TIME

Watch A Really Awkward First Date Unfold in Real Time

Can't. Look. Away.

Get ready to watch the most awkward thing you’ve seen in your life. Vice is ensuring your Friday will be totally unproductive by livestreaming the first date between two strangers. The couple is currently having a drink at The Old Blue Last, a bar in London. It’s basically like if someone took that first kiss video that went viral last week but made it in color and swapped out the beautiful models for a dude wearing a Family Guy t-shirt and a beanie emblazoned with the word “dope” and a girl who seems kind of cool and stylish.

In fact, Vice did a remake of that kissing video with real strangers and the guy participating in this date is one of them. Guess Vice is a matchmaking service for Family Guy fans now.

You’d assume that these two love birds would be on their best behavior — a first date is basically a job interview for love, right? — but this winsome twosome can’t seem to make eye contact for more than 10 seconds at a time or talk about anything that isn’t a giant cliche. Topics so far include cheesy pick-up lines, the intersection of love and beauty and so much more. If this couple doesn’t make it, there’s no hope for the rest of us.

TIME

Low Libido? 11 Drugs That Affect Your Sex Drive

Check your medicine cabinet, then talk to your doctor

Everyone’s heard of medication that can improve your sex life (hello, Viagra!), but some drugs can actually quash it. If you’re feeling less than interested in having sex, the culprit might be in your medicine cabinet. 

If you suspect your low libido might be related to your medication, talk to your doctor. (Don’t just stop taking a potential lifesaver.) He or she will probably be able to suggest an alternative. “Communication is key,” says Raymond Hobbs, MD, a senior staff physician in the department of internal medicine at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit.

Health.com: 15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors

Depression is a well known libido killer, but so are some antidepressants. Prozac, Zoloft, and other selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs) improve mood by raising serotonin. Unfortunately, that can also lower libido, says Irwin Goldstein, MD, director of sexual medicine at Alvarado Hospital in San Diego. 

You have options. Wellbutrin and Viibryd are two SSRIs that don’t have this side effect. Or try exercise. A recent study suggests that women taking antidepressants who do cardio and strength training before sex may see improvements in the bedroom.

Tricyclic antidepressants

Since the SSRIs came out in the 1990s, tricyclic antidepressants such as Elavil aren’t used as often. But some doctors do still prescribe them to treat not only depression, but also nerve pain such as that associated with shingles. But these, too, can decrease libido. 

If you have a problem, try switching drugs or playing with the dose (after talking to your doctor, of course). “A lot of times you just want to use the lowest dose that accomplishes what you want,” says Dr. Hobbs. “Start low and go slow.”

Health.com: 7 Foods for Better Sex

Birth control pills

Oral contraceptives can lower levels of sex hormones, including testosterone, and therefore may also affect libido.

Non-hormonal contraceptives, such as an IUD, are good alternatives, says Dr. Goldstein. Less popular are condoms and diaphragms. Or you can try one of the many other birth control pills available.

Bear in mind that the pill can also increase your sex drive. “I’ve seen it go both ways,” says Dr. Hobbs. “Taking the pill is very effective and [women who are] more confident in their birth control device… find that their sexuality improves.”

Proscar

Proscar is used to treat benign prostatic hyperplasia or BPH, better known as an enlarged prostate. It’s a problem most men will encounter as they age. The active ingredient in the drug is finasteride, which prevents testosterone from converting into its active form. Lower testosterone can mean a lower libido. 

An alternative treatment for BPH is a procedure known as a transurethral resection of the prostate. This widely performed one-hour operation involves slipping a tube up the urethra and removing a portion of the prostate. That could take care of the prostate problems and the need for medication.

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

Propecia

This drug is basically the same as Proscar, but it’s used at lower doses to prevent hair loss in men. “It’s the same chemical [finasteride] designed with a new dosing regimen,” says Dr. Goldstein. This means that younger men without prostate problems may also see decreased libido (about 2% of men reported sexual side effects in clinical trials). And there have been reports that the effects can last even after discontinuing the drug, says Dr. Goldstein. 

There are alternative hair-loss treatments, such as Rogaine, that don’t have sexual side effects.

Antihistamines

Over-the-counter antihistamines, especially diphendyramine (Benadryl) and chlorpheniramine (Chlor-Trimeton), may alleviate your allergies, but temporarily affect your love life. The solution here could be as simple as carefully timing when you take the drug. “Many of these drugs do not last 24 hours and certainly their side effects don’t,” says Allison Dering-Anderson, Pharm.D., a clinical assistant professor of pharmacy practice at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha. “Antihistamines should be cleared in eight hours in younger and healthier patients.” 

Keep in mind that antihistamines are also found in many combination cough-and-cold medicines so read the label. You may be taking antihistamines and lowering your libido without knowing it.

Medical marijuana

Marijuana is only approved for medical purposes in 20 states, but regardless of where or why it’s used, pot can have “a significant negative impact both on libido and on ability to perform,” says Dering-Anderson.

If you’re in a place that hasn’t legalized marijuana, obviously you shouldn’t be using it. If you are using marijuana legally and having sex drive problems, talk with a healthcare provider about alternatives for pain and nausea, two common reasons people use marijuana-the-drug.

Health.com: The Secret to Hotter Sex

Anti-seizure drugs

Tegretol can be a game changer for people who have seizures and even for some with bipolar disorder. But the price can be reduced sexual desire. Tegretol and other drugs like it work by preventing impulses from traveling along the nerve cells, but therein lies the problem. An orgasm is similar to a seizure—in both, sensory input triggers a body response—says Dr. Goldstein, so medications that dampen nerve impulses can also reduce pleasurable sensations. In short, the things that used to stimulate you just may not do it for you any more.

If an anti-seizure drug is affecting your libido, ask your doctor about an alternative medication. “That’s not the only drug out there,” says Dr. Hobbs.

Opioids

Opioid medications can be a blessing in terms of pain relief, but a curse in terms of addiction and sex drive. Studies have shown that opioids such as Vicodin, OxyContin, and Percocet, can lower testosterone, which can affect your libido.

Testosterone therapy—perhaps in the form of a gel—may help men taking opioids for pain who have libido problems, one study found.

Beta blockers

Tens of millions of Americans use beta blockers such as propranolol and metoprolol with great benefit to their hearts, but not necessarily their sex lives. In rare cases, even eye drops containing the beta blocker Timolol (used to treat glaucoma) can decrease libido, says Dering-Anderson.

But there are many beta blockers on the market. They all lower blood pressure, but in different ways. Talk to your doctor to find one that works for all of you.

Benzodiazepines

There have been some reports that anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax can lower your sex drive.

But the underlying anxiety could be the real problem. “Benzodiazepines are used for severe anxiety and many times [people with severe anxiety] aren’t so interested in having sex,” says Dr. Hobbs.

In that case, the medication might calm your anxiety enough to actually enjoy sex, says Dering-Anderson.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME Sex

The Duke Porn Star is Right: Kink Can Be a Feminist Choice

Duke adult film star student, Belle Knox, poses for a photo on March 5, 2014 in Los Angeles.
Duke adult film star student, Belle Knox, poses for a photo on March 5, 2014 in Los Angeles. Joe Kohen—Getty Images

The university student/adult film actress penned a controversial xoJane essay defending rough sex. She's right-- there's nothing un-feminist about kink

Duke porn star Belle Knox is back in action, this time with a long manifesto on XOJane about why loving kinky sex doesn’t make her a bad feminist. She also made her strip-club debut in New York this week, and announced on Fox that she’ll be returning to the Duke University campus this week despite the slut shaming and death threats.

Knox argues that she enjoys fantasies of sexual degradation (specifically rough oral sex) and that preference has no bearing on her feminist status.

The truth is: If a woman fantasizes about being dominated and degraded, it does not mean she actually wants or deserves to be dominated and degraded IN REAL LIFE. It does not mean she deserves to be name-called even though during a sexual act that might be the exact thing that turns her on.

Feminism means I can take ownership of what I enjoy sexually and that sexuality does not have to determine anything else about me. You might. But I will not.

Because feminism is not a one size fits all movement.

You tell ‘em, Duke porn star. She also says:

We play around with roles and identities while we are working out issues that are long buried in our subconscious. I’m an ambitious young woman. I’m a student at Duke. I’m a slut who needs to be punished.

Can you guess which one of those is a role?

Knox’s point would be better made if her whole porn career was some kind of long research experiment for a Women & Gender Studies paper. As it is, there are a few worrisome things about her essay, like the fact that 1) she is still a teenager, 2) she admits in the piece to a history of depression and cutting herself, and 3) defending porn as feminist is itself kind of problematic, because it’s often so dude-centric–despite a growing market for feminist porn. And some argue that violent sex fantasies inspire real life sexual violence, although there’s not a lot of scientific consensus on whether that’s true.

MORE: The Duke Porn Star Isn’t as Empowered as She Thinks

But she’s ultimately right that empowered women can also enjoy kink. Feminism is not a gulag– it’s not like there are guards that will shoot you if you try to escape for the night. Let’s get rid of this idea that feminism is an all-or-nothing pursuit that has to be 100% consistent because, as early feminist Margaret Fuller’s BFF Ralph Waldo Emerson put it, “consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds.”

And last time I checked, penises and vaginas don’t have politics. Since when do our sex lives have to correspond with our political leanings? Some people (not me) might think Paul Ryan is hot, okay? And other people think Illinois Republican Rep. Aaron Schock is “schockingly” sexy. It doesn’t matter if our politics align, because this is a sex fantasy, not a voting booth.

Besides, isn’t the whole point of a fantasy to be an escape from what other people think is appropriate? If what you’re doing is “appropriate,” it’s probably not hot. I don’t even want to know what a politically correct sex life would look like, but it sounds boring.

Just because many of us can’t imagine anyone enjoying rough (consensual) oral sex, doesn’t mean it’s not possible that some women do. I can’t imagine anyone enjoying a tuna salad sandwich, but that’s still a popular lunch choice.

If the Duke porn star actually does love rough sex, good for her. The problem would be if she were just pretending to like it in order to fulfill some guy’s fantasy. Some women feel like they have to pretend to like kink because their boyfriends want to recreate the porn they watch. But she insists that’s not the case, and we should believe her.

We believe sexual assault survivors when they say the sex wasn’t consensual. We should also believe Belle Knox when she says it was.

TIME Internet

Rape Survivors Talk About Why They Tweeted Their Stories

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A spontaneous conversation about sexual assault on social media sparks a debate over whether public sharing helps victims heal or hurts them.

JoAnne Cusick was wearing a pink floral sundress and jelly sandals when she was sexually assaulted at the age of eight by a group of neighborhood boys. Believing that she was to blame, she kept the secret for nine years until she told a priest about the attack during confession. He assured her that she was innocent in the eyes of God, and the eyes of the world.

Twenty-eight years later, Cusick, now a 37-year-old nurse living in Colorado, shared that secret on social media joining hundreds of other victims who tweeted their stories of assault. These women (and a number of men) were responding to a simple question that went viral on Twitter Wednesday night asking victims what they were wearing when they were assaulted. Within hours, a long list of outfits—ranging from sweatshirts to pajamas to bathing suits—accompanied by stories of rape and assault filled Twitter feeds, replacing the normal news items and GIFs.

The huge response ignited a conversation on social media and blogs among victims and health professionals as to whether sharing stories on highly public, semi-anonymous social media forums could be a healthy step in the recovery process—a way to make those who’ve been assaulted feel less alone, less stigmatized and shamed. Or does sharing leave survivors open to online shaming and undermine a more traditional route of coping, like therapy?

The debate started when Christine Fox, a young woman who tweets under the handle @steenfox, got into an argument on Twitter with a follower who insisted that women who wear revealing outfits are at fault if they are sexually assaulted. Fox invited those on the social media network who had been victims of rape or sexual assault to tweet the outfits they wore at the time of the attack in hopes of convincing this man not to victim blame.

“I was trying to make him understand that it absolutely does not make a difference, and that the responsibility does not lie on women,” she told The Root. Over the next several hours, Fox received hundreds of replies. With the users’ permission, she retweeted stories as she received them.

The campaign of sorts took on another life when Adrienne Simpson from Philadelphia, who has never been a victim of sexual assault, saw the conversation on Twitter and thought that it could take on a new visual format. “I am a marketer, so I think in campaigns and imagery,” she tells TIME. “I was thinking they need pictures with this because that’s what’s going to drive home the idea that you can have on corduroy pants and a camouflage shirt—there’s nothing remotely sexual about that—and this can still happen to you.”

She created five images from the texts of five tweets that caught her attention: the camouflage shirt and cords a 15-year-old had been wearing; a school uniform (buttoned-up polo, knee-length khaki shorts) worn by a 13-year-old; a sundress a 19-year-old was wearing to Church on Sunday when she was raped by her 50-year-old minister; jeans and a hoodie for a 22-year-old girl who was acting as a designated driver at a party and whose soda was roofied; and—the one that got the most retweets all night—the Barney pajamas worn by a seven-year-old when she was raped.

She added a hashtag: #RapeHasNoUniform. “I think as a victim, when you speak out, you want it to matter. The bigger this gets, the more it matters. I think it should be an organized, public campaign.”

But without expecting attention or publicity, many just tweeted in the hopes of helping others. “[The assault] had nothing to do with anything I did. And I think hearing one survivor being able to say that is a good for people who may still be blaming themselves,” Cusick tells TIME. She has shared her story with friends before, and says she felt comfortable opening up on Twitter.

Sarah Webster said she tweeted with a similar motive. Webster has tweeted about her assault in the past and says that nothing is too private for her to share on her account, which is focused on sex and body image. During the course of the Twitter conversation, the question of whether most assailants are strangers or not arose, and Webster decided it was important to share her story. Webster says she was raped by someone she was very close to and hoped her experience would show others that even those you trust can be perpetrators. “I was sexually assaulted by someone I knew, and at the time I wasn’t wearing anything at all. It was in my home by someone who was never supposed to do that to me,” she says. “I wanted to contribute another side of the story.”

Scott Berkowitz, the President and Founder of the Rape, Abuse and Incest National Network (RAINN) was not surprised that seeing so many people share the same experience on Twitter motivated people to share their stories for the first time. “Having this whole community of other people who have been through something similar can be really empowering for people,” he says. “I think there’s safety in numbers. We see that in a lot of scenarios with sexual assault survivors. When there’s allegations, say, against a particular priest that becomes public, suddenly many other people who were abused by that person are okay with coming forward.”

Those who posted compared the spontaneous movement to Take Back the Night and Slut Walk—two organized campaigns that have aimed to create safe environments for rape victims to share their stories, debunk the notion of victim blaming and restore safety to campuses and neighborhoods. The popularity of such projects proves that large groups of victims speaking out can bolster other survivors’ confidence. But unlike past movements, this one took place on social media, which can be simultaneously both anonymous and extremely public.

Anyone on the Internet can read your tweets; and anyone on Twitter can respond to them. You can choose how much information you share about your real identity in your Twitter profile. Some shared their experiences anonymously; others had names and faces attached to their profiles and hence, their stories. Either way many thousands of strangers read their tweets, a fact that became controversial when some media outlets reprinted the tweets and were accused of doing so without everyone’s permission. An argument ensued as to whether tweets are public or private and whether extra consideration should be given to sensitive cases such as this one.

The anonymity, after all, is exactly what convinced some victims to share their stories. Many of those who posted who I interviewed said that though Twitter was public, their family didn’t know that they tweeted and were unlikely to see the tweets. Sharing their story on Twitter with other survivors felt safer than sharing on someplace like Facebook where their tight circle, that might include family members who don’t know about the assault or even the assailant him or herself, might be able to see.

RAINN has found that some anonymity helps those who have never shared before. “We launched an online hotline in 2006 to compliment our telephone hotline because we were finding that younger victims in particular just weren’t comfortable picking up the phone and saying out loud what happened to them,” says Berkowitz. “But that sitting in the privacy of their room at their computer with at least a measure of anonymity there that they tend to open up much more.”

But that’s an anonymous hotline. Twitter is a public forum, where there’s always gong to be backlash. “In a [therapy] group, you generally sign a confidentiality agreement. There are no agreements on Twitter. Nobody cares about you. It’s the Internet,” says Nicole Aghaaliandastjerdi who shared her experience and now runs a women’s abuse support group in Louisville, KY. Along with all the supportive messages came the the kind of slut-shaming that originally spurred the conversation. “I remember someone was tweeting, ‘Look at all the damaged goods.’ That was really hard for even me to read, and I’m pretty far along in my healing process.”

Despite such comments, Aghaaliandastjerdi focuses on the good that came out of it, like her friend who had only shared once before but decided to participate on Twitter. “That was huge for her. For a lot of people, they’re taking back whatever had been taken from them. They’re claiming it and giving the story a different kind of power.”

Indeed, many first-time sharers found safety in numbers. Clifford Johnson, 31, hadn’t shared his story before except with a few close family members. “When I think about it, it kind me feel like a little less than a man—just the fact that it happened.”

But seeing others share their story and the ease of tweeting allowed him to post. “I don’t think I intended to go that deep. I almost deleted it because I didn’t know if I wanted this out there.” But as people began to respond he changed his mind. “It was a forum for the first time I was able to say what happened and get feedback from other people who went through the same thing. Plus, everyone there was a woman, you know? And it just kind of got me to thinking about things that happened to me as a child, and I wanted to put it out there to say, ‘It doesn’t matter what you’re wearing. It doesn’t even matter your race or sex. It could happen to anybody.’”

The experience made him want to become involved in advocacy for male victims of rape.

The Twitter conversation was a healing process for many of those who participated. The majority of responses were ones of love and support from strangers.

“What made me feel okay is that it’s so much more prevalent than one might initially think. Even though in my personal network that I follow I didn’t see anyone else respond, the fact that there were so many people responding to the question made me realize it’s not an uncommon thing,” says Ayanna who wanted her last name to be withheld and tweeted despite the fact that her ex-boyfriend and assailant still follows her on social media. “Some women tweeted at me who had been through the same thing. They really identified with what I said and it made me feel validated in my decision.”

Of the seven assault survivors I interviewed, none regretted having tweeted.

“I’m sure hundreds of people probably woke up today with a heavy burden lifted off them,” Johnson says.

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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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

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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]

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