The Stories We Tell Ourselves

This guest blog post was written by TEDMED 2015 speaker, critically acclaimed author, and sexuality investigator, Daniel Bergner.

The subjects I’ve chosen as a nonfiction writer may seem pretty scattered. My first nonfiction book, God of the Rodeo, was about a group of convicts in Louisiana’s Angola Prison, where almost all the inmates are serving life without the slightest chance of parole. My fourth book, What Do Women Want?, was the topic of this TEDMED talk – female desire. But things aren’t as scattered as they seem. In fact, I’m fairly obsessive. Over and over, throughout my writings, I’ve dealt with two subjects, race and eros. And as I’ve focused on these subjects, the common thread is how we perceive and understand ourselves.

Daniel Bergner's new book, Sing for your Life.
Daniel Bergner’s new book, Sing For Your Life.

That’s what my TEDMED talk is about—the stories we, as a culture, tell ourselves about female sexuality and the way these stories permeate our expectations about men and women. Shortly after I gave my TEDMED talk, I overheard someone remark that she couldn’t stand it when men speak about female sexuality. While I didn’t discuss it with her, I do think that her preconceptions might have prevented her from really hearing my talk, which was based largely on the work of female scientists, like Meredith Chivers. The goal of my talk was, at the very least, to call into question some of our conventional ways of seeing the world we live in, and the assumptions that tend to serve men awfully well.

This is again a theme in my new book, Sing For Your Life. It’s about the personal and artistic journey of an extremely unlikely opera singer, Ryan Speedo Green, a young African-American man who grew up in rural Virginia in a bullet-riddled shack across the street from a drug dealer’s den, who was locked up as a kid in Virginia’s juvenile facility of last resort, and who is starring at the Metropolitan Opera this fall in La Boheme. It’s a story about all that we, too often, fail to see in each other, and all that we can easily fail to see in ourselves.

Sing For Your Life is about blindness, and about seeing, as I think all my books are. Which is maybe true about all the books on our shelves, the ones we care about. They’re about the unexpected, the unlikely, the things that go unnoticed, coming into view.


Critically acclaimed author and sexuality investigator Daniel Bergner shakes the foundations of society’s core beliefs about female desire and the science of promiscuity.