TIME Sex

The Duke Porn Star Isn’t as Empowered as She Claims

Even Playboy is skeptical of her feminist porn argument

If you haven’t heard, there’s a freshman at Duke University who moonlights as a porn star. During school breaks, Belle Knox (that’s her porn name — she’s still keeping her real name under wraps) flies to Los Angeles and shoots adult films. She uses the money she makes to pay for college…as well as purchase iPad minis and designer handbags, according to a profile of her in the Duke Chronicle. Her identity was revealed on campus in January when a male friend got drunk at a fraternity rush event and told others. The story of the freshman porn star quickly spread by word of mouth and text.

Initially, Knox shied away from the spotlight after being criticized by her fellow students and receiving anonymous sexual threats. But soon, the future gender studies major who says she’s a Libertarian decided to use her notoriety to become a voice of feminism in the porn industry and disclosed her story to XO Jane, the Cut and other blogs.

On Tuesday, Knox was again a top search term when Playboy published an interview with her in which she revealed her porn name for the first time. Again, she tried to make her case for adult films as a venue of female empowerment saying that while many feminists fight against the porn industry — arguing it degrades and objectifies women, gives a generation of porn-obsessed men unrealistic sexual expectations, and overall hurts our relationships — there needs to be someone within the porn industry fighting for women’s sexual autonomy as well as their self-expression.

It’s a sophisticated argument from a student at an elite school. But even with Playboy it fell flat after the interviewer repeatedly questioned her about some of the more degrading things she’d done on camera. And it’s gone nowhere with her peers online who have been brutal in their critiques: “So being choked, spit on and degraded is now empowering? Feminist logic…I’d rather have my dignity and loans than work as a prostitute. I’m sure Daddy’s proud,” someone commented on a Collegiate ACB board.

Perhaps Knox thought that the judgements against her would be less virulent from a generation that has grown up with unlimited access to porn. But though we’re living in an era when everything from clothing ads to salad dressing commercials is verging on soft core porn, she’s finding that there’s still a stigma attached to actual sex on camera. And now the freshman, who might have thought she had control of the situation when she was anonymous, finds herself on the defensive, even when questioned by the very industry she’s trying to defend. The Playboy interviewer was skeptical of the idea that porn was the only way Knox could have paid for school:

PLAYBOY: Is that what this is really about for you—the skyrocketing cost of higher education in America?

KNOX: Absolutely. My story is a testament to how fucking expensive school is. The fact that the only viable options to pay for college are to take out gigantic student loans, to not go to college at all or to join the sex industry really says something. We need to recognize that there’s a gap between what middle-class and upper-middle-class families can pay and what they’re asked to pay. We also need to stop looking at loans as a solution to fix our education system, because they’re crippling our economy.

Student loans are an absurd burden on anyone, but most students find jobs on campus — doing research for professors, working at local stores, writing. Porn may feel more empowering to the self-identified libertarian Knox than waitressing, but I promise that her frat boy peers won’t see it that way. And employers definitely won’t see it that way. (Knox says she hopes to be a women’s rights and civil rights lawyer.)

The rest of the interview degrades her even further, asking her questions about her parents’ reaction to the news that she has sex for money and constantly referring to the “facials” she receives in many of her pornos. Knox’s quest to put a positive, feminist spin on her work is failing. In most adult films, women are depicted as objects who are there to please the man in whatever way he might choose. And as Gloria Steinem pointed out typical pornography normalizes a relationship of dominance between men and women. So it’s not surprising to note Knox’s protestations that anyone who derides porn is sexist aren’t gaining much traction.

If Playboy is questioning your foray into the porn industry, you know you have a problem.

But before we mock Knox for her naiveté, remember that Knox is a freshman. Teenagers are not great at making life decisions, and it seems based on her interviews that Knox is just as much a confused adolescent as her peers in college. Sure, slut shaming her for her choices is wrong. It’s her body, she can do what she wants with it. But she doesn’t know how to process her newfound fame. The Duke Chronicle article reads: “In our first conversation, she mentioned her complete fear of the news going public, but in one of our most recent conversations, she giggled and asked, ‘Do you think I’ll be on Ellen?'”

College years are full of bad decisions that we must justify to ourselves and our roommates later in our dorm rooms. For most, you live, you learn, you move on. But this decision will likely haunt Knox for the rest of her college and professional career.

TIME Sex

Dave Barry Learns Everything You Need to Know About Being a Husband From Reading 50 Shades of Grey

You need to have an honest, no-holds-barred conversation about sex with the special woman in your life — provided you're a superhot billionaire who can move without being seen

+ READ ARTICLE

So I read Fifty Shades of Grey. This is the book written by female British author “E. L. James” that became a huge bestseller, devoured by pretty much every woman on Earth except my wife (or so she claims).

I think I might be the only man who read this book. I did it sneakily, hiding the cover, especially when I was on an airplane, which actually is a good place to read this book because you have access to a barf bag. I say this because of the writing style, which is . . . OK, here’s one tiny sample of the writing style:

“Did you give him our address?”
“No, but stalking is one of his specialties,” I muse matter-of-factly.
Kate’s brow knits further.

That’s right: This is the kind of a book where, instead of saying things, characters muse them, and they are somehow able to muse them matter-of-factly. And these matter-of-fact musings cause other characters’ brows—which of course were already knitted—to knit still further. The book is over five hundred pages long and the whole thing is written like that. If Jane Austen (another bestselling female British author) came back to life and read this book, she would kill herself.

So why did I read it? I read it because, as a man with decades of experience in the field of not knowing what the hell women are thinking, I was hoping this book would give me some answers. Because a lot of women LOVED this book. And they didn’t just read it; they responded to it by developing erotic feelings—feelings so powerful that in some cases they wanted to have sex with their own husbands.

I know that sounds like crazy talk, but I have firsthand confirmation of this phenomenon from my friend Ron, who is married to my wife’s cousin Sonia, a woman. Ron states: “While Sonia was reading the book, I was getting more action than Wilt Chamberlain.”

Another friend of mine whose name I will keep confidential out of respect for his privacy[*] told me, “I’d be lying on the bed watching SportsCenter, and she’d be reading that book and suddenly, WHOA.”

So what kind of book is Fifty Shades of Grey? I would describe it, literary genre–wise, as “a porno book.” But it’s not the kind of porno men are accustomed to. When a man reads porno, he does not want to get bogged down in a bunch of unimportant details about the characters, such as who they are or what they think. A man wants to get right to the porno:

Chapter One
Bart Pronghammer walked into the hotel room and knitted his brow at the sight of a naked woman with breasts like regulation volleyballs.
“Let’s have sex,” she mused matter-of-factly.

A few paragraphs later they’re all done, and the male reader, having invested maybe ninety seconds of his time, can put the book down and go back to watching SportsCenter.

Apparently that is not what women want, porno-wise. What women want, to judge from Fifty Shades of Grey, is not just people doing It. Many pages go by in this book without any of It getting done, although there is a great deal of thinking and talking about It. The thoughts are provided by the narrator and main character, Anastasia Steele, who is a twenty-one-year-old American woman as well as such a clueless, self-absorbed ninny that you, the reader, find yourself wishing that you still smoked so you would have a cigarette lighter handy and thus could set fire to certain pages, especially the ones where Anastasia is telling you about her “inner goddess.” This is a hyperactive imaginary being—I keep picturing Tinker Bell—who reacts in a variety of ways to the many dramatic developments in Anastasia’s life, as we see in these actual quotes:

“My inner goddess is swaying and writhing to some primal carnal rhythm.”
“My very small inner goddess sways in a gentle victorious samba.”
“My inner goddess is doing the Dance of Seven Veils.”
“My inner goddess is doing the merengue with some salsa moves.”
“My inner goddess has stopped dancing and is staring, too, mouth open and drooling slightly.”
“My inner goddess jumps up and down, with cheerleading pom-poms, shouting ‘Yes’ at me.”
“My inner goddess is doing backflips in a routine worthy of a Russian Olympic gymnast.”
“My inner goddess pole-vaults over the fifteen-foot bar.”
“My inner goddess fist-pumps the air above her chaise longue.”

That’s right: Her inner goddess, in addition to dancing, cheerleading, pole vaulting, etc., apparently keeps furniture inside Anastasia’s head. Unfortunately, this means there is little room left for Anastasia’s brain, which, to judge from her thought process, is about the size of a walnut. On the other hand, Anastasia is physically very attractive, although she never seems to figure this out despite the fact that all the other characters keep telling her, over and over, how darned attractive she is.

As the book begins, Anastasia has somehow managed to complete four years of college, during which time she has had—despite being so physically attractive—no romantic involvement of any kind with anybody. In fact, she’s still a virgin. Also, she does not own a computer nor does she know how to operate one. She has no e-mail account, and seems to be only dimly aware of how the Internet works. At one point she says, quote: “Holy cow! I’m on Google!”

That’s right, Anastasia uses the expression “Holy Cow!” Also, when she gets upset (which is often) she says: “Crap!” When she gets really upset, she says: “Double crap!”

In short, Anastasia is a totally believable and realistic depiction of a normal twenty-one-year-old female American college student as she might be imagined by a middle-aged female British author who has lived her entire life in a cave on another planet.

So anyway, early in the book Anastasia meets the main male character, Christian Grey. He is average-looking.

Hah! I am of course joking. He is the handsomest man in the history of men. Lest we forget this crucial fact, Anastasia remarks on Christian’s handsomeness at least once every two pages. Her inner goddess repeatedly s—s her tiny imaginary leotard over the hotness of this man.

To add to the stark realism of his character, Christian is also, at age twenty-seven, a self-made billionaire. He started a company called, realistically, Grey Enterprises Holdings, Inc., which employs thousands of people engaged in the field of doing some kind of vague business things in accordance with businessy-sounding orders given by Christian over his mobile phone as he stands around in various stylish settings with his worn but stylish jeans hanging loosely off his hips looking unbelievably hot. Christian also is an expert dancer, piano player and glider pilot. Plus he has the ability to read minds and move so fast you can’t even see him.

No, sorry, that’s Edward from Twilight.

So anyway, Anastasia and Christian meet, and he is of course attracted to her, although because of her walnut brain she can’t believe this despite the fact that, as I have already noted, every freaking person she meets is attracted to her. Christian starts stalking her and pressuring her to engage in—and I do not mean this to sound in any way judgmental—sicko pervert sex. He wants to tie her up with ropes, handcuffs, shackles, tape, etc. He wants to blindfold and gag her. He wants to spank her, whip her, flog her, cane her, paddle her, put nipple and genital clamps on her, bite her and use hot wax on her. We know this because he asks her to sign a contract agreeing to let him do these things to her. Yes! To be fair, the contract clearly states that there will be “no acts involving fire play . . . urination or defecation and the products thereof” and “no acts involving children or animals.” Because that’s the kind of old-fashioned cornball romantic Christian is.

What do you think Anastasia does when she sees this contract? Do you think she gets herself a restraining order and an industrial-sized drum of pepper spray, which would be the response of a normal sane woman or reasonably intelligent cocker spaniel? Not our Anastasia! Crap no! She decides to go right ahead and get into a sexual relationship with Christian even though she thinks he is a moody weirdo pervert. (But hot!)

In this relationship, Anastasia keeps trying to get Christian to be a regular huggy-kissy-smoochy boyfriend, but he doesn’t want to do that. In fact, he doesn’t even want her to touch him because he has a Dark Secret in his past. What he wants to do, and keeps trying to get Anastasia to let him do, is tie her up and flog her with various implements, as per the contract. She doesn’t want that, but she keeps seeing Christian anyway because she finds him so darned fascinating, in the sense of hot.

So the plot is: They have sex, she wants to smooch, he wants to flog, there’s a bunch of talking about this, they have sex again, she again wants to smooch, he again wants to flog, there’s a bunch more talking about this, and so on for several hundred word-filled pages.

Finally, Anastasia decides to let Christian flog her, to see what it would be like. So he takes a belt and flogs her on the butt. Then, in the dramatic climax to the story, the moment we have been building up to, Anastasia comes to a shocking, life-changing realization, which nobody could have foreseen in a million years: Getting flogged on the butt hurts. Yes! It’s painful! Anastasia does not like it! Double crap!!

So she breaks up with him.

And then . . .

And then the book is over.

I’m serious. That’s the plot.

There are two more books in this series, titled “Fifty Shades Darker” and “The Third Fifty Shades Book That Was Required to Make It a Trilogy.” I assume these books bring these two lovebirds back together, as well as revealing the Dark Secret in Christian’s past. I don’t know because I haven’t read them, although I fully intend to do so in the future if the only alternative is crucifixion.

But never mind the other two books. The first book was the big one, the one tens of millions of women could not put down. So to get back to my original question, from the standpoint of a guy sincerely trying to understand women: Why was this book so incredibly popular? When so many women get so emotionally involved in a badly written, comically unrealistic porno yarn, what does this tell us? That women are basically insane? Yes.

I mean no! No. Of course it does not tell us that. What it tells us is this: Women are interested in sex.

This may be obvious to women, but, trust me, it is not obvious to men. In fact, it is contrary to everything men are led to believe, dating back to puberty. When a young man goes through puberty, he basically turns into a walking boner. He would happily have sex with any receptive female or room-temperature vegetable.[†] He thinks about having sex all the time, but the only person he knows who wants to have sex with him is himself. He would be very interested in having sex with an actual human female, but he has no earthly idea how to accomplish this. Generally he spends years in this frustrating state before he manages to find a woman willing to have sex with him. Some males become so desperate that they resort to paying for sex, or even running for Congress.

As a result of these experiences, men come to believe—and this belief is reinforced throughout their dating lives as they get shot down more often than the Egyptian Air Force—that women are nowhere near as interested in sex as they are; that women are capable, somehow, of not thinking about sex for entire minutes at a time.

So men exist in a state of perpetual confusion about when, exactly, human females are receptive to the idea of having sex. Men wish that women had some kind of clear signaling mechanism, as is found in other species. Dogs, for example. Years ago I had a female German shepherd puppy named Shawna. For the first few months of her existence, she exhibited no interest whatsoever in having sex with male dogs, and the male dogs in the neighborhood exhibited no particular interest in her.

And then one spring day, BAM, Shawna became a woman. To get the word out, she turned into a 50,000-watt AM hormone transmitter, broadcasting a scent that traveled vast distances at the speed of lust. Horny male dogs were showing up from as far away as New Zealand. The house was surrounded, day and night. You didn’t dare to open the door for fear that a furry canine sex missile would burst past you and commence humping. There were no misunderstandings between the genders; nobody was being subtle. The male dogs were, like, “I gather from the odor you are emitting that you are receptive to having sex with a male!” And Shawna was, like, “That is correct! I very much desire to be mounted from the rear ‘doggie-style’ and I do not care by whom!”

This went on for several tense days. And then, BAM, Shawna was over it. She stopped broadcasting and the males disappeared, and shortly thereafter Shawna was fixed and she never heard from the male dogs again, not even a postcard.

Unfortunately, human sexuality does not work this way, except on Jersey Shore. Human females are less obvious, which means human males must be able to pick up subtle cues, and unfortunately we are terrible at this. So we tend to assume that women just aren’t that interested.

This is why the immense popularity of Fifty Shades of Grey is actually great news for men. It’s a signal from the female gender—not unlike the one broadcast by Shawna—transmitting an exciting and encouraging message to men everywhere: “We are interested in sex! We’re just not interested in sex with you unless you’re a superhot billionaire.”

OK, so this is not a totally positive message for us men. But we can work with it! We can interpret it to mean that women would like their sex lives to be more interesting. Maybe they wish that we would be more obsessive and stalkerish. Maybe they even secretly fantasize about engaging in unconventional, even “kinky,” sexual activities. There is only one way to find out, men: You need to have an honest, “no holds barred” conversation about sex with the special woman in your life. I did this with my wife, and as difficult as this was for me, I’m glad I did because it was very revealing. Here’s the complete transcript:

Me: Hey, do you secretly want me to tie you up and flog you?

My wife: No.

Yes, communication is the key to a successful relationship. That, and not peeing in the shower. That’s pretty much all the advice I have for you men. In a word: Be sensitive. And now, if you’ll excuse me, my inner god needs to turn on the TV and watch huge men knock each other down.

Excerpted from “You Can Date Boys When You’re Forty: Dave Barry on Parenting and Other Topics He Knows Very Little About,” published by G.P. Putnam’s Sons, a member of Penguin Group (USA), on March 4.

TIME Sex

15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

Lying in Bed Together
SolStock/Getty Images

Easy lifestyle tweaks to crank up your sex drive

If you’ve lost that frisky feeling, you’re not alone. Research shows that nearly a third of women and 15% of men lack the desire to have sex regularly. But there are things you can do to put the sizzle back into your sex life. Jumpstart your libido with these expert-approved lifestyle changes.
Plan more date nights

If a fun Saturday night with your hubby means watching Showtime in sweatpants, it could be killing your sex drive. Rekindle your romance by getting out of the house for an old-fashioned date. Your dates don’t need to be grand romantic evenings; just going to the movies or out to dinner can reignite the spark you felt when you first met. “If it’s too expensive to hire a nanny, ask your friends with kids to watch yours for the night and offer to return the favor,” says Leah Millheiser, MD, director of the Female Sexual Medicine Program at Stanford Hospital & Clinics. Chances are, they’ll need a night out at some point too!

Health.com: 10 Reasons You’re Not Having Sex
Pop a different birth control pill

Hormonal changes take a big toll on your sex drive. Birth control pills can be one of the biggest perpetrators: they can reduce your body’s production of testosterone, and in turn, your desire to get down. Certain varieties may even cause pain during sex.

And even if you’re not on birth control, being aware of your hormonal status can help you dial in your libido. Prolactin, the nursing hormone, decreases estrogen and testosterone in breastfeeding women, which can wreak hormonal havoc. Additionally, Dr. Millheiser warns that menopause can bring a decrease in testosterone and estradiol, a type of estrogen.

Check other meds, too

Take a look at your medicine cabinet—your prescriptions could be behind your lower libido. Aside from birth control pills, common offenders include drugs for high blood pressure, gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD), anxiety, and depression. “If a medication is the most likely culprit, discuss your concern with the prescribing doctor,” says Dr. Millheiser. “It’s possible that another treatment may be used with fewer side effects.”

Divide household chores equally

After a long day of work, you may head home for your other full-time job: being a parent. “After the kids go to bed, there’s often cleanup followed by work that you’ve brought home,” says Dr. Millheiser. “As a result, intimacy gets pushed to the background.” If you and your partner are both working full-time, keeping the division of household labor equal and ensuring one partner doesn’t shoulder the whole burden will make both of you happier in the bedroom and out.

Health.com: The 10 Biggest Myths About Sex
Set your room up for romance

It’s easy to get in the habit of letting your kids crawl into bed with you after they’ve had a bad dream, or sharing cuddle time with your cat or dog. These are major mood killers, says Dr. Millheiser, who suggests keeping the kiddos and pets out by simply locking the bedroom door at night. It may take some time to break these habits, but making the bed sexy again will make you more relaxed and ready for romance.

Add sex to your to-dos

We schedule doctor’s appointments, work meetings, and drinks with friends—so why not sex? It’s not the most romantic approach, but setting aside a specific time with your significant other means you’re making a commitment to having an active sex life. This way, you’ll feel compelled to keep the appointment and be less likely to make excuses.

Use a lubricant

Getting in the mood can be almost impossible if sex is painful for you—but it doesn’t have to be. One of the leading causes is dryness. “If vaginal dryness is causing pain during intercourse, try using a silicone-based sexual lubricant or a vaginal moisturizer,” suggests Dr. Millheiser. “Silicone lubricants are longer-lasting and more moisturizing than the water-based alternatives. If this doesn’t improve the situation, you may want to check with a gynecologist to see if vaginal estrogen therapy is appropriate.”

De-stress before sex

Everyday stressors—your job, your kids’ grades, the leaky bathroom faucet—have a more powerful effect on your sex life than you may realize. Being stressed causes your body to produce more of the “fight or flight” hormone cortisol, which your body needs in small doses but can suppresses the libido when the body produces an excess. Before you hit the sheets, find an easy way to clear your mind, whether it’s taking a long bath or curling up with a good book.

Eat clean

Following a heart-healthy diet could help you turn up the heat between the sheets. A study published in the Journal of Sexual Medicine found a link between high cholesterol and women who have difficulty with arousal and orgasm. When cholesterol builds up in the arteries, it makes it harder for blood to flow; in the pelvic area, that can lead to less sensation in the genitals, making it harder to achieve orgasm. Slash your cholesterol levels by loading up on fruits and veggies and cutting down on animal fats and whole-milk products.

Eat aphrodisiacs

A growing body of research shows that certain vitamins and components can enhance sexual function and desire. Avocados, almonds, strawberries, and oysters are just a few foods that may set the mood.

Health.com: 7 Foods for Better Sex
Examine your relationship

A slow sex drive may be a sign of broader relationship problems outside the bedroom. It could be bottled-up resentment over lots of minor issues (he left his toothbrush on the counter again?) or something bigger, like a lack of communication (like too much texting and not enough actual talking, as a recent study examined). “If the relationship quality needs professional help, find a licensed marriage and family therapist in your area,” advises Dr. Millheiser. “If the relationship issue pertains only to sex, look for a certified sex therapist.”

Go for a hike together

Or a run, gym class, cooking seminar—any hobby or interest that you and your partner can do together, suggests Dr. Millheiser. “This can strengthen your emotional connection, and feelings of support boost desire.” In one study published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, couples that engaged in new and exciting activities had greater satisfaction in their relationships. “New and exciting” is all relative, so depending on how adventurous you are, that could mean anything from trying out mountain biking to skydiving.

Exercise often

Less stress, an improved mood, and higher self-esteem are all health benefits of exercise—and together they can rev up your sex drive. In fact, a recent study found that women who were taking antidepressants and were experiencing a dulled libido (a common side effect) improved sexual satisfaction by doing three 30-minute sweat sessions per week.

Health.com: 10 Best Workouts For Your Sex Life
Listen to your body

Sometimes, a slow sex drive winds up being one symptom of a larger medical problem. So if along with your low libido you begin noticing weight gain, dry skin, hair loss, and fatigue, don’t ignore it—you may be among the 15 million Americans unknowingly suffering from a thyroid problem. A simple blood test will confirm a diagnosis, and it can be treated with medication. Dr. Millheiser warns that low libido is also linked to other medical disorders, including depression and chronic fatigue.

No dice? Visit your doc

If your engine’s still stalled after these lifestyle tweaks, prescription drugs may help. “Certain medications, such as testosterone or Wellbutrin, can be used on an off-label basis for the treatment of low libido and are only available with a prescription,” Dr. Millheiser says.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Music

These Charts Show What Your Gender Says About Your Favorite Bands

Ladies like Xtina while dudes like 50 Cent

The blanket statement that boys like Eminem and girls like Rihanna seems a little moth-eaten. But when new listeners tune into a music platform like Spotify for the first time, discerning their nuanced music taste is a near-impossible task. So to serve the best possible first-listening experience, The Echo Nest — which provides music intelligence for the likes of iHeartRadio, Rdio, Rhapsody, and SiriusXM — decided to take a look at 200,000 listeners’ data to see which artists men and women like, and how they differ.

And the below chart — which Echo Nest’s Paul Lamere told TIME visually resembles “uncooked spaghetti thrown on a table” — is pretty interesting. If an artist’s name is written in red, that means that the singer doesn’t appear in the opposite sex’s top 40:

The Echo Nest

Apparently Justin Bieber is a polarizing force. While your first reaction might be, Excuse me but I’m Y-chromosome free and LOVE Kendrick Lamar, take solace in the fact that Echo Nest knows that the list doesn’t speak in absolutes.

But gender can be an important marker in terms of music prediction. Streaming platforms usually have little to initially go off of other than location, age, and sex. “If someone types in their zip code they’re more likely to type in 12345 or 90210, you’re not always willing to give good data,” Lamere said. “But male female either leave it blank or say the right thing. Clean data. And when you look at the data there there’s quite obvious gender distinction between the way people listen.”

Echo Nest says that whether you’re looking at a list of top 40 or top 1,000 artists, “30% of artists on a gender-specific chart don’t appear on the corresponding chart for the opposite gender.”

The Echo Nest

Here’s a chart of the Top 5 artists by gender for men, women, and combined:

And here’s a list of the new Top 40 artists when Echo Nest accounted for gender differences, meaning that there was less likely to be a polarizing artist that might turn away a new listener:

The Echo Nest

Artists in bold like Ellie Goulding was added to the list. But artists including Avicii, Justin Bieber, Christina Aguilera, One Direction, and Demi Lovato were kicked off the list.

“It kind of gets to be the McDonald’s of all music: It’s the lowest common denominator,” Lamere said. “And that’s not what we want to do, but when you have nothing else, if you had to feed a bunch of people you didn’t know anything about, you’d probably start with a hamburger. Or pizza.”

TIME Love & Relationships

How Being Good Parents Can Make You a Lousy Couple

couple
Getty Images

The author recounts how she almost lost her solid, happy marriage to neglect—and what she did about it

Twenty-two years into our marriage, my husband and I hit a rough patch. There were no knockdown, drag-out fights; it was more of a slow withering.

When it started, or how long it had gone on before we noticed, neither of us could say. We just looked up one day and realized that our solid, happy, even enviable marriage was in trouble.

Like countless long-married couples before us, we had somehow let our day-to-day routine—managing the business and boredom of running our household; juggling careers; parenting two kids with their own over-scheduled lives—suck us dry. With our son and daughter, we were still a great family, a great four. As a husband and wife, we’d become a lousy pair.

I was recently reminded of all this—of the pain and sadness that came with recognizing that we’d fallen into such a hole, and the pleasure and happiness that have come from climbing back out again—after reading Love Illuminated, the new book by Daniel Jones.

After 10 years as the editor of the popular New York Times column “Modern Love,” and sifting through some 50,000 submissions, Jones says that two questions about the vagaries of love surface most often: “First, from the young: ‘How do I find love?’ And second, from those struggling through the marital malaise of midlife: ‘How do I get it back?’”

Of course, after my own yearlong journey to find the answer to that second question, I was more than a little curious to see what wisdom Jones had to offer. But I was more than a little disappointed at what he concludes in this particular area.

He suggests that there are really only three choices for long-married parents who don’t what to see their unions end in divorce: quashing, sneaking or restoring.

Quashing one’s desires, he says, is for those who’ve decided to accept their marriage for what it is, though he allows that this “runs the gamut from the bitterly resigned to the appreciatively so.” And while Jones shows little tolerance for those on the bitter end of the spectrum, he deems the “appreciatively resigned . . . among the healthiest and happiest married people alive.”

Those who sneak, meanwhile, are not content to suppress their unfulfilled desires, but try instead to figure out how to get them met elsewhere. They are not cheaters, but rather those who “redirect their passion away from their marriage, into pursuits and distractions and flirtations that entertain and titillate but fall short of all-out betrayal.” Think Facebook dalliances with old flames or Internet porn.

It is, however, with Jones’ third option, the restorers—the category in which my husband and I undoubtedly belong—that I take issue.

Jones argues that in marriages where passion and love have waned due to “the deadening weight of its routines,” restorers eagerly pile on even more routine: “date nights, couples counseling, dance classes, scheduled sex . . . Fresh Flower Fridays. . . required kisses on parting, lunchtime exchanges of erotic texts or e-mails, and possibly some creative midday play at the local Holiday Inn involving nipple clamps, silk scarves and an eye patch.”

He cheekily dismisses such efforts at reconnection as merely checking off a series of boxes until “overachieving” restorer couples “eventually pull back on all the improvement techniques and join the ranks of the appreciatively resigned”—an idea my husband and I had explicitly rejected

While nipple clamps and eye patches were not our thing (or required kisses or scheduled sex or mandatory fresh flowers, for that matter), we were lost and eager to find our way back to each other. We sought counseling as a way to begin the process and were grateful to have the seasoned guidance of someone who could help show us the way.

We took long afternoon hikes in the canyons—in fact, we still do—and made time to go out for dinner, just the two of us, rather than our usual Saturday night out with friends. Instead of always splitting chores, we made a point of doing some of them together, like shopping at the Sunday morning farmers market or taking the dog for a long evening walk.

For us, these have not been merely check-the-box activities but, rather, a conscious effort to reconnect and remember why we were drawn together in the first place.

Like many couples after they’ve had children, we’d found ourselves spending less and less time together. Some of this was practical, a matter of convenience—one of us running our son to basketball practice while the other took our daughter to a friend’s. By the time we’d gotten done with our respective household tasks, we’d often vie for a little “me” time—a trip to the gym for my husband or a quiet spell with a book for me. At that point, conversations had a way of feeling like interruptions.

It wasn’t “work” that our marriage needed so much as attention, and we made a pointed decision to tend to it, to care for it, to nurture it back to health and keep it healthy.

Alone time doesn’t guarantee a great marriage. But, according to a 2012 study from the National Marriage Project at the University of Virginia, couples who spend more one-on-one time together are less prone to divorce and report higher levels of sexual satisfaction, communication and commitment. “Husbands and wives who engaged in couple time with their mates at least once a week were approximately 3.5 times more likely to report being ‘very happy’ in their marriages,” the study added.

I am not so naïve as to misunderstand why Jones celebrates the “appreciatively resigned.” Sometimes, it’s tempting to feel like “good enough” in a long marriage is actually pretty great. But I believe that deliberately not settling, and actively wanting more from each other and from one’s marriage, is what keeps it truly great.

At the beginning and end of his book, Jones asks a seemingly simple question: “Is love a feeling or a choice?” My answer is that it’s both.

Love is the heart-stopping, passionate, adrenalin-producing feeling that makes people want to rip off each other’s clothes when they first meet. But nearly a quarter of a century in—and two kids and a mortgage later—it’s clear to me that love is also a choice you have to make every single day.

TIME Sex

7 Foods for Better Sex

Certain foods can lead to better sex.
Certain foods can lead to better sex. Nicolas Bets—Getty Images/Onoky

Enough about oysters, already!

If you want to put some sizzle back into your sex life, food can help you set the mood. There’s nothing better than a romantic, home-cooked dinner, featuring some R-rated foods to help turn up the heat. “There’s a growing body of evidence that some of the vitamins and components in foods can enhance sexual function and sexual experience,” says Jennifer R. Berman, MD, the director of the Berman Women’s Wellness Center, in Beverly Hills, Calif.
Here are some of the food ingredients (and my own favorite recipes) that have been major players in aphrodisiac history and lore, and also have modern-day science to back up their claims.

Health.com: 15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

Avocados

The Aztecs referred to avocados as, ahem, testicles, because of their physical shape. But the scientific reason why avocados make sense as an aphrodisiac is that they are rich in unsaturated fats and low in saturated fat, making them good for your heart and your arteries. Anything that keeps the heart beating strong helps keep blood flowing to all the right places; in fact, men with underlying heart disease are twice as likely to suffer from erectile dysfunction (ED).

Almonds

Topping my list of feisty foods, almonds have long been purported to increase passion, act as a sexual stimulant, and aid with fertility. Like asparagus (another one of my favorite sexy foods), almonds are nutrient-dense and rich in several trace minerals that are important for sexual health and reproduction, such as zinc, selenium, and vitamin E. “Zinc helps enhance libido and sexual desire,” says Dr. Berman. “We don’t really understand the mechanisms behind it, but we know it works.”

Health.com: 12 Secrets to Better Orgasms

Strawberries

The color red is known to help stoke the fire: A study found that men find women sexier if they’re wearing red, as opposed to cool colors such as blue or green. Strawberries are also an excellent source of folic acid, a B vitamin that helps ward off birth defects in women and, according to a University of California, Berkley study, may be tied to high sperm counts in men. Try making dark-chocolate-dipped strawberries. And while we’re on the subject, there’s a reason we give chocolate on Valentine’s Day: It’s full of libido-boosting methylxanthines.

Seafood

Despite their slippery and slimy texture, oysters may be the most well-known aphrodisiac. They’re also one of the best sources of libido-boosting zinc. But other types of seafood can also act as aphrodisiacs. Oily fish—like wild salmon and herring—contain omega-3s, which are essential for a healthy heart.

Health.com: 10 Best Workouts for Your Sex Life

Arugula

Arugula has been heralded as an arousal aid since the first century. Today, research reveals that the trace minerals and antioxidants packed into dark, leafy greens are essential for our sexual health because they help block absorption of some of the environmental contaminants thought to negatively impact our libido.

Figs

These funny-shaped fruits have a long history of being a fertility booster, and they make an excellent aphrodisiac because they are packed with both soluble and insoluble fiber, which is important for heart health. Plus, high-fiber foods help fill you up, not out, so it’s easier to achieve that sexy bottom line—or belly.

Health.com: 10 Reasons You’re Not Having Sex

Citrus

Any member of this tropical fruit family is super-rich in antioxidants, vitamin C, and folic acid—all of which are essential for men’s reproductive health. Enjoy a romantic salad that incorporates citrus, like pink grapefruit or mandarin oranges, or use a dressing made with lemon and lime.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME relationships

Studies Show Male Behavior Is Totally Explainable

man being weird
Claus Christensen—Getty Images

Men don't like to have doors opened for them. So what?

It seems that every week a new study makes headlines by presenting meticulously collected data on how men’s behavior deviates from the norm, is stuck in some neanderthal pattern out of keeping with progress and evolution, or is just plain odd. But how strange are men really? When the studies are read more closely, much of the mystery of male conduct disappears.

You may have read one of those depressing reports about how men whose wives or life-partners earned more were more inclined to cheat. This seems counter-intuitive and odd, since the men would be jeopardizing not only their relationship, but their ability to eat three meals a day and live in a house. (Plus, the ingrates!) But the study also found that the men most likely to cheat were completely unemployed and, moreover, that there weren’t actually that many cheaters in general. In one study it was only 3.8%. So some guys who don’t have anything to do and are depressed and have no money indulge their less noble impulses. That’s not really such a long bow to draw.

This week, new research suggests that, shockingly, men feel bad about themselves if somebody else opens the door for them. Women don’t. (Apparently this is worth researching.) This is not, by the way, the walk through the door and leave it open so the dude behind you doesn’t have it slam in his face type of opening. This is the jump in front of the guy and let him pass before you. Men are uncomfortable with this. To be honest, a lot of women don’t love it either, since it seems to suggest that we are too fragile to do as puny task as pushing a door. Even my colleague Matt Sterling, who has been in a wheelchair all his life, says he’s not nuts about someone opening the door for him; he prefers the push button self-opening version. (“As I’ve gotten older, it bothers me less when people help me,” he says, “as you understand it makes them feel better.”) It’s not too surprising then that men, for whom physical prowess is a defining characteristic, might be appalled that somebody thinks they cannot cross a threshhold without help.

(more…)

TIME Apps & Web

There’s Now a Hookup App to Facilitate Threesomes

157743832
Tara Moore—Getty Images

Though we believe there's already a service for this called "Craigslist"

Have you grown tired of Tinder? No longer hooked on Hinge? Sick of gadding about on Grindr? Well, if you’re on the hunt for a new dating app with a new twist, say hello to 3nder, the service that promises to provide “threesomes made easy.”

Before you get too excited about all the ménage à trois that awaits you: this app is still in its funding stage. So you’ll have to be patient, but the upside here is that the developers still have time to come up with a less-confusing and easier-to-pronounce name. (Threender? Three-ender? Three-inder? Ender?)

Here’s the gist, according to the app’s website:

A service that works for singles and couples. It’s the easiest way to satisfy your human needs and spend some fun time with other people. You can easily hide yourself from friends and family so you can browse freely.

But 3nder doesn’t just seek to help individuals satisfy their needs and fulfill their fantasies. It also seeks to make society as a whole more open about sexual desires. “We need to evolve our social acceptance,” the website says. That’s all fine and good, but we still think the first step here is coming up with a better name.

TIME europe

E.U. to Debate Making Buying Sex Illegal

A prostitute waits for customers along a road of the Bois de Boulogne in Paris Aug. 28, 2013 Christian Hartmann / Reuters

This week, E.U. lawmakers will consider following the lead of some European nations and criminalizing the purchase of sex across the continent. But the critics of the proposals, including many sexworkers, are legion

Perched on high stools and tugging at tight uniforms of spandex, satin and lace, the women in the windows of Ghent’s red light district barely register the police patrolling outside. Bored eyes flicker up briefly before returning to the screens of mobile phones, the TV discreetly hidden in the corner, or the client trying to negotiate a knock-down price on the other side of the glass.

The Belgian police appear equally indifferent to the women sitting in the dim red glow of neon tubes, even if they are occasionally flouting a city rule specifying exactly how much skin can be on display from neck to navel. Of far more interest to the 40 officers fanning out across the area one windy Friday night are the license plates of cars crawling past the windows in the three streets that form the heart of Ghent’s regulated sex industry.

Nearby in France, buying sex usually means a hasty transaction on the street and the risk of a fine or public identification. So young men pack in their cars and drive 50km east for nights out that can turn rowdy. “There were complaints about criminality and disturbances in the neighborhood,” says Police Superintendent Johan Blom.

(MORE: Facing Crackdowns in the E.U., Hookers Find Sanctuary in Switzerland)

Ghent police now hold monthly operations to stop and search French cars. If they find drugs or weapons, the men pay a fine and police motorcycles escort them to the highway and point them towards the border. It’s a nuisance for the police, but for campaigners pushing for a more unified approach to prostitution across Europe, that border is nothing short of a battle line in the fight for a woman’s rights over her own body.

The politicians and feminists who consider prostitution a crime against women are hoping the European Union‘s 28 member states will follow the lead of France, Iceland, Norway and Sweden and criminalize the purchase of sex. A report recommending this approach is due before the European Parliament in the coming days.

On the other side of the debate are many social workers dealing directly with prostitutes, sex workers’ unions and at least seven European governments. They say any criminalization forces the trade underground, puts sex workers at greater risk and removes a woman’s right to choose a profession which some see as their route out of poverty. “It will exist somewhere in the dark, and then nobody is safe: not the client, and not the girl,” says Isabelle De Meyer, a social worker in Ghent.

In Belgium, the purchase and sale of sex is legal, but making a profit from prostitution is forbidden. Cities interpret the laws differently, and prostitutes in Ghent are officially hired as “servers” in “bars” – in reality a dimly-lit room with a bed behind the glass display window. The prostitutes must have a contract and social security number, meaning the city has a record of every woman working the sex industry, and social workers can make regular visits to check for abusive relationships or victims of human trafficking.

No one claims the system is perfect: police can only act if the women speak out about abuse or illegal pimps. But all the sex workers who agreed to speak to TIME said they felt safe in Ghent and opposed criminalization. “Once these kind of places exist, then everybody can relax and there is less violence than in the street,” says Gaby,a 25-year-old from Romania, who like other working women in Ghent’s red light district asked that TIME only use her first name to protect her identity.

(MORE: Swiss City to Unveil Taxpayer-Funded “Sex Boxes” for Prostitutes)

For every woman like Gaby, however, there is the scared young Eastern European girl repeating “everything is fine, everything is fine” while keeping a wary eye out the window. It is the women who may have been coerced or trafficked into the sex industry who worry Mary Honeyball, a Member of the European Parliament representing Britain’s Labour Party.

Honeyball has drafted a report recommending E.U. member states adopt a system known as the Nordic Model, which is currently in place in Sweden, Norway and Iceland. The model criminalizes buying sex, but legalizes selling sex, in theory treating prostitutes as victims of a crime rather than perpetrators. “According to the information we have from Sweden it actually reduces demand for prostitution, and if you reduce demand the consequence is that you reduce human trafficking,” she says.

If the report passes, it would not be legally binding, but Honeyball hopes it would help steer the debate in member states. France’s Lower House adopted such laws in December, and politicians in Ireland and the United Kingdom have also raised it as a possible way forward.

To countries with more repressive laws on prostitution and large religious or socially conservative communities, it may be a politically palatable first step. But no European country which has introduced a regulated sex industry – including Germany, the Netherlands, Austria, Denmark, and Switzerland – is seriously considering rolling back to the criminalization of the client, although they are looking at ways to improve the laws.

One country that may amend legislation is Norway, held up as an exemplar of the Nordic Model. The new Conservative-led government is waiting for the results of an independent review in June before deciding whether to repeal the 2009 law banning the purchase of sex.

While the number of women selling sex on the streets initially decreased, social workers say they did not simply disappear. Some traveled abroad, while others started selling their services over the Internet. Bjørg Norli, director of Pro Sentret, which works with prostitutes in Oslo, says street prostitution is re-emerging, and under the current laws women feel more vulnerable than ever. Clients rush transactions to avoid detection, meaning women have little time to assess whether the client poses a danger. If they do have problems, they are unlikely to go to police out of fear they will then be monitored by law enforcement looking to catch buyers.

Behind Ghent’s windows, the heaters are on full blast as the women in their skimpy outfits negotiate via hand gestures with men bundled up against the cold outside. The going rate is €50 for 15 minutes, but a client may want more time, a lower price, or a special service. If a woman has misgivings, she just leaves the door locked and turns away. Zorha, a former civil servant from the Netherlands, says in a good night she will have sex with 25 men. It is not a life she particularly enjoys – she wants to open a restaurant – but when she found herself in debt a few years ago she decided it was her best option. She and other established Ghent sex workers worry about the new influx of younger women from Eastern Europe, who they say work long hours for cut-down rates.

The link between a regulated sex industry and human trafficking is unclear. While the first E.U. report on human trafficking released last year shows a high number of victims detected in the Netherlands, countries like Italy and Romania, where prostitution is illegal, also fared badly. Belgium, meanwhile, reported relatively low levels. Norway – not in the E.U. but included in the study – shows barely any change in the year before and after the law banning the purchase of sex. Similarly conflicting statistics exist in Sweden.

With a lack of reliable data, the debate often focuses on the moral rights and wrongs of sex as a commodity, with Honeyball’s report equating prostitution with “sexual slavery.” For many women working in the industry, being labeled mute victims of male aggression simply means their voices are excluded.

“[Politicians] don’t inform us when they are seeking to make our lives more difficult and dangerous,” says Catherine Stephens, a British activist with the International Union of Sex Workers. “There is nothing feminist about the criminalization of our clients and disregarding our consent.”

TIME Lifestyle

How Long Does Your State Last?

Dorm beds: often sites of rebound sex.
Dorm beds: often sites of rebound sex. Qusai Al Shidi—Flickr

Americans don't exactly take their time in the sack

If New Mexico’s looking for a catchy tourism slogan, may we submit “New Mexico Does It Longer?”

The state, home to the fictional Walter White, contains the longest sex-havers in the nation, according to data collected by the Spreadsheets App and published in map-form by Nerve.com, a mobile app that helps people measure their time between the sheets. People in New Mexico do it for just over seven minutes on average.

Alaskans aren’t nearly so patient: the coldest state also has the shortest sex sessions, clocking in under two minutes. Two minutes is barely enough time to get every article of clothing off! Get it together, Alaska. Then again, maybe Alaskans aren’t even bothering to take their clothes off since the weather is so cold.

Here’s the complete list:

1. New Mexico – (7:01)

2. West Virginia – (5:38)

3. Idaho – (5:11)

4. South Carolina – (4:48)

5. Missouri – (4:22)

6. Michigan -(4:14)

7. Utah – (3:55)

8. Oregon – (3:51)

9. Nebraska – (3:47)

10. Alabama – (3:38)

11. Delaware – (3:33)

12. Hawaii – (3:28)

13. Wisconsin – (3:22)

14. North Dakota – (3:18)

15. Arizona – (3:17)

16. Maryland – (3:15)

17. Mississippi – (3:10)

18. Rhode Island – (3:09)

19. Connecticut – (3:07)

20. Texas – (3:06)

21. New Hampshire – (3:04)

22. Wyoming – (3:03)

23. New York – (3:01)

24. Pennsylvania – (2:58)

25. Maine – (2:58)

26. Washington – (2:51)

27. Iowa – (2:50)

28. Illinois – (2:49)

29. North Carolina – (2:47)

30. Tennessee – (2:46)

31. Kansas – (2:38)

32. California – (2:38)

33. Massachusetts – (2:31)

34. Florida – (2:29)

35. New Jersey – (2:28)

36. Indiana – (2:26)

37. Virginia – (2:23)

38. Oklahoma – (2:21)

39. Colorado – (2:21)

40. Minnesota – (2:19)

41. Ohio – (2:18)

42. Louisiana – (2:17)

43. Kentucky – (2:14)

44. Arkansas – (2:08)

45. District of Columbia – (2:08)

46. Nevada – (2:07)

47. Georgia – (2:07)

48. Montana – (2:03)

49. Vermont – (1:48)

50. South Dakota – (1:30)

51. Alaska – (1:21)

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