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 Courts

Court Justice Suspended Over Role in Porn Scandal

The court's action followed disclosures last week by Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a Republican, that McCaffery had sent or received 234 emails with sexually explicit content or pornography from late 2008 to May 2012

(HARRISBURG, Pa) — The Pennsylvania Supreme Court on Monday suspended one of its members over his participation in a state government pornographic email scandal that involved employees of the attorney general’s office.

The court justices issued an order saying Justice Seamus McCaffery may not perform any judicial or administrative duties while the matter is reviewed by the Judicial Conduct Board, which investigates allegations of judicial misconduct.

The main order also noted allegations about McCaffery’s actions related to a traffic citation received by his wife, who is a lawyer, and referral fees she obtained while working for him as an administrative assistant. It also noted he “may have attempted to exert influence over a judicial assignment” in Philadelphia.

The Judicial Conduct Board was given a month to determine whether there is probable cause to file a misconduct charge against McCaffery, a Philadelphia Democrat elected to the seven-member bench in 2007.

McCaffery’s lawyer, Dion Rassias, said they were confident he will be cleared and will soon return to the bench.

The court’s action followed disclosures last week by Chief Justice Ronald Castille, a Republican, thatMcCaffery had sent or received 234 emails with sexually explicit content or pornography from late 2008 to May 2012. McCaffery apologized, calling it a lapse in judgment, but blasted Castille for “a vindictive pattern of attacks” against him.

A third justice, Michael Eakin, also a Republican, on Friday went public with a claim McCaffery had threatened to leak “inappropriate” emails Eakin had received if he didn’t side with McCaffery against Castille.

McCaffery denied threatening Eakin, who reported the matter to the Judicial Conduct Board. Neither Eakin nor McCaffery participated in the court’s decision.

Castille was among the four justices voting to suspend McCaffery with pay, along with Max Baer, Corry Stevens and Thomas Saylor. Justice Debra Todd dissented, saying she would have referred the matter, including the question of suspension, to the Judicial Conduct Board.

An internal review of how state prosecutors handled a child molestation case involving former Penn State University assistant football coach Jerry Sandusky turned up the email exchanges of pornographic images and videos. Four former employees of the prosecutors’ office have left their government jobs as a result.

Attorney General Kathleen Kane, who promised the Sandusky review during her 2012 campaign, has said current employees of the attorney general’s office also sent or received the emails and could face discipline.

Castille, responding to news reports that judges were involved, demanded any information Kane had concerning the participation of any justice, judge or district judge. Kane, a Democrat, turned over the emails linked to McCaffery, and Castille disclosed the results last Wednesday, saying no other justices were involved.

Castille said McCaffery sent most of the emails to an agent in the attorney general’s office, who then forwarded them to others.

McCaffery said “coarse language and crude jokes” were simply a part of his life as a Philadelphia policeman and a Marine.

TIME relationships

Why Parents Let Kids Watch More Movies With Sex and Violence

Girl in Movie Theater Eating Popcorn
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

Condoms Teens Sex
Getty Images

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?

teen sext text
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.

TIME Dating

Men of All Ages Want Women in Their Mid-20s, Study Says

Couple holding hands while riding bicycles
Cavan Images—Getty Images

Whereas women tend to prefer men of the same age or slightly older

Straight men of all ages tend to have their romantic sights set on women in their mid-twenties, while women prefer men who are about the same age as they are, according to a new study.

The survey out Friday, financed by the government-backed research funding group Academy of Finland, gathered data on 12,000 Finns and found that women, on average, are looking for partners who are about their age or slightly older. But men across the age spectrum have a sexual preference for women in their mid-20s. This remains true for men of all ages—men in their early-20s or younger are attracted to women older than themselves and older men are attracted to younger women.

The findings are similar to data culled from the dating website OKCupid, which found that male users of the site of all ages, by far, are looking for women in their early-20s.

TIME Dating

18 Reasons It’s Great to Be Single (According to People In Relationships)

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Digital Vision.—Getty Images

And single people give a bunch more

Being single is rad and always has been. So rad, in fact, that single people now represent a majority of the U.S. population. One in four Millennials say they don’t ever plan on getting married.

Single people are so comfortably in the mainstream that the whole idea of making time to celebrate Singles Week—that’s this week—is beginning to feel a little weird.

[Note: I’m ignoring the very real structural inequalities levied against single people, helpfully outlined in this post by Bella DePaulo, because that’s not my point here but by all means if anyone wants to launch a singles revolution let me know. I’m always down to Fight The Power.]

Anyway, in celebration of this ridiculous holiday we compiled two lists, both about the same thing: what’s great about being single. One list comes from single people themselves, the other list from people in relationships. The entries have been lightly edited where necessary but reproduced as faithfully as possible.

A number of responses, particularly from people in relationships, reflected the mistaken notion that single people are happily filthy and frumpy looking all the time. (e.g.“You don’t have to impress anyone.”) Since being single in no way diminishes the libido and the art of seduction often depends, at a bare minimum, on at least passable hygiene, we can dispense with that whole line of thought outright. Other responses, again perhaps unsurprisingly mostly from the coupled, were splendidly optimistic (e.g. “You can make out with anyone you want anytime you want.”)

If indeed the world is that much your oyster then by all means, Casanova, carry on. Sadly most of us don’t have that kind of game, so I’ve eliminated most such responses as well.

SINGLE PEOPLE on the Benefits of Singledom

“You will never in your single life be told how much ice cream is too much by your non-existent partner. Never. Not even once.”

“No guilt flirting.”

“If you like to travel you travel. That’s pretty much the beginning and the end of that entire discussion.”

“I don’t have to say hello to anyone when I get home.”

“You stay culturally relevant. So many people have never experienced the joy that is Tinder.”

“You don’t have to go to work events with your significant other where you know nobody and where there’s never enough alcohol.”

“If you’re tall you don’t have to worry about whether you should wear high heels out, how high those heels are before you’re taller than the guy, and whether that’s emasculating.”

“You can’t be cheated on.”

“Life can be one big weird sexual walkabout if you want it to be.”

“If you have a food allergy, you don’t have to worry about whether he’s ordering things with nuts.”

“Girlfriends are net generators of grief. They may start out easygoing, carefree, accommodating, but eventually the grief will start”

“Having hilarious/horrifying dating stories with which to entertain your friends.”

“The adventure of not knowing how your Saturday night will end. “

“I have an ex who, feeling disgruntled one evening, and to be fair had reason to be, leveled my herb garden and left me in the morning.”

“You can listen to the same Leonard Cohen album over and over for the entire winter without anyone yelling at you.”

[Divorced] “Career and big life decision flexibility. Doing whatever the hell you want to excess. $$$”

“You can wear lipstick all the time.”

“Fewer people have an incentive to lie to you.”

“Less likely you will get pregnant on purpose with a partner you will be yoked to for 18 years despite them revealing themselves as a terrible person.”

“Getting to know yourself and your habits.”

“Independence. Dating. Having sex with EVERYONE.”

“Going to the movies and never having to worry about finding two seats together.”

[Widowed] “Learning to forgive and live again.”

“Singing and talking to my dog.”

“Best/Worst: eating for one.”

“Not clearing your browser history.”

“Never having to leave a place until I [explicative] feel like it and never having to go to a place unless I [explicative] feel like it and doing whatever the [explicative] I want at all the time.”

“Masturbation Marathons!!!”

 

COUPLED PEOPLE on the Benefits of Singledom

“You never have to see a movie with Liam Neeson in it.”

“You can binge watch an entire series in one weekend without committing Netflix infidelity.”

“You only have to deal with your own parents and their crazy.”

“Do you know how embarrassing it is to watch Friday Night Lights from start to finish for the second or third time and have your husband witness that?”

“You can engage in gross single behaviors like plucking your eyebrows without judgment.”

“You don’t have to regularly shower in a place where the shower bottom is blackened with filth because your boyfriend’s roommates are freegan cavemen.”

“One time one of my boyfriend’s friends peed in my rain boot.”

“Watching TV on the couch for 8 hours at a time.”

“NO IN LAWS.”

“Farting.”

“You don’t have to hang art on your walls that you hate with a burning passion because a) one of your in-laws painted it or b) your husband loves hockey and thinks that hockey posters are ‘art.’”

“Every time you stay late at work or are in a bad depressive mood you don’t have to worry about ‘What this is doing to my marriage?’ Your ‘marriage’ becomes like this third person you have to nurture. And it is exhausting.”

“You never get home from work desperate for a snack only to find that last night’s leftovers were already somebody else’s lunch.”

“You’re wrong a lot less often.”

[FORMER SMOKER WITH BOYFRIEND OUT OF TOWN] “I sat out on my balcony on this epic fall morning with my dog, sipped my espresso and smoked a cigarette. Quite possibly the best morning ever.”

“Laundry for one.”

“Breathing sweet, clean air.”

“She’s referring to my farting, which happens. I think losing time freedom is the biggest downfall in a relationship but it only applies if you haven’t found the right person. You only have so many hours on earth.”

TIME

Single Parents With Young Kids Have As Much Sex As Singles Without Kids, Study Says

Young couple lying in bed under sheets, low section, close-up of feet
Jonathan Kirn—Getty Images

No, this is not a headline from "The Onion."

Turns out that single parents are dating and having as much sex as singles without children.

A new study from The Kinsey Institute has found that single parents of children younger than age 5 date and are sexually active as often as singles without children — and more often than single parents of older children. (I’m guessing that later bedtime and increased ability to lay out guilt trips is to blame for this last phenomenon.)

Researchers began the study thinking that single parents would put hooking up on the back burner while trying to make a human being from scratch. Apparently, not so much. “For single parents, there is only so much time and so much energy to be used for a variety of competing demands in their life. Without the help of a partner, singles often have to divert more energy to parenting and so in theory one might think single parents would not be dating as much. But that’s not what we found,” Justin R. Garcia, an evolutionary biologist at The Kinsey Institute and assistant professor of gender studies at IU Bloomington, said in a press release.

Turns out it’s pretty easy to right-swipe on Tinder while watching Yo Gabba Gabba. Still, it’s news to me that having a kid under the age of 5 is no longer a barrier to a swingin’ single lifestyle. When my son was a toddler he was a barrier to just about everything, including showering, grocery shopping, using the restroom and doing anything alone with my husband. “These data are counter to theory and what was previously assumed about patterns of dating and sexual behavior among U.S. singles,” said Garcia.

But what’s a little less clear is exactly why this counter-intuitive phenomenon is true. The study gives us a few hints: “Male and female parents of young children experience hormonal changes that can affect their sexuality.” It also says that with single moms there’s a desire to find a partner again and people with young children are often younger themselves and tend to have a higher sex drive than older moms.

Remember, this study doesn’t say that single parents are having more sex than married parents. Although, or more realistically, married couples without children or married couples trying to have children probably have more sex than anyone else on earth. “We know that on average, singles have relatively less sexual activity than coupled people — singles tend to have lower rates of sexual frequency likely because they have to first find a partner to have sex with,” Garcia said.

TIME relationships

How Sleeping in Separate Bedrooms Could Save Your Relationship

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Getty Images

This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

When my boyfriend and I were looking at our first apartment together last year, the number-one thing we decided we needed in order to get along was…separate bedrooms. Hear me out. We’d tried sharing his king-size bed early in our relationship — resulting in little to no sleep for both of us. Even today, we have to do it every once in a while in a hotel room, and it’s a challenge (cut to me riding out a bout of insomnia by reading in the bathroom at 3 a.m.). Separate bedrooms aren’t just a requirement for getting our Zs, they are the way we carve out private space in our otherwise-joined lives.

We’re not the only ones. Arianne Cohen recently proclaimed that sleeping in her “woman cave” (a.k.a. guest room) helped save her marriage. Jennifer Adams is such an advocate of the two-room solution that she’s devoted a blog, Sleeping Apart Not Falling Apart, to the cause, and has written a book of the same name.

For me and my boyfriend, there are several reasons for separate beds, but I want to knock out the first one that comes up whenever I tell anyone — friend, stranger, therapist — about our arrangement. We don’t do this because we aren’t attracted to each other, or any other obvious relationship red flag. It’s not that at all.

(MORE: 12 Less Than Romantic Relationship Milestones)

First, we are very different kinds of sleepers. I like to sprawl out under the covers and take up as much space as possible. My boyfriend, who’s a big guy, has a special sleep-number bed that he’s calibrated to fit his body. Whenever he sleeps anywhere else, whether that’s in a hotel room or his parents’ guest room, he sleeps poorly. When we try to snooze inches from one another, we are far too aware of the other person’s body. I react to his talking in his sleep; he hears me snoring.

And, I don’t know about you, but when I don’tget enough sleep (for me, enough is much closer to eight than six hours), I’m not that fun to be around. I’m cranky, hungry, and tired. Schedules play a role, too: He leaves for work at 7 a.m., while I’m a work-from-home freelance writer who sometimes stays up past 2 and sleeps ’til 9.

Plus, on top of being opposite sleep types, we’re also opposite living types — he’s a neat freak and I’m a hoarder. His room has what feels, to me, like tons of empty space. Mine is packed with belongings, many of which find their way into my bed. I invariably share my sheets with several books, my laptop, my cell phone, and a Hello Kitty stuffed animal. For him? Sheets, blankets, and pillows will do.

(MORE: I’ll Admit It: I Hate Relying On My Boyfriend)

I made the transition to living with a partner for the first time at age 37, after living alone for seven years. If I’d had to go from being the queen of my castle to trying to live up to his standards of decluttering, I’d go insane. I can handle it in the common areas, but I need some space just for me in which I can decide where things go without having to answer to anyone else. While I wouldn’t go as far as Chris Illuminati and say that every couple should sleep in separate beds, it’s an option worth considering for any pair with mismatched habits.

Still, it’s less about where we rest our heads than what’s happening inside those heads. Sometimes, I want to be alone. It’s not that I don’t want to talk to my boyfriend, per se — I don’t want to talk to anyone. If we shared a bedroom, it would be much harder to carve out that necessary alone time without coming across as rude. Having those boundaries already drawn means that when we are together in bed it’s because we want to be, not just because it’s bedtime.

Shutting the door wouldn’t feel as satisfying if he had every right to open it whenever he wanted. That’s something I especially value when I’m having a tough day. He processes his low moments by talking them out; I do it by crying and I hate for anyone, even my partner, to see me when I do. Though I’m alone all day, sometimes I just want to read or think or have a private phone conversation, which I feel more comfortable doing in a space clearly demarcated as my own. In addition to supporting our emotional health in these many ways, separate rooms mean a faster recovery when we’re sick; we don’t pass our germs back and forth to each other in the night.

(MORE: Why I Stopped Stalking My Ex On FB)

While it may seem strange, separate bedrooms has meant that when we do join each other, usually in his bigger, more comfortable bed, it’s code for sexy time (or, at least, sexy talk). We spend plenty of hours curled up on our couch watching TV, or playing Wii bowling, but when we get under the covers we laugh, whisper, make out, and have sex. Maybe not every time, but in general, it’s our cue to turn off our phones and focus on each other (full disclosure: sometimes I need reminding of this). Do we sometimes lie side by side and read or look at our phones or tablets? Yes, but it’s still more intimate, because we are physically closer together and more likely to get it on than we would be separated by half a couch.

After sex, we do what I imagine most couples do — cuddle and talk — but there always comes a point, right as one of us is drifting off, where I kiss him goodnight and leave to go to my own room. That’s the invisible line between our shared and private time.

The other night, I tried to curl up in his bed (I do get jealous of his extra-soft blanket) and he affectionately recommended I keep it moving. While part of me wanted to experience the joy of waking up next to him, I knew he was being practical. For us, the fantasy of spending the night in the same bed will always trump the reality. Instead, I shuffled off to my room, where I get to take up as much space as I want, sleep with the lights on if I so desire, and surprise him in the morning after we’ve each gotten the night of sleep we deserve. And for this twosome, that “arrangement” sure feels like love.

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