TIME relationships

Why Dating Someone Younger Shouldn’t Be a Big Deal

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This article originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

One of my friends only dates much younger dudes and it’s not a good look for her. She always end up in super casual relationships where neither of them seem to take it very seriously, but I know she wants to have a family one day. I get that everyone has “a type” but I care about her and don’t want her to keep wasting her time on these scrubs. Should I say something?

Natalie Ruge, Licensed Marriage And Family Therapist

If your friend seems to truly be enjoying her casual relationships and is okay when they don’t last very long, then sounds like it’s more your problem than her problem. A younger man may feel like more of a challenge, give her a sense of control, or just be a better match for her — sexually or otherwise. Some women enjoy being assertive with a younger man, making the first move, and confidently telling him what she likes and doesn’t like. And, if that’s the case, then more power to her! The world needs more people who know what they want and aren’t afraid to go after it, regardless of social norms or peer pressure. It could even be said that the older woman-younger man pairing results in a more equal power dynamic, and research shows that mutual respect and high regard is a strong indicator of a long-term, successful relationship.

(MORE: The Worst Questions Women Get When Online Dating)

I believe that your concern comes from a good place, but it does sound a little bit judgmental. Are these men “scrubs” just because they’re younger, or not in the kind of careers that you consider successful? And, why do you assume that she can’t have a family with someone younger than her? Maybe settling down with an age-appropriate finance type sounds like a death sentence to her. Just because you’re friends and have things in common doesn’t mean you have the same romantic interests. And, that’s a good thing — at least you’ll never fight over an S.O., which is never a good look.

(MORE: Dating 101: The New Rules)

On the other hand, if you’re just curious and want to know her better, there’s no reason why you can’t start a non-judgmental, but honest, conversation about what you want in a committed partner and then ask her what she wants in hers. However you handle it, just remember that for the most part, unsolicited opinions are rarely received well. No matter how nicely you say it, the message will be that you know what’s better for her than she does. If the guys she’s dating treat her like an adult that’s fully capable of making her own choices (and it seems like they are), you should too. Unless a friend is hurting herself or someone else, it’s best to live and let live.

There’s a difference between concern and control, so unless the issue is somehow affecting you directly, or if she seems unhappy about said partners, keep your opinions to yourself and enjoy your friend’s scandalous cougar tales. Maybe she’ll even convince you to give it a go yourself — have fun!

(MORE: Why I Dated a Guy Who Hated My Body)

TIME Sex/Relationships

How Previous Sexual Partners Affect Offspring

At least, if you’re a fly. But the research suggests that it may be time to take into account more than just DNA when it comes to our offspring

It’s a long-held belief among animal breeders that pure-bred progeny are best produced by females who have never mated before. Call it puritanical or ridiculous, but in breeding, it’s been a long-standing practice—even though there has never been much science to back it up. Now, however, researchers at University of New South Wales in Australia believe they may finally have some evidence to give that notion some scientific support.

Working with flies, Angela Crean, a research fellow at the evolution and ecology research center, picked up on her mentor’s work of looking at how male factors can influence offspring outside of the DNA in his semen.

“The genetic tests showed that even though the second male fertilized the eggs, the offsprings’ size was determine by the condition of the first male,” she says of her findings, published in the journal Ecology Letters. “The cool thing is that the non-genetic effects we are seeing are not necessarily tied to the fertilization itself.”

Cool, or really disturbing. The implications of the study are that any mates a female has had may leave some legacy—in the form of physical or other traits that are carried in the semen (but not the DNA-containing sperm)—that could show up in her future offspring with another mate.

While there’s a growing body of work showing that a mother’s diet, her smoking status, and other lifestyle habits can have an influence on her offspring, the data on similar factors on the father’s side is just emerging. With flies it’s known, for example, that males who eat a maggot-rich diet while they’re mere larvae, develop into larger than average adults, and on top of that, sire larger than average offspring as well. Males fed a meager maggot diet tend to be smaller have have smaller progeny.

Eager to learn how this was happening, Crean conducted a series of mating experiments with female flies when their eggs were immature. At that stage, the eggs are more receptive to absorbing factors in semen, but because they aren’t fully developed, they can’t be fertilized and won’t result in baby flies. When she and her colleagues “mated” these females with males who were larger, then allowed the females to actually mate with smaller males once they were mature, the offspring turned out to be large, just like the first males the females had sexual contact with. Genetically, they were the offspring of the second, smaller male, but physically, they resembled the larger males.

The same was true when they reversed the experiment and first exposed the females to smaller flies and then mated them with the larger ones.

To be sure that the was indeed due to something in the semen, Crean repeated the studies with an unfortunate group of male flies who had their genitalia glued down so they could not pass on any semen during their encounters. (“It’s horrifying but seemed nicer than cutting them off,” she says.) When these males, both large and small, were the first “mates” for females, their size did not have an effect on the offspring when the female mated with her second mate and had offspring. In other words, those offspring were large if the second male was large, and small if the second male was small.

Crean says the idea of a female’s previous mates having an effect on their offspring isn’t unheard of. In fact, this very idea, called telegony, was proposed by ancient scholars such as Aristotle but dismissed with the advent of genetics. But new findings about epigenetics — how our behaviors, such as diet, smoking and drinking — can affect our genes and how those changes can be passed on, make the idea of such non-genetic inheritance possible. “This could be seen as a maternal effect [such as diet or smoking] where the mother’s environment are her previous mating partners,” she says. “We have to realize that it’s not just DNA that gets passed on. It opens up the opportunity for all these other pathways that we had excluded.”

And while flies aren’t people, what are the chances that the same phenomenon is occurring in human reproduction? “It’s something we definitely don’t want to speculate about yet with humans,” she says. “There is no direct scientific evidence for that at all.” At least, for now.

TIME Sex/Relationships

Teenage Girls Given Choice of Free Contraceptives Get Far Fewer Abortions

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Illustration by Miles Donovan for TIME

Girls allowed to choose between free contraceptive methods had 76% fewer abortions than their peers in the general population — and most chose IUDs

Three in 10 teenage girls in the U.S become pregnant each year—a rate far higher than in other industrialized countries. But when girls are counseled about the most effective contraceptives and given their pick of birth control at no cost, their rates of pregnancy drop by 78% and they get 76% fewer abortions than the general population of sexually active teens.

That’s what a new study published in the New England Journal of Medicine suggests, in which researchers at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis attempted to see what would happen when they tore down the three main barriers to teenage birth control—ignorance of options, limited access and prohibitive cost.

They studied a group of 1,404 teenage girls enrolled in the Contraceptive CHOICE project, a study of adolescents and women at high risk for unintended pregnancy. 62% of the girls were black and 99% were sexually active. Black teens have even higher rates of pregnancy than the rest of the population: 4 in 10 become pregnant, compared with 2 in 10 white teens.

In the study, peer educators, volunteers, medical students and others interested in health education counseled the girls on the available methods, presenting them in order of effectiveness—IUDs and implants, followed by Depo-Provera injection, pills, patch and ring, and condoms. They stuck to a script that encouraged the girls to choose for themselves, emphasizing that they can always change their method later. The contraceptives were in the room for the girls to see and touch. The clinic had flexible scheduling so that even if a teen was late to her appointment, she was guaranteed to be seen, and every girl received her birth control right after the counseling session.

That’s a world away from the experience of girls in the outside world, who are often asked by providers to come back several times before they start a method, given false information about IUD risks, and eventually mass-prescribed pills, says project director Gina Secura. “It’s often a one-sentence conversation: what do you want, and here’s a prescription,” she says.

MORE: How Having an (Insurance-Covered) IUD Is Saving My Life

Focusing the conversation purely on effectiveness was, well, extremely effective. “When we first started the project, we had hoped to double the national rate [of IUD or implant use]—about 5%,” says Secura. Instead of the hoped-for 10%, a whopping 72% of teems chose IUDs or implants. “We were shocked,” she says. And they stuck with them. Two-thirds of the girls were still on long-acting reversible contraception (LARC, which includes implants and IUDs) after 2 years, compared to one third of girls on short-acting methods like the pill.

IUDs are a solid choice according to the American Academy of Pediatrics, who just endorsed IUDs as the best method of birth control for teenage girls. And the evidence bears it out. The researchers tracked the girls for 2-3 years and followed up every few months by phone. They found that 3.4% of CHOICE teens got pregnant, compared to 15.85% of sexually experienced teens in the general population. Fewer than 1% of CHOICE teens got abortions (0.97%, to be exact), while 4.15% of the other population did.

That means that girls in the program were 78% less likely to get pregnant and had 76% fewer abortions than their peers in the general population. Of course, it’s not quite fair to compare these two groups, since the girls in the research project were given free access and would have been more encouraged to stick to their methods with follow-ups, but the implications are incredibly important for clinics and counselors.

Most notable of all, the low pregnancy rates between white and black teenagers in the project were almost identical. “If we really want to tackle this health disparity, that shows we can actually do it,” Secura says.

These rates far outpace even the CDC’s 2015 goal for teenage births; they’re aiming for 30.3 teenage births per 1,000 teens. The CHOICE rate was 36% lower than that, at 19.4 teenage births.

Secura attributes these dramatic drops largely to the high uptake of long-term contraceptive methods, options that are cost-prohibitive to many low-income teens and free clinics. “It can be difficult to justify spending the same amount of money on 10 devices, where they could buy five times as many packs of pills,” Secura says.

The researchers put their CHOICE methods on a site called LARC FIRST designed to guide clinics, and since data from the study began coming out over the past two years, Secura says they’ve gotten about 300 requests from clinics asking for help in implementing their best practices—including training people who aren’t time-pressed providers and nurse practitioners to deliver effectiveness counseling. Having a kind of AmeriCorps for contraceptive effectiveness counselors, Secura says, would be a dream.

Though the study is over, several clinics are trying to adapt some of CHOICE’s methods to their real world practices and evaluate them scientifically. “I’m hoping we build the demand in terms of teens wanting these,” Secura says.

TIME has called IUDs the best form of birth control that no one is using—but when teens are informed and cost barriers disappear, this study shows that teenage girls are clearly hungry for better birth control.

TIME Sex/Relationships

Doctors Advise IUD Use as Best Birth Control Method for Teenagers

A copper IUD
A copper IUD B. Boissonnet—BSIP/Corbis

A boost for a little-used but widely effective method of contraception

A leading medical group on Monday recommended implantable rods and intrauterine devices (IUDs) as the best form of birth control for teenage girls other than abstinence.

The new guidance from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), published Monday in the group’s Pediatrics journal, touts birth control methods not commonly used in the U.S. despite widespread agreement about their effectiveness. The AAP says pediatricians, who teens consider “a highly trusted source of sexual health information,” should recommend, in decreasing order of effectiveness, progestin implants, IUDs, injectable contraception, and oral contraception for use among adolescents.

(MORE: The best form of birth control is the one nobody is using)

The doctors call oral contraceptives the least effective options for teens because many fail to use them properly and consistently. About 18% of women experience an unintended pregnancy when using male condoms, compared to 0.8% who experience unintended pregnancy while utilizing a Copper T IUD. Though IUDs are expensive at the outset, the AAP says the long-term cost is less than the cost of over-the-counter oral contraceptives.

TIME health

The Weirdest Stuff We All Do at the Gym

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This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

A few years ago the media was obsessed with talking about the weird habits of people who live alone. The uninhibited freedom of not cohabitating gives you a free pass to walk around naked, sing to yourself, and leave the bathroom door open 24/7. And, while I currently live with a roommate, I don’t curb any of my quirkiness — except maybe the bathroom-door thing.

But, since the gym is my second home, it’s only natural that I have a second set of weird quirks specific to the sweat-friendly atmosphere. They may be a bit unconventional, but they’re never annoying or disrespectful — no loud conversations or equipment hogging. I proudly display my eccentric gym habits as any true local would — like a badge of honor. From treadmill racing to yawning while exercising to giving my muscles a mental “pat on the back,” here are some oddities I’m definitely guilty of doing.

(MORE: How to Actually Enjoy Your Workout)

1. I maximize viewings of my gym clothes by saving my favorite apparel for Monday workouts — as that is when the gym is always the most crowded. I realize occupying a treadmill in the front row of Equinox isn’t the same as sitting front row during Fashion Week, I just happen to love my spandex and want to show it off. And, when you’re in the front, there’s no room for slacking, so it helps me push harder, even if no one is actually paying any attention.

2. There is such a thing as a “better” treadmill, StairMaster, or [insert equipment of choice]. Perhaps it’s the one positioned directly under the AC or away from the mirror so I don’t have to stare at myself for the duration of my three-mile run. Whatever the reason, once I find my favorite, I’ll forever try exercise on that same piece of equipment anytime I’m at that gym.

3. During lunges, I rest my hands on my butt (as discreetly as possible). It’s a reminder to push through my heels, so that I engage my glute muscles, instead of relying on my quads, to return to standing. Plus, when you feel your muscles working, it’s definitely a “go me” moment.

4. I won’t seek you out, but if you choose the treadmill next to me (when there are a few open), I will assume you want to race. And, we will — game on.

(MORE: 5 Reasons to Skip Your Workout)

5. Even when I’m totally pumped up and not remotely tired, sometimes I’ll yawn at the gym. There are a lot of different theories why this happens (one is that yawning helps cool the brain), and I used to be embarrassed, thinking that everyone around me would assume I wasn’t working hard enough. But, then I stopped caring what other people thought and used my yawns to see if anyone was staring — because we all know that yawning is contagious.

6. I pee no less than three times before my CrossFit workout. Whenever I know that I have a tough training session ahead, my bladder goes into overdrive. It’s annoying, but I’ve learned to deal with it and plan for multiple bathroom breaks.

7. I don’t put makeup on, specifically for the purpose of going to the gym, but, if I train after work, I don’t necessarily put any effort into taking it off. I do plan my lip color around my workout schedule though as I have one red lip stain that I love. But, I have to avoid wearing it on days that I plan to train since it’s impossible to remove.

8. When I forget to toss my armband in my gym bag, I’ll attempt to store my phone in weird places (including in my sports bra, tucked under the strap of my tank top, and in a legging pocket that wasn’t meant to hold anything larger than a key), so I can listen to my jams uninterrupted while exercising. It almost never works, but I keep trying.

(MORE: How I Balance Drinking and Exercise)

TIME relationships

How Sleeping in Separate Bedrooms Could Save Your Relationship

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This post originally appeared on Refinery29.com.

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

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

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

(MORE: 12 Less Than Romantic Relationship Milestones)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

TIME Sex/Relationships

10 Ways to Improve Your Relationship Instantly

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With everything going on in the lives of the average couple, it’s easy to forget the small gestures that keep a relationship ticking. What most couples don’t realize, though, is that it doesn’t take much to help your partner feel more valued every day. “Stringing together these little things is an ongoing way to make a change in your relationship,” says Dr. Gail Saltz, Health’s contributing psychology editor. The expert tricks here can fit easily into any routine — in minutes you’ll be on your way to building a stronger connection and lasting bond over time.

Turn off your smartphone

If you’re glued to Facebook during dinner, then it’s time to unplug. A study published in Computers in Human Behavior looked at data from 1,160 married people and found a negative correlation between heavy social-media use and relationship happiness. “When angry, some people may turn to texting to avoid saying something,” Saltz says. “It’s a way of creating distance.” While it doesn’t hurt to send a flirty or loving message, it does pay off to be more direct with your partner when something is really eating at you.

Go to bed at the same time

Feel like you never have a free moment together? Hitting the sack at the same time will help. “Bedtime might be the only opportunity you’re alone together all day,” says Barton Goldsmith, Ph.D., author of The Happy Couple: How to Make Happiness a Habit One Little Loving Thing at a Time. Even if you’re a night owl, you can always stay in bed until your partner drifts off. You should also make sure you’re both getting a healthy amount of shut-eye. A study from the University of California, Berkeley, looked at the sleep habits of more than 100 couples. Those who reported poor sleep were much more likely to argue with their significant other the next day.

Brew a cup of coffee for your partner

Grand gestures aren’t the only way to express your love. Something as simple as brewing your partner a cup of coffee in the morning helps improve your relationship, says Terri Orbuch, Ph.D., a marriage researcher and author of 5 Simple Steps to Take Your Marriage From Good to Great. Orbuch has studied 373 couples for more than 28 years through the University of Michigan’s Survey Research Center, and her research shows that frequent small acts of kindness are a predictor of happiness in a relationship. “People may feel taken for granted,” Orbuch says. By doing these small tasks on a regular basis, you’ll help your partner feel noticed.

Bring up a funny moment from your past

Sometimes the best memories are the funny ones. In a Motivation and Emotion study, couples that remembered laughing together — like the time a grocery-store clerk did something funny in the checkout line — reported greater relationship satisfaction than those who remembered experiences that were positive but not necessarily when they’d laughed. “Laughter reminiscence packs an additional punch because people relive the moment by laughing again,” says study author Doris Bazzini, Ph.D., a psychologist at Appalachian State University in Boone, N.C.

Work up a sweat

It’s no secret that getting buff helps you out in the bedroom by boosting your endurance, strength and flexibility — but a sweat session also has more immediate effects. “Endorphins from exercise give you an adrenaline rush that boosts arousal,” Orbuch says. Activities that get your heart rate up, like hiking, running or biking, are guaranteed to have a positive effect on desire. “Any kind of arousal rush can be transferred to your partner and add passion to your relationship,” Orbuch says.

Health.com: 10 Best Workouts for Your Sex Life

Dance before dinnertime

Couples who frequently try new things together have higher-quality relationships, according to research published in the Journal of Personality and Social Psychology. And we’re not necessarily talking extreme activities like skydiving or traveling to an exotic corner of the world (though those work too) — the activities simply should be new to the two of you, and can last for as little as seven minutes, researchers say. Dinnertime is one moment it’s easy to try something new. Turn on some catchy music while you’re cooking and start dancing together, Orbuch suggests. Or you could try a new a cooking technique — homemade sushi, anyone?

Have sex in a different place

Getting busy often enough to satisfy you both is key. If you’re feeling so-so about your bedroom romps, it might be time for a change. One idea: try having sex in a room or area you’ve never done it in. “New elements of play stimulate the dopamine system,” Saltz says. “When you do something that causes you to release more dopamine, it’s a positive reinforcer.” Want to suggest a tryst in the kitchen? Don’t worry about making it a drawn-out conversation, she says. It can be as simple as a one-liner that hints at your intention like, “The kids are gone. How about the kitchen table?” As long as your partner is game for the idea too, nothing’s stopping you.

Give your partner a hug

Nonsexual touching like hugging or handholding is just as important as sex itself in keeping your relationship healthy. “Touching is probably the most definitive way to let other people know you’re in a relationship,'” Goldsmith says. In the long run, the more you touch your mate, the more you’ll feel comfortable with each other. “Touching is a way we calm ourselves down,” Goldsmith says. “Every time you do it, you’re sending a positive message to your significant other.”

Ask a new question

As a couple, you probably spend most of your time chatting about work, your kids or your friends. When’s the last time you stopped to ask something new about each other? Everyone changes as relationships progress, Orbuch says, so it’s likely your partner has different interests and passions from the early years of your relationship. So ask your partner about anything you wouldn’t normally — movies, music, even what you’d do with lottery winnings.

Say thank you

Think about the last time your partner did something to help you out or made you feel special, and then say “thank you” for it. “You get so comfortable with your partner, it’s easy to expect them to meet your needs,” Saltz says. Too often couples forget to express a simple thanks, whether one of you helps out with the chores or surprises the other with a gift. And have you ever said thank you to your partner for simply being in your life? It’s important to express gratitude for this — not just for what they’re doing for you, Goldsmith says.

This article originally appeared on Health.com.

More from Health.com:

18 Habits of the Happiest Families

13 Healthy Reasons to Have More Sex

20 Weird Facts About Love and Sex

TIME relationships

Two Real Stories That Will Change Your Mind About Cheating

This article originally appeared on Refinery 29.com.

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

Jealousy is probably one of the most toxic emotions out there. It’s a monster of a feeling — all-encompassing. At its worst, it can make you lose sight of yourself entirely. Being in the throes of jealousy can feel like a primal kind of anger.And, yet; is it possible that infidelity, and the feelings it evokes, are at least in part social constructions? Shouldn’t we at least entertain the idea that the notion of monogamous, lifelong partnership — of fidelity as the ultimate golden rule in love — might be just another box on the Puritanical checklist?It’s a hot topic, one that tugs at a lot of very tender heartstrings for a lot of people. Two of those people agreed to write about their experiences with cheating; read on and see if their perspectives change your mind, or at least make you think.

Kelly Bourdet, Refinery29 health and wellness director: Well, it happens to most people, so we might as well get over it.

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

Infidelity is as difficult to study as it is to define. In a time with so many ways to cheat, our concept of infidelity is often reverse-engineered; we arrive at our definitions based on what, subjectively, we believe would hurt us. Short of having straight-up sexual intercourse with someone outside of the confines of a monogamous relationship (this, I think, is pretty commonly agreed upon to count as ‘cheating’), there are a myriad of other behaviors that some of us feel (sort of) bad about.

Life offers no shortage of situations that are firmly planted in the grey area between accepting praise from your boss and ending up in bed with him or her after a night of “working late.” These include, but are not limited to: texting, sexting, going out to drinks one-on-one, crushing, flirting, emoticon-laden Gchat…the list goes on. We make increasingly arbitrary delineations between physical cheating, emotional cheating, cyber cheating, and so on. We focus both on the intention and the action. But, at the root of any infidelity is a subjective sense of betrayal — one that hinges upon a set of rules that’s likely unique to the specific relationship.

(MORE: How to Survive and Thrive After Cheating)

Figures on infidelity vary widely. This makes sense: Those keeping affairs a secret are likely to withhold that information from their friendly sexuality researcher. But, as a starting point, one 1997 study found that an affair had occured in 40% to 76% of marriages. Keep in mind, though, that this study only examined heterosexual marriages. A more recent study, out this year, found that over 50% of both men and women had committed infidelity at some point — and this study surveyed gay men and lesbian women in addition to heterosexual men and women. So, while we don’t really know how many people have cheatin’ hearts, it’s likely most of us will be touched by infidelity in some way.

In her 2007 book, Lust in Translation, former Wall Street Journal reporter Pamela Druckerman explores how various cultures across the globe deal with infidelity: “Americans are the worst, both at having affairs and dealing with the aftermath,” she told Men’s Health. “Adultery crises in America last longer, cost more, and seem to inflict more emotional torture.” It appears the French, on the other hand, are more accepting of infidelity. In a survey conducted in 2012, only 47% of French people said it was “morally unacceptable” for married people to have an affair (for reference, 84% of Americans believe it’s morally unacceptable).

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

I’m not arguing that cheating itself is a good idea. What I’m more concerned with is how drastically we react to it, and how much we let it upend our relationships. Is cheating on your partner a shitty move? Absolutely. Is it the absolute worst, most terrible, heartbreaking event of your lives together? Well, that’s subjective. But, I don’t think it has to be.

I’ve been cheated on before, and it didn’t feel great. But, in retrospect, it made perfect sense — and it actually wasn’t that big of deal. My S.O. at the time traveled constantly for his job, often to Los Angeles. Eventually, it came out that he had been hooking up with someone else in LA. Was I mad at the time? Yeah, of course. But, I also realized that we were both in our 20s, we were apart for a significant amount of time, and we both worked in industries that had us out late at night. Taking all this into account, cheating wasn’t such a huge surprise.

(MORE: Why Does Cheating Feel So Good?)

We cling so desperately to a rigid notion of monogamy, and monogamy is a fine goal to have. But, when someone makes a very human mistake or falls short of our happily-ever-after ideals, we freak out. By all means, an instance of infidelity should give pause; a pattern of infidelity definitely means something. Maybe there’s a fundamental problem within the relationship. But, maybe there’s not. The ultimate goal of any relationship should be to have honest and open communication — to be able to communicate your desires without cheating. But, when that doesn’t happen, there’s no reason to throw the baby out with the bathwater.

It’s easy to sit primly on the expectation of a perfectly monogamous relationship. It’s generally accepted that cheating is a horrible betrayal that wounds people terribly. But, haven’t we created that stigma ourselves? By building cheating up to be a life-altering event of devastation, we convince ourselves that it is one. Expecting a mistake-free relationship — and life — seems a bit unrealistic. So, if you cheat or are cheated on, my advice is to figure out why it happened, figure out what you want, and then move on.

Rosemary Downs, writer, 24: Is cheating a big deal? If you’re calling it cheating, then yes, it’s a problem.

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

The weird thing is, I wish I could be okay with non-monogamy. Intellectually, I really believe that overcoming jealousy and accepting that you can’t hold ownership over another person is one of the most enlightened things you can do. Unfortunately, I can’t — no matter how hard I try — reconcile that with the overwhelming emotional reaction I have to even the very idea of being cheated on (much less the actual experience of it). Maybe, someday, that will change — but for now, I ask anyone I’m with to be with me and only me. If they can’t, that’s going to be a problem.Before cheating happened to me, I definitely fancied myself the kind of person who would take it in stride — maybe even take some lovers of my own to match. I had joked with my boyfriend about my “suspicions,” but I never took them seriously. I was blindsided when they turned out to be true. I can’t explain the intensity of what I felt or how angry I was; there are no words, only me smashing things and tearing my hair out, as melodramatic as that might sound. It was a blow to my ego that I had never experienced before, and as someone with a pretty fragile self image, such a blow was disastrous. I honestly don’t know if it will ever be repaired. Seeing infidelity travel from outside the realm of my imagination to inside my everyday existence changed me fundamentally. It felt like an irrefutable blemish on my person.The odd thing is, I didn’t take out that anger nearly as much as I believe I should have. I don’t think anyone should be cruelly punished or berated for cheating, because while it can be a despicable and heartless act, it can also be simply a stupid one, or a lapse in judgment, or even a manifestation of deeper internal issues. But, I do think things would have progressed better for everyone if I’d been bold enough to make the true extent of the damage known to those around me. I should have yelled and screamed and thrown things (not heavy things, but something) when I first found out, like I often dream about doing now. Catharsis, I suppose, is the preferred term.

Illustrated by Anna Sudit

Or, maybe I should have just “chosen my own happiness,” or whatever it is people say on Pinterest. Maybe I should have been progressive and open-minded enough to remain unfazed, uninsulted, and unbroken. But, ultimately, at this stage of my life, I do not have that choice, or that power. So, I ask my partner never to cheat again — and I will ask this of anyone else I am with in the future, too.

Everyone has their requirements. Some people could never be with a person who wasted water or hadn’t read Proust; I can’t be with someone who doesn’t give our relationship a special priority — one that is not matched or even mimicked by something on the side. In return, it’s my responsibility to curb my jealousy when it is unwarranted, and to accept that this agreement is about mutual trust, not about complete ownership or snooping on each other’s emails. If we can’t agree on this point, then we just aren’t a good match.

People have told me that I should love and accept myself in spite of what’s happened, that I should build a kind of self confidence that is independent of the events of my life (which, I admit, in the grand scheme of things, has been pretty cushy). But, ultimately, the reason I can justify my point of view on cheating is a belief I hold pretty firmly: that self-love is not an isolated thing that lives high atop a mountain and is untouched by the elements. It is shaped by the other egos around it. That’s not a bad thing, nor is it something to reject in favor of some Randian ideal. In fact, it’s a challenge we should all aspire to meet.

Simply put, it’s a matter of respect, and if one partner asks for fidelity — if (and this is an important if) fidelity is something possible and acceptable for both partners — it’s a small but important kindness to honor that request. There’s a basic equation at play. If being cheated on hurts your partner, and you love your partner, then you shouldn’t do it. What could be clearer than that?

(MORE: What I Learned When My Boyfriend Cheated on Me)

TIME Sex/Relationships

7 Reasons to Have More Sex

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Danielle D. Hughson—Getty Images

If you really need an excuse (or several) to heat things up in the bedroom, we’ve got you covered: Besides the obvious reasons one might have sex—love, pleasure, baby-making—science shows that there are quite a few health benefits of getting intimate. The next time your partner asks, “Was it good for you?” you can say yes—in more ways than one!

Sex burns calories

Yes, knocking boots counts as exercise—and it sure beats the gym! Depending on how physical you get, sex can strengthen muscle tone, increase your heart rate, and get your whole body working, says Justin Lehmiller, PhD, creator of lecturer in the department of psychology at Purdue University and author of The Psychology of Human Sexuality. And according to a 2013 study in which volunteers wore activity trackers while they did the deed, men burn about 101 calories per session, while women torch an average of 69. “Relatively speaking, that’s not a huge amount,” says Lehmiller. He points out, however, that sex in the study (from foreplay to orgasm) lasted an average of 25 minutes. “If you have sex for a longer period of time, you can have even more of those calorie-burning benefits.”

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

Sex helps you sleep

After orgasm, the body releases a relaxation hormone called prolactin, says Kristin Mark, PhD, director of the Sexual Health Promotion Lab at the University of Kentucky. “If you’re not feeling particularly tired beforehand, having sex and reaching orgasm may certainly help you nod off a little more quickly than you would have otherwise.”

Sex lowers your blood pressure and stress levels

In a 2005 Scottish study, volunteers were asked to record their sexual activity for two weeks and were then given anxiety-inducing tasks, like public speaking or solving math problems out loud. Those who’d had sex over the study period experienced smaller blood pressure spikes, and recovered from them more quickly, than those who hadn’t. (Only penile-vaginal intercourse seemed to have this effect, not masturbation or other forms of sexual activity.)

Health.com: 20 Weird Things You Didn’t Know About Sex

The study suggests two important benefit of regular sex, says Mark: Better blood pressure control, and better stress management overall. “Sex not only lowers people’s perceived levels of stress, but it also appears to help them handle stress more effectively,” she says.

Sex strengthens your heart

Regular sex may benefit the cardiovascular system in other ways. A British study found that men who had sex at least twice a week over a period of 20 years were less likely to have died from heart disease than those who got it on less than once a month. After 10 years, in fact, their risk of sudden death was 50% less than that of the group that had less sex, although that gap lessened over the next decade.

These sorts of findings only show a correlation, not causation, says Mark. “People who have healthy sex lives probably have overall healthy lifestyles.” Even so, she suspects there may be a connection: “Sex helps regulate hormones like estrogen and testosterone,” she says, “which impacts all kinds of systems in the body, including the heart.”

Health.com: 7 Foods for Better Sex

Sex may protect against cancer

Some studies have suggested that men who ejaculate more frequently may have a reduced risk of prostate cancer—although the difference appears to be very small, and others haven’t found a conclusive link.

The benefits may be clearer for breast cancer prevention, however: A French study found that women who had sex at least once a month were less likely to develop breast cancer than those who didn’t. And while the disease is rare in men, those who orgasm less than six times a month appear to be at increased risk of breast cancer compared to those who do so more often, according to a Greek study.

Sex boosts immunity

Getting busy on a weekly basis stimulates the immune system and provides protection from the common cold, according to a Wilkes University study. Researchers gave college students questionnaires about their sex lives, then tested their saliva for levels of immunoglobulin A (IgA), an antibody that helps fight off viruses. They found that the students who had sex once or twice a week had 30% more IgA than those who had sex less frequently. (They also, however, had higher IgA levels than those who had sex three times a week or more, suggesting that in this case, maybe you can get too much of a good thing.)

Health.com: 15 Everyday Habits to Boost Your Libido

Sex relieves pain

Women often opt out because of headaches, or so the cliché goes—but, according to a 2013 German study, having sex may actually help them feel better. When study volunteers chose to have sex during a headache episode, about 60% of migraine sufferers and 30% of cluster headache sufferers reported partial or total relief.

Endorphins released during orgasm, as well as increased blood flow to the genital area, likely play a role in sex’s pain-relieving power, says Mark. “Pain sometimes has to do with blood flowing to one particular area, like the head, and sex can take some of that pressure off by redirecting the flow.”

13 Reasons to Have More Sex originally appeared on Health.com.

TIME relationships

5 Strange But Effective Ways to Get Over a Breakup

heartbreak
Getty Images

This list of breakup rituals will entertain and inspire

This post originally appeared on Refinery 29.

Beware those weeks between Thanksgiving and New Year’s when breakups skyrocket. As we’re reaching the tail end of this precarious season, some of us undoubtedly are finding ourselves casualties of the trend. But, fear not. We bring you stories from women who worked through their breakups, well, just a little differently than most.

From upping your workout schedule to taking an exotic vacation, there are many ways to deal. That being said, some breakup rituals are a little more extreme and unique than others. Sometimes it hurts so bad that a run on the treadmill or that brand-new-you hairstyle just won’t cut it and you find yourself doing the strangest things to get your mind off of “he or she who shall not be named.” But, hey, whatever works.

For those of you going through a breakup right now, whether you need a good giggle, a little comfort knowing you aren’t the only one behaving a bit out of sorts, or new ideas to help you move on, this list of breakup rituals will entertain and inspire. We found five women with some unusual reactions to exiting their relationships and got the down-low on what it takes to really move on.

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Get New Sheets

Alexis, 24, strips after her breakups. No, we don’t mean she picks up pole-dancing classes (although that would be awesome). She strips her bed. “I can’t bear the thought that he had slept in these sheets, so out they go, and in I go to Bed Bath & Beyond for new ones.” When it’s a particularly bad breakup, she’ll go so far as to get a new mattress. So, in the last four years, she’s replaced two of them — and not because they had lost their bounce. Sounds expensive, but it works. And, it’s very sanitary.

(MORE: What I Learned When My Boyfriend Cheated On Me)

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Scrub The Floors

For Callie, 32, breakups are really good for her apartment. “I put my focus in the floors. I get down on my hands and knees and scrub every last inch of floor until I’ve forgotten about him, or until the floor sparkles, whichever comes first.” She finds focusing on something really specific helps take her mind off of her ex. Also, setting a basic goal for herself that she knows she can achieve boosts her self-esteem when the task is done. Next time she’s looking to work out some relationship woes, our floors are available to clean…er…we mean…our shoulders are available to cry on.

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Read The News

Facebook sure knows how to rub a breakup in your face. During her recovery, Megan, 30, did the usual unfriending and blocking, but that wasn’t enough. Like many of us, Megan was a little bit addicted to scrolling through her Facebook News Feed, but post-breakup, this habit became truly painful. All she saw were happy couples and their posts felt like salt in her wounds. But, she couldn’t kick her scrolling addiction, so she turned to another media outlet: CNN. To keep her fingers happy, she would scroll through the news stories just as she would her News Feed and get her fill of information. The difference was this information was actually useful and important (no offense, all you newly engaged or expectant couples). “It was weird, but I found myself reading the news all the time, which I never did before. That time of my day was usually spent Facebook stalking. It was much easier for me to read about unromantic and often terrible things going on in the world than it was to see happy people in Facebook land. It was a welcome distraction.”

(MORE: The Ultimate Post-Breakup Hotness Manual)

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Get Lost

A vacation or adventure can mend a broken heart in no time. After a breakup, writer Ana, 29, goes anywhere new — whether it’s a foreign country or a new neighborhood around the block — and just gets lost. She doesn’t look at her phone, doesn’t ask for directions; she just wanders until she feels cleansed. It serves as a distraction from what is going on back at home and also reminds her that there is more out there, an entire world, in fact. “When dealing with a breakup, I want to be somewhere where no one knows who I am, who he is, and, especially, who ‘we’ were,” says Ana. This method sounds so foolproof that we have a feeling she might not only come home totally over her ex, but perhaps with a new paramour she picked up along her travels?

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Watch Scary Movies

What’s the perfect cure for a bad breakup? A night in with movies, ice cream, and wine, of course. But, Maria, 26, couldn’t watch just any old movie. While it is smart (for obvious, tear-inducing reasons) to avoid rom-coms after a breakup, Maria didn’t stop there. She couldn’t bear to watch any semblance of romance and happiness, so she turned to the polar opposite: guts and gore. “I didn’t care for them before but I became somewhat of a scary-movie fanatic.” When those weren’t available, she turned to Lifetime thrillers or Law and Order. Months later, she’s successfully over him and back on regular movies. However, horror flicks will always hold a special place in her heart. Next time you need a distraction from a breakup, Maria recommends The Village.

(MORE: The Best Movies For Getting Over Your Ex)

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