Gilbert Herdt

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Gilbert Herdt
Gilbert Herdt in 2019
Born(1949-02-24)February 24, 1949
CitizenshipUnited States
Alma materUniversity of Washington, Australian National University
Scientific career
Fields Human Sexuality, Anthropology
Institutions Stanford University, University of Chicago and others
Academic advisorsRoger M. Keesing, Derek Freeman, Robert J. Stoller

Gilbert H. Herdt (born February 24, 1949) is Emeritus Professor of Human Sexuality Studies and Anthropology and a Founder of the Department of Sexuality Studies and National Sexuality Resource Center at San Francisco State University. He founded the Summer Institute on Sexuality and Society at the University of Amsterdam (1996). He founded the PhD Program in Human Sexuality at the California Institute for Integral Studies, San Francisco (2013). He conducted long term field work among the Sambia people of Papua New Guinea, and has written widely on the nature and variation in human sexual expression in Papua New Guinea, Melanesia, and across culture.



Herdt is a research scholar, advocate for human sexuality, and a gay activist [1] who has taught at Stanford University, the University of Chicago, the University of Amsterdam, and the University of Washington. In 2000, Herdt cofounded the Institute on Sexuality, Social Inequality and Health that studies all forms of sexuality and discrimination that affect community building, sexual culture and sexual health.

He specializes in the anthropology of sexuality, sexual orientation, sexual cultures, and the development of gender identity and sexual expression. His studies of the 'Sambia' people — a pseudonym he created — of Papua New Guinea analyzes how culture and society create sexual meanings and practices. The Sambia are unique in that in the past they require males to undergo three specific sexual phases in their lives. Boys must provide sexual service to young men, adolescents must then receive oral sex from boys, and males enter adulthood by becoming heterosexual. [2]

In the United States, Herdt has also studied adolescents and their families, the emergence of HIV and gay culture, and the role that social policy plays in sexual health.

He has written and edited some 36 books, and more than 100 scientific papers. He is also the general editor of Worlds of Desire, and an associate editor of Journal of Culture, Sexuality, and Health, Journal of Men and Masculinities, and Transaction: Journal of Social Science and Modern Society. [3]


Herdt is the recipient of various awards and research grants, including:


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is the intensive study of subjectivity in cultural context...clinical ethnography is focused on the microscopic understanding of sexual subjectivity and individual differences within cross-cultural communities. What distinguishes clinical ethnography from anthropological ethnography in general is (a) the application of disciplined clinical training to ethnographic problems and (b) developmental concern with desires and meanings as they are distributed culturally within groups and across the course of life.

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The Sambia people are a tribe of mountain-dwelling, hunting and horticultural people who inhabit the fringes of the Eastern Highlands Province of Papua New Guinea, and are extensively described by the American anthropologist Gilbert Herdt. The Sambia – a pseudonym created by Herdt himself – are known by cultural anthropologists for their acts of "ritualized homosexuality" and semen ingestion practices with pubescent boys. In his studies of the Sambia, Herdt describes the people in light of their sexual culture and how their practices shape the masculinities of adolescent Sambia boys.

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<i>Nature, Culture and Gender</i>

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<i>Sambia Sexual Culture</i> 1999 book by Gilbert Herdt

Sambia Sexual Culture: Essays from the Field is a 1999 book about the Sambia people and their sexual practices by the anthropologist Gilbert Herdt. The book received negative reviews, accusing Herdt of being biased in his approach and his conclusions.


  1. {Herdt, G. and A. Boxer, Children of Horizons, 1993)|last1=Browning|first1=Frank|title=A Queer Geography: Journeys Toward a Sexual Self|date=April 1, 1998|publisher=Macmillan|page=25|url=}}
  2. Herdt, Gilbert. Guardians of the Flutes. New York: McGraw-Hill, 1981.
  3. "Trauma, Culture, and the Brain Conference". Archived from the original on 2006-11-06. Retrieved 2006-10-26.