Sex researcher and expert Debby Herbenick — a 1992 summer session student and 1994 PEA graduate  — came in last Monday to give an Assembly talk about sex and adolescent behavior.  

You can be sure that got the students’s attention. As she said, “Most people want to have a romantic relationship at some point.”

Generally, parents do a good job of talking about sex but they often give outdated and inaccurate information, Dr. Herbenick said.  Furthermore, in cultures where the LGBT community is excluded and sex is taboo, “it can be hard to find words [to talk] about romantic and sexual attractions,” she said. Therefore, teenagers must join the conversation. By growing comfortable talking and thinking about sex, one can grow intellectually and sexually, improving one’s relationship: “When you can talk about sex with your partner, it has been proven that you are eight times happier in your relationship,” explained Dr. Herbenick.

She’s got the credentials to know. According to her website, Dr. Herbenick is an Associate Professor and the Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion in the School of Public Health – Bloomington at at Indiana University.

She is also a research fellow and the sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender and Reproduction and is  one of the lead researchers of the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior, the largest nationally representative survey of sexual behavior in America.

The increase of sex education for teenagers has been mainly beneficial: today, people use condoms and embrace gender identity and sexuality in most countries. However, there is still progress to be made, as sexual assault is still a major concern. In fact, as Dr. Herbenick pointed out, “one-third of  college sexual experiences are not consensual”, and, often, alcohol is involved. In some cases, sex is consensual but unwanted, maybe because one of the people involved isn’t comfortable with talking about it or confronting it.

Furthermore, she said, studies show that most people watch porn for the first time between the ages of 11 and 13. Many believe that it shows “real” sex, when it actually promotes a distorting brutality.

“Good sex,” as Dr. Herbenick called it, comes from “mutual desire and satisfaction, from love, from intimacy.” She advocated even broader sex education in order for teenagers to not be influenced by misrepresentative sex. One must acknowledge certain “human rights” linked to sex. It is important to be caring of each other, to know that YOU decide what YOU want and what YOU don’t.

Eighty percent of teenagers and college students in the US believe that people only want to ‘hook up,’ Dr. Herbenick said. This “stereotype”, as she put it, is reinforced by the mainstream media. Yet, even though people want to experience a form of sexual and gender expression, “connections count too.” Often, people go through several sexually-oriented romances until, eventually, they fall in love with someone. Then, everything changes and their romantic relationship becomes more meaningful. Nevertheless, men rarely admit this as societies dictate that it is a weakness.

Sex and love aren’t always what they seem. Most people have several boyfriends or girlfriends before settling into a relationship. You may wonder: why bother with short-term romances? Dr. Herbenick explained that these are the ones that teach you to compromise and to “tell your partner they’re not actually right for you.” They qualify as training.

Students had mixed opinions on the talk: “I fell asleep on number 6!” said Ashley Thomas, referring to the steps Dr. Herbenick cited in her talk.

Others had more positive feedback: “The talk was interesting because it approached sex in a way that I had never heard of before,” said another student. “It was super awkward, but also really informative.”