Sex Made Easy

Your Awkward Questions Answered-For Better, Smarter, Amazing Sex


By Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH

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Sex Made Easy is a punch, direct, and no-nonsense guide that confronts those problems that often arise — things that women are usually too embarrassed to talk about. Debby Herbenick is not just a scientist, but also a sex expert who has conducted important research at the Kinsey Institute for over a decade. But Dr. Herbenick has anticipated women’s questions — everything from orgasms and erections to vibrators — and provides simple and frank answers. It will give readers the knowledge, skills, and confidence they need for a more fulfilling sex life.



Aiding me in my efforts to make sex a little, if not a lot, easier for readers of this book, a number of people have made my work significantly easier and more pleasant. I am grateful to my editor, Jennifer Kasius, for her patience, direction, and vision and the thoughtful ways in which she helped me to articulate my message. I am thankful to my literary agent, Kate Lee, for believing in my work and for her encouragement and wisdom. The talented Josie Morway deserves praise for gracing these pages with her beautiful illustrations.

Many thousands of women and men inspired this book by trusting me with their sex-related secrets and questions. A number of these are readers of my sex columns and listeners of our Kinsey Confidential podcast series whom I have never met. However, not a day goes by that I don’t hear from or think about them and the kinds of information that might make their sexual lives easier or more meaningful. Then there are the many women and men whom I’ve met, or taught at Indiana University, or who have sat in my office—and sometimes cried in my office—as they asked questions and sometimes shared their sexual difficulties with me. This is a kind of trust and intimacy that no schooling could have ever prepared me for and I am grateful to experience it so regularly. It inspires me to want to learn more, research the right questions, and share the answers I find with the people who need them.

I am fortunate, too, to work with a number of colleagues who have provided support, encouragement, laughter—and intellectual stimulation throughout the process of writing—as well as through my day-to-day work of conducting research and teaching about human sexuality. I count myself very lucky to work on a daily basis with Michael Reece, Vanessa Schick, and Brian Dodge; I hope never to take for granted their friendship and camaraderie. I am also indebted to our team of graduate students at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University (Alexis, Andreia, Caroline, Erika, Kristen, Margo, Nicole, Phil, Randy, and Sofia), all of whom I’m confident will make the world a better place through their research and education efforts. Jennifer Bass, John Bancroft, Thomas Nord, and Jim Lenahan were among the first to put me in charge of answering readers’ sex questions and I’m thankful that they believed in me. Additionally, many colleagues, mentors, and former students—whether they know it or not—have inspired and challenged my thinking in ways that I hope have made Sex Made Easy a more helpful book. These include Justin Anderson, Michael Bailey, Jada Barbry, Cara Berg, Lee Belz, Virginia Braun, Laura Castiglione, Meredith Chivers, Meredith Davis, Betty Dodson, Christopher Fisher, Dennis Fortenberry, Cindy Graham, Madeline Haller, Julia Heiman, Ariane Hollub, Jordan Humphrey, Natalie Ingraham, Catherine Johnson-Roehr, Jeana Jorgensen, Kristen Jozkowski, Holly Moyseenko Kossover, Wendy Likes, Kate McCombs, Carol McCord, Cindy Meston, Robin Milhausen, Charlene Muehlenhard, Brian Mustanski, Emily Nagoski, Lucia O’Sullivan, Carol Queen, June Reinisch, Heather Rupp, Tracy Rupp, Stephanie Sanders, Sonya Satinsky, Dan Savage, Michaela Schwartz, Samantha Seeger, Colleen Stockdale, Leonore Tiefer, and Yvette Trujillo (and many more).

This is the first book in which I have discussed aspects of my personal sexual life. For this, I am grateful to age, wisdom, and experience—and to those with whom I’ve been fortunate to fall in and out of like, love, lust, and crushes. The stories I’ve shared here are real, but identifying details have been omitted and sometimes changed in order to protect their privacy. They are good men I’m proud to have known and learned from, and with whom I enjoyed sharing parts of each other’s lives.

I’m happy to have friends and family as sources of love and support. Ariane, Susie, Erica, Tom, Ben, Brooke, Brandon, Vanessa, Michael, Brian, Heather, Mike, David, Cathy, Mary, Susan, and Rick are among those whom I adore and whom I hope to always know (even if I don’t see some of them nearly as much as I would like). My grandparents and parents provided a solid foundation for me that encouraged education and a sense of compassion and I will love them forever for that. I am grateful, too, to my sister Laura, my brother-in-law Tim, and my wonderful niece, who is a joy to be around and watch grow up into a bright, talented young woman. Finally, I want to express my most heartfelt joy to James (and to Jezebel), whom I can always count on for hugs, kisses, and cuddles. I appreciate his understanding when I interrupt dinner to email someone back with a response to a question about how to have an orgasm or last longer in bed. In my world, this happens more than I can say, and he’s more patient and understanding than I could have hoped for.


There is no such thing as a typical day of work for me—at least, not since I began working as a sex researcher, educator, and columnist at the Center for Sexual Health Promotion and the Kinsey Institute at Indiana University. Most days, I’m busy designing sex research studies (on topics such as women’s orgasm, lubricant use, condom use, or sexual desire), analyzing data, writing research papers, grading students’ exams or papers, writing sex columns, answering sex questions from journalists or television producers, or answering emails from students and colleagues. In my work as a sex columnist, I also read and answer emails from people who have questions about sex. Each month, I head into a recording studio on campus to tape a new batch of Kinsey Confidential audio podcasts. Occasionally, I’m sent products such as sex toys, lubricants, condoms, or arousal creams and am asked to provide input on their design, safety, or package instructions. With bookshelves lined with vulva puppets, vaginal dilators, sex toys, and books about sex, orgasm, and female ejaculation, it’s not your normal office—and I wouldn’t have it any other way.

Then there are days like a recent Friday, when a young woman made an appointment to ask for suggestions about how to overcome the pain she experienced every time she tried to have sex. The week before, a man called to ask about his erection difficulties. I think, too, of the married couple who were feeling distressed and, I think, a little sad about the wife’s difficulty experiencing orgasm during intercourse. And it’s a common occurrence for a student to stay after class to ask how to find the G Spot, whether it’s normal to experience orgasms while doing sit-ups, or how to overcome premature ejaculation. Like I said, for me, there is no such thing as a typical day at work.

Women’s and men’s sex questions follow me everywhere and I welcome them. It was my grandmother who, several years before she died, best communicated to me how important it is to teach people about sex, bodies, and reproduction. At the time, I was twenty-three and had only recently started work at the Kinsey Institute. Knowing that she was quite religious and traditional, it took courage for me to tell her that I had started working at a place known for its pioneering research into human sexuality. Yet I didn’t want to hide my job from her. When I finally took a deep breath and told her about my new job, she told me she thought it was important work and proceeded to tell me a story I had never heard before.

My grandmother told me that when she was pregnant with my mother, she didn’t know how babies were delivered until she got to the hospital and was already going into labor. She had gone through her entire pregnancy assuming that her baby would eventually come out of her stomach because no one—not her girlfriends, sisters, or doctor (her mother had died when she was a teenager)—had told her otherwise. No one had mentioned anything about her baby being delivered through her vagina until the baby was ready to come out. Can you imagine the surprise, shock, and confusion that would cause? Because of that experience, my grandmother felt it was important that women and men be educated about their bodies and sexuality, and she was proud that I had accepted a research position at the Kinsey Institute, a place that had been central in opening up conversation and research about human sexuality. So here I am today, learning about sex and trying to make sure that rather than keep the information to myself, I share it with the world.


I firmly believe that sex can be fantastic. Yet no one adequately prepares women or men to enjoy sex to its fullest. There’s typically zero information about sexual pleasure included in most sex education programs, which means that people often learn about all the terrible things that can happen as part of sex (all the risks) but few of the very good things that can come from having sex. The lunacy of this tactic is that, most of the time, sex results in very good things, such as feelings of fun, pleasure, excitement, connection, intimacy, love, or even the chance to make a baby. The way we talk to each other about sex is broken and it’s time we fix it. People want to know how to have fulfilling sex lives, not just how to keep bad things from happening. This book will answer that need.

As a result of my professional endeavors I have heard from probably a hundred thousand women and men about their sex lives. People have questions about every sex-related thing you can imagine (and many you’ve never dreamed of): questions about orgasm, pregnancy, painful sex, premature ejaculation, sex after baby, making sex more interesting, extending foreplay, low desire, birth control, fetishes, sex toys, the clitoris, desire discrepancy (when two members of a couple have different levels of desire), threesomes, erectile difficulties, monogamy, female ejaculation, oral sex, lasting longer, prostate stimulation, the G Spot, and much more.

Sometimes people write to me because they’re excited about their sex lives, have a sexually generous partner, and are looking for tips to make sex even more exciting. Other times they write because they’re feeling confused, “different,” or alone in some way regarding sex. When I receive those kinds of letters and emails, I wish I could reply, “Sex doesn’t have to be so hard.” But sometimes it feels that way. It can be difficult not to take sexual problems to heart.

My feeling is that if we all knew more about sex, we could have happier, more pleasurable, more meaningful, and abundantly richer sex lives. They wouldn’t be perfect, of course, but they would likely be easier and, at times, more fun.

As part of my work at Indiana University, I’ve had the pleasure of working on a number of interesting sex research studies. Of the dozens of studies I’ve conducted, the one that’s received the greatest amount of popular press—and the one you have very likely read about—is called the National Survey of Sexual Health and Behavior (NSSHB). This study was only the second nationally representative study of the sexual behavior of Americans ever conducted. The first one took place in the early 1990s, before the Internet as we know it today even existed. It was nearly twenty years before researchers conducted another one (mostly due to a lack of funding for sex research in the US) and, thanks to support from Church & Dwight (the makers of Trojan condoms, vibrators, and other sexual health products), our Indiana University research team was able to conduct such a study. The NSSHB provided us with unique insights into Americans’ sex lives: we got a glimpse into how many people engage in certain types of sex, the sexual difficulties people experience, and what makes sex more pleasurable or orgasmic for men and women. Here, in this book, I’ll share many of the study’s highlights with you.

Our research team has conducted a number of other important studies too, including those related to sexual desire, orgasm, and women’s and men’s use of sex toys, lubricant, and condoms. Between conducting research, writing about sex, teaching human sexuality classes, and attending conferences so I can learn from colleagues about their sex research studies, I spend a lot of time thinking about sex. Not only am I familiar with the many questions that women and men have, but I’m also intimately familiar with the answers (including trying to find answers to the sex mysteries that remain).


Sex in the real world is complicated, and myths that oversimplify it can be harmful to people’s lives, relationships, and marriages. You can love someone intensely but not click in the bedroom. You can be stunningly gorgeous and blessed with an equally hot partner yet still have disappointing, boring sex. There’s also nothing unusual about you if you wonder about what it would be like to have sex with someone other than your relationship partner or spouse. And vibrators? More than half of women and about half of men use them. There’s nothing strange about you if you use sex toys—or if you don’t.

Whether you’re struggling with sex or incredibly excited about sex and reading this because you’re trying to make your sex life even better, there’s something here for you. So how does sex improve? And what makes it easier? An important part of creating a satisfying, unforgettable sex life is learning about sex—something I cannot stress enough. If you commit to reading this book for ten or twenty minutes a day over the next few weeks or months, you will likely feel smarter and more confident about sex, and therefore more likely to have incredible sex.


Because of what I do for work, I am often asked if studying and teaching about sex have made me better at having sex. Put another way, do sex experts have better sex? I can’t speak for all sex experts, but I can speak for myself: studying sex has absolutely, 100 percent made me better at having not just any old sex, but wonderful sex.

None of us is born knowing how to have great sex. I knew next to nothing about sex for many years because my parents didn’t know how to talk to my sister and me about it, my friends shared a lot of wrong information about it, and the teachers at my schools didn’t teach us much about it either—that is, until I chose to return to school for a master’s and PhD and learn everything I could about sex. However, I didn’t just learn about sex in school; in addition to all the writing, teaching, and research activities I’ve already mentioned, I also learned about it by connecting with women who run in-home sex toy parties, listening to sexual health advocates, and talking with urologists, gynecologists, oncologists, dermatologists, and other doctors who focus on sexual medicine.

I now have a great deal of knowledge about sensitive body spots, creative sex positions, sexual health, and sexual pleasure—and I don’t take any of this for granted. I believe it is my duty (and my privilege) to share this knowledge with those who want to better their own sex lives.

One of the most important lessons I’ve learned is this: research shows that most people will face sexual difficulties sooner or later, even small ones like experiencing genital burning from a vagina-unfriendly lubricant or finding enough time or energy for sex. Thanks to kids, pets, work, families, stress, and laundry lists of things to do, life sometimes gets in the way. The difference is that, as someone who knows about sex, when problems happen to me I have a sense of how to respond: what to do and what not to do. I won’t freak out, get mad, or blame myself or my partner for the numerous little sexual problems that can feel big and scary to those who haven’t yet learned much about sex. Instead, I know where to turn and what to try, and I have a better sex life for it. It’s not a perfect sex life, but it’s one I enjoy and am thankful for.

What I’m sharing here in this book can do the same for you. When you reach beyond the empty sex promises and myths we’ve all been sold, you have the chance to start your own at-home sex revolution. More satisfying sex can be yours if you spend a little bit of time learning about it and putting your new knowledge and skills into (very fun) practice.

The Sex Made Easy approach is basically this: if you learn about sex, you’re likely to feel more excited and confident being naked, having fun with your partner, tackling sex challenges together, taking care of your sexual health, and maybe even enjoying a few more orgasms than usual.

I don’t have all the answers, but I have enough answers and many creative, sex-positive ideas that add up to a great sex life. This book is about having knowledge, skills, and confidence to have a sex life that feels good and that doesn’t bring panic, blame, or shame into the bedroom. It’s about moving toward sex that helps you enjoy what you have, not worry about what’s missing, fix what can be fixed, and talk comfortably with your partner about everything that’s going on. It’s also about not feeling so isolated, alone, or “abnormal” for having sex problems in the first place (we all have them from time to time).


In the pages that follow, you will find plenty of information about bodies and sex as well as a hundred sex questions and concerns I’ve heard from women and men just like you. Some of these are very common questions (for example, about having an orgasm or lasting longer) whereas others are less common (for example, questions about coregasms or sex-related headaches). I’ve even included some of the less common questions because it can be difficult to find trustworthy information about these issues and I believe that people who have these concerns deserve to have access to information that may help them. Also, some of them are just plain curious and interesting.

I’m also doing something in this book that I have never done before: I’m sharing stories from my own trials and errors on the road to good sex. I thought for a long time about whether or not I wanted to go there, but I think it’s important that more of us start being honest about our sex lives rather than pretend that everything is always perfect. Hopefully, when we’re honest about the complexities of love and sex, we can all feel more normal and relaxed and know we’re not alone with our problems.

Like I said, nearly everyone has (or will have) sex problems and that includes sex experts like me. Knowing about sex doesn’t inoculate a person from having issues, but it does help prepare one to address them in order to create a happier sex life. By sharing these problems and solutions, I hope to arm you with enough knowledge to tackle your own sex issues and enough hope to see that even difficult sex problems can often be managed successfully.

Finally, although not all sex problems are “easy” to fix—and I certainly don’t mean to suggest that with the title of this book—almost any sex problem can be made easier to deal with if one has knowledge about the issue it involves, or simply a sense that others have been down this road too and sex (or one’s relationship) will likely get better. It can also be helpful to distinguish between what you can handle on your own versus what you need outside help with: it’s the difference between knowing if your baby’s fever can be treated at home or if she requires a visit to the pediatrician, or between knowing if you can fix your leaky faucet yourself or need to call a plumber. After reading Sex Made Easy, I expect that you will have a better sense of what, in the bedroom, you can fix on your own versus when you should call a doctor or therapist. I also expect that you’ll be eager to go out and have a whole lot of fun in and out of bed. Ready?

Let’s begin.


Vulvalicious: Your Down-There Guide to Better Sex

When comedian Chelsea Handler’s book Chelsea Chelsea Bang Bang was first published, I was excited to read her newest stories. That excitement, however, soon turned to appreciation mixed with disappointment when I opened her book to “The Feeling,” a story about how Chelsea learned to masturbate at a sleepover party with her childhood girlfriends.1

My appreciation stemmed from the fact that Chelsea had courageously written about a sensitive topic (female sexuality remains taboo to talk about at any age, but people particularly tiptoe around it when discussing children even though young girls and boys commonly explore their own bodies.2) My disappointment, however, stemmed from how Chelsea wrote about looking at her vulva, which she calls her “coslopus” (one of the more inventive and vague terms for “vulva” that I’ve so far encountered). She wrote about looking at her vulva and initially feeling “disgust,” compounded with the “horrific news” that women eventually develop pubic hair. I kept hoping she’d write about transforming her horror/disgust/disdain into some adolescent or adult vulva appreciation or even adoration—kind of like how, in Beauty and the Beast, Belle comes to love the Beast. I hoped that she’d write about coming to appreciate her vulva not only for the pleasurable aspects of masturbation (which she describes enormous appreciation of) but for the way the vulva looks or feels, even when it’s just sitting there being a plain old vulva. Yet I can’t and don’t blame Chelsea. Many people of both sexes aren’t too thrilled with what’s between their legs. Granted, I happen to think vulvas, penises, and scrotums are awesome, but I didn’t always feel that way. I, too, was once perplexed about my parts, not to mention boys’ parts.


Having no brothers, the first time I saw a penis (that I can recall, anyway) wasn’t until kindergarten. We had assigned seats in our classroom and I sat with the same group of friends every day. One morning while coloring worksheets, the kids at my table began looking underneath the table and giggling. Someone told me to look, so I did. Peeking underneath the table, I saw that a boy at my table had pulled aside the crotch of his shorts and his underwear.

Why is he holding a baby bottle nipple in between his legs? I wondered, not realizing that boys’ parts were different from girls’ parts and that what he was holding wasn’t a baby bottle nipple at all but his five-year-old penis.

I kept staring, confused at the curious placement of this baby bottle, when one of the girls at my table said, through her giggles, that it was his penis (though she probably called it something like “wee wee” or “wiener”). As much as I adore penises now, at the time there was nothing in me that clamored for more penis sightings or thought that this penis thing was great. It looked weird to me—and definitely more like a baby bottle nipple than a body part.

Early experiences looking at my own genitals were surprising, though I don’t ever remember thinking of them as “weird” (curious and puzzling, yes, but not in a bad way). As a child, I remember looking at and touching my genitals out of curiosity and to “de-fuzz” them. Specifically, I recall touching my clitoris, even though at the time I definitely didn’t know its name or what it was for. All I remember is that, for some reason, I was looking at it while sitting on the family room sofa and I noticed that there were cotton fuzzies (from my underwear) stuck in the folds of my clitoris and I was trying to get them out. I recall that this funny, wrinkly looking body part was sensitive to touch, and I thus had to de-fuzz it very carefully—almost as carefully as the time I tried to remove the pink sticky bubble gum I’d accidentally dropped from my mouth onto my black Persian cat’s furry head (poor thing).

When my mom walked in on my careful and conscientious de-fuzzing, I think she asked what I was doing or told me not to touch down there or that it was dirty to touch myself there or something along those lines. Her reaction wasn’t mean; I think she was simply surprised to walk in and find me de-fuzzing my clitoris (and who can blame her? I was doing this on the family room sofa!). Now, in my work as a sex educator, I regularly hear similar stories from parents of young children: parents whose daughters absentmindedly touch their genitals while reading the Sunday comics, or who rub against their security blanket because, they say, it makes them feel “happy.” These parents wonder how to respond to their kids and ask if they should ignore these instances or use them as “teachable moments” to teach their daughters and sons about their bodies. (In case you find yourself in a similar situation as a parent, common advice is to respond by saying something like “That’s okay to do, but you should do it somewhere private, such as in your bedroom or in the bathroom.” This acknowledges the behavior, yet doesn’t suggest that self-touching is dirty or shameful, only that it is better done in private.)

In my case, it would be many years before I learned more about women’s and men’s genitals, including how to love and appreciate these body parts for what they are and what they have the potential to do and feel. Many years after the childhood de-fuzzing incident, when I was a teenager, I checked my vulva out simply because I was curious about it and my vagina (though I didn’t know what a vulva was and how it was different from my vagina until my early twenties). By my late teens, I had heard a great deal about sex and I wondered how it was all supposed to happen, this penis-in-the-vagina business. Looking in a mirror, I noticed how small my vaginal opening looked and wondered how a penis was ever supposed to fit inside there one day. I had no immediate plans for intercourse; I was simply curious.


On Sale
Apr 3, 2012
Page Count
272 pages
Running Press

Debby Herbenick, PhD, MPH

About the Author

Debby Herbenick Ph.D, M.P.H. is Associate Director of the Center for Sexual Health Promotion at Indiana University and a sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction. She is a widely-read sex columnist and her work has been covered in the New York Times, the Washington Post and on the Today Show. She is also the author of Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. Debby likes in Bloomington, Indiana. Please visit her at

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