Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

Recent posts

What Do You Do to Make Sex Normal?

In response to a pretty tough 2012 election season in which I felt depressingly and repeatedly reminded how little information and comfort there is about sexuality and reproductive health issues, I kept wondering what I could do. It hit me that sex is so compartmentalized that it’s often difficult for people to talk about sex in the regular everyday ways we talk about driver’s safety, hand washing, love, and other issues related to health and humanity. A phrase kept coming to me, which is that we need to “Make Sex Normal”, a project I’ve recently launched at http://www.MakeSexNormal.tumblr.com

I hope that you will consider sharing what *you* are doing to Make Sex Normal – and by “sex”, I’m referring to the big umbrella of things like sex, gender, reproduction, puberty, genitals, etc. My hope is that the more people can learn about concrete, everyday ways that they can make sex normal, then sex will just become normal and something we can talk and teach about. How can you participate? Continue Reading →

Lubricant vs. Vaginal Moisturizer: What’s the Difference?

Because someone asked me yesterday (and I often forget that many people don’t receive this kind of information from doctors, nurses, family, or friends):

Lubricants are typically for use during various types of sex (e.g., masturbation alone, partnered masturbation, hand jobs, sex toy play, vaginal intercourse, and most definitely anal intercourse). Women and men of diverse ages use lubricant during sexual activities. Think of lube as something one uses “in the moment” (e.g., during sexual activities). Lube is widely available in drug stores, retail chains, adult bookstores, and online. Vaginal moisturizers are more about keeping the vagina moist and pliable even when not “in use” for sex. Continue Reading →

Having The ‘What Are We?” Talk: Friends Who Have Sex? Dating? Relationship?

Liking/loving other people has always been tricky; this isn’t specific to modern times, online dating, hookup culture, or texting. Earlier this week I was being interviewed by a woman in her 50s for a book. She asked me about friends with benefits and I relayed a conversation I once had with a certain feminist icon who, years ago, had said to me how silly it was that the media framed friends with benefits as anything new. “We were having sex with our friends in the ‘60s and 70s!”, she said to me. “We just didn’t call it that.” The interviewer left “interviewer mode” for a moment and laughed, telling me just how true that was of her experience, too. Continue Reading →

Would You Say You Had Sex If… He Came In Your Thigh Crease?


The phrase “having sex” means different things to different people. Most people agree that penile-vaginal intercourse counts as sex and that if you’ve had penile-vaginal intercourse with a person then you’ve “had sex” with them and that the person counts as a sexual partner. However, what counts as sex isn’t always so cut and dry (and can vary by age, gender, and self-identified sexual orientation among other factors). When I first began working at The Kinsey Institute in 1999, a study that one of my mentors – Dr. Stephanie Sanders – conducted with her colleague, Dr. June Reinisch, that had examined college students’ meanings of having “had sex” was newly published. The study made waves in large part because it came at a time when Americans and politicians in particular were debating whether oral sex was sex, and thus whether President Bill Clinton was being truthful when he said he had not “had sex with that woman”. Continue Reading →

Praying Mantis Sex: How Often Do the Females Eat the Males?



You may have heard that the female praying mantis eats its mate post-copulation. Fortunately for the male praying mantis, this doesn’t seem to be the case – at least in every instance:
“By most estimates, sexual cannibalism by praying mantis females occurs less than 30% of the time outside the lab. Those are pretty good odds for the fellows. Praying mantis sex, it turns out, is really a rather romantic series of courtship rituals that typically ends satisfactorily and safely for both parties involved.” (Source: Insects.About.com)
Follow Debby on Twitter at @DebbyHerbenick or follow MSP at @MySexProfessor Continue Reading →

Bloomington, Indiana Mayor Marrying Local Same Sex Couples Tonight

Tonight, the heartland grows a little more heart. Here in Bloomington, Indiana – where I live and work – our mayor, Mark Kruzan, will conduct a wedding ceremony for more than a dozen same-sex couples at the 10th anniversary of the PRIDE LGBTQ Film Festival. Two of these couples are pictured here. (Express your support/thanks by sending an email to Mayor Mark Kruzan at: mayor (at) bloomington.in.gov)

The event’s press release describes tonight’s marriage ceremony (which is not legally binding as same-sex couples still cannot legally get married in Indiana!) as being “in protest against the proposed constitutional amendment HJR-6 (ban of same sex marriage)”. The proposal for the constitutional amendment banning same-sex marriage has already passed Indiana’s House and Senate (back in 2011) but it has to go up again – and likely will soon – before going before Indiana voters. Continue Reading →

Ray Bradbury on the Science Fiction of Birth Control

Ray Bradbury, in an interview for The Paris Review (emphasis mine):
Science fiction is the fiction of ideas. Ideas excite me, and as soon as I get excited, the adrenaline gets going and the next thing I know I’m borrowing energy from the ideas themselves. Science fiction is any idea that occurs in the head and doesn’t exist yet, but soon will, and will change everything for everybody, and nothing will ever be the same again. As soon as you have an idea that changes some small part of the world you are writing science fiction. It is always the art of the possible, never the impossible. Continue Reading →

My Love of Sex

I was thinking this morning of the difficulty some people have talking about sex – whether as a topic of news, politics, or health, or even about their own sexual life with the person they like or love and/or with whom they are being sexual. A conversation came back to me that I once had with a sort-of-partner who wasn’t one for talking about sex in the personal realm. I had said something to him about how I saw sex as a celebration and as a normal part of life, and so talking and laughing were part of all that. When this conversation came back to me today, the part about it being a celebration nagged at me. Although I often say that sex is a celebration, today I asked myself, “a celebration of what?” These were my gut reactions: for me, being sexual with another person is a celebration of being alive and of being human – in a very basic, fundamental way – with another person. Continue Reading →

Can’t Eat When You Break Up? Investigating the Gut-Brain Response

We often find what we need to find when we’re not looking for it. That’s how it was for me recently, spending a lazy Sunday afternoon searching the scientific literature for research related to “communication about feelings” (isn’t that what everyone does on Sundays?). Instead of finding research related to how people talk or avoid talking about their feelings, I found myself taken in by the first result: an article published in a 2011 issue of Nature (specifically their neuroscience reviews)titled “Gut feelings: the emerging biology of gut-brain communication”. I was intrigued for two reasons: (1) one of my good friends, who also happens to be a neuroscientist, often talks about gut decisions (they are not always the ‘right’ decisions to make but they deserve attention); and (2) I had recently talked with a friend about some of my own gut-brain-emotional responses and it left me with a nagging question. What happened is this: I had shared a story about how, when I was 19, I lost my appetite for a week. Continue Reading →

How to Not Be Creepy in Public

Recently we had a Krampus event in the town where I live and it was pretty impressive. And yet – in spite of the awesomeness of the larger than life Krampus figures showing children (and adults) what happens when one is naughty or nice – I was dealing with another issue. Not a Krampus, but a Creeper. You see, there was a long procession that involved the crowd of people who had come to see the Krampus actually get to walk along a pathway with the various Krampus and angels. My two friends from work and I were part of the throng. Continue Reading →