Strange but true

PUBLISHED : Sunday, 19 October, 1997, 12:00am
UPDATED : Sunday, 19 October, 1997, 12:00am

Q Marilyn Monroe was Norma Jean Mortensen and Judy Garland was Frances Gumm. But would they have been as successful if they had kept their original names? A Probably not. Imagine having a sexy pin-up of someone called Norma Jean Mortenson, or going to a movie that starred Frances Gumm? In an experiment at Tulane University, students were asked to choose a beauty queen from photos of six contestants, all very attractive. Only first names were given. In fact, the names were fictitious and assigned at random. Three had been judged desirable in student polls - Kathy, Jennifer and Christine - and three undesirable - Ethel, Harriet and Gertrude. You guessed it: the women with the popular names received 47, 52 and 59 votes; the others, 11, 14 and 14.

Q Do men and women think more about men or women? A It's an odd fact that, according to pioneer sleep researcher Calvin Hall, men worldwide dream about other men twice as often as about women; whereas women are equal-opportunity dreamers, invoking men and women about 50-50. And since many psychologists believe there is a strong parallel between people's dreams and waking thoughts, it's a good bet this gender gap also shows up in everyday life.

Q In the annals of the study of human sexuality, there have been some good ideas and some bad ideas. What are a few of the really bad ones? A Start with German psychiatrist Richard von Krafft-Ebing (1840-1902), whose writings did about as much as anyone's to convey sex as disgusting and sick for generations to follow, says John Dworetzky in Psychology. One of his gems: 'masturbation is a precursor to lust murder'. A century before that, Swiss physician Samuel Tissot earmarked masturbation as leading to acne, impotence, blindness and insanity. In the early 1800s, French physician Claude Francois l'Allemand used the term 'spermatorrhea' to describe nocturnal emissions, or 'wet dreams', which he claimed are related to gonorrhea.

L'Allemand's contemporary, physician Charles Drysdale, even declared spermatorrhea as terminal, with death brought on by apoplexy or brain exhaustion. As late as 1900, adds Dworetzky, some physicians advocated castration or clitoridectomy for masturbators, or cauterisation of the genitals with hot irons or glass rods dipped in caustic solutions. Special spermatorrhea bands with sharp spikes were constructed to slip onto the male member, making erections inadvisable for either guilt-ridden adults or children. Until the last years of his life, even Sigmund Freud believed that the loss of about 130 grams of semen could cause the same fatigue as the loss of nearly a litre of blood.