TIME psychology

Where to Find Love — Or Lust

Where To Find Love — Or Lust:
adam smigielski—Getty Images

When readers email me about the research behind relationships and sex the most common question is always the same:

Where?

Where should they meet that special someone? Bars? Online? Through friends? Book clubs? Terrorist cells? Religious cults…?

What works?

Yes, science has info.

But the answers depend on what you’re looking for.

Looking For Love

Want to settle down? Ask a family member if they know anyone.

People meet all kinds of partners through friends. But you’re far more likely to meet your future spouse via a family member.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do:

While friends were a source of introduction for all kinds of sexual partnerships at roughly the same rate (35– 40%), family members were much more likely to introduce people to their future spouses than to future one-night stands.

In fact, any sort of organized group is a good bet. 60% of those surveyed met their future spouse through school, work, church, etc.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do:

…the Chicago Sex Survey also collected data on where Americans met their partners. Sixty percent of the people in the study met their spouses at places like school, work, a private party, church, or a social club— all of which tend to involve people who share characteristics.

But you probably don’t want to meet a serious partner at work – those relationships don’t seem to last:

The vast majority of these relationships have not lasted, especially for older workers. For workers who are over 50, 77% of those sexual relationships have ended. Younger people appear to have had more luck with 58% of people in the 18-24 age group reporting that they are still in their relationship. But perhaps that is just because they have been in the workplace such a short period of time the relationships are still new.

(And about half of people who cheat on their spouse met their lover at work.)

Only 10% of people found wedded bliss in a bar.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do:

Ten percent met their spouses at a bar, through a personal ad, or at a vacation spot, where there is more diversity but still a limited range of types of people who might be available to become future spouses.

Online dating is probably a better choice than the booze hall.

17% of people who have dated online met a spouse or long-term relationship partner there.

And these stats are from 2006 — that number is likely to have grown and will probably continue to grow.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do:

Of these “online daters,” 43 percent— or nearly seven million adults— have gone on actual, real-life dates with people they met online, and 17 percent of them— nearly three million adults— have entered long-term relationships or married their online dating partners, according to a systematic national survey.

So once you’re talking to prospective partners, what do you want to be looking for?

Conscientiousness is the personality trait correlated with happy marriages:

…our findings suggest that conscientiousness is the trait most broadly associated with marital satisfaction in this sample of long-wed couples.

In fact, it’s correlated with a lot of good things including better health, longer lives, and greater success.

How do you detect conscientiousness? Look for formality of dress and signs of someone who is neat and organized.

More often than not you can get a feeling for how conscientious someone is just by looking at their face.

(Here’s what to talk about on that first date and the best things to ask to bond with your partner.)

Looking For Lust

Some of the answers here should be a bit more obvious now.

Bars and clubs are good. Friends are fine and meeting through family members is probably a bad idea.

In fact, you’re also more likely to have sex with someone sooner if you met through friends or at a club and not through a family member.

Meet through a family member and there’s only a 24% chance you’ll have sex within a month. Meeting at a nightclub doubles that.

Via Connected: The Surprising Power of Our Social Networks and How They Shape Our Lives — How Your Friends’ Friends’ Friends Affect Everything You Feel, Think, and Do:

And how people meet is also relevant to how quickly they have sex. In the Chicago study, those who met their partners through their friends were slightly more likely to have sex within a month of meeting than those who met through family members. A similar study conducted in France found that couples who met at a nightclub were much more likely to have sex within a month (45 percent) than those who met at, say, a family gathering (24 percent), which is not surprising since one typically does not have sex in mind at family events.

Which countries are most promiscuous? Try Finland or New Zealand. Most promiscuous US states? Nevada, Arkansas and Rhode Island.

College is generally a good place for a fling — unless you go to Harvard.

Via The Happiness Advantage: The Seven Principles of Positive Psychology That Fuel Success and Performance at Work:

Based on my study of Harvard undergraduates, the average number of romantic relationships over four years is less than one. The average number of sexual partners, if you’re curious, is 0.5 per student. (I have no idea what 0.5 sexual partners means, but it sounds like the scientific equivalent of second base.) In my survey, I found that among these brilliant Harvard students, 24 percent are unaware if they are currently involved in any romantic relationship.

While online dating gives you a better than average chance of meeting a future spouse, it’s also good for just getting it on.

30% of women using online dating have had sex on the first date:

Thirty percent of respondents engaged in sexual activity on their first encounter. Seventy-seven percent of respondents who met an online partner did not use condoms for their first sexual encounter.

Why is this?

Researchers believe having all that profile info up front along with email flirting leads to “accelerated intimacy” upon first meeting:

“Online dating can lead to feelings of accelerated intimacy,” says Paige Padgett, PhD, the author of the study and a research associate in the UT School of Public Health’s Division of Epidemiology and Disease Control. “You are able to disclose deeply personal information faster than you would if you were just meeting face to face for the first time,” she explains… Because all of the nitty-gritty preliminaries are out of the way before you actually meet the person, Padgett believes that this may foster a sense of relationship before there is an actual relationship.

(And if you’re going to go the online route, here’s how to make yourself most appealing.)

So the dual use of online dating sites raises a question:

What should you talk about if you’re on the hunt for something less-than-serious and want to see if your partner’s on the same page?

OkCupid found that a “yes” answer to “Do you like the taste of beer?” is the best indicator of who has sex on the first date.

Or simply joke about sex. Research shows the people who laugh are less likely to be focused on long-term relationships.

Via Mating Intelligence Unleashed: The Role of the Mind in Sex, Dating, and Love:

…in one observational study at a bar where male humorous sexual remarks ran rampant, it was noted that the women who laughed at such jokes did indeed seem sexually interested in the men, whereas (obviously) the women who didn’t laugh were not sexually interested. These humorous sexually loaded attempts could be conceptualized as a test to gauge interest and receptivity to a sexual encounter.

So alcohol and double entendres work for James Bond and they can work for you.

(And one might note that 007 never ended up with one of the Bond Girls because he asked his aunt if she could set him up with someone nice.)

What’s Next?

Other posts you should read on sex, marriage, and love:

Join 45K+ readers. Get a free weekly update via email here.

This piece originally appeared on Barking Up the Wrong Tree.

TIME Sex

The Strange Social Science of the Color Red

Women walking
Getty Images

There's plenty of research connecting the color with sex. Here's why

When it comes to sex and women, red is the first color you think of, right? Red lips, red lingerie, red dress. Studies show men perceive women who wear red on dating profiles as both sexier and more open to a sexual encounter.

Red, it seems, sends a very clear message—about sex. And now scientists add to the scarlet sex literature with this piece of data, which we reported on earlier, in the Personality and Social Psychology Bulletin – turns out it’s not just men, but women too who see women who dress in red as more overtly sexual and open to having sex. Not only that, women perceive other women who sport red clothing as sexual rivals (i.e. after their mates), which raises their competitive instincts and leads them to think negatively about their ability to maintain relationships and be loyal.

What? Does that mean every time I grab the red dress my female friends see me as a romantic threat who is about to move in on their partners? “I don’t think it’s the case that women who wear red are always advertising sexual interest,” says Adam Pazda, a social psychologist at University of Rochester who led the study. “But there is evidence that people make judgments about other people in general based on clothing. You can see how color might easily fit into that.”

MORE: The Science of Dating: Wear Red

Pazda says that studies have also shown that people who view pictures of female news anchors in loose or tight-fitting clothing perceived those wearing the form-fitting outfits as less competent, possibly some derivation of the idea that they were dressing for sex and therefore somehow less able to do their jobs.

One thing to remember about that study, and Pazda’s as well: You probably react differently to strangers you pass on the street than those you’re confronted with in a lab setting, where the questions the scientists are asking can’t help but be leading.

If someone sticks a picture of a news anchor wearing a loose top in front of you, asks you to rate her competence, you’re going to grasp at any possible clue to make your decision, because you have to make a decision, or a judgment. You have no other information on the anchor—you don’t know her, you don’t know her background, and you certainly don’t know her experience, which would be more reasonable measures of her competence. Instead, you’re making a snap judgment and for that, you tend to rely on your cultural experience.

And when it comes to the color red and women, that cultural background tells you that red equals sex. In Pazda’s study, he ran three experiments, one to test whether women perceived other women dressing in red as more sexually receptive than those clothed in the same outfit but in white; another to determine if that perception of being more open to sex implied sexual promiscuity, and a final experiment to test whether another color (green) and outfit changed the results.

Each participant was shown either the red-clothed image or the white- or green-clothed one, and then asked to rate, on a sliding scale, the woman’s openness to sexual encounters and her promiscuity. But since they knew nothing else about the women in the pictures. They couldn’t hear their voices, or watch their behaviors. With no other information to go on what were the participants basing their decisions on?

They were likely relying on deeply ingrained, and even unconscious biases connecting the color red to sex. “When we asked, ‘Is this person interested in sex,’ or how seductive or flirtatious is this person, they are drawing on whatever cues are available to make judgments about them,” says Pazda. “One of the only cues is using the dress or shirt color.”

That may only play a small part in people’s first impressions of others in real life, however, where they have facial expressions, behavior, conversations and other information on which to base their decision. Pazda admits that “people aren’t always making judgments about others automatically. But if we stop and make a judgment, color may influence how that judgment is processed.”

TIME psychology

Study: Women View Other Women Wearing Red as a Sexual Threat

They believe scarlet-clad women are looking for a little romance, given half a chance

The ballad “The Lady in Red” was released in 1986 by the singer Chris de Burgh, to widespread acclaim; the pop ballad was massively successful, reaching the top position on the charts in Canada, the UK, Ireland, and Norway, while peaking at #3 in the U.S.

De Burgh’s lyrics—e.g., “I’ve never seen so many men ask you if you wanted to dance/They’re looking for a little romance, given half a chance/And I have never seen that dress you’re wearing”—depict a wonderfully special night, and he’s stated publicly that the song was inspired by the first time he saw his future wife.

In the past, psychological research has found that men perceive women wearing red (like de Burgh’s lady) as more sexually receptive, due to the “biologically based predisposition to receive red as a sexual signal”. Recently, a companion study has been published that documents how women perceive other women wearing red—as it turns out, the color has a similar effect.

The research team, led by University of Rochester psychologist Adam Pazda, conducted three experiments to find out how, exactly, women respond. Here’s how they did it, via Pacific Standard:

Pazda and his colleagues describe three experiments conducted on two different continents that provide evidence that wearing red sets off certain alarm bells. In the first, 196 women recruited online viewed a photo of “a moderately attractive women in her late 20s.”

Half saw an image of her wearing a white dress; the rest viewed an otherwise identical image of her in a red dress. Afterwards, all responded on a sliding scale to a series of statements such as “This person is interested in sex.”

As expected, the woman was seen as more sexually receptive if she was wearing red. This held true whether or not the study participants were in a committed relationship.

Fascinating stuff. Pazda and his colleagues found another effect—that the women who were exposed to the photo of the woman wearing red engaged in “mate-guarding” and “derogation”; in other words, they were more likely to speak negatively about the woman wearing red (“I would guess that this women cheats on men”, “I would guess that this woman has no money”, etc.) and more likely to protect their significant others from her. Here’s Pacific Standard:

Another experiment featured 143 women enrolled at two Slovakian universities. They, too, looked at a photo of a woman in her 20s; she was wearing either a red or green shirt. Afterwards, they were asked to rate not only her interest in sex, but were asked “How likely would you be to introduce this person to your boyfriend?”

Those who viewed her in the red shirt rated the woman as “more sexually receptive,” and “reported stronger intentions to guard their mate from the target,” the researchers report.

De Burgh’s song didn’t speak about the other women in the room—if it had, he might have told a different story.

 

MONEY

How Married Couples Master Sex—and Money

Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex (season 2, episode 3)
Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex. Courtesy of SHOWTIME

Masters and Johnson may not have asked couples how their paychecks affected their sex life, but we did. And here's what we learned.

With the season two premiere of Showtime’s Masters of Sex debuting this Sunday, MONEY decided to dip into our own trove of data about people’s romantic lives. But while Masters sexologists William Masters and Virginia Johnson explored the nature of human sexual response through lab work, we dug into the matter from an angle closer to our hearts: couples’ paychecks.

As part of June’s exclusive Love & Money survey, we reported on how earning power impacts marriages, including the fights, secrets, and lies money inspires. But we also learned quite a bit about how who wears the pants in the relationship affects how often those pants come off. Here are some of the more titillating findings.

Egalitarian households where the husband and wife earn roughly the same have the most sex, with about 47% of couples reporting getting frisky at least once a week. Couples where the women earns less than her husband were more likely to do the deed at least once a month than other earning pairs. But couples where the woman outlearns her spouse were most likely to say they have sex less than once a month.

Of course, as Masters and Johnson could no doubt tell you, quantity doesn’t equal quality. So we also asked our survey respondents how satisfying their sex was.

Again, couples with similar paychecks outperformed their peers. Egalitarian marriages reported having the hottest sex of any earning pair, with more than half rating their sex life as “hot” or “very good.”

Households where the wives earn nothing were least content with their current sex lives. These pairs were most apt to say their sex life “could be better” (or “what sex life?”), with the women more dissatisfied than the men.

But women weren’t fond of the other extreme either: Women who earned more than their husbands were least likely to report a satisfying sex life, while men in those types of relationships were more likely to feel sexually satisfied than their counterparts in marriages where the wives earned less or nothing.

Across the board, men were easier to please when it came to sex, the size of their paycheck notwithstanding. More men than women said they felt satisfied with their sex lives in every single type of earning relationship.

But there was one area where men and women largely agreed: Over two thirds of husbands and wives said they check their bank balance more often than they have sex.

TIME Sex

Intimacy Addiction Looks Similar to Drug Addiction, Study Finds

Watching porn triggers similar brain activity as drug exposure, study says

There’s still debate over whether sex addiction exists, but a new study on porn and the brain provides more evidence that consuming explicit material is addicting. The new study, published in the journal PLOS ONE shows that sex addiction, scientifically known as compulsive sexual behavior, may actually be similar to drug addiction in the brain.

Researchers at the University of Cambridge’s department of psychiatry discovered that watching pornography triggers brain activity similar to what drug addicts experience when they’re shown drugs.

In the study, the researchers looked at 19 men with compulsive sexual behavior and 19 healthy men. The participants either watched sexually explicit videos or sports while the researchers monitored their brain activity using functional magnetic resonance imaging.

The imaging showed that three regions of the brain—the ventral striatum, dorsal anterior cingulate and amygdala—were more active in the men with compulsive sexual behavior compared to the healthy participants. Interestingly, these are the same areas stimulated in drug addicts when they’re shown drugs. The ventral striatum helps process reward and motivation and the dorsal anterior cingulate is involved in anticipating rewards and drug cravings. The amygdala processes events and emotions.

After watching the videos, the participants also rated their level of sexual desire and how much they enjoyed the videos. Previous research has shown that at a certain point, drug addicts use their drug of choice because they need it, and not necessarily because they like the feeling. As the researchers expected, the patients with compulsive sexual behavior reported higher levels of desire towards the sexually explicit videos even though they did not necessarily like them more. Their desire was also correlated with higher interactions between the three areas of the brain during the explicit videos than for the sports.

The men with compulsive sexual behavior also reported starting to watch pornography at earlier ages, and they consumed it at a higher rate than the healthy group. The researchers noticed that younger participants—particularly those with compulsive sexual behavior—had greater levels of activity in the ventral striatum after watching pornography. This, the study authors believe, suggests the ventral striatum is involved in the development of compulsive sexual behaviors like it is in drug addiction. Since people’s brains continue developing into their mid-20s, teens often take more risks and are more susceptible to impulsive behavior.

Despite the findings, the investigators still caution against making any conclusive leaps until more research is done. After all, the study sampling was small, and there’s still disagreement over whether sex is really addictive.

“Whilst these findings are interesting, it’s important to note, however, that they could not be used to diagnose the condition. Nor does our research necessarily provide evidence that these individuals are addicted to porn – or that porn is inherently addictive,” lead study author Dr. Valerie Voon, a Wellcome Trust Intermediate Clinical Fellow at Cambridge, said in a statement. “Much more research is required to understand this relationship between compulsive sexual behaviour and drug addiction.”

TIME Television

6 Things the Real Masters of Sex Taught Us About Sex in 1970

Before they were on Showtime, they were on the cover of TIME

Showtime’s acclaimed series Masters of Sex comes back for its second season this weekend, but before it was a hit show, the real Virginia Johnson and Dr. William Masters graced the May 25, 1970 cover of TIME to talk about their groundbreaking adult sexual education.

“The greatest form of sex education,” Masters once said, “is Pop walking past Mom in the kitchen and patting her on the fanny, and Mom obviously liking it. The kids take a look at this action and think, ‘Boy, that’s for me!'”

While sexual myths of penis size and libido boosters still exist today, Masters and Johnson were the original debunkers. This is what their research concluded in the 70’s.

1. Penis size has nothing to do with sexual effectiveness.
2. Baldness is not a sign of virility.
3. There is no physiological difference, as Freud first proposed, between a clitoral orgasm and a vaginal orgasm.
4. Humans can remain sexually active well into their ninth decade. “All that is necessary,” says Masters, “is reasonably good health and an interested and interesting partner.”
5. Intercourse is not dangerous at any time during pregnancy—unless, says Masters, it is contraindicated by “ruptured membranes, pain and bleeding.”
6. Masturbation is not harmful.

Catch up on William Masters and Virginia Johnson by reading their 1970 cover story now and see what happened in the first season of the hit series.

TIME Television

Lizzy Caplan: Masters of Sex Wouldn’t Be the Same Made by a Man

Masters of Sex
Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson and Caitlin Fitzgerald as Libby Masters in Masters of Sex Michael Desmond—Showtime

The show's female creator is important — but not for the reason you might guess

With the second season of Masters of Sex premiering July 13, the women who make the show what it is — creator Michelle Ashford, along with executive producers Amy Lippman and Sarah Timberman — spoke to TIME about how the show addresses the mechanics and the pleasure of sex, all while avoiding voyeurism.

But that’s not where their feminine sides really show through. Star Lizzy Caplan says that there’s no way to say whether a sex scene written by a man versus one written by a woman is more gratuitous — but that there is one element of the show’s arc that wouldn’t be possible if the show weren’t created by women. And, ironically, it’s something that has very little to do with sex (though it does contain spoilers for last season):

Our show would look completely different if it were run by a man instead of Michelle supported by two other strong women. I think the first thing that would look a lot different would be the love triangle between Masters and his wife and Virginia. I think we still have a lot more story to tell there but one of the things that fascinated all the women — Caitlin Fitzgerald, who plays [Masters’ wife] Libby, included — was the fact that Virginia and Libby really did cultivate this loving friendship with one another while all of this was going on. The care given to that — not making the Libby character super two-dimensional and the Virginia character this man-eater — I think that has a female touch written all over it. Also, especially in the second season, there’s a lot revolving around Virginia and Dr. DePaul, played by Julianne Nicholson. Again, the meticulous care given to that relationship is something that only a woman would understand. There is a deep emotional love connection in female friendships and I don’t even know if guys are aware that’s going on.

But that’s not to say that Caplan doesn’t think their depiction of on-screen sex isn’t woman-friendly: “I think they’ve managed to do that,” she says of the show’s racier scenes, “where it doesn’t feel like it’s being made for 14-year-old boys.”

TIME justice

Police Say They Won’t Take Explicit Photos of Teen in Sexting Case

Following a wave of backlash.

Police in Virginia have backed away from a controversial plan to take sexually explicit photos of a 17-year-old to corroborate the images with evidence in a sexting case, the Associated Press reports.

The teen in question faces two felony charges in juvenile court for manufacturing and distributing child pornography after exchanging sexts with his then-15-year-old girlfriend. Police and prosecutors received a warrant to take the sexually explicit photos to compare against photos he allegedly sent.

But amid a wave of backlash, Manassas Police Lt. Brian Larkin told the AP Thursday that his department would not move forward with the plan and will let the search warrant expire. He did not give a specific reason.

A day earlier, the Manassas Police Department issued a statement saying it was not their policy to “authorize invasive search procedures of suspects in cases of this nature.” That statement did not elaborate on whether the images would be taken.

[AP]

TIME Culture

Why Masters of Sex Is the Most Feminist Show on Television

Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex
Michael Sheen as Dr. William Masters and Lizzy Caplan as Virginia Johnson in Masters of Sex Frank W Ockenfels—Showtime

How do you make a show about sex interesting in an era when we’re bombarded by it? Easy. Put three women behind the lens.

Michelle Ashford, Amy Lippman and Sarah Timberman are seated around a conference table ticking off a list of Hollywood sex scenes.

“Basic Instinct.”

“Out of Sight.”

“Remains of the Day.”

“Ohhh, Remains of the Day,” Lippman coos. “That’s a beautiful sex scene.”

It’s all research, of course. As the brains behind the Showtime series, Masters of Sex – which traces the lives of pioneering sex researchers William Masters and Virginia Johnson – the women needed to understand: What makes a sex scene sexy?

(Read this week’s story on the women behind Masters of Sex)

So they each sat down one night, with a series of sex scenes collected on a DVD. One by one, they dissected each carnal moment. “We literally had 50 movies,” says Ashford, the show’s creator and showrunner. “We wanted to find out what actually makes something, honest to God, sexy.”

What they found, naturally, was that it had little to do with the physical act – and everything to do with narrative. And so as the trio – creator and executive producers, respectively – prepared to film the pilot of Masters of Sex, Ashford made a rule: sex on this show couldn’t just be about sex. “We decided that sex had to be completely connected to story,” she tells TIME, in a profile in this week’s magazine. “So it was either funny or humiliating or curious or revelatory or… something.”

Ashford, Lippman and Timberman spoke to TIME about Masters and Johnson, sex on television, and how you keep a show about sex interesting in an era where we’re bombarded by it.

So you guys watched 50 sex scenes. What was the sexiest?

Ashford: We all agreed that Don’t Look Now, the Donald Sutherland and Julie Christie movie, from 1973, was memorably sexy. Michael Sheen (who plays Masters) loved it. We loved it. And our director, John Madden, said, ‘Every love scene I’ve ever directed was influenced by that movie.’ So when we went and watched the film again, we tried to figure out what were we all responding to. We just assumed it must not be trying to be sexy. But that’s actually not true — the sex is very sexy. But what they did was they shot that sex scene and then they intercut it with all these shots of that couple after sex, getting ready to go out for the evening. And so the aftermath of being together is on their faces, what this intimacy has meant to them. And so all of a sudden you get a whole story, because you’re seeing the sex but you’re also seeing the effect of the sex.

Is it rare to get that level of story and sex these days?

Ashford: I think in a lot of shows it’s still as if, OK, we’re going to have a lot of exposition, so we’re going to have two people humping in the background to make it more interesting.

Part of what makes Masters of Sex great is its willingness to treat sex like science.

Ashford: We show a lot of sex, but the discussion of sex is incredibly frank. We use the words vagina and clitoris, like, endlessly, and you really don’t find that on other television shows.

Lippman: I mean, I’m not a prude about this stuff, but [before this show] I don’t think I’d spoken the word dildo publicly … well, ever.

Ashford: And now you say it six times a day.

Lippman: An hour! It’s like, is the masturbation with the dildo, with out the dildo…

You talk about more serious topics too – there’s an episode on vaginismus, a rare sexual disorder, and even male impotence. Those are like the least sexy topics possible in a show about sex.

Ashford: We want this show to feel relatable … We want people out there watching, who don’t have perfect sex lives, who suffer from sexual dysfunction and insecurities and many nights of the worst dates ever, we all want those people to watch and say, ‘Well, that’s me.’

So there’s almost an underlying social mission.

Timberman: The show has really given us license to talk about a lot of these taboos.

How do you make sure you get the science right?

Ashford: One of Masters and Johnson’s claims-to-fame is that they disproved Freud’s theory that vaginal orgasms were superior to clitoral orgasms — which made half in the women in the world think they were “frigid.” But when we actually went to write that part of the script, we realized we didn’t understand the mechanics. So at one point, we had all these diagrams out to try and understand the difference between. It was hilarious, all of us writers gathered around this drawing, going, “Really, that’s how it works?”

It’s still pretty rare to find women running the show in Hollywood. How do you think your gender influences the way this story is told?

Timberman: It’s something that’s come up a lot in talking about the show that we almost forget – that this is a show that’s run by a lot of women. That’s not by design. But, sure, it’s not the male gaze.

Lippman: And female pleasure is well represented. As women writing a show about sex, the expectation might be that we are most interested in telling stories about love and romance, and while that’s a component of the series, it isn’t necessarily our focus.

Timberman: Right. And, you know, in season one, we make a big deal of that line by Masters, where he says that women are ‘greater sexual athletes’ than men, because they have multiple orgasms.

I was watching the preview of the second season, and within the first five minutes we hear Virginia Johnson talk about asking for a raise, the farce of diet pills, dildos, and female competition. You watch something like that and it’s hard to imagine this not being a show produced by women.

Lippman: I think the thing that gives us license is not necessarily being female, but having Virginia Johnson as a character. She was a remarkable woman, very flawed, very complicated, but absolutely a groundbreaker. And her attitude toward sex was truly unusual – even for today. She was able to separate love and sex.

Right. And she’s a working mom.

Lippman: You know, we all have children. We’re working. We’re struggling with things like, ‘When do I get home because my kid’s in an All Star game?’ and ‘I need to take a week off to take my kid back East to go look at colleges.’ So I think there is a lack of judgment on our part about Virginia as a working mother and an appreciation for how hard it must have been, in the late 50s, to balance one’s professional ambitions with having a family.

When I spoke with Lizzy Caplan [who plays Virginia Johnson], she made the point that your portrayal of female friendships is really quite nuanced. Can you speak to that a bit?

Ashford: I think sometimes female friendships tend to be portrayed as either ‘We’re best friends and tell each other everything’ or ‘I did like you but now we want the same man, so I hate you.’ But the truth of female friendships is they are often as complicated as romantic relationships, sibling relationships, mother/daughter relationships — there’s competition between women, and envy, women can be both very judgmental and incredibly selfless in the love and support they offer one another. There are a million emotions under the sun that play out in female friendships, and I think we’re just committed to making the women (and their friendships) that we portray on our show as very specific.

Jessica Bennett is a contributing columnist at TIME.com covering the intersection of gender, sexuality, business and pop culture. A former Newsweek senior writer and executive editor of Tumblr, she is also a contributing editor for Sheryl Sandberg’s women’s foundation, Lean In. You can follow her @jess7bennett.

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