TIME Birth Control

Going Off the Pill Could Affect Who You’re Attracted to, Study Finds

New research shows that going off the pill could affect how attracted you are to your mate

Your birth control pill could affect your relationship, and not just because it halts baby-making. A new study published in the Proceedings of the National Academy of Science followed 118 couples who met while the woman was on hormonal birth control and found that going off the pill could impact how attracted she was to her partner.

Whether a woman’s attraction to her mate shifted post-Pill seemed to be determined by how objectively good-looking he was by evolutionary standards, which means his attractiveness is an indicator of genetic fitness. Some women with partners who were not conventionally attractive reported being less attracted to him after stopping oral contraceptives, whereas a decrease was not seen in women whose partners were conventionally handsome.

“Women who choose a partner when they’re on hormonal contraceptives and then stop taking them will prioritize their husband’s attractiveness more than they would if they were still on it,” says Michelle Russell, the Florida State graduate student who is the lead author on the study. “The effect that it would have on her marital satisfaction would carry more weight.” That means that if your husband is not conventionally attractive and you go off the Pill, his attractiveness might bother you more than before. Conversely, if you’re bored of your foxy husband, going off the Pill might make you more excited about him. Maybe.

Russell says the change may be attributed fluctuating estrogen levels, but says there could be many hormonal reasons for this effect. She also doesn’t suggest that this finding should dissuade women from using oral contraceptives. “This is just one finding,” she says.

Other studies have looked at how the Pill affects female attraction. A 2008 paper published in The Proceedings of the Royal Society B found that while women are usually attracted to the scent of men who are genetically different from them, women on the Pill are attracted to the scent of men who are more genetically similar. This may be because the Pill fools your body into thinking it’s pregnant, and pregnancy can affect attraction. In discussing the 2008 study, Scientific American hypothesized that while non-pregnant women would be more attracted to genetically dissimilar men (to avoid the possibility of incest and maximize immunity of their offspring,) women on the Pill may be more drawn to genetically similar men because pregnant women seek out family members.

Another study of 365 couples published this year in Psychological Science found that women who went on or off the Pill during a relationship were less sexually satisfied than women who were consistently on the Pill or who had never been on it.

While the exact mechanisms for how oral contraceptives affect female attraction aren’t totally clear, there is mounting evidence that hormonal birth control can affect more than just fertility. But scientists are not necessarily advocating that the risks outweigh the benefits. “Any drug that you take, people want to be informed consumers,” Russell says. “This is just one factor women might want to consider when deciding whether or not to use them.”

TIME

Ebola Virus In Semen: Everything You Want to Know

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LARRY MULVEHILL—Getty Images/Photo Researchers RM

An Indian man who survived Ebola was quarantined when his blood tested negative but his semen tested positive

An Indian man who survived Ebola in Liberia was quarantined at an airport in Delhi when his semen tested positive for the disease.

What’s confusing is that man had multiple blood samples tested for Ebola and they all came back negative. Based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the World Health Organization (WHO) recommendations, that means he’s free of Ebola. Still, the issue raises some questions that perhaps you’re too squeamish to ask. So we asked the CDC for you.

The answers to these questions were provided by CDC spokesperson Salina Smith.

1. So, Ebola can live in semen?
Yes, it can. The CDC says semen can test positive after clinical clearance—a negative blood test for Ebola—for up to three months. The agency recommends those who have survived Ebola abstain from sex, including oral sex, for at least three months. If abstinence cannot be followed, condoms should be worn.

2. Why does Ebola survive in semen longer than blood?
Semen and blood are different types of body fluids, and scientifically, the testes are known as immunologically “privileged” sites. Basically it’s easier for the virus to hide and avoid being attacked by the immune system in the reproductive system.

3. Why is someone deemed “cured” of the virus if it’s negative in their blood, but positive in their semen?
Theoretically it’s possible that Ebola could be transmitted via contact with Ebola-positive semen, but there is no evidence to date that this has ever happened. It may be that the virus is a more efficient transmitter in blood. What we know for a fact is that exposure to blood that’s positive for Ebola can infect other people.

4. Does the CDC explicitly recommend abstinence to every patient who survives Ebola?
The CDC’s guidance in the field is this: If the patient is a man, he should be informed that his semen can still be infectious for three months and that he must avoid or have protected sexual relations during this period. The patient and his partner are well counseled on this, and must have it clearly explained to them. A CDC medical team is supposed to provide them with enough condoms for that period. The CDC recommends this warning also be included on the patient’s discharge papers.

5. Does the CDC ever test patients’ semen?
The CDC does test the semen of patients who are medically evacuated to the United States. The agency also asks if patients in the United States would like to have their semen tested periodically so that the CDC can gain a better idea of how long the virus lasts.

6. Was it unusual that the Indian patient’s semen was tested?
No.

TIME Education

How AIDS Changed the History of Sex Education

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A Denver Public School sex education class in 1971 Barry Staver—Denver Post Archive / Getty Images

The conversation about what to teach and when shifted in the 1980s

It was September of 1986 when U.S. Surgeon General C. Everett Koop announced that the country had to change course on sex education. By then, however, the change had already begun.

Whether and how sex should be taught in public schools wasn’t exactly a new topic of discussion but, even as many programs began to move away from the straightforward facts of biology in order to get into the real experience of young sexuality, some details remained taboo. Was it O.K. to acknowledge homosexuality? Was it O.K. to talk about sexual acts unrelated to reproduction? And how young was too young?

Those questions could have been debated indefinitely; the metaphor of a pendulum is often used to describe changing attitudes toward sexual mores and education. Until something came along that made those questions seem less important than ever: AIDS. In the 1980s, even before Koop spoke out, fear of the then-mysterious disease gave parents, educators, politicians and students a reason to put aside their sqeamishness — and thus changed the history of sex ed forever. Which was where Koop came in, as TIME reported in a 1986 cover story by John Leo:

“There is now no doubt,” said Surgeon General C. Everett Koop in his grim report on AIDS last month, “that we need sex education in schools and that it must include information on heterosexual and homosexual relationships.” With characteristic bluntness, Koop made it clear that he was talking about graphic instruction starting “at the lowest grade possible,” which he later identified as Grade 3. Because of the “deadly health hazard,” he said later, “we have to be as explicit as necessary to get the message across. You can’t talk of the dangers of snake poisoning and not mention snakes.”

A poll accompanying the story found that the longstanding figure that 80% of Americans were in favor of public-school sex ed was out of date; it had jumped to 86%. Harvey Fineberg of Harvard’s School of Public health told the magazine that sex ed had become “a matter of life and death” and, even though not everyone agreed on what exactly should be included in such a class, particularly the question of whether to focus on abstinence, it was getting hard to argue that the topic should be avoided completely. (The “death” part was the only thing that was actually new; sex ed has always been a matter of life.) A full 95% of respondents to the TIME survey answered that they thought that 12-year-olds should be taught about the dangers of AIDS — nearly 20 percentage points more than answered yes to the question of whether kids that age should be taught “how men and women have sexual intercourse.” As a result, formerly off-limits subjects like anal sex were introduced to classrooms around the country.

By the time the magazine revisited the topic in 1993, a whopping 47 states mandated some form of sex ed for students — versus a mere three in 1980 — and every single state supported education about AIDS.

During the ’90s, sex ed programs grew, the teen birth rate sank and teens began to have less sex overall. As of 2002, TIME reported that “a quarter of all new HIV cases today occur in those ages 21 and younger” — and, as of 2010, that figure hadn’t changed much, with the CDC reporting that 26% of new infections were in people between the ages of 13 and 24. But that doesn’t mean that nothing has changed. Instead of sex ed ending HIV infection among teenagers, treatment for AIDS became a reality and the syndrome stopped being the conversation-ender it once was, freeing parents and educators to go back to war over what should be taught when. Today, fewer than half as many states as did 20 years ago require that public-school students get sex ed in the classroom.

The pendulum, it appears, continues to swing.

Read more: Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed in the Internet Age

TIME Education

Sex Education, From ‘Social Hygiene’ to ‘The Porn Factor’

The facts of life have been inspiring debate for decades

Within mere weeks of the publication of TIME’s first issue in 1923, sex education was making news: the “Social Hygiene Bureau” had done a survey of 5,000 American women, with the goal of designing a more “discriminating” kind of sex ed. This was news because 74% of the respondents admitted to using birth control of some sort, a surprising finding for the era.

Over the years, TIME’s coverage of the topic — which has included several cover stories — has ranged from 1930s worries about “over-intellectualization” of the topic, to Alfred Kinsey’s 1950s pronouncements that some form of sex ed should begin in infancy, to the first federal grants in the field in the 1960s, to a 1972 cover story’s finding that teens having sex younger didn’t mean they weren’t “woefully ignorant” on the topic, to Surgeon General C. Everett Koop’s 1980s statement that sex ed should be “as explicit as necessary,” to the 1990s fear that Dawson’s Creek was doing more to educate kids than schools were, to the 2000s fear that the Internet’s “porn factor” had replaced Dawson’s Creek.

And yet a few questions have been constant: How much of this is about the mechanics? How much is about the morality? How much should be done by schools and how much by parents?

Those debates continue today, as schools confront the problem of why they’re still having trouble teaching the topic.

Read more: Why Schools Can’t Teach Sex Ed in the Internet Age

 

TIME feminism

Daniel Radcliffe Shuts Down ‘Sex Symbol’ Stereotype

And calls everyone out for treating Emma Watson differently

Cue the melting of Harry Potter fans’ hearts everywhere: when asked about being a sex symbol in a recent AP interview, Daniel Radcliffe came up with the perfect response.

As part of a discussion about his past roles, the reporter asks Radcliffe whether it’s strange to have gone from being the boy wizard Harry Potter to a grown-up sex symbol.

In response, he describes a conversation he had with someone who referred to him as an “unconventional” romantic lead: “She said, ‘Well, I think it’s probably the fact that, you know, we associated you with playing Harry, the young boy wizard.’ My immediate response was, ‘Well, the male population has had no problem sexualizing Emma Watson immediately.'”

Watch the whole interview here.

 

 

TIME animals

Scientists Trace Back the First Sexual Act Ever, to Weird Ancient Fish

Ancient fish were the first to copulate. And according to a world renowned paleontologist, it looked a lot like square dancing

Scientists have discovered the origins of sex, and like anyone’s first time it sounds pretty awkward.

Now light some candles and let’s set the scene: The first act of copulation occurred in the nippy Scottish sea some 385 million years ago. The fornicators in question were a set of primitive jawed, bony fish aptly called Microbrachius dicki. The dirty details? Well, according to Australian paleontologist John Long, “With their arms interlocked, these fish looked more like they are square dancing the do-se-do rather than mating.”

Not only had scientists previously thought that the first sex act occurred on land at a later date, but Long says, “We didn’t expect these little suckers to have reproductive organs.”

But the M. Dicki were endowed, as is explained by Long and his colleagues in a paper that was published in Nature Monday. Although their genitalia are not described in romantic terms.

Long, a professor at Flinders University, explained to the BBC that the fish’s arms linked them together, “so the male can get this large L-shaped sexual organ into position to dock with the female’s genital plates, which are very rough like cheese graters. They act like Velcro, locking the male organ into position to transfer sperm.”

This is also the first species that displayed a different appearance between the male and female.

TIME relationships

Why Parents Let Kids Watch More Movies With Sex and Violence

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Fuse/Getty Images

They're getting desensitized, study suggests

If you’ve felt like PG-13 movies have gotten more violent lately, you’re right. A new study published in the journal Pediatrics reports that violent scenes are now more common, with gun violence tripling in movies since 1985. Sex scenes in R-rated movies are up, too.

One possible reason: the more parents watch movies filled with sex and violence, the less they appear to care about the age of children watching them, too, the study suggests.

Annenberg Public Policy Center researchers screened several movie clips in succession for 1,000 parents of pre-teens and teens, asking them what they thought was an appropriate minimum age for their child to watch the movie. The more movie clips the parents watched, the more lax they became about who should watch the film.

At first, the parents rated violent scenes appropriate for kids at age 16.9 on average, and sex scenes appropriate for kids starting at age 17.2. But by the end of the study, those thresholds had dropped. Parents thought kids ages 13.9 could watch the violent scenes and kids aged 14 could watch the sex scenes.

Outside of the lab, parents have input in how movies are rated. Several members on the board of the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA), the group that rates movies, have children, the study says. Researchers think that the increase in sex and violence may actually be due to parents becoming desensitized to the scenes. This, the authors conclude, “may contribute to the increasing acceptance of both types of content by both parents and the raters employed by the film industry.”

TIME Sex

Parents and Teens Aren’t Embarrassed by the Sex Talk Anymore

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But there's still a lot more conversations that need to happen, according to new data shared exclusively with TIME

Adolescence is an entirely new beast in the era of high-speed Internet and smartphones. People have never been so easy to chat with nor has content been so easy to download–and that adds a new layer to the parental ritual of having “the talk.” But new data shows that while parents and young people are perfectly willing to chat about sex, they may not be doing it as often as they should.

Planned Parenthood and and New York University’s Center for Latino Adolescent and Family Health surveyed a nationally representative sample of 1,663 pairs of parents and their children, ages 9-21, to get a sense of how American families of all backgrounds are communicating about sex and healthy relationships. What the inquiry found was that eight out of 10 young people have talked to their parents about sexuality. Among those pairs, about half of the parents said they started having the talk with their kids by age 10 and 80% initiated the conversation by age 13.

While a high majority of parents (80%) talked to their kids about sexuality beyond the basics, like peer pressure and how to stay safe online, responses also revealed that they weren’t doing it all that frequently. Over 20% of parents said they’d never talked to their 15-21-year-olds about strategies for saying no to sex, birth control methods, or where to get accurate sexual health information, and over 30% hadn’t talked to their kids about where to get reproductive health services.

“The great news is that parents and teens are talking about these topics,” says Leslie Kantor, vice president of education at Planned Parenthood Federation of America. “Most parents and their children report starting these conversations before the age of 14, and they are talking about topics like peer pressure, puberty and staying safe online. The bad news is that people don’t necessarily have a lot of conversations, so [it] doesn’t become ongoing.”

Although most parents and young people said they didn’t feel embarrassed to talk about sex, nor felt they needed to rely on schools to do it, sometimes parents weren’t very clear about their stance on virginity. For instance, 61% of parents want young people to wait to have sex until they can handle the responsibility (45% advocated waiting for marriage), but only 52% of parents talked to their kids about sexual values, regardless of their beliefs.

Experts suggest that starting the conversation may be the trickiest part. “Young people are dealing with some different contexts than in the past,” says Kantor, citing the pervasiveness of social media. “When was I was growing up, I couldn’t meet up with someone by meeting them on a game online. These things didn’t used to happen.”

Kantor says parents are learning to deal with circumstances they never experienced themselves, and therefore feel like they can’t keep up, or don’t really know where to start when it comes to sexuality in the digital age.

Sometimes, using the same technologies can be the best way to ensure positive learning opportunities–an idea Planned Parenthood has adopted. If young people are getting a lot of sex education from the media other online sources—more than 75% of primetime programming contains sexual content—then parents and educators can harness that for the good.

Planned Parenthood has set up chat and text sex education programs that allow young people to chat in realtime with a PP staffer about everything from STD to morning-after pill questions. In September alone, there were 10,974 conversations, and since the launch in May this year, there have been a total of 393,174. The organization also has an Awkward or Not app that takes young people through an online quiz that gives them the chance to send their parents a text to start a conversation about dating and sex.

“We are very committed to ensuring that parents are the primary sex educators of their own kids,” says Kantor. “Use TV as an opportunity. Even if the show is sending a terrible message, it gives you a chance to get in there with something else. For example, asking, ”Is this what people look like at your school? Not everyone is size two.'”

Ultimately, 90% of parents surveyed said they think that sex ed should be taught in both middle school and high school, which is telling in a country where abstinence-only education is still a mainstay and often sex ed is reserved to a brief health or gym class period—or in some places is entirely non-existent. There’s a lot of incomplete or incorrect information out there when it comes to sexuality, and if parents and young people really don’t feel that embarrassed to have these conversations, then it’s time to break the ice.

Read next: How Nudity Became the New Normal

TIME relationships

15 Guys Explain Why They Date Women Over 30

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Tom Merton—Getty Images/OJO Images RF

Here's why older is better in some men's eyes

We’ve all heard the sobering statistics: given a choice, straight men of all ages would rather date women in their twenties. Women, on the other hand, prefer guys closer to their own age. In September, a study of 12,000 Finns reaffirmed what prior research had already established.

But there’s something fishy about all that data. If dudes were really so set on their caveman-era mating habits, wouldn’t we see more single ladies over 30 home knitting tea cozies on Friday nights? (Then again, just because a guy wants to date a younger girl, doesn’t necessarily mean she wants to date him!)

As a woman over 30, I decided to try to get to the bottom of this conundrum by asking a series of straight, unmarried men in their 20s, 30s, 40s and 50s to find out why some actually prefer to date “older” women. Turns out, there’s lots to love about women of a certain age.

Men in their 20s date women over 30 because:

“They understand better how to interact in a relationship.”
— José Fernández, 24 (single)

“I appreciate the grace and expression of slightly older women. Certain facial features, like smile lines, can be charming.”
— Niv, 25 (single)

“They know what they want. There is more of an end game. So if you meet their criteria, they’re good.”
— Billy, 27 (has a girlfriend)

“I think women in their 30s are in their prime. Sexual maturity, the way that they carry themselves — for me something about it screams woman.”
— Alex Sanza, 28 (single)

“They are more stable.”
— Solomon, 29 (just started seeing someone over 30)

While men in their 30s say:

“Generally more expert at the multisensory/theatrical aspects of the whole dance.”
— Anonymous, 30 (single)

“Much better sex”
— Anonymous, 32 (actively dating)

“When I was in my 20s, I was drawn to older women because it gave me a certain level of confidence because she was established. She’s not as needy.”
­— Peter Bailey, 34 (“not married”)

“More nurturing.”
— Percy Baldonado, 38 (single)

Men in their 40s add:

“Women over 30 have stopped putting metal through their lips and tongues which makes it easier to kiss them. And they’ve figured out their makeup routine so they won’t keep you waiting as long when you’re trying to get to an event.”
— Anonymous, 49 (seeing someone)

“Age has never really played a role in who I date … I have dated my own age, younger than me, and older. What it comes down to is, I like this girl, she’s cute, and I’d like to see her again.”
— Chris Dinneen, 41 (in a relationship)

“I always liked somewhat older women for their maturity, self confidence and poise, finding those qualities quite attractive and usually absent in younger girls.”
— Daren, 45 (in a long-term relationship)

And men in their 50s prefer women over 30 because:

“We have similar life experiences and similar pop culture references. It’s a little more comfortable.”
— David, 50 (seeing someone, not exclusive)

“Given that I’m 52, I can’t really relate to dating someone in her 20s — too much of an age difference.”
— Patrick, 52 (single)

TIME Sex

Does Teen Sexting Lead to Earlier Sex?

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Getty Images

The latest research teases apart whether sexting promotes more sex, or whether having sex makes sexting more likely

While plenty of studies have linked the sending of sexually explicit messages or naked pictures to a higher incidence of sex and risky sexual behavior, most of those studies didn’t follow the same children over time. That means they studied sexting habits in one group of children, and sexual behaviors in another, older group a year or so later. So it’s possible that other factors could explain the relationship that had nothing to do with the sexting.

To address that issue, Jeff Temple, from the department of obstetrics and gynecology at University of Texas Medical Branch, collected data from a group of nearly 1,000 high school students in Texas over six years. The students answered questions about dating, dating violence and other behaviors as sophomores and then as juniors. Temple then compared the answers.

MORE: Review: Men, Women & Children Shows How Sexting Is Ruining America

Reporting in the journal Pediatrics, he says that those who sexted as sophomores were 32% more likely to have had sex in the following year than those who did not, supporting earlier data. But Temple was also able to break down the types of sexts the students primarily used, from those who actively sent naked pictures to those who only received or asked for them. Those who only received sexts did not show a statistically significant higher risk of having sex, but those who asked for a sext were nearly 10 times more likely and those who were sent a sex were 5.3 times more likely to send one themselves. And students who sent sexts were the most likely to have sex in the following year.

“So basically if a parent saw his kid had asked for a sext, that in and of itself isn’t related to sexual behavior unless that kid also sent naked pictures of himself,” says Temple.

The data also showed that sending sexts, while associated with a higher chance of having sexual intercourse, was not linked to an increased incidence of risky sexual behavior, such as unprotected sex, having multiple sexual partners, or using alcohol or drugs before sex. “That was surprising but it might mean that sexting is not limited to just at-risk kids,” he says. “Sexting may be becoming part of sexual development, and therefore it involves a cross section of all adolescents.”

MORE: Sexting in Middle School Means More Sex for Preteens and Teens

Temple admits that the data need to be confirmed with other studies; the reports on sexting and sex were self-reported by the students, which could affect their reliability. But the rates of sexting, along with sexual intercourse, fall in line with national surveys so are likely to be valid, he says.

MORE: Non-Consensual Sexting: The Hot New Way to Make Someone Really Uncomfortable

If sexting is indeed part of the new normal of sexual development, then it could be a sign of those who are more ready for sexual activity or more receptive to it, he says. Studies show that up to a third of adolescents are involved in sexting, and they may be good candidates for education about safe sex and the dangers of unprotected sex. “If sexting does predate sex, then it’s of public health importance. It becomes a marker of sexual activity and it could be a good opportunity to talk to them about safe sex prior to them having sex and preventing early sexual debut and risky sexual behavior,” he says.

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