed by Once Were Warriors, a 1994 movie about domestic violence in the Maori community. It probably was not helped by the popularization of Haka, an intimidating Maori dance adopted by the All Blacks, New Zealand’s rugby team.

Oh, K; You’re OK With Me
A low dose of ketamine, the veterinary anesthetic known on the street as “special K” may be the secret to turning a frown upside down. While this finding is only preliminary and the researchers emphasize the drug is not ready to be used in a clinical context, the results are remarkable: Of 18 depressed adults who received a ketamine injection, nearly three quarters had 50% or greater improvement one day after the injection, 29% met the criteria for remission and 35% still felt the happy effects one week later. While doctors are not sure exactly how ketamine combats depression, they do note that it blocks NMDA receptors. When this receptor is blocked in animals, researchers have observed a reduction in depression-like behaviors. No serious side effects were observed in the participants. While no other anti-depressents work this quickly or have such long-lasting effects with a single dose, doctors say that much more research needs to be done before ketamine could possibly be put to legal, clinical use in treating depression.

Serial Mom
The meerkat is the ultimate stage mother, ensuring her baby will rise to the top long before she gives birth. Research has shown that when a meerkat gets pregnant, she will actively try to kill the pups of her peers. Now new research finds the most dominant meerkat moms take this competitiveness one step further by chasing and persecuting other meerkats in their mating prime until they are so stressed they become infertile. The pregnant meerkat continues this offensive until three weeks before her pup is born. The mother superior in a female meerkat group then has most of the babies in the society, while other, smaller meerkat ladies help the queen raise her pups.

Tie The Knot, Cut The Noose
Women waiting on marriage proposals around the world may get some solid, persuasive ammunition from a recent study in the Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, which concludes that people who never marry are more likely to die early than people who are or have been married. Researchers analyzed data from the 1989 National Health Interview Survey and the 1997 US National Death Index and found that, controlling for demographic and socioeconomic characteristics, the death rate for people who were never married was 58% higher than for people who were married. Widows and widowers were 40% more likely to die between 1989 and 1997 than those whose spouses were still alive, and divorced people were at a 27% greater risk for death than those still married. The never-married effect was largest for men and those in good or excellent health. The researchers hypothesize that social isolation may be the underlying cause of high death risk for the never-marrieds.

Teen Beat
Researchers have linked a taste for certain contemporary artists to early sexual activity among teens. After interviewing 1,461 teenagers over a three-year period, researchers focused on data from the 938 respondents who were virgins at the first interview, and found that those who listened to music featuring degrading sexual lyrics were more likely to initiate intercourse and other types of non-coital sexual activity. The teens who listened to non-degrading sexual music—the researchers specifically note 98°‘s “Dizzy” as an example—were no more sexually precocious than those who did not listen to sexual music at all.

Condom Condemnation
In further teen sex news, researchers have published two studies showing that most teenagers don’t regularly use condoms. When they do don love gloves, they often do so incorrectly. The Child Trends research center analyzed government data from 2002 on unmarried kids aged 15 through 19 and found that 47% of teenage boys who had sex said they always use a condom compared to only 28% of girls. The report’s author said that people in serious relationships were less likely to use condoms. Sexpert Amber Madison hypothesized that the gender difference could be explained by the fact that men are more likely to have sex when not in long-term relationships. Meanwhile, a British study showed that among teens who do use condoms, nearly one in three reached for protection too late for maximum effectiveness, and nearly one in 10 remove the condom too soon. (A bonus finding: The researchers discovered that sexually active teens who reported having a close relationship with their mothers were more likely to use condoms correctly.)

Exchange Rate
In even more teen sex news, a study published in the journal Sexually Transmitted Infections shows that more than 3% of US teens have exchanged sex for money or drugs. The authors analyzed data from over 13,000 teens interviewed for the National Longitudinal Study of Adolescent Health. They found that 3.5% of those surveyed, almost two-thirds of whom are male, had exchanged sex for money or drugs. Unsurprisingly, those who had exchanged sex for money or drugs were more likely to have used drugs at some point in their life than those who hadn’t—10% of kids who had traded sex said they had used cocaine in the past 30 days, compared to only 1% of those who hadn’t engaged in the skin trade. Fifteen percent of boys and 20% of girls who had traded sex said they have had a sexually transmitted infection. Of the kids who had exchanged sex for money or drugs, one in 10 of the boys reported forcing someone to have sex with them, and one in six of the girls reported being forced to have sex.

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Originally published August 13, 2006

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