TIME Family

How Not to Talk About Sex With Your Teenage Daughter

Why Is the Sex Talk Between Mothers and Daughters So Difficult
Cavan Image/Getty Images

The author reveals what worked for her—at least on the second try

The other day I was at the gym finishing my workout when a mom I know asked for my advice about “the sex talk.” She was struggling, she confided, to bring up the subject with her teenage daughter—afraid that discussing sex was somehow tantamount to giving her the green light to have it.

You would think that for a generation of parents who grew up during an era of “free love” and whose own kids are being raised at a time when the culture is awash in sexual imagery that this would be an easy conversation to have. But it is, in fact, the sex talk—the anticipation of exploring with their daughters issues of love, intimacy, relationships and the mechanics of sex—that seems to flummox otherwise smart, accomplished, open-minded, articulate women.

I was reminded of this again last week when a writer I admire, Hanna Rosin, penned a piece at Slate under the headline “Sex Talk Fail.” Rosin is a writer at The Atlantic; founder of DoubleX, Slate’s women’s section; and the author of The End of Men. And even she has been at a loss for words when trying to talk to her teen daughter about sex.

“I am nearly 100 percent sure that the talk will not go well,” she wrote in her piece. “My aborted attempts so far have not been promising.”

Though I am not unfamiliar with the trepidation associated with said talk, I approached my own first attempt with what turned out to be unwarranted confidence. When my daughter, Emma, now 21, was 13 years old and about to enter the yearlong Bar and Bat Mitzvah circuit, rumors abounded about the “Bar Mitzvah blowjob.

It turned out to be urban myth, but I lived in fear that some acned, brace-faced boy would approach my innocent daughter at a Bar Mitzvah party and demand that she service him. I imagined her caught unaware, uninformed and unprepared. And as much as I dreaded it, I was convinced that it was my maternal duty to clue her in.

I did some online research, read a handful of articles and consulted a few books. And when I finally steeled myself for this mother-daughter talk, I was sure that I was prepared. I planned an outing to a small café, ordered a latte, bought my daughter a hot chocolate and dove right in: “Emma, I’m sure you’ve heard about the Bar Mitzvah blowjob,” I said.

Without giving her a chance to speak, and before I lost my nerve, I told her that she should not—under any circumstances—engage in such an intimate act. I explained that this should only occur when she was older, more mature and in a committed relationship, and that it should be reciprocal, if she so desired. And, of course, I told her that you could get a sexually transmitted disease from oral sex.

When I was finally done, she stared at me, shrugged her shoulders and said: “What’s a blowjob?”

Totally taken aback, I suddenly found myself in a public place awkwardly trying to explain it, in detail. Her response: “Eww! Can we go home now?”

Well, one thing I was pretty certain of—if I ever tried this again, it couldn’t go worse. And lucky for me, it didn’t.

For one thing, I was unexpectedly given a big assist by Emma’s school, where “Human Development” is taught in seventh, eighth and tenth grades. The program covers a range of topics, including menstruation, STDs, setting boundaries and safe sex. This not only made my job easier because she learned the basics there, but also because talking about sex at school with her teachers and among her peers demystified the subject, making it less awkward to talk about with me.

What that meant over the years was rather than trying to have a single, all-important, have-to-get-it-perfect talk, we were able to discuss different subjects more casually, broaching them as they came up—first date, first kiss, first boyfriend. It also meant that when the sex talk really mattered, both of us were a little more ready, if not completely at ease.

In our case, this was when Emma was a junior in high school and had a steady boyfriend. I was certain that the topic of sex was going to come up between them, if it hadn’t already. And though I knew she had learned about sex at school, I had things that I wanted to tell her myself: about choice, about love, about commitment, about intimacy. I wanted to talk to her about the things that reflected our family’s values.

And so this time, remembering what an educator once told me about how the lack of eye contact helps teens to talk—or at least to listen—I slipped under Emma’s covers, right before she was about to go to sleep. I told her plainly that I wanted to talk to her about sex. Her immediate reaction was to say, “Oh, no you’re not.” She pulled the covers over her head.

I explained that she didn’t have to say a word, but that she did have to listen. I told her that I thought she was still too young to have sex, and that I hoped she would wait. I said that having sex complicated relationships and that the older she was, the better able she would be to handle it. I made clear that just because her boyfriend, a year and half older than she, might be ready, it didn’t mean she had to be. Having sex for the first time—and every time after that—was her choice. I told her that she should always feel comfortable and safe, and if she didn’t, she should listen to her gut and say no.

Finally, I told her that even though I thought she was too young, if she decided to have sex with her boyfriend, I would help her get birth control—no questions asked, and no judgment rendered. I wanted her to know that it was always okay to talk to me.

In retrospect, I have come to think that the sex talk is difficult for a host of reasons: As moms, we have no real role models in this regard. There is no standard message that fits all families. And the entire exercise signifies that our daughters are growing up and away from us, which can be emotionally difficult for everyone.

As for Emma’s teenage brother, well, I’ve happily left that to his dad. As Rosin points out, “Some sex-talk traditions are worth preserving.”

TIME

Sex Workers Are Basically the Only People Still on Myspace

Social media helps pimps advertise their business

What happens when a social network dies? Most users slowly trickle over to other sites, but the absence of normal activity makes an empty social network perfect for some other kinds of interactions. A new report from the Urban Institute finds that more than half of sex workers are using Myspace as an advertising platform, along with others sites like Facebook and the gambling platform MocoSpace.

It’s social media marketing for sex—pimps set up profiles for their workers with codewords like “girlfriend experience” and wait for the customers to inquire. “Friend them, once you make a connection, you let them know what the deal is. It’s [sex] for sale,” one former sex worker interviewed in the study explained. “Myspace, all that, it’s just a disguise.”

The report shows even Twitter being used to advertise job openings. “Believe it or not, people still use [social networks], and the ones that are using them are usually younger, and pimps are on there like crazy,” a Dallas police official said.

What’s even more surprising is that these tactics are effective. The study found that pimps and traffickers were making $5,000 to $32,833 a week in major cities where trade was booming. In 2007, the sex industry was worth $39.9 million in Denver and $290 million in Atlanta, the biggest market in the study.

In 2012, MySpace was sold for just $35 million. So really, which is the more profitable business here? Justin Timberlake probably wouldn’t want to get involved, however.

[H/T Daily Dot]

TIME Crime

Prostitution Isn’t as Profitable As You Think

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Getty Images

A comprehensive study commissioned by the Justice Department looks at the economics of selling sex

Though prostitution has the potential to be lucrative, most sex workers rarely reap the benefits of their revenue, according to a new report on the economics of sex work.

The study commissioned by the Justice Department looked at the underground commercial sex economy in eight major U.S. cities—Atlanta, Dallas, Denver, Kasas City, Miami, Seattle, San Diego and Washington, D.C. Researchers conducted 250 interviews with pimps, traffickers, sex workers and child pornographers—many of whom were serving time—about their business dealings in those areas. They found that the illicit sex economy had an estimated worth of $39.9 to $290 million in 2007 in each city. Atlanta was the most profitable city, and Denver was the least.

Pimps and traffickers raked in between $5,000 and $32,833 per week employing an average of five sex workers at a time (with a high rate of turnover). They charged johns an average of $150 per hour—a price point that was consistent across the country—though prices could vary depending on the age, race and drug use of the sex worker. Half of the pimps interviewed advertised online, and one fourth of those interviewed used sites like Backpage.

But pimps and prostitutes’ expenses are high, and they saved little from their earnings. Pimps can spend thousands on hotel rooms and shopping sprees for their employees, according to the report. “Prostitution and pimping — in many cases that’s not particularly profitable,” Amy Farrell, a researcher not involved in the study at Northeastern University told the New York Times. “Some parts are more marketable than others.”

And it turns out that family has a greater influence on the decision to go into sex work then previously thought. The study found that pimps and sex workers were often encouraged by family members to get into the business. Some grew up around sex work, normalizing the practice, and decided to take it on themselves when they grew up. In other instances, prostitutes would ask family members for protection and eventually ask them to act as pimps. About 30 percent of the subjects interviewed said they had family members involved in the industry.

For many, sex work isn’t all that lucrative, but it seems to offer a way out from even more dire circumstances. “When I was little, I was on welfare, I lived in the projects,” one pimp who was interviewed said. “Dope fiends, pimps and prostitutes. Gang bangers, helicopter over your roof. That’s no way to live. Seeing glitz and glamour, I always wanted that. Coming up like that, having square jobs was never appealing.”

One illicit sex industry that defied economic calculus was the child pornography industry. According to the study, kiddie porn is often traded for free. Offenders therefore often considered it a “victimless crime.”

TIME Television

We’ll Tell You What the New TV Show Sex Box Is About But It’s Kinda Self-Explanatory

Put a couple in a box, they have sex, and then people grill them about it

No matter how much porn people are watching, real-life sex is still taboo. So why not put couples into a large box, wait while they have sex, then interview them when they come out to get an honest take on sexual activity? At least that’s the premise of Sex Box, a British show that’s now coming to the U.S. courtesy of WEtv.

The show, a full episode of which can be seen on YouTube, is kind of like American Idol, but we don’t get to see the performances. Average couples—both gay and straight—are introduced, then they go into the box and have sex (“with a little bit of extra pressure,” the host says). Afterward, the couples are grilled by three celebrity panelists, including the popular American sex columnist Dan Savage.

The conversations that result are fairly anodyne, though they do get into some specific acts. But the interviews get at themes of emotional intimacy versus physical intimacy, and honesty about sexual desires. It’s enough to imagine the show getting played in front of a bunch of middle schoolers following a sex-ed class.

Who will judge the American Sex Box? Dr. Phil, perhaps, or Slate’s Emily Yoffe, who writes the site’s popular Dear Prudence column. Timothy Ferriss, maybe? Whoever it is, they better have strong constitutions—conservatives are bound to have a fit over the show.

Sex Box’s couples are all happy after getting out of the box (who wouldn’t be?), but if the show is going to represent a true cross-section of American sex, there should probably be some bad encounters in there as well. As one couple notes, sometimes the box just doesn’t measure up: “The best time we had sex was the first time we had sex,” they say.

TIME sex trafficking

Study Sheds Light on Shadowy World of Sex Workers

The report, funded by the National Institute of Justice, is the first of its kind to estimate the breadth of the underground sex economy

Sex trafficking, prostitution, erotic massage parlors and brothels in eight major U.S. cities are estimated to have raked in between $39.9 million and $290 million in 2007, according to a new study that’s providing the first-ever estimates of the size and scope of the underground sex economy.

“With knowing the size of the economy, you get better a sense of what you’re dealing with and how big this market is,” says Meredith Dank, a researcher at the Washington-based Urban Institute, which authored the study published Wednesday. “Law enforcement now knows they can potentially seize $290 million in Atlanta that can be used toward providing services and education.”

Using information provided through a series of interviews with 142 former sex workers, pimps/traffickers, and child pornographers, the Urban Institute estimated the size of the commercial sex economy in Kansas City, Seattle, Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, Denver, San Diego and Washington, D.C. Those one-on-one interviews shed light on how the sex economy’s participants see themselves: Many of the subjects rejected the term “pimp,” for example, preferring “business manager.” Additionally, many pimps consider selling sex far safer than selling drugs.

Most of the interviewed incarcerated traffickers were behind bars for having trafficked an underage girl, despite saying they didn’t specifically seek out young women. The FBI estimates about 323,000 young people in the U.S. are at risk for becoming trafficked.

“They say they don’t want a juvenile, as one person said ‘16 will get you 20,’” Dank says. “They’ll often say, ’I didn’t know they were underage, they fooled you how could they not fool me?’”

Interest in the underground sex world has skyrocketed since the Victims of Trafficking and Violence Protection Act was signed into law in 2000. However, there was little extensive data on the size and scope of the sex economy before the Urban Institute’s study, funded by the National Institute of Justice, was published. While law enforcement agents interviewed for the study said it only scratches the surface of the sex economy’s shadowy underworld, Bradley Myles, CEO of Polaris Project, a non-profit fighting to end sex trafficking, says the report is enough to show “that sex trafficking is an extraordinarily high-profit, low-risk enterprise.”

“It’s essential we flip the equation in order to stop traffickers from exploiting women, children, and men in towns and cities across the United States,” Myles said in a statement.

TIME Sex

Study: Committed Couples Use Condoms Less Often

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Sporrer/Rupp—Getty Images/Cultura RF

A new study finds that couples in serious relationships only regularly use condoms 14 percent of the time, compared to 33.5 percent in more casual relationships. Researchers also find that regular condom use declines as people are together longer

Couples in committed relationships are less than committed to using condoms.

According to a new study, couples in casual relationships regularly used condoms only 33.5% of the time, and only 14% of the time in serious relationships.

Dutch researchers surveyed 2,144 men and women, and asked them about their sexual activities with their four most recent sexual partners. They found that condom use among heterosexual couples is influenced more by the type of relationship they have than other factors such as gender.

Irregular condom use was more common as relationships progressed and people were together for longer periods. Interestingly, the more highly-sexed couples were, the less likely they were to use condoms, whether in serious or casual relationships. For instance, couples who experimented with sex acts like sex-related drug use and anal sex were more likely to report irregular condom use. Couples of the same ethnicity were also less likely to use condoms.

The researchers believe that public health messaging for condom use could improve by focusing on what type of couples are less likely to use them, Reuters reports. But the study was criticized for not defining the parameters of “irregular use.”

The study is published in the journal, Sexually Transmitted Infections.

[Reuters]

TIME Science

Sorry, Dudes: This Machine Can Make a Woman Orgasm at the Touch of a Button

Qusai Al Shidi / Flickr

Slightly more complicated than a pair of vibrating panties, the device is geared towards women suffering from orgasmic dysfunction

For anyone who thought science wasn’t sexy, take note: a surgeon has found a way to make women orgasm with just the touch of a button.

But don’t put your name down for trials, which are expected to start next year, just yet. The procedure is more complex than just throwing on a pair of vibrating panties. According to the New Scientist,stimulating wires could connect to a signal generator smaller than a packet of cigarettes”—!!!—”implanted under the skin of one of the patient’s buttock.” A remote control would then stimulate the machine to trigger an orgasm.

“It’s as invasive as a pacemaker, so this is only for extreme cases,” Surgeon Stuart Meloy, who had the medical breakthrough,told New Scientist. Still, considering that 10 to 15 percent of women are unable to climax, a Lucky Strikes sized box in the gluteus maximus might be well worth it. The device will come with a limited number of orgasms per week, but the actual figure has yet to be determined.

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

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.

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