This week, Dr. Debby Herbenick will be talking how intersection of public health and the humanities helps to inform her extensive research and open further discussion on the topics of sex and love.
Hi, my name is Debby Herbenick (@DebbyHerbenick), I work as an associate professor at Indiana University’s School of Public Health, I study and teach about sexual health and behavior, I’ve written six books about sex and love (my newest is The Coregasm Workout), and I’ll be your @wethehumanities curator from August 31 through September 6.
Although my graduate degrees are in public health, I grew up entrenched in the humanities – spending much time reading English literature, French literature, enrolled in fiction writing workshops, art history classes, and so on. Shortly after my undergraduate graduation, as I developed an interest in sexuality research, I found myself fortunate to be working at The Kinsey Institute where I surrounded by scientists from a variety of disciplines and an office that was one floor below the Institute’s tremendous library and one floor above its exciting art collection (not to mention the archives which are a treasure of historical artifacts). While working on scientific research, I found it helpful to have books and art from so many different cultures and historical time periods (plus a healthy rotation of visiting scholars) available to better enrich my understanding of the topic.
As it turns out, some of the areas of sexual science I’ve chosen to study have very small scientific literatures associated with them. Often when there’s a scare research record, scientists will say something along the lines of “Little is known about…” but sometimes that’s not entirely true. It may be that the scientific research record is limited but quite often a deeper history can be found going back hundreds or thousands of years in artistic imagery, poetry, literature, and other historical records. Hence, my research on contemporary pubic hair grooming, sex toy use, and female orgasm has been informed not just be the published scientific record but by art and literature.
I also enjoy seeing how science and the humanities can play off one another. When I’m not analyzing data or writing research manuscripts, I host the Bloomington Sex Salon which brings sexuality educators, researchers, advocates, and artists into conversation in our community (this month’s guests are artists/activists Annie Sprinkle and Elizabeth Stephens). Not in the Bloomington community? That’s okay – I’m starting to occasionally travel with the show and podcast versions will soon be available. Like us on Facebook to stay up to date.
I’ve also had fun working with a local artist, Erin Tobey, on bringing some of our research to life through a poster and postcard project called What Do You Like About Your Vagina and Vulva, successfully funded through Kickstarter. And recently I served as a co-producer on the film Hot Girls Wanted which premiered at Sundance last year and follows a group of young women as they enter the amateur porn industry in Miami, Florida (coincidentally my hometown).
This week, I imagine we might talk about:
- How the science of sex is or can be informed by art, literature
- How art, film, etc. can be informed by science
- Engaging the public in science
- PhD life and opportunities within and outside of academia (e.g., writing books and creative pursuits, etc)