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Seems that Durham gets honored and recognized as an exceptional place to work, play, retire and – according to a new survey by Men’s Health magazine – frolic with sex partners. Yet in the Triangle and parts of North Carolina, mention of the city’s name is often accompanied by a distasteful frown.

There exist empirical data to suggest that attitude is changing, but some people still recoil upon learning that you live in Durham.

“We have a research company out collecting data on how people feel about Durham,” said Shelly Green of the Durham Convention & Visitors Bureau on Monday.

A survey 17 years ago showed that in Wake County, “five people felt negatively toward Durham for every one who felt positively,” Green said. “Last year, four people felt positively for every one who felt negatively.”

The people at Men’s Health sure felt positive about Durham in their October issue. In its “Hotbeds of Sex” ranking of 100 cities, Durham was No.4,, just behind two Texas cities, Austin and Dallas, and Columbus, Ohio. The magazine’s editors came up with their rankings by looking at condom and sex toy sales, birth rates and rates of V.D. – hey, behind every silver lining there’s a dark cloud, right?

Because three of the top four honorees can be classified as university cities, it would be logical to assume a correlation between lots of sex and college students, right? So I went to Ninth Street, a popular Duke University student area with bookstores and restaurants, to ask students whether Durham deserves its lofty ranking.

After failing to find a good way to broach the subject to a stranger -“Pardon me, ma’am or sir, but can I ask you about your sex life?” – I got back into my car and left.

I did ask Green, who succeeded legendary Durhamophile Reyn Bowman as head of the convention and visitors bureau. “Since I’m single,” she said, “I don’t think I’m qualified” to answer whether Durham really is a hotbed of bedroom activity. The ranking may help, though, Green said, because “it’ll probably make Durham more attractive in the eyes of young people. We’ve already got the retirees who recognize what a great place” Durham is.”

This month Money magazine listed the city as its best place for retirees and The Wall Street Journal listed it as having the nation’s No. 1 market for real estate and housing investment.

Why, then, do some people in Durham feel the need to apologize or even lie about living in the Bull City?

Years ago, before becoming familiar with the city, I asked a gas station attendant for directions to “Forest Hill, N.C.” She looked at me as if I’d asked for directions to the moon – or had come from there.

Turns out one of those closeted Durham residents had told me she lived there – “near Durham.”