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Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Redheads Really Are...

 "While the rest of the species is descended from apes, redheads are descended from cats." - Mark Twain

Throughout history, much prejudice and suspicion has been attributed to the redhead. Even today most people believe redheads are fiery and hot-tempered individuals. Another old, common belief that has endured is that they are highly-sexed. Cited as an early example, Jonathan Swift satirized redheads in Gulliver's Travels in 1726: "It is observed that the red-haired of both sexes are more libidinous and mischievous than the rest." 

Here is another literary example of redhead reference from Annie of Green Gables. Main character Anne Shirley speaks to her guardian Marilla: "You'd find it easier to be bad than good if you had red hair," said Anne reproachfully. "People who haven't red hair don't know what trouble is."

General stereotypes may stem from the fact that Scots, with their high percentage of red-haired people, are descended from the Celts, notoriously violent warriors.

One particularly famous redhead struck fear in the Roman legions. Roman historian Deo Cassius described British warrior Queen Boudicca as "tall and terrifying in appearance with a great mass of red hair." The Romans also paid a premium for red-haired slaves. 

Myths and Redheads

Redhead myths in history abound. The ancient Greeks believed that redheads would turn into vampires following their death. 

During the Middle Ages, red hair was disparagingly called judas-colored, in reference to Judas Iscariot. Thus, red was seen as the color of the Devil, so a child born with red hair was conceived during "that time of the month." 

And, the Spanish Inquisition supported the idea that flame-colored hair was evidence its owner had stolen the fire from hell and had to be burned as a witch. ("Redheads: Myths, Legends, and Famous Red Hair,"

The Truth About Redheads

Red hair is the rarest type of natural hair color in humans. Why? Well, that is still somewhat up for debate. Many scientists believe the pale skin associated with red hair may be of advantage in far-northern climates where sunlight is scarce. Studies by Bodmer and Cavalli-Sforza hypothesized that lighter skin pigmentation prevents rickets in colder latitudes by encouraging higher levels of Vitamin D production and also allows the individual to retain heat better than someone with darker skin.(WR Bodmer WF & LL Cavalli-Sforza, Genetics, Evolution and Man, 1976)

Studies show, the highest proportion of redheads is found in Scotland and Ireland, where as many as 10%-13% have ginger or strawberry blond hair, while it is thought that up to 35% carry a recessive "ginger gene." However, dark red or reddish-tinged hair is also found in other Caucasian populations particularly in Scandinavia.

Red hair often means light eyes, pale skin, and freckles, so sunburns and a high incidence of skin cancer occur in redheads. Chemistry professor John Simon and his colleagues at Duke University believe that melanin, the pigment responsible for darkening skin in the baking sun, is more likely to kick-start DNA damage—and therefore cancer—in redheads than it is in black-haired people. (Megan Mansell Williams, "Secrets of Redheads," Discover Magazine, November 2005)

Williams reported that researchers compared the reaction of melanin in red hair and black hair to various wavelengths of ultraviolet light and found that pigment isolated from red hair requires less energy to undergo the chemical reaction that produces the unstable, DNA-damaging free radicals linked to cancer. The melanin in black hair needs more energy to produce free radicals, reducing their damaging effects under normal atmospheric conditions.

Research from 2002 found that people with red hair are more sensitive to pain; as a consequence, they need more anesthetic during operations than other patients."Red hair is the first visible human trait, or phenotype, that is linked to anaesthetic requirement," reported anaesthesiologist Edwin Liem, who conducted the research at the Outcomes Research Institute of the University of Louisville. The researchers found that redheads required 20 per cent more aesthetic to dull the pain. (Will Knight, "Red Heads Suffer More Pain," New Scientist, October 15 2002)

In people with red hair, the cells that produce skin and hair pigment have a dysfunctional melanocortin 1 receptor. Liem said this dysfunction triggers the release of more of the hormone that stimulates these cells, but this hormone also stimulates a brain receptor related to pain sensitivity.

And now, Hamburg sex researcher, Professor Dr. Werner Habermehl, in a new study documented the sex lives of hundreds of German women and compared them by hair color. Habermehl said that the sex lives of redheaded women were not only more active than women with other colors of hair, but that red heads have more partners and sex more frequently than the average person. (Tom Miller, "Redheads Have More Sex, Survey Says,", 2011)

"The research shows that the fiery redhead certainly lives up to her reputation," reported Habermehl. He believes that women who dyed their hair red from another color were signaling they were looking for a partner.

Psychologist Christine Baumanns doesn't blame the redheaded women for having better sex lives. She thinks it just may be the way they are perceived. "Red stands for passion and when a man sees a redhead, he will think he is dealing with a woman who won't mess around, and gets straight to the point when it comes to sex," she said.

Baumanns said: "Red stands for passion and when a man sees a redhead he will think he is dealing with a woman who won't mess around, and gets straight to the point when it comes to sex."
Maybe it makes evolutionary logic that men will hotly pursue those women who, by virtue of a few mutated chromosomes, stand out from the crowd.

"Out of the ash I rise with my red hair and eat men like air." --Sylvia Plath

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