Home » Debby Herbenick on Making Sex Normal at TEDxBloomington Transcript

Debby Herbenick on Making Sex Normal at TEDxBloomington Transcript

But I thought about it for a while and I figured out that there was the store in South Miami, that’s where the tampons were. And so one day when I got enough nerve and figured no one was going to miss me for a little while, I got on my bike and I pedaled where it ends up being five miles, following this route but it’s fairly straight but actually crosses a lot of busy streets. And I was really worried about getting caught. But I got the tampons, put the plastic bag on my handlebars and rode back to five miles and never told anyone ever. My mom will find out when she hears this talk.

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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