A visit to the Bloomington Sex Salon — what’s in it for you?

Guest post by IU Newsroom colleague Jaclyn Lansbery.

Women’s perceptions of their genitals, masturbation, bisexuality and erotic art — these are just a few of the topics on tap at the Bloomington Sex Salon.

By Erin Tobey

By Erin Tobey

The Bloomington Sex Salon began in February as a monthly discussion series led by Debby Herbenick, co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at the Indiana University School of Public Health-Bloomington, as a way to encourage community-based conversations about various sex-related topics.

“I think what’s interesting about the salons is that you really get to do what I do on a regular basis -– which is sit with somebody who is really smart about a particular topic and ask all your questions,” said Herbenick, a widely read sex columnist and author of self-help books such as “Sex Made Easy.” Herbenick is frequently contacted by national media outlets about sex-related topics.

Neither a seedy establishment of ill repute nor a stuffy initiative geared toward the college crowd, the salons take place in casual settings where people can sit or stand while sipping on a beer. And you don’t have to be a sex expert to attend or understand these discussions.

“These are not ivory tower, academic conversations,” Herbenick said, adding that she wanted to ensure the salons took place in the community, outside of the IU Bloomington campus.

The Sex Salons, promoted by band posters that IU graduate Erin Tobey designs,  have taken place at The Back Door and FARM Bloomington’s Root Cellar. The most recent salon was Nov. 22 at The Bishop. Brian Dodge, who also is co-director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and a longtime colleague of Herbenick, talked about bisexuality.

Dodge touched on the stereotypes and misconceptions that people who identify themselves as bisexual – or who engage or have engaged in bisexual behavior – regularly face, especially in American society.

Dodge said that marriage tends to be the “gold standard,” and that some people tend to feel that bisexual behavior threatens monogamy.

“For some reason, there is that sort of stereotype and misconception, I think, that if you’re in a relationship with a bisexual person, then in some way you’re going to be vulnerable to them and that they need to be with a member of the other sex, whatever that might be,” he said. “I think that’s a pervasive stereotype.”

Another stereotype is that people who identify as bisexual or who engage in bisexual behavior area really just experimenting until they decide to either be straight or gay — a “bi-now, gay-later” label.

Despite steps toward marriage equality for same-sex couples, little has been done to recognize bisexuality as a legitimate lifestyle. Dodge, Herbenick and other colleagues at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion recently presented their research on perceptions of bisexuality at the 141st American Public Health Association annual meeting in Boston. They found that men who identify themselves as heterosexual are three times more likely to categorize bisexuality as “not a legitimate orientation,” an attitude that can encourage negative health outcomes in people who identify as bisexual.

As with the November discussion with Dodge, each salon has focused on a specific health topic — nothing is off limits — that Herbenick and her expert guest discuss in front of audience members, who are invited to ask questions.

The next Bloomington Sex Salon takes place 7:30 p.m. Tuesday, Dec. 17 at The Bishop, and will feature Kim Wallen, a professor in the department of psychology at Emory University. The topic is orgasm. For more information, visit the Bloomington Sex Salon Facebook page.

Read the Health & Vitality post “Making sex normal — one picture at a time,” to learn about another effort by Herbenick to make it easier for people to talk about sexuality.

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