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The Kind of Date Night You SHOULD Be Having, According to Science

October 29, 2014

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from YourTango.com | photo via Flickr

My name is Amanda Chatel, and I’m excited about my date night!

A few days ago I signed my husband and I up for one of those drink while you paint date nights. A bunch of my friends have done it, and since my husband and I could agree on the fact that we’re both good at drinking, but bad at painting, it seemed like a great way to spend an evening together. You know, actually doing something, as opposed to doing the nothing that we usually do together. Our class is next Thursday, and I have to say, I’m pretty excited. I never thought I’d be excited about such a thing, but I am. My name is Amanda Chatel, and I’m excited about my date night!

My husband and I don’t really go out on dates; we never really have. I sort of tagalong with his friends or he tagalongs with mine, but as for mutually decided upon dates, we just don’t do it enough. Science says this is wrong. Science says if my husband and I want to step up our game, we need to spend our time doing “shared relationship activities.” I guess it’s a good thing I signed us up for that drink while you paint class, before everything fell apart.

From two different studies of more than 350 long-term relationships, came findings that activities, in which the partners shared the experience, were really beneficial for the healthand overall quality of the relationship. It was these couples that reported greater satisfaction, less stress, and were even closer than those couples that just did “things” without “purposefully” engaging in activities. If only one half of the couple is having fun, and the other is just faking it, then no good can really come of it, because someone is going without. The study found that situations like that can actually lead to more stress within the relationship.

Although making the effort and finding the energy to actually plan a well-thought-out activity that you’ll both enjoy may seem trying at times, it’s a necessary part of having a successful relationship. Having fun and sharing a laugh outside of the usual walls in which you and your partner spend your time is essential in allowing for the relationship to grow.

Even if you don’t have the funds to go on a hiking trip or sign up for a class (that drink while you paint class wasn’t cheap!), it’s still paramount to find other activities that will interest you both and keep the love alive. Yes, by golly, you have to make an effort to keep the love alive!

This article originally appeared on YourTango.com: It’s Science: THIS Type Of Date Night Improves Your Relationship 

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Men Don’t Skip Sex When Their Bodies Aren’t Perfect – Neither Should Women

September 19, 2014

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by YourTango  |  photo via flickr

The first time I saw Crazy, Stupid, Love and the completely unforgettable scene where Ryan Gosling‘s character takes off his shirt and Emma Stone’s character says, “It’s like you’re Photoshopped,” I cringed. It wasn’t just that, “OMG, are you effing kidding me,” that came with those abs, but because I just don’t get it. That’s right, I don’t “get” washboard stomachs, six packs, or whatever they’re being called these days. If you put Ryan Gosling and Zach Galifianakis in front of me, I’m going to with Zach, and I’m not going to have to think about it for even a split second. I’m all over that … and his beard.

A recent study commissioned by the release of the film Bad Neighbors, found that when it comes down to women choosing Seth Rogan or Zac Efron, it’s actually guys like Rogan who win the ladies. Three in four British women would rather get their love on with a dude who has some fluff, and 96 percent of women “predict a date with an abs-obsessed bloke to be positively dreary.” Well, yeah, is it ever fun to go out with someone who doesn’t order dessert?

But why is this the case?…

Read the rest over at YourTango.com: What a Big-Bellied Man Can Teach You in the Bedroom



Infographic: How Sexual Norms Have Evolved in 50 Years

March 19, 2014

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Just when your blood is about to boil over all the reproductive rights rollbacks that have taken place in recent years, when you’re about to puke if you hear one more Fox pundit talk about “family values,” and when when your head is about to explode at the idea that “Dancing with the Stars” is a family show, something comes along that restores your faith in sanity and humanity, at least a little.

This week, Vitamin W ran a great article (with the infographic below) on how far we’ve come as a society when it comes to sexual and relational mores. There’s no doubt we’ve come along way, baby. But we’ve still got a ways to go (13% of people still believe interracial marriage is wrong???). As long as we stay vigilant and vocal and can avoid some 21st century version of the Protestant Revolution, then that progress will keep heading in the right direction. Forge ahead!

Here are a few places you can help keep that forward momentum going:



The New Science of Love (from the Book “Love Sense”)

March 14, 2014

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photo via Flickr

The new book Love Sense by clinical psychologist Dr. Sue Johnson tries to take some of the mystery out of that big emotion. While that may not sound very romantic, Johnson is dedicated to the scientific exploration of love so that we may have better, more-fulfilling, more intimate long-term relationships — especially in a world where independence, isolation and non-monogamy are growing more common. Her book offers real-life examples and practical exercises, based on the Emotionally Focused Therapy she developed in her own practice. Last week we featured the first part of Chapter 1 on the history of love; below is the next section, which lists the recent findings in the latest scientific research on love.

 

Love Sense” by Dr. Sue Johnson

from Chapter 1: Revolution

Merriam-Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defines revolution as “a fundamental change in the way of thinking about or visualizing something: a change of paradigm.” And that is exactly what has happened to adult love in the field of social sciences. Two decades ago, love didn’t get much respect as a topic of study. No emotion did. René Descartes, the French philosopher, associated feelings with our lower animal nature and thus considered them something to be overcome. What marked us as superior animals was our ability to reason. Cogito ergo sum—“I think, therefore I am,” he famously proclaimed.

Emotions were not rational and therefore suspect. And love was the most irrational and suspect of all, thus not a fit subject for scientists, the supreme rationalists. Scan the subject index of professor Ernest Hilgard’s exhaustive historical review Psychology in America, published in 1993, and you won’t find the word love. Young researchers were routinely warned off the topic. I remember being told in graduate school that science does not deal with nebulous, soft indefinables, such as emotion, empathy, and love.

The word revolution also means “an uprising.” Social scientists began to recognize that much of their work was not addressing public concerns about the quality of everyday life. So a quiet movement, without riots or bullets, began in campus laboratories and academic journals, challenging the orthodox adherence to studies of simple behaviors and how to change them. New voices began to be heard, and suddenly, in the 1990s, emotions emerged as legitimate topics of inquiry. Happiness, sorrow, anger, fear—and love—started appearing on the agenda of academic conferences in a multitude of disciplines, from anthropology to psychology to sociology. Feelings, it was becoming apparent, weren’t random and senseless, but logical and “intelligent.”

At the same time, therapists and mental health professionals began adjusting their frame of reference in dealing with relationship issues, especially romantic ones. For years they had focused their attention on the individual, believing that any turmoil could be traced back to a person’s own troubled psyche. Fix that and the relationship would improve. But that wasn’t what was happening. Even when individuals grasped why they acted a certain way and tried to change, their love relationships often continued to sour.

Therapists realized that concentrating on one person didn’t give a complete picture. People in love relationships, just as in all relationships, are not distinct entities, acting independently; they are part of a dynamic dyad, within which each person’s actions spark and fuel reactions in the other. It was the couple and how the individuals “danced” together that needed to be understood and changed, not simply the individual alone. Researchers began videotaping couples recounting everyday hurts and frustrations, arguing over money and sex, and hassling over child-rearing issues. They then pored over these recordings, hunting for the critical moments of interaction when a relationship turned into a battlefield or wasteland. They kept an eye open, too, for moments when couples seemed to reach harmonious accord. And they looked for patterns of behavior.

Interest in emotions in general, and love in particular, also surged among “hard” scientists as advances in technology refined old tools and introduced new ones. A major hurdle to investigations had always been: How do you pin down something as vague and evanescent as a feeling? Or, as Albert Einstein lamented: “How on earth are you ever going to explain in terms of chemistry and physics so important a biological phenomenon as first love?”

The scientific method depends not only on observation and analysis but also on measurable, reproducible data. With the arrival of more sensitive tests and assays, neurobiologists launched inquiries into the chemistry of emotions. But the big push came with the advent of functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI). Neurophysiologists devised experiments that peer into the brain and actually see structures and areas lighting up when we are afraid, or happy, or sad—or when we love. Remember the old public service announcement showing an egg frying in a pan while a voice intones, “This is your brain on drugs”? Now we have films that actually do capture “This is your brain on love.”

The result of all this ferment has been an outpouring of fresh knowledge that is coalescing into a radical and exciting new vision of love. This new love sense is overthrowing long-held beliefs about the purpose and process of romantic love as well as our sense of the very nature of human beings. The new perspective is not only theoretical but also practical and optimistic. It illuminates why we love and reveals how we can make, repair, and keep love.

Among the provocative findings:

The first and foremost instinct of humans is neither sex nor aggression. It is to seek contact and comforting connection. 

The man who first offered us this vision of what we now call attachment or bonding was an uptight, aristocratic English psychiatrist, not at all the kind of man you would expect to crack the code of romantic relationships! But John Bowlby, conservative and British, was nevertheless a rebel who changed the landscape of love and loving forever. His insights are the foundation on which the new science of love rests.

Bowlby proposed that we are designed to love a few precious others who will hold and protect us through the squalls and storms of life. It is nature’s plan for the survival of the species. Sex may impel us to mate, but it is love that assures our existence. “In uniting the beloved life to ours we can watch over its happiness, bring comfort where hardship was, and over memories of privation and suffering open the sweetest fountains of joy,” wrote George Eliot.

This drive to bond is innate, not learned. It likely arose as nature’s answer to a critical fact of human physiology: the female birth canal is too narrow to permit passage of big-brained, big-bodied babies that can survive on their own within a short time after birth. Instead, babies enter the world small and helpless and require years of nurturing and guarding before they are self-sustaining. It would be easier to abandon such troublesome newborns than raise them. So what makes an adult stick around and assume the onerous and exhausting task of parenting?

Nature’s solution was to wire into our brains and nerves an automatic call-and-response system that keeps child and parent emotionally attached to each other. Babies come with a repertoire of behaviors—gazing, smiling, crying, smiling, clinging, reach-ing—that draw care and closeness from adults. So when a baby boy bawls from hunger and stretches out his arms, his mom picks him up and feeds him. And when Dad coos or makes funny faces at his baby girl, she kicks her legs, waves her arms, and babbles back. And round and round it goes, in a two-way feedback loop.

Adult romantic love is an attachment bond, just like the one between mother and child. 

We’ve long assumed that as we mature, we outgrow the need for the intense closeness, nurturing, and comfort we had with our caregivers as children and that as adults, the romantic attachments we form are essentially sexual in nature. This is a complete distortion of adult love.

Our need to depend on one precious other—to know that when we “call,” he or she will be there for us—never dissolves. In fact, it endures, as Bowlby put it, “from cradle to grave.” As adults, we simply transfer that need from our primary caregiver to our lover. Romantic love is not the least bit illogical or random. It is the continuation of an ordered and wise recipe for our survival.

But there is a key difference: our lover doesn’t have to be there physically. As adults, the need for another’s tangible presence is less absolute than is a child’s. We can use mental images of our partner to call up a sense of connection. Thus if we are upset, we can remind ourselves that our partner loves us and imagine him or her reassuring and comforting us. Israeli prisoners of war report “listening” in their narrow cells to the soothing voices of their wives. The Dalai Lama conjures up images of his mother when he wants to stay calm and centered. I carry my husband’s encouraging words with me in my mind when I walk out on a stage to speak.

Hot sex doesn’t lead to secure love; rather, secure attachment leads to hot sex—and also to love that lasts. Monogamy is not a myth. 

Pick up any men’s or women’s magazine and you’ll find cover lines blaring: seduce him! this sexy move works from 20 feet away; 28 things to try in bed…or in a hammock. or the floor; and sex academy—get an a in giving her an o. In our ignorance, we’ve made physical intimacy the sine qua non of romantic love. As a result, we myopically pour massive amounts of energy and money into spicing up our sex lives. But we have it backwards: it is not good sex that leads to satisfying, secure relationships but rather secure love that leads to good—and, in fact, the best—sex. The growing craze for Internet porn is a catastrophe for love relationships precisely because it negates emotional connection.

It is secure attachment, what nature set us up for, that makes love persist. Trust helps us over the rough places that crop up in every relationship. Moreover, our bodies are designed to produce a cascade of chemicals that bond us tightly to our loved ones. Monogamy is not only possible, it is our natural state.

Emotional dependency is not immature or pathological; it is our greatest strength. 

Dependency is a dirty word in Western society. Our world has long insisted that healthy adulthood requires being emotionally independent and self-sufficient; that we, in essence, draw an emotional moat around ourselves. We talk of being able to separate and detach from our parents, our first loved ones, as a sign of emotional strength. And we look with suspicion at romantic partners who display too much togetherness. We say they are too involved with, too close to, or too dependent on one another. In consequence men and women today feel ashamed of their natural need for love, comfort, and reassurance. They see it as weakness.

Again, this is backwards. Far from being a sign of frailty, strong emotional connection is a sign of mental health. It is emotional isolation that is the killer. The surest way to destroy people is to deny them loving human contact. Early studies discovered that 31–75 percent of institutionalized children expired before their third birthday. More recent studies of adopted Romanian orphans, many of whom had spent twenty hours a day unattended in their cribs, found that many suffer from brain abnormalities, impaired reasoning ability, and extreme difficulty in relating to others.

Adults are similarly demolished. Prisoners in solitary confinement develop a complex of symptoms, including paranoia, depression, severe anxiety, hallucinations, and memory loss. They call their experience a “living death.” “When we isolate a prisoner in solitary confinement,” writes Lisa Guenther, associate professor of philosophy at Vanderbilt University and author of Solitary Confinement: Social Death and Its Afterlives, “we deprive [him] of the support of others, which is crucial for a coherent experience of the world.”

The idea that we can go it alone defies the natural world. We are like other animals—we need ties to others to survive. We see it clearly in a multitude of cross-species combinations: in Thailand, a tiger adopts baby pigs; in China, a dog nurses lion cubs; in Colombia, a cat cares for a squirrel; in Japan, a boar carries a baby monkey on its back; and in Kenya, a giant male tortoise fosters a tsunami-orphaned baby hippo.

We, too, as the Celtic saying goes, “live in the shelter of each other.” World War II historians have noted that the unit of survival in concentration camps was the pair, not the individual. Surveys show that married men and women generally live longer than do their single peers.

We need emotional connection to survive. Neuroscience is highlighting what we have perhaps always known in our hearts—loving human connection is more powerful than our basic survival mechanism: fear. We also need connection to thrive. We are actually healthier and happier when we are close and connected. Consistent emotional support lowers blood pressure and bolsters the immune system. It appears to reduce the death rate from cancer as well as the incidence of heart disease and infectious disease. Married patients who have coronary bypass surgery are three times more likely to be alive fifteen years later than their unmarried counterparts. A good relationship, says psychologist Bert Uchino of the University of Utah, is the single best recipe for good health and the most powerful antidote to aging. He notes that twenty years of research with thousands of subjects shows how the quality of our social support predicts general mortality as well as mortality from specific disorders, such as heart disease.

In terms of mental health, close connection is the strongest predictor of happiness, much more so than making masses of money or winning the lottery. It also significantly lessens susceptibility to anxiety and depression and makes us more resilient against stress and trauma. Survivors of 9/11 with secure loving relationships have been found to recover better than those without strong bonds. Eighteen months after the tragedy, they showed fewer signs of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and less depression. Moreover, their friends considered them more mature and better adjusted than they had been prior to the disaster.

Being the “best you can be” is really only possible when you are deeply connected to another. Splendid isolation is for planets, not people. 

Like Darwin, with his list of reservations, many of us think of love as limiting, narrowing our options and experiences. But it is exactly the reverse. A secure bond is the launching pad for our going out and exploring the unknown and growing as human beings. It is hard to be open to new experiences when our attention and energy are bound up in worry about our safety. It is much easier when we know that someone has our back. Thus fortified, we become imbued with confidence in ourselves and in our ability to handle new challenges. For example, young professional women who are emotionally close to their partners and seek their reassurance are more confident in their skills and more successful at reaching their career goals. It is an ironic paradox: being dependent makes us more independent.

We are not created selfish; we are designed to be empathetic. Our innate tendency is to feel with and for others. 

We are a naturally empathetic species. This part of our nature can be overridden or denied, but we are wired to be caring of others. We are not born callous and competitive, dedicated to our own survival at the expense of others. As biologist Frans de Waal points out, “We would not be here today had our ancestors been socially aloof.” We have survived by caring and cooperating. Our brains are wired to read the faces of others and to resonate with what we see there. It is this emotional responsiveness and ability to work together, not our large, thinking brains alone, that has allowed us to become the most dominant animal on the planet. The more securely connected we are to those we love, the more we tune in and respond to the needs of others as if they were our own. Moral decisions and altruistic actions spring naturally from our emotional connection with others.

The bonds of love are our birthright and greatest resource. They are our primary source of strength and joy. Seeking out and giving support are so vital to human beings that social psychologists Mario Mikulincer and Phil Shaver observe that, rather than being called Homo sapiens, or “one who knows,” we should be named Homo auxiliator vel accipio auxilium, or “one who helps or receives help.” To be even more accurate, I say we should be called Homo vinculum—“one who bonds.”

 

from “Love Sense” by Sue Johnson, available on Amazon.com
Copyright (c) 2013 by Sue Johnson. Reprinted with permission of Little, Brown and Company. All rights reserved.
 Read the first part of Chapter 1 on the history of love. 
Tune in next week for the next section of Chapter 1!



Fifty Shades of… Vanilla?

February 13, 2014

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photo via flickr | sponsored post

Back in January we wrote about new research from LELO showing that the kinky sex revolution is waning: Sales of toys such as whips and teasers reached a plateau in the last quarter of 2013, compared with a 50% increase over the same period in 2012. Meanwhile, sales of premium couples massagers and vibrating couples’ rings worn during intercourse increased by 82%, compared with the same period last year.

Anyway, we promised at the time that even more research was forthcoming from LELO, with some initial findings from their 2014 Global Sex Survey. One of our favorite stats so far: One in five women has been involved in a threesome — double that of 2012’s findings — but a whopping 80% of women said that making their fantasies real didn’t live up to their expectations. One to grow on, folks.

In case you were worried that this trend toward “vanilla” sex means we’ll all end up lying back and thinking of England, fear not! This is fifty shades of vanilla (with a cherry on top), which includes everything from threeways to love rings to clitoral vibrators. In other words, this might not be Christian Grey territory, but it’s certainly not your parents’ vanilla sex life, either.

The survey is open for the rest of the 2014 — click here to take part yourself (and you’ll get 20% off your next LELO purchase!). In the meantime, check out the infographic below for even more stats from the LELO sex survey so far…

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Top 5 Reasons Why Sex Makes You Smarter

January 14, 2014

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photo via flickr

Recent research straight from the lab demonstrates that sexual activity in adults may improve mental performance and help produce new neurons in the hippocampus, which is the part of the brain where long-term memories are formed. So much for doing crossword puzzles and sudoku! A separate study found that sex can counteract the kind of chronic stress that screws with the ability to remember things. (The first study was conducted on “middle-aged rats” and the second on mice. We wonder how midlife crises manifest themselves in middle-aged rats?!)

Of course, this may not be enough evidence to convert all those crossword and sudoku addicts to midlife sexual activity, so we thought we’d expand the news into a own nifty five-part list. Here are our Top 5 Reasons Why Sex Makes You Smarter:

1. Sex Helps You Grow New Brain Cells

If we were having more sex, we might be better equipped to explain this to you, but as we said above, in middle-aged rates, sex improves mental performance and long-term memory.

2. Sex Reduces Stress… Which Makes Your Memory Work Better

“Stress is one of the most potent inhibitors of hippocampal neurogenesis,” the scientists say, and we nod seriously and pretend to totally understand this. What we do understand is that sex can help fix this!

3. Sex Releases Endorphins…. Which Makes You Smarter

Endorphins are the “feel good” chemical — it acts as a natural painkiller, lessens anxiety (see #2, above), and helps you sleep better. All of which helps your brain, Einstein. More specifically, endorphins have been found to help calm and focus the brain.

4. Energetic Sex Boosts Circulation and Blood Flow… to the Brain

Energetic sex is a form of exercise, which boosts the blood flow to your brain… which makes it work better. Studies have found that both attention and focus improve for several hours after exercise — so hop on top, Pop!

5. Sex Builds Emotional Intelligence

Sex — or, at least, good sex — requires tuning into another person so completely that you know as much as they do (if not more!) about what turns them on. That’s a kind of focus we could all use more of, whether at home or work.

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2014: Year of the Vanilla Revolution?

January 7, 2014

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Image via Flickr | Sponsored Post

The Fifty Shades of Grey movie may not be scheduled for release until February 13, 2015, but according to LELO, the kinky sex revolution is already waning. According to sales figures of LELO toys, tracked across their top 20 leading markets, sales of BDSM accessories such as whips and teasers reached a plateau in the last quarter of 2013, compared with a 50% increase over the same period in 2012. Meanwhile, sales of premium couples massagers and vibrating couples’ rings worn during intercourse have increased by 82%, compared with the same period last year.

This is not your parents’ “vanilla sex,” it should be noted! According to research, 58% of global toy owners expected to use premium personal massagers with their partner up until September 2013, compared with 72% in the last 3 months of 2013. In other words, if their buying habits are to be believed, it would seem couples are less concerned with reenacting their Christian Grey and Ana fantasies, and more concerned with intimacy and equal-opportunity pleasure in bed. We’re clearly talking full-fat, homemade, creamy vanilla, here — not your generic supermarket brand.

LELO defines “couples’ sex toy” as “an intimate massager suited specifically to enhance foreplay or intercourse.” This kind of toy typically does not feature “the phallic designs typical of so many sex toys currently on the market.” In other words, it’s not the pink plastic penis that got tossed around the room at the last Bachelorette party you attended.

Examples of couples’ toys include the Ida, LELO’s newest release, a couples’ massager that is worn by women during lovemaking to increase pleasure for both partners, and the remote-controlled Hula Beads, worn by the woman during foreplay to provide gentle vibrations within the vagina.

More research on trends in sex is due from LELO later this month, when they will release the results of the 2014 LELO Global Sex Survey.

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Infographic: Fascinating Stats on Love & Marriage in Modern Times

June 18, 2013

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5 Reasons Why More Sex Helps Your Career

September 20, 2012

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LELO created this fun infographic (included below), which could be more simply titled “5 Reasons Why More Sex Helps Your LIFE.” A few thoughts on each point:

  1. Honestly, in this recession, we think most people would take the raise over the sex (including us).
  2. Yes! Sex beats shopping every time. (Or at least it should.)
  3. Wait: Married couples having sex a little more than once a week leads to more frustration, fights and tension because that’s not enough? Seems kind of like a glass-is-half-empty analysis of the data, if you ask us.
  4. Sex cleans your pores, prevents wrinkles and age spots, and gives your skin a healthy glow? Sounds like this came from the “semen is good for your skin” study out of Teanboi University. We do, however, agree wholeheartedly that if the average woman is spending $75 on facials per month (WTF?!), she could put that time and money to much better use (e.g. in some quality alone time with our Toy of the Month).
  5. If calling sex “exercise” (admittedly a stretch) makes you do it more, then more power to you!

Infographic: 5 Reasons Why More Sex Helps Your Career

Getting On By Getting It On – LELO’s More Sex for a Better Career Infographic



Naked News: Walnuts Are Good for Semen, Semen Is Good for Women

August 24, 2012

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photo via flickr

We know, we know: it sounds like a bad frat-house joke. But there’s a lot of sex research making the rounds this week, and while some of it is very welcome (amongst college students, women are no longer judged as harshly for their sexual behavior; also it turns out rape victims actually have a higher rate of pregnancy… and goddamn Akin for making that seem like good news), other news seems ripe for abuse (semen can improve women’s moods?!). But, hey, at least the walnut industry should get a boost with the news that eating those nuts improves semen health.

Read the rest of this post on SUNfiltered

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