February 8, 2021 - Podcast

Episode 88—Libido, and HIPAA

Sex drive, otherwise known as your libido, is the instinct, desire, or energy to engage in sexual behavior. And when it comes to a person’s sex drive, there is no right or wrong frequency or amount of sex. In fact, IU sex researcher Justin Garcia says everyone has their own baseline of what a normal libido is. Furthermore, desire for sex, he says, is based on a variety of factors, including how we feel mentally and physically, the setting, the stimuli, and who we are with. But there are a number of myths surrounding the human sex drive. Garcia says it’s important to debunk these misconceptions not only to prevent people from spreading inaccurate information but to also prevent them from putting unnecessary pressure on themselves or partners. One of the biggest myths is that women have a lower sex drive than men. A 2014 study showed that sexual desire manifests similarly among men and women based on sexual arousal and motivation. Gender norms and inaccurate methods used in research influence supposed gender differences. Another myth is that all men have a high sex drive. But experts say sexual desire varies, so the basis for defining a high sex drive is subjective. It's also harmful to everyone involved to think men have a high sex drive because it puts unrealistic standards on men and harmful expectations for others. Another common myth relates to foods like oysters, chocolates, strawberries and honey which are often thought of as aphrodisiacs, which increase sexual desire when consumed. There is limited research suggesting that any specific food can increase sex drive. Garcia says many of the myths around sex drive are generalizations about a particular group of people or misinformation about the factors that affect libido. It's important to understand that the desire to engage in sexual behavior largely varies between people, so you shouldn't automatically assume that everyone has the same sex drive as you, Garcia says. Before engaging in sexual activity, Garcia suggests having an honest discussion with your partner or partners about individual desires to establish clear boundaries.

In other news, Amazon has launched an online pharmacy, Amazon Pharmacy, but some experts are concerned the service could jeopardize user privacy because federal HIPAA protections might fall short in safeguarding sensitive health information. Amazon’s privacy policy states that it must comply with the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act because Amazon Pharmacy involves protected health information. However, the HIPAA law has come under fire recently for being outdated and for setting low enforcement standards for the digital age. Fred Cate, a cybersecurity expert at IU, says the online pharmacy poses some major risks. One is that the U.S. does not protect privacy well enough. We leave too much stuff out in the wild and unprotected, he says. Cate says the challenge with HIPAA is that where it applies — the delivery of and payment for health services — is cumbersome and bureaucratic. But an even bigger problem, he says, is where it does not apply -- such as medical, fertility and fitness apps on smart phones and the sale of supplements and other quasi-pharmaceuticals. Amazon is a good example of this divide, providing important products and services on both sides of it. Amazon maintains that its online pharmacy is distinct from its retail services and that customers’ private health data will not be used to populate recommendations for Amazon.com. But HIPAA has holes — and Cate and other critics have called for updates and improvements. The law, he says, should put less focus on bureaucratic tools — like notices no one reads and signatures on forms affirming that patients have read notices they may never have seen — and more focus on substantive privacy and security protections. Currently, HIPPA puts its weakest restraints on marketing of health services using personal data and is most restrictive regarding life-saving research, which Cate says seems perverse and contrary to consumer expectations. It doesn’t work well for a digital age in which most of us provide the vast majority of our health data in nonmedical settings, he says. While HIPPA may not protect us sufficiently online, Cate says we already trust Amazon with a lot of potentially sensitive data — such as what we watch and read, what we store in the Amazon cloud, financial and location information — and, to date, the company has a good track record. In fact, Amazon may actually bring stronger privacy protections to pharmacy data than many hospitals and medical offices do, he says. But it won’t be because of HIPAA, he cautioned. It will be in spite of HIPAA.