Debby Herbenick on Making Sex Normal at TEDxBloomington Transcript

Now, a culture in which 13-year old girls end up riding their bikes, disobeying their parents, which I hardly ever did, you know, all because this is so uncomfortable for them. It’s not the only bad outcome of a society that doesn’t talk about sex, right? And so when sex is treated as abnormal, doctors and patients don’t talk about sex. It’s not unusual for cancer patients in my line of work to tell me that they’ve had 50 or 100 or more medical appointments, including for pelvic radiation and never once had a health care provider mention the serious sexual side effects with them.

When sex is treated as abnormal, we don’t talk about it or teach about it in schools. And when the CDC maps sexually transmissible infections it’s perhaps not surprising that they tend to cluster in areas of the country known for lack of sex education. Notice the dark areas for chlamydia in the US, gonorrhea in the US and HIV in the US.

When we don’t talk about sex and it’s treated as abnormal, people sometimes say inaccurate or insensitive things. The 2012 election season was particularly painful for me to hear phrases like legitimate rape, rape shutdown mechanisms, in the quote, “some girls they rape so easy”.

When sex is treated as abnormal, we don’t even know what’s true about sex because we’re not talking about it. And a few years ago, our research team found that 30% of women in the United States reported some degree of pain when they had sex. The editor of one of the most respected newspapers in the country refused to let her writer cover the story because she said, “If that was true, we would know because women would be talking about this.” But you know women don’t even talk much about sex that feels good, let alone sex that feels painful.

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So I think the way that we talk about sex but also the way that we don’t talk about sex in this country is severely broken. But I also think that the way that we’re expecting it to change is broken. If we sit around waiting for politicians and school systems and parents to change this force, we’re going to be waiting for a long time because most of these people never got much training in sexuality education or comfort in their homes themselves.

So my idea is a fairly simple one but it’s going to take a commitment for a lot of us to sort of put this into practice, take a deep breath and do it typical, which is just to make sex normal.

So concrete ways you can do this: openly read sex books, not on your digital devices, on planes, on subways. I’ve been doing this for years. It’s an amazing conversation starter.

Get sex-positive books for kids and donate them to schools and libraries. Celebrate sexual diversity by going to sex positive art events, walking in or hanging out at Gay Pride parades. Going to marriage equality celebrations like the one that recently occurred on this stage in Bloomington. You can watch a movie — a movie that shows realistic views of sex, nuance views of sex documentaries like Orgasm Inc. Talk about sex with a doctor or nurse, with your kids, with your parents. If you’ve got a partner, start by saying something that you like or miss about your sex life together. Find a sex-positive video, TED actually has several, including this orgasm talk and post it on your Facebook wall. I guarantee you, you’ll get the likes you’ve always wanted.

You can also go more public. A few years ago, a colleague and I were in Vegas and she dressed as a giant homemade vulva and I walked around with her and interviewed women and men of all ages asking what they thought she was. A few gets star tracked but a lot got it right. And I know this isn’t for everybody but you can also just wear sex-positive T-shirts. These are some of the ones I have, wear them out, wear them to the gym and the grocery store. If you don’t have something like that — an ovary overachiever button or a testicle having a ball button and they will be in the lobby at the end of the day that you can pick up, I have guests for all of you.

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You can also get your doctors and nurses to change the waiting room. They often say that they’re asked sex questions that they can’t answer, or don’t have the time to answer, I say add some good quality sex pics to the waiting room. Change the posters in the bathroom away from Botox and Daintree mints to a Grab Your Gonads Testicle Self Exam poster, or a poster celebrating the diversity of women’s genitals.

Make space for sex. Here I started the Bloomington Sex Salon that brings sex researchers into the community, into bars and cafes, a local restaurant sometimes gets cheeky with their menu items, including the French Tickler, that’s from farm.

Support the sex arts. From left to right is my Etsy bot uterus doll, vulva lapel pins from a local handmade market, a clay vulva man that a student named and a sperm shaped salt shaker that I picked up in Argentina. Put it on the Thanksgiving table and finally, embrace real sex and bodies. Check out Cindy Gallop’s make love, not porn website and TED talk, watch shows like Lena Dunham’s, Girls, and check out, the new site launched this week that encourages people to send in photos showing what they do to make sex normal.

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