The Anti-Rape Condom
Today's New York Times magazine includes a digest of the most noteworthy ideas of the past 12 months. The list is long. Here are a few of the best:
The Anti-Rape Condom:
The vagina dentata - a vagina with literal or figurative teeth - is a potent trope in South Asian mythology, urban legend, Freudian rumination and speculative fiction (the novel "Snow Crash," by Neal Stephenson, for example). But it took a step toward reality this August with the unveiling of the Rapex, a female "condom" lined with rows of plastic spikes on its inner surface.
The Rapex is the brainchild of Sonette Ehlers, a retired blood technician in South Africa who was moved by the country's outlandish rape rate, which is among the highest in the world. The device is designed to be inserted any time a woman feels she is in danger of sexual assault. Its spikes are fashioned to end an assault immediately by affixing the Rapex to the assaulter's penis, but also to cause only superficial damage. The Rapex would create physical evidence of the attack as well and, as Ehlers laid out a course of events for reporters at a news conference, send the offender to a hospital, where he would be promptly arrested.
Sometimes, when a dolphin in Shark Bay, off the coast of Western Australia, prepares to forage, she drops to the sea floor, rips a fat conical chunk of sea sponge out of it, covers her beak with the sponge cone and sets to work. After she finds the fish she wants, she drops the sponge. "Sponging," as the scientists at the Shark Bay Dolphin Research Project call this behavior, is an unusual instance of an animal using another animal as a tool, but that is not what makes the sponging interesting to biologists. It's that dolphins learn to use the sponges - to probe deeply for food while protecting their beaks - from their mothers.
The sponging dolphins "see what Mom does and do it," Mann says. One-tenth of the mothers sponge. Many of their offspring have been seen sponging, too, and there is at least one documented case of sponging by a grandmother, a mother and a granddaughter. Nearly all of the mature spongers are female. Quite a few juvenile males try sponging, but they don't keep it up. Krutzen and his colleagues speculate that the solitary nature of sponging may be incompatible with the intense social requirements that characterize mature male dolphin life.