Listen to the full episode
Where it's happening an assignment actuality.
Transportation in Canada's north is about to be revolutionized. Peter Mansbridge talks to Manitoba highways Minister Joe Borowski about it.
ANNA MARIA TREMONTI: It was the late 60s when he took a job that no one else seemed to want. Covering news on the fly in northern Manitoba. But it would set Peter Mansbridge on a career path full of breaking stories, cut throat federal politics and major world events. And when the Americans tried to lure him south, the CBC offered a job he couldn't refuse, chief correspondent and anchor of The National. Behind the scenes he was steering journalistic choices in front of the camera even in disaster, he's been unflappable. And now after almost 30 years at the National he's signing off. In a moment, Peter Mansbridge on what has changed and what remains. Also today.
[Woman screaming] Yes. Yes. Yes. Oh. Oh. Oh. Oh God. Oh.
VOICE 1: I will have what she is having.
AMT: I'll have what she's having. When Meg Ryan's character faked an orgasm in a diner that scene became part of filmic lore but perhaps she was ahead of her time on the issue of what women feel. Today our project The Disrupters looks at research that's challenging the assumptions about female sexual desire and arousal, will tell you more in an hour. And then he was in a vegetative state unresponsive unable to comprehend. And then he recovered.
He could describe going into a scanner he could identify the people that had been present on that day. Could describe what we asked him to do in the scanner. It actually was a real wakeup call for me.
AMT: Adrian Owens work tracking the brain activity of vegetative patients has implications that are promising and frightening and profound. Hear him in half an hour. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.Back To Top »
The National's Peter Mansbridge signing off for final time on Canada Day
Guest: Peter Mansbridge
[Music: The National]
The National with Peter Mansbridge.
Good evening. It was John Turner who wielded the knife today. Turner who faced a revolt over his leadership last week today fired a senator who was closely tied to it. Senator Pietro Rizzuto though is no longer the co-chair of the party's campaign committee.
AMT: Well that's how it began. May 2nd 1988 Peter Mansbridge introduced a story about John Turner and introduced himself as the new anchor of CBC television's flagship news program, The National. Now nearly 30 years later Peter is set to retire his final program will be on July 1st, the country's 150th birthday, appropriate considering he's a known history buff. He has traveled the world and given voice to the biggest stories the country and the world has seen. And Peter's here with me today to talk about his decades with the CBC, his time in the field and as anchor of The National and also to reflect on the future of journalism. Peter Mansbridge Welcome.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Welcome. It is very kind of you would. Do we have time to discuss all those things you just listed? [Laughs]
AMT: [Laughs] As much as we can get through. That first night, you must remember that.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: I've been doing The National at that point on weekends and filling in for Knowlton on occasion since 1982 but it was still, it was a big deal. Suddenly you know it was kind of my chair and my responsibility. And I was accountable for the things that happened on the program. And so it was it was a big night.
AMT: The other thing is that many people might not remember CBS wanted you and CBC wanted you to stay.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Right.
AMT: And you became the anchor.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: At that point I was I was working Sundays, I was working the weekends and there was no sense that Knowlton was going anywhere. We never even discussed it. And it was, you know, it was a fascinating offer and it was because it was CBS and the states and New York it was quite a bit of money. And then Knowlton sort of got in the way called me over to his place and he said you know I've been writing books I've got a couple more to write. I want to spend more time on the books. I will Move aside if you want to move into this job. And that's how it happened.
AMT: Well let's talk about that because for every ending there is a beginning and we had the CBC archives look for some of the earliest tape that have the reporting, and this is well we edited it a bit. Let's listen to this.
Where it is happening, an assignment actuality.
VOICE 1: Transportation in Canada's north is about today revolutionized. Peter Mansbridge talks to the Manitoba highways Minister Joe Borowski about it.
JOE BOROWSKI: A concept we're dealing with is that to have a hovercraft you operate year round, like a bus to transport people and goods over land, which would require clearing of bush, say 100 foot, right of way and using the hovercraft to transport people and goods to isolated communities where it's not possible, economically possible to build roads.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Now how far is this being explored? Have you actually talked with the hovercraft companies about this?
JOE BOROWSKI: Yes I have talk to them, I have met with him, I have even tested some out a little to see the type which are not the type of machines we have in mind at all.
AMT: There you go, Peter Mansbridge. I think that's from 1970. You know I listen to that we actually did a hovercraft story about the North on The Current last year. They're still talking about it.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Yes. They are still talking about it.
AMT: And you did begin your career at CBC Radio.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: I did CBC northern service. Churchill was CHFC and for Churchill was the station and it linked with Yellowknife and what we called Frobisher Bay at that time, McAlary to New Vic in Goose Bay, Happy Valley, Goose Bay, Labrador. And that was kind of the beginning of almost a northern news service.
AMT: It's interesting because in the north and the high Arctic CBC still has more journalists than any other news organization.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: And great stories to cover. You know I was the lone guy in Churchill they didn't have a newscast when I got there and I wanted to start one because I felt more interest in doing news than in doing music which I was terrible at. So we started, I actually started a newscast. But Churchill is this great community where there were all kinds of stories. We all know about the polar bears but there was a port that was open for a couple of months or years. So there was trade with the Soviet Union at the time lot of grain went out of Churchill. There was a rocket range at the at Fort Churchill, Canada's only rocket range sending a black Brant rockets into the northern lights. So there were all kinds of possibilities for stories. None of them were getting out. That's how I made my name for myself, by feeding items to Winnipeg and to Toronto with CBC Radio.
AMT: Never went to journalism school?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Never went to journalism school.
AMT: Didn't do an internship?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: No, I didn't finish high school, didn't go to university. Not proud of that fact, but those are the facts and it says something about how things were in 1968 when I was hired, that first year In Churchill. It was they couldn't get anybody to go there. And the guy literally heard my voice announcing a flight in the terminal building. I was you know 19 years old loading bags for Transair, some flight to Thomson upon Winnipeg and he heard my voice he came up to me right there in the terminal building and he said: “Hey you got a good voice, ever thought about radio?”. I said: “No I've never thought about radio.” And he said: “Well I've got a job, you want to start tomorrow night?”. Went in there and had five minutes to explain how the controls worked and bingo I was on the air.
AMT: Wow. It is amazing, huh?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: And I fell for it immediately loved the whole idea of broadcasts.
AMT: You were in the north you also worked in Saskatchewan for a while later on in the CBC.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Yeah. Started in Churchill moved to Winnipeg, in the local news room and that's when I started into that evil platform known as television. And we did kind of both radio and TV. I was there until 75 then moved to Regina as The National reporter. So I was reporting for The National out of region covering the whole province so it was in Saskatoon, Prince Albert, Regina quite a bit. For a year, went with Allan Blakeney to China at a time it was still a big deal to go to China. He got in for three weeks. Mao was still alive and all these exciting things to happen on that trip. But as it turned out Mao was dying. We didn't know that at the time. They canceled all the meetings. Once Blakeney got there and instead put us on a tour of China on an old steam train and it was fantastic. You know it was like this great experience.
AMT: You had to tell the real story, a great story.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Absolutely.
AMT: It's interesting because you really I mean, one of the things about journalism is you get to see the world you get to see your own country too. You've got to understand more parts of Canada just by living and traveling and reporting, huh?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Yes. Yes. You couldn't you couldn't buy the experiences that I've had and travel, all over this country, to almost every community, meeting all kinds of people and traveling the world. And as you know from somebody who's done a lot more international travel than I have and usually in the hotspots when you were when you were there, but you also learn more about your country when you're doing that.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: You know when you hear from others about their perceptions of Canada it opens your eyes about the country you live in. You learn things about yourself you didn't know.
AMT: It's very true. How do you think CBC News has changed in those decades since you were that kid in Churchill?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Well we were using black and white film and that is how long ago it was. And so there have been lots of changes in terms of the technology of the business and I've watched all that happen and tried to make the judgment about whether it was good or not for journalism, as things got more and more, you know things got faster and the demands on journalists increased tremendously. I mean even when you were reporting as a foreign correspondent you were kind of focused on one, at most, two platforms right?
AMT: That's right and no one could find me because the cell phone coverage wasn't very good, if it ever existed at all.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Is that why we couldn't find it? [Laughs]
AMT: Yes. That is why you could not find me. [Laughs] That is my story, yes.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: But now, you know you watch Nahlah or Margaret Evans or you know Adrian or Susan or any of these correspondents, great correspondents. When the story is happening in their region they don't have a minute off in the day they're filing for some platform all the time.
AMT: That's right and they're available, they're accessible through a phone or even through video automatically.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Exactly.
AMT: That technology has been rapid.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: It has. You know and when you're talking about corresponds with that caliber you know you're getting 100 percent journalism.
AMT: Well you know there's a lot of humanity in stories and there's a lot of politics, but sometimes those two things collide and events that happen you know the world won't be the same. And so I got some more tape of you. This is a bit of tape from September 11th 2001.
That's some of the old video from New York, just in the last couple of hours. This now looking back live at the island of Manhattan where it is still just total devastation and chaos all over that end of the of Manhattan. We should also advise you that there is now a major Canadian angle to this story because all air traffic from New York and Washington and all transatlantic flights heading in that direction has been diverted to Canada.
AMT: Okay. Early times in that day. Tell me about that day at CBC News, Peter, 9/11?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: It was a tough day. I mean we knew thousands of people had died. We weren't aware exactly why it happened in those early hours, but we saw it happen which is unusual. Usually you are dealing with reports that something happened and but here we actually saw the planes going into the building. As the day wore on, and I think I was on for like 44 hours straight with an hour break in the middle of the first night, and what I hadn't grasped was the impact it was having on everyone, not just the people in New York but people you know in cities and communities right across Canada. And I didn't realize that until I took that our break and I went to my dressing room and the light was blinking the message light on my phone and it was my daughter. One of my daughters in Winnipeg and. Her message was pretty simple it was I love you and I thought well that's nice. But why did she choose that and then that's when the light went on.
AMT: That everybody watching was affected.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Exactly. This was happening with families all over the world. They wanted to just touch base with other members of their family, because they all knew that they were going through something that they'd never gone through before and hopefully never would again. But it was having an enormous impact. So that changed my kind of reporting and in what became the second day of all this was the impact it was having not just on those who were directly affected in New York but all over.
AMT: It was incredible because it really was unfolding in real time the towers collapse and everything just keeps happening. It was not anywhere near to a static story.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Parliament Hill shootings, was the same thing.
AMT: Well parliament house shootings. We have a clip from that as well October 22nd 2014. Listen to this.
It is the kind of day Canadians had only ever really known from afar. A chaotic and frightening attack on the heart of their country, rRight on Parliament Hill. Another Canadian soldier the second this week was ambushed and killed. The attack then moved inside parliament. Bullets flew. People fled. Buildings were locked down. Police say the attack caught them entirely by surprise. They had no advance warning.
AMT: That sounds like it was probably closer to the end of the day you're talking there.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: I think that probably the National I totally go scripted.
AMT: Because you were you were there live. You're always unflappable live. You are, yeah I know, I have to say. In the English, in the language of broadcasting I've never seen anyone do live the way you do live, and have I've seen you do live a lot.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: You know I trust the people around me to. You know, that day I was out, so I was having a breakfast. I was having breakfast with a source on a story and my phone went off and bang I came in here. Breakfast was downtown, so I was able to get here 10 minutes and was on the air but I was put in the position of working with people I'd never worked with before. A director and a producer from news network who worked the morning shift. And I could tell, you what this was like and your listeners probably don't. But when we were sitting here we're talking on the air there's often somebody talking to us through our headsets. And if that person isn't calm, especially in a difficult situation boy things can go wrong fast. These people were fantastic and I could tell even though I didn't know them that within 30 seconds I can trust this person. And so that's how I was getting all of the information and I added my own cautionary warnings about being careful about what to believe because the story is going to change. If you know one thing for sure it's going to change even when you're getting it from authorities not rumors. I mean the Ottawa police that they were convinced there was a second shooter and they said that.
AMT: That is right. That is right.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: So they were going into the Rideau center across the from the Chateau Laurier. It turned out there wasn't, It was one guy.
AMT: The National aired several hours after the shooter was dead on that day and the threat had passed. But that really raises the key role of the National. What is like the role of The National in the hours after a major traumatic event, when it goes to air?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Well the National has always been through my lifetime the program of record on CBC Television, for what happened on that day. That you may not have heard anything all day or seen anything all day or read anything all day, but at 10:00 at night when you get there you're going to be told what you need to know about what happened on that day. Or even if you heard things. This will be the program of record that will tell you the truth as best we know. Now we're in an era where most people because of their access to information are getting information all day long. They can't get away from sitting there on their phone in their hand. You know, whether they're at work or at school or wherever they may be. And so at 10:00 at night the argument becomes do you still need a program of record? Or are you moving forward? Are you advancing? That's a debate that's going on right now around The National.
AMT: We talked about the technology but what do you think of the changes in this business as you move away from the National? What concerns you about the changes in journalism that you see or what excites you?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Look at the end of the day the best, in my view the best journalism and journalists are those who tell stories well. And no matter the technology and the advances that we have and the way we can collect information, at the end of the day somebody's got to tell a story.
AMT: I can't let you leave without talking about CBC. What do you think of the future of the CBC?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: The future of the CBC is in two sets of hands, the people of Canada and those of us who work here and the kind of work we do. The people of Canada have consistently said they believe, this was consistent across the country, that they believe in the need for a national public broadcaster especially at a time when the influence continues so strongly from south of the border, with you know excellent programming but it leaves a vacuum for us to fill. Because somewhere on that dial you need Canadian content, whether it's online, radio, television, you need it if you want to understand the country live in. Now you can argue about how well we do that. And some people make very strong arguments they don't think we do a good enough job, that's a separate argument as to whether or not there should be a CBC. And so I you know I think that as long as we have that support of the people then there will be a CBC.
AMT: Going to miss it?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Oh yes. [Laughs] Yes, and the closer it gets we're now down to minutes, the more I realize how much I will miss it. I will miss the comradery and the friendship most. I mean I love to travel, the places I've been to the stories I've covered, but the opportunity to work with the people I've worked with, including you, all these many years although you're just still a kid compared with me. But you know the opportunities we've had, right? Places we’ve been, people we've met, people we've interviewed talked to, it's been such a treat.
AMT: What's next for you?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: The CBC wants me to stay. You know I am retiring. I will go on a pension you know. But I will still be a freelance broadcaster of some kind. And the CBC wants me to consider doing some prime time documentaries on subjects that interest me and I'm fascinated by that possibility and hopefully we'll work something out. But initially certainly this summer I'm just going to enjoy some free time.
AMT: But you'll never stop telling stories?
PETER MANSBRIDGE: I hope not.
AMT: Peter, thank you.
PETER MANSBRIDGE: Thanks, Anna Maria.
AMT: Peter Mansbridge, chief correspondent for CBC News anchor of CBC TV's The National, with me in our Toronto studio. The CBC News is next and then patients in a vegetative state were once thought to be totally brain dead. It turns out up to 20 percent have some awareness of their surroundings.
They are awake but they appear to be entirely unaware of where they are, who they are and the situation that they're in.
AMT: A neuroscientist developing ways to communicate with unresponsive patients. You want to hear what he's discovered? When we return. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. This is The Current.Back To Top »
'It's still amazing to me': Neuroscientist on connecting with patients in vegetative states
Guest: Adrian Owen
AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and you're listening to The Current.
AMT: Still to come, rethinking female desire.
People had these spontaneous feelings of desire. They were like lightning bolts that zapped you out of nowhere. And that that initiated a process of seeking out sex.
AMT: For years women's sexuality has been oversimplified, misunderstood and compared to men's. Meredith Chivers researches disrupting those long held assumptions. We'll talk about her work in half an hour. But first they're awake, they're aware but they cannot communicate what's actually happening inside their brains.
[Sound: Noisy crowd]
REPORTER: Inside a Florida hospice. A woman lives quietly dying.
VOICE 1: Father we come in the name of our Lord…
REPORTER: and then in doing so he has forced even wider the moral cracks that already divide her country.
AMT: The case of Terri Schiavo was the first time a person's consciousness or lack of consciousness was debated so publicly. The Florida woman suffered brain damage in 1990. She was left in a so-called vegetative state. Her husband thought she should be allowed to die. Her family wanted to keep her alive. And after 15 years of court cases and political debates, her feeding tubes were removed in 2005. Terri Schiavo died a few weeks after that. The question of what constitutes consciousness is something with which scientists have been grappling for years. And one of the people at the leading edge of that research is Adrian Owen. He's the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and imaging at the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University in London, Ontario. He has just written a book Called Into The Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores The Border Between Life And Death. And Adrian Owen is with me in our Toronto studio. Hello.
ADRIAN OWEN: Hello, there.
AMT: How important was that case of Terri Schiavo?
ADRIAN OWEN: I think it was very important because I think it first brought attention to it to these conditions and people really started to wake up to the fact that they existed at all.
AMT: How do you define the gray zone?
ADRIAN OWEN: I think there are many different types of gray zone states. what I'm referring to in the book is really anywhere between brain death and that is a condition in which there's no way back it's irreversible and where most of us are enjoying our normal lives. I'm particularly focused on states like the one that Terri Schiavo was in, the vegetative state because I think this is a very intriguing Condition, right there somewhere in the middle.
AMT: And when we say someone is in a vegetative state what does that actually mean?
ADRIAN OWEN: It's often referred to as a state of wakefulness without awareness. And that's because these patients will open their eyes. They may appear to look around the room. They won't fixate on anything in particular. But the most important characteristic is that they'll never respond to any form of external stimulation. So if you try and attract their attention or get them to wiggle a finger or move a leg they won't make any responses. So they are awake but they appear to be entirely unaware of where they are, who they are and the situation that they're in.
AMT: And this is different from someone in a coma?
ADRIAN OWEN: That's right. Coma often occurs before the vegetative state. And a coma patient will typically look as though they're asleep. They'll have eyes closed and they won't wake up and go to sleep.
AMT: How many people are living in a vegetative state right now?
ADRIAN OWEN: It's a very difficult question to answer because there aren't any central records. There are many different ways that you can get into a vegetative state. It could be a traumatic brain injury or it could be something like a heart attack that is led to a loss of oxygen to your brain. And that means that the patients are very widely spread among different clinical units. Often they will survive for many decades and will be looked after at home or in hospices so because there are no central records it's very hard to put a number on it. We know there are many tens of thousands around the world but to really know exactly how many. It's impossible.
AMT: How did you start trying to connect with people in a vegetative state?
ADRIAN OWEN: Almost 20 years ago to the day, we first put a patient who is in a vegetative state into a brain scan and this is back in Cambridge in the U.K. And to be really honest I don't think any of us knew exactly what we were doing. This was really quite an odd thing to do at the time because up and up until that point, everybody assumed that none of these patients would have any residual brain activity. So I think the assumption was that we would see nothing.
AMT: And this is a woman called Kate?
ADRIAN OWEN: That's right. And Kate we put Kate into a PET scan. That's what we used to use in those days and we showed her pictures of faces of friends and family. And what was astonishing at the time was that the parts of her brain that we know are responsible for recognizing faces lit up exactly as they would in a healthy awake person. But at that point Kate looked to be in entirely vegetative in and entirely non responsive.
AMT: And you discovered that she was fully conscious.
ADRIAN OWEN: Actually, it was many years before we could really look back and understand what that meant. It required that we develop many other techniques. We moved on to use another form of brain scanning known as FMRI or functional magnetic resonance imaging. We scanned many different vegetative patients trying to explore a way of actually getting into their heads if you'd like to try and understand what these residual signs of brain activity really meant.
AMT: So how did you use the FMRI to test for consciousness?
ADRIAN OWEN: Well, it was a real turning point in the story I think and that was back in 2006. We realize that you're simply doing things to patients in the scanner like showing them faces wasn't going to so the really big question; Were they conscious? Was there any definitive evidence of consciousness? So we put together what I mean I think it seems like quite a strange experiment but we decided to ask the patient to imagine that she was playing tennis in the scanner. And the idea here was to try and activate the parts of the brain that we know are involved in moving your arms around. And we knew that if she did that it would indicate that she understood the instruction that we were giving her and that she could generate this sort of mental imagery in her head. And that's what we were really looking for. We were looking for a response that couldn't just happen automatically with something that the patient would have to want to do. And you know we got very lucky the first patient we tried this on responded exactly as we had hoped.
AMT: Because you were looking for something… even if you don't know how to play tennis you know what tennis looks like so you can imagine it, right? You needed something that was almost universal.
ADRIAN OWEN: Yeah it's actually it's a surprisingly reliable response. I sort of think of it as being analogous to asking your patient to raise their left arm. Everybody even if you haven't played tennis, you know that it involves waving your arms around with a tennis racket. And that's essentially all we were trying to get the patient to imagine doing. And it's worked many times successfully since people actually find the surprisingly easy to do in the scanner.
AMT: So you have them imagine that they were playing tennis and what did you see?
ADRIAN OWEN: We saw activity in a part of the brain known as the premotor cortex, and that's the part of the brain that is not only involved in imagining movements but in setting up sequences of movements. And because she produced that activity because her premotor cortex lit up, when we said imagine playing tennis and then the activity went away when we said okay, now stop, just relax. We could tell that she was making responses very much as though we'd said to her you know raise your arm now put your arm down now. It was it was the analogous situation. She was responding except with her brain rather than with her body.
AMT: You also would ask her to walk through her own home.
ADRIAN OWEN: Yes well I think it was very important to establish that she could do more than one thing. I mean there's always an element of chance in these things and we wanted to be absolutely sure that she was really responding. So we had a second task in there we said well, imagine walking from room to room in your home. Because again we know the areas of the brain that are involved in what we call spatial navigation, finding your way from one place to another in a familiar environment. And there are different areas. Now this is not the premotor cortex the areas the brain that are quite far away from that. And by getting it to do these two different things and systematically activating one area of her brain and then a different area of the brain, we could be absolutely sure that she really was in there understanding what we were asking her to do and producing these really quite complicated patterns of brain activity.
AMT: And then you took it further to actually communicate with patients. Tell us about Scott.
ADRIAN OWEN: Scott was a patient here in Canada. He was a local patient in London, Ontario. And Scott had been supposedly in a vegetative state for about 12 years at the point that we'd seen him. When I first met him he was much like any of the other of the hundreds of patients we've seen over the years. He was entirely non-responsive. We couldn't get him to look this way or look that way or blink or move. He really did appear to be in a vegetative state.
AMT: You started to use these methods of tennis and walking around the house to actually ask him questions. What did you do? What did you learn?
ADRIAN OWEN: Of course the first thing to do was to find out if he was in there and that was the big breakthrough. Sure enough when we said imagine playing tennis is his premotor cortex lit up. And when we asked him to move around his house other areas of the brain lit up, so we knew he was there. And again we had FMRI at our disposal so his family very kindly allowed us to scan Scott on a number of occasions. And we said to him Well we want you to do now is we're going to ask you some questions and if the answer is yes imagine playing tennis and if the answer is no Imagine moving around your house, and this is so very simple but effective means of communicating with him.
AMT: And so what did you find out?
ADRIAN OWEN: We began with questions that were really designed to find out what he understood about his situation. So we asked him things like what year it was. Was it 2012 the year we scanned him or was it 1999 the year that he had his accident. And it was very clear from his responses that he knew exactly what year it was. You know he knew that he was Scott. He knew where he was that he was in a in a hospital he was being scanned in a in a research institute. And then we moved on to ask questions that we felt were important in trying to improve his quality of life because I think this is really at that point that was where we were pushing the research. We really wanted to try and make a difference to some of these patients. So I guess the most important question I think we asked Scott was whether he was in any pain, because I think most people can appreciate the idea that a patient may be not only conscious for a long period of time, in Scott's case more than a decade. But also perhaps in pain is really quite a horrific idea for all of us.
AMT: You asked his mom if you can ask that question didn't you?
ADRIAN OWEN: I did. I did. Yes.
AMT: Was he in pain?
ADRIAN OWEN: No. And I have to say I am enormously relieved that that was his answer on two occasions. We asked him the same question. On both occasions he said no that he wasn't in any physical pain.
AMT: You know you're talking about this as if you were having a conversation with someone and but this was remarkable. You were able to tell through their reaction on an FMRI what they are thinking and that they are thinking.
ADRIAN OWEN: Yeah. Well I've been doing this for many years now and I honestly I still you know I still find it astonishing that we're able to do this. And in many ways it's still amazing to me when we when we break through and made contact with a patient and we start to explore what it must be like to be in this situation. It's still amazing to me.
AMT: Well in the case of Scott it changed his care right. Suddenly the caregivers were telling him their names. His mom would sit and talk to him as dad would like they understood that he could hear them. So it changed the way they reacted around him, did it not?
ADRIAN OWEN: This actually happens very frequently in my experience. I mean Scott's case his family were always extremely attentive. And I don't think there was any question that for them it necessary change their behavior but certainly care staff and nursing staff. I often find that once they know that the patient is conscious they really start to behave in a very different way. In the book I went back to talk to Kate the first patient we'd ever scanned. And I asked her about this.
AMT: Because she came out of her vegetative state.
ADRIAN OWEN: That's right. And you know she was able to describe what it was like to be treated just as a body. She put it to then later on be treated like a person. And she said well you know I suddenly became a person again. And I think that's really very often the case that these people once we identify that they are actually in their own, they're aware and often they've been like this for many many years. It brings back a sense of a person a sense of somebody actually being real.
AMT: What if someone told you they were miserable and wanted to die? What would you do?
ADRIAN OWEN: I think that's a really important question and it's very difficult to answer because you know right now we don't really have an ethical framework in place for what we would do with that information. I mean it's a question that are often asked; why didn't you use this to it to ask patients whether they want to live or die? And I think you know until we really know what we would do with that that answer you know, I don't think asking the question is appropriate. I also think there's another factor you need to consider. You know we're really still at the stage of our asking yes no questions of these patients.
AMT: Early days.
ADRIAN OWEN: Exactly and if you really wanted to be absolutely sure that somebody you know did have a strong opinion about what they wanted to happen to them, you'd want to spend quite a lot of time making sure that this wasn't a temporary situation. Are they in a in a fit state to make that decision? And these are things that face to face are relatively easy to do compared to doing it via a brain activity response in an FMRI scanner.
AMT: And it's not always fail proof what happened in the case of Won?
ADRIAN OWEN: No Won is an amazing patient. Again this young man from here right here in Canada. His parents brought him to London to be scanned at western and then we scanned Won. We actually did everything we had. I mean this is just a couple of years ago when we had MRI scans and we had EEG scans and there was nothing that we could do to give us any information that Won was actually aware. And you know I sent him back to his home with nothing really to tell his parents. We had found nothing but a few months later, Laura my research coordinator called up here Won’s mother and said how's he doing? You know we like to follow up with all our patients to see if there's any change in his mother literally he said well why don't you ask him? And Won had made a really quite miraculous recovery. I mean he had recovered to an extent that I have never seen before in another patient. He had gone from being in a vegetative state and an entirely non-responsive in any of the situations that we put him into, being able to learn to walk again to go back to college to get back into many of the activities that the social that he previously had. But what was really remarkable about Won is that he was able to report the experience of coming to my lab many months earlier. He could describe going into the scanner he could identify the people that had been present on that day. He could describe what we asked him to do in the scanner. It actually was a real wake up call for me.
AMT: How so? Because it doesn't really matter how many times we find these patients and even communicating via these yes no responses. There's always a sort of a distance. A distance where, we are connecting in a way and they are telling us a little bit about you know what it's like to be in a situation that the human connection is still not quite there because we're doing it through technology. We're communicating through technology and in Won’s case, it really hit home to me that he was there he was experiencing everything that we were experiencing on the day. He was listening to every conversation and he was remembering, it and he was reporting back to us what it felt like to be in that situation. And I think it made me realize really that you know these are people that have emotions and feelings and thoughts and we must never we must never forget that I think.
AMT: And any explanations to why that there was no brain activity through the FMRI?
ADRIAN OWEN: It's really impossible to know. It's often the case that a patient won't produce the activity that we're hoping for, and you know we try and get around that by scanning them on multiple occasions, because the patient sometimes they fall asleep in the scanner and they don't respond. In Won’s case we knew that he was awake because his eyes were open during the scan. It could possibly be that the parts of his brain that we needed to see activate when for example we asked him to imagine playing tennis, perhaps that part was damaged so he wasn't able to activate that part of your brain, even though as we know now he was perfectly conscious and aware at the time. You know sometimes these things can be deceiving and you know I've met many patients over the years who have clinically been written off as in a vegetative state only to find in fact the situation is quite the opposite.
AMT: Well that's what I'm wondering. I mean you know what you're discovering is profound. We would you know as a society write off so many people and what you're discovering what it's 15 to 20 percent of people in vegetative states are conscious is that the percentage?
ADRIAN OWEN: Yeah. I mean that percentage that's what the data says, now. We've conducted two studies of groups of patients and on both occasions is it between 15 and 20 percent. But you know bear in mind that by the time patients come to see us they typically been evaluated by clinical experts on you know on many occasions. And in a sense then, these are often the really difficult cases that people that really do seem to be in of it of it in a vegetative state. But you know out there in the world we know that the misdiagnosis rate is actually much higher. There are many studies in fact at least four studies have shown that up to 40 percent of patients are misdiagnosed. And by that I mean that these are patients who are assumed to be in a vegetative state but in fact when they are examined by clinical experts it becomes evident that they do have some residual awareness.
AMT: I can't imagine I mean the idea that you're locked in and you are conscious and you can't let anyone know. Frightening.
ADRIAN OWEN: Yeah. I mean I think that's really what's driven our research over the past 20 years is the idea that we can return some sort of autonomy to patients. Somebody asked me recently you know how many patients do you need to find this in for this to be worthwhile? And my also about one. You know I mean I think the idea is so shocking for most of us that you know if we'd only managed to do it once or twice I'd be happy. The fact that we've managed to do it on multiple occasions where it's 15 to 20 percent of patients I think is really very important.
AMT: And you make the point that we are our brains that you know, it tells us what it means to be ourselves.
ADRIAN OWEN: Yeah I mean I do think we are our brains. I mean we live in a world where it's possible to transplant many organs. You know we can have a kidney transplant, a heart transplant or a lung transplant but through any of those complex procedures we come out the other side the same person maybe you know a little bit altered by the experience. But fundamentally we are the same person. But you know imagine if we were to transplant a brain and that's not something that we can do. But imagine that we could you would absolutely be a different person. You'd have different memories, different personality, a different outlook, different perspective. And you know this is why I say in the book that really we are our brains. I mean that's one of the most important lessons that I've learned from neuroscience.
AMT: You have a personal connection to a lot of this in your own life, a woman who ended up in a vegetative state?
ADRIAN OWEN: Yeah I had. I mean the book begins by describing a former partner of mine some years after we had separated. I heard through mutual friends that she had had a brain aneurism, rupturing over an artery in her brain that had put her into a vegetative state. And this was actually about a year before I came across Kate. And I think that was the first the first experience, probably even the first time I'd heard the expression vegetative state. I mean this is this was prior to the Terri Schiavo case really you know opening this whole area up and I do wonder whether that is what pushed me in the direction of being interested in this situation. And a year later when Kate came along perhaps that's what really made me think well this is something i should spend a bit of time working on.
AMT: And how long did she live?
ADRIAN OWEN: She live for about 20 years.
AMT: So as you worked on this, what had happened to her was always there you stayed in touch with her brother?
ADRIAN OWEN: I did. I have a very good relationship with her brother and we even tried to scan her on one occasion, and that proved to be logistically impossible. She was in Scotland and I was working down in Cambridge in the U.K. at the time. It turned out that a colleague of mine actually ended up scanning her. He sent me the scans and asked me to look at them and try and interpret them because I had more experience than he had, and that was sort of an eerie moment it had happened just after I arrived here in Canada and it was I was sort of a sort of you know it was a difficult moment, I would say.
AMT: What did you learn from those scans?
ADRIAN OWEN: The findings were negative. There was no evidence of any residual brain activity. There was no suggestion that Maureen was still aware. I guess in some ways I was relieved by that I mean at that point it was many years since we had seen each other and I think in some ways I felt better about that than finding out that she'd actually been aware and nobody had known that for that whole period.
AMT: It's so fascinating that we've spent this time talking and I have now 15 more questions the legal, ethical, medical implications of what you're working on are huge and still need to be addressed.
ADRIAN OWEN: Yeah this is evolving all the time. That's really how my life has changed over that 20 year period. 20 years ago I was just a neuroscientist, just meeting and talking science with other neuroscientists.
AMT: Down in the basement of the hospital.
ADRIAN OWEN: Right now, you know, If one day I'll be discussing the situation with ethicists the next day I'll be dealing with lawyers about a legal case since it's astonishing to me how many people and how many different disciplines are touched by these conditions and what it tells us about the brain.
AMT: And you're making the rest of us aware as well.
ADRIAN OWEN: I hope so.
AMT: Thank you for your work. Thanks for coming in.
ADRIAN OWEN: Thanks for having me. Adrian Owen the Canada Excellence Research Chair in Cognitive Neuroscience and imaging at the Brain and Mind Institute at Western University. He's written a book called Into The Gray Zone: A Neuroscientist Explores The Border Between Life And Death. And he was here in our Toronto studio let us know what you think. You can tweet us @thecurrentCBC find us on Facebook. Go to the website cbc.ca/thecurrent and stay with us in our next half hour. What comes first arousal or desire? The latest segment in our project The Disrupters looks at the mechanics of women's sexuality and how little we know about it. Sex researcher Meredith Chivers has dedicated her career to finding some answers. Her insights, coming up next. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti, This is The Current on CBC Radio 1 Sirius XM, Online on cbc.ca/thecurrent and on your radio app.Back To Top »
What do women want? Sex researcher explores mysteries of female desire
Guest: Meredith Chivers
AMT: Hello I'm Anna Maria Tremonti and this is The Current. In 2000 Mel Gibson starred in a romantic comedy What Women Want. Early in the film. His character falls in a bathtub while holding a hairdryer, work with me here. The flug accident gives him the ability to read women's minds and get access to their secret desires.
[From the movie 'What Women Want" from 2000]
Flo: Mr. Marshall...
Nick Marshall Good morning, Flo.
Flo: Let me get you a cab, sir.
Flo whistles for a cab.
Nick: Thank you, Flo.
Flo [to herself]: You're welcome my little sweet-ass.
Nick: What did you say?
Flo: Me? Nothing.
Nick: You sure?
AMT: Sure. While men's sexual desire is generally perceived as simple and straightforward. Women’s simply is not and there's no Hollywood magic to help that out. Today as part of our project The Disrupters we're talking about female desire and I'll speak with the Canadian sex researcher who's overturning assumptions about what actually turns women on. But first The Current dropped by an Ottawa sex shop and bookstore called Venus Envy. Here is owner Sam Wittels take on female desire.
For us. We think that having all the knowledge you want or need is the key to a good happy healthy and hot sex life. And the story did start as store for women and people who love them. So we'll start here with our are safer sex condoms and lube Sections. This is our vibrator section here. We spend a lot of time talking about vibrators helping people pick out their first vibrator and more the second and third. One thing that turns women on is just having their pleasure being seen as important. Often what people need in order to kind of reconnect with their desire is, you know the same things people need to reconnect with pleasure in all aspects of their lives. So, ways to have less stress or calmdown the distractions or think about work less. Because you know it's hard to feel sexy and be in the moment when you're running through a grocery list or thinking about the millions of things you have to do that day or that week. So, yes, sometimes the sexiest thing you can do look is like hire a babysitter.
AMT: Well, hiring a babysitter may be a great place to start. But researchers are learning that when it comes to understanding what turns women on there are still many more questions than answers. Meredith Chivers is working on finding those answers. She's a Canadian sex researcher who's gained international recognition for her work in disrupting assumptions about female sexual desire. And just a warning our conversations going to be a frank discussion about sex and sexuality. Meredith Chivers is an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Queens University. She's also the director of the sexuality and gender Lab. And she joins us from Kingston, Ontario. Hello.
MEREDITH CHIVERS: Hello.
AMT: What did you think of what we just heard from the women sex store?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: I think that that is some fantastic advice, and I think that first of all giving women the knowledge that they need to understand their sexual response and to connect with their bodies is so incredibly important. And that's certainly one of the things that drives the work that we do in my lab, doing the basic science that we need to understand how women's sexual desire and sexual response works. And as well, the idea of reducing stress, reducing distractions and getting into the moment and I'll definitely underscore hiring the babysitter that's a good idea as well.
AMT: [Laughs] Okay. Just how complicated is female desire?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: I think that it's an unknown at this point to some degree. I think that the characterization of women's sexuality as you know, complicated or very complex is one that is often put out there as a comparison with men or male sexuality. And I think that part of the reason why we might think that is that we're expecting women's sexuality to behave like men's. And the more research that I do with my team here in Kingston and my collaborators around the world we realize that it's not, and that the models of male sexuality that have predominated for decades don't fit. And that we need to do the science to understand how women's sexuality is unique.
AMT: Well how has female sexual desire been understood or misunderstood in the past, then?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: Well dating back to the 50s and the pioneering work of Masters and Johnson the predominant model of sexual desire was that desire was the initiation of sexual response, that people had these spontaneous feelings of desire. They were like lightning bolts that zapped you out of nowhere and that that initiated a process of seeking out sex, either with a partner or partners or with yourself and then feeling turned on. And if you're lucky having an orgasm, for example. And over the years as more data has accumulated in this you know querying this idea of spontaneous desire. And as psychologists have spent some time thinking about this problem it doesn't really make sense that sexual motivation would emerge out of the blue. Sexual motivation isn't a drive like thirst or hunger. It may feel like we're going to die if we don't have sex but that's really not going to happen. So in psychological terms it's not a drive. But instead we are drawn towards the things that have previously been pleasurable or reinforcing. And so instead of desire being this spontaneous thing or something that's within us and some people have more, some have less. It is that desire can be triggered or it can be kindled or it can respond to sexual stimuli. And that's what we've been investigating in my laboratory is this idea that desire is responsive.
AMT: So tell us about some of the studies you conduct in your lab what sort of test do participants undergo?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: So we predominantly do sexual psychophysiology research. And what that means is we have folks come into our laboratory. They are in a private room and we'll attach a number of sensors to their body that measure for example their heart rate. But specifically we ask them to attach sensors to their genitals so that we can measure what happens to their genitals as they're getting turned on. We also ask people to tell us how they're feeling. Answer questions and use various kinds of devices to report how they're feeling in the moment. And we also have started using eye trackers. So these are devices that use cameras to follow where people are looking on a computer screen so that we can directly see what it is that they're looking at in real time. And we've also started using measures of neuro-sexual response, to get an idea of what's happening in the brain in those very early moments when people are first looking at sexual stimuli using electroencephalography or EEG. And so we have folks come in we take all of these kinds of measurements to get a sense of what happens in the moment when people get turned on. What happens with their genitals. What happens with what they're feeling. What is the relationship between mind and body. We're also really curious about the question of the kinds of things that turn people on because we've done research that suggests that there's quite a lot of variability in the kinds of things that turn women on.
AMT: Okay so what are some of the less predictable things that straight women, to begin with straight women, react to in the lab?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: So we've seen women who report exclusive or sexual attraction to men show fairly significant sexual responses to both male and female sexual stimuli. And that effect is seems to be quite unique to women who report that they're exclusively turned on by men. So it's a bit of a puzzle it doesn't correspond with what they're reporting is their sexual attractions. But we see that their genital responses, their eye tracking responses, their neural responses tend to be equivalent to these male and female sexual stimuli. But as we sort of go down the continuum of increasing sexual attraction to women. So bisexual women, queer women, lesbian identified women towards these sort of other end of the spectrum of people who would say oh I'm sexually attracted only to women. As we move down that there seems to be more differentiation in their sexual responses, more to female sexual stimuli than to male.
AMT: And why do you think that is.
MEREDITH CHIVERS: It's a great question. We don't know the answer to that. I think that it's pretty fascinating sort of clue to see that it's only exclusively heterosexual women who are showing this non differentiated pattern when it comes to gender. I recently proposed a number of different hypotheses that could be pursued to try to explain what's happening here. And there were a couple that really attracted some attention and I'll talk about them now. So one of them is the idea of objectification of women in the media, that there's an overwhelming degree in the western world where we see sexualized images of women everywhere. And so the possibility is that for exclusively heterosexual women their sort of sexual psychology has developed being marinated and sort of saturated in these ideas of sexualizing women and perhaps that has the capacity to shift their ability to become turned on by women. Right now we don't have the science to support that hypothesis or reject that hypothesis but I think it's a really interesting one to pursue. So a second hypothesis that I think also is quite compelling is the idea that the sexual response patterns may be emerging because there hasn't been much reinforcement of sex in one way or another for heterosexual women. So it's well known that straight women are less likely to experience sexual pleasure and orgasm during penetrative sex with men. But if you look at queer women and their sexual relationships it's overwhelmingly larger percentage of women who say well of course when I'm having sex with my girlfriend I'm experiencing sexual pleasure and an orgasm. That's part of what we're doing. But for straight women that reinforcement or that reward might be less predictable. And so perhaps for queer women they've had more and more experiences of being attracted to and sexual with women that are then paired with pleasure. And this might then shape their sexual responses to be greater to female the male stimulation for exclusively heterosexual women, you know unfortunately the status quo is very low rates of experiencing sexual pleasure with their male partners. And so they may not have that kind of an experience.
AMT: Hmm. And why would that be?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: I'm a whole number of factors can contribute to that. I mean communication between the couple is a huge point for couples to be able to have frank discussions about what feels good. I think another problem with the heterosexual, we call them sexual script so what people do when they get together and have sex, is that penile vaginal intercourse is the main event and most sexual interactions proceed along this trajectory where there's some foreplay that happens. But really the main event is getting to a penis and a vagina. And for a lot of women who have sex with men that's not necessarily what is going to give them the most sexual pleasure. And so it requires a degree of you know open communication and the couple and a degree of assertiveness on the woman's part to be able to say: “Hey! I'm happy to do this but I really need you to do these things for me as well, so I can also enjoy having sex?”
AMT: Okay. And you've looked at women whose bodies react to less predictable images, specifically the bonobo ape. What were you seeing?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: So to give some context to that study. The reason we did it was that I wondered whether this what we called a nonspecific pattern of genital response had really nothing to do with the genders of the people depicted in the film. So for my Ph.D. work at Northwestern University I had shown a diverse group of women films of gay men and lesbian women and heterosexual couples having sex and their general responses were fairly equivalent to all of these different stimuli. And so we wondered if it had had to do with the fact that there's just a lot of sex happening. Maybe it's the sexual activity that they're watching which kindles and triggers this what seems like a very automatic physical sexual response. And so we needed to come up with a stimulus that was frankly sexual but didn't contain any plausible sexual partner. And so bonobos were a great choice. They tend to mate in a very human like fashion almost like a missionary position. And what we found was that women had small but significantly different from non-sexual stimuli. Had these small genital responses to these bonobo films which suggested to us that simply just seeing sexual activity was enough to activate women's sexual response systems.
AMT: And into all of this, is an area related to sexual assault? And I want to ask you about that because of how women's bodies can respond sometimes. You've been contacted about your research by survivors of sexual assault. What have you heard? What are they telling you?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: Yes, absolutely. So I have in the work that I've done proposed that this very automatic genital response that women can experience when they see all kinds of sexual stimuli whether they're ones that they prefer or not, and in particular there are data suggesting that women when they listen to stories that involve non-consensual or violent sex or see films that depict this that they have these genital responses but they report that they don't feel turned on. And this also meshes with some of my clinical experience so I'm a clinical psychologist as well and have done therapy with women who've experienced sexual trauma. And some women have reported experiencing feelings of physical sexual arousal during a sexual assault. And as you can imagine this can be incredibly troubling for women who feel like in a moment where they were not consenting and they're experiencing violence and harm that their body is betraying them. And so one of the ways that I've reconceptualise this is that perhaps what's happening physically is a very automatic kind of response that is preparing women's physical body for sex whether it's wanted or not. And in some ways this might be akin to when people salivate when they see food. Maybe these genital responses that women are having now these increases in blood flow that increased lubrication to the genitals might reduce the amount of harm that she experiences if she were ever forced to have sex against her will.
AMT: And in fact you've heard from women, have you not, who say that they realize that their body lubricated and they're really troubled by that, because it was a sexual assault?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: Yes. Absolutely. Yes so I have had several women reach out to me and expressed gratitude at the reframing of this idea that it wasn't their body betraying them but it was their body protecting them, that they had experienced during sexual assault either feelings of physical sexual arousal or in some cases orgasms, and were deeply troubled as to what those physical signs of sexual response mean in terms of consent. And in fact going back a decade there were cases where those physical signs of arousal may have been interpreted as consent. You know other people who have contacted me in waves of media coverage of this work have been lawyers internationally who have been faced with you know testimony that women were lubricated or experienced an orgasm during this sexual assault and so, isn't this a sign of consent? And of course it isn't. You know consent is a freely given verbal agreement to have sex that has nothing to do with what a body is doing.
AMT: It's fascinating and it's very fraught too, huh?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: It is very fraught. This is challenging work to do.
AMT: I just want to shift to ask about pharmaceuticals and all of this. Pharmaceutical companies have marketed products for women so-called sexual dysfunction. What would you make of those products?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: I think that there is a large untapped market that is motivating these investigations. I think we always need to keep in mind the potential for vast amounts of money to be made in that pursuit. At the same time as I said I'm a clinician and if it were possible to provide women with a pharmaceutical that could help women who have for a whole variety of reasons experienced a loss of their sexual desire I would absolutely support that. I do think that using any pharmaceutical needs to happen in the context of broader psychotherapy, given everything we know about the other factors I talked about; communication with your partner's sexual assertiveness and perhaps addressing you know other longstanding issues surrounding comfort with one's sexuality. But I'm not going laterally against the idea of a pharmaceutical. I do think however that the ones that have to this point been made available have not been particularly impressive in how they've performed.
AMT: As a feminist do you think women should have access to something like Viagra?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: I think women should have free access to whatever they want. Viagra in particular you know, sure. Viagra actually works for women in the sense that it increases genital blood flow. You know the trials and marketing Viagra for women out the data suggested that you do see these physical sexual responses but women didn't report that they were actually feeling turned on. So you know it really wasn't having an appreciable effect on increasing women's sexual arousal and so those trials as I understand it were halted. But yes I think that women should have free access to whatever they want.
AMT: I want to talk a little bit more about arousal and desire and what your work reveals about how that works for women. You've looked at women with low sexual desire and the responses they have compared to women with high desire. What did you find?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: So a lot of this work is very preliminary. We're just now beginning to analyze data from a longitudinal study where we brought women into the laboratory who did have sexual difficulties and who didn't. And over a series of three months they came in for a monthly visit. They were exposed to a sexual or non-sexual film. And then we observed their sexual behavior. They filled out questionnaires, three days after they participated. The very preliminary data suggest that they responsive desire that we asked women about, so the desire that they felt after they got turned on in the laboratory, actually didn't look that different whether they had clinically significant low sexual arousal and desire versus not. These weren't women who had been diagnosed with a sexual dysfunction. But you know using self-report measures of distress and symptoms these women didn't show what we had expected which was lower feelings of desire for a partner or a lower desire to engage in solitary sex or masturbation after they watch these films. So really perplexing. We're not really sure what that means.
AMT: I was just going to ask you if you knew what it meant.
MEREDITH CHIVERS: No we have no idea. I mean I this is often my problem, which is we go in with a hypothesis that seems so reasonable and then we're faced with data that tell a very different story and then we need to do the science to follow up on those findings to try to make sense of what's happening. But I do think that these data might suggest that you know low sexual desire might reflect women’s more global impression of their desire and maybe not the capacity for their desire to be triggered in the moment. Another perplexing finding that is emerged out of this research is that if you look at the sexual responses of women who are diagnosed with low sexual arousal for example their genital responses don't look any different from women who have no sexual difficulties in the lab. And that really suggests to us that women still have this capacity to experience physical sexual arousal and so could we then help women to reconnect with their body to experience that. And so I wonder if women still retain this capacity to experience this physical sexual response and if desire isn't this spontaneous thing that initiate sexual response but actually emerges from people feeling turned on, that we might actually be able to kindle women's sexual desire by having them find the things that turn them on and then tune into their feelings of desire.
AMT: Okay. I hear what you're saying that's pretty fascinating. You know there are those who look at the research that you do and others do and they think it's frivolous. How do you respond to that?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: Well they're wrong. Sexuality is a fundamental part of everyone's being. And it is always shocking to me how little we know given how important our sexualities are. Whether we're having sex or not whether we're asexual or you know identify as lesbian, queers, straight or whether we're transgender, whatever. This is a fundamental part of being human. And I think it is shocking the degree to which we have very little idea of how these components have our sexual response works.
AMT: And lately there have been American researchers coming to Canada to continue their work. Why is that?
MEREDITH CHIVERS: Well I'll tell you my story so I was a graduate student in Chicago at Northwestern University I am Canadian but I went to the U.S. for my Ph.D. work and the political climate around the time that I was finishing up my Ph.D. was it was the Bush government. And there was a vote in Congress in the summer of 2003 to just unilaterally revoke funding federal funding for sexuality research based on moral and political positions. That for me it was all a sign that I needed that it was time to go home. There was no way that I was going to be able to fund the work that I wanted to do in women's sexuality in the U.S. And so I came back to Canada. And you know I'm so proud of our country and the number of incredible sexuality researchers that we have in Canada who frankly have been able to receive funding that otherwise they probably would have never gotten anywhere else in the world. You know the tri Council funding, so the Canadian Institute for Health Research, the social science and humanities research council, the natural sciences, engineering research councils of Canada have in so many ways allowed for Canada to become a world leader in sexuality research. And so I think that's why we're seeing folks from the U.S. deciding that maybe it's time to go elsewhere and maybe Canada is the right place to be.
AMT: It's fascinating work. Thank you for sharing some of what you've been discovering.
MEREDITH CHIVERS: Thank you so much for having me.
AMT: Meredith Chivers an associate professor in the Department of Psychology at Queens University. Director of the sexuality and gender lab at the University she joined us from Kingston, Ontario. Let us know what you think you can tweet us @thecurrentCBC, find us on Facebook, go to our website cbc.ca/thecurrent, click on Contact. That's our program for today stay with Radio 1 for q. Comedian W. Kamau Bell has made a career out of awkward moments and he's got a new show that's no different. He describes United Shades of America as a black man who goes to places he should not. Coming up he'll tell Tom Power all about it. If you missed part of our program today catch up with the CBC Radio app free to download from the App Store or Google Play. We began today with a goodbye on July 1st. Peter Mansbridge retires as host of CBC TV's The National will give Peter the last word today. I'm Anna Maria Tremonti. Thanks for listening to The Current.
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