I have been thinking about this post for a while. In fact, I’ve been thinking about it since I embarked on my trip to the Americas over a year ago. I am now back in England for a stint – blimey, it sounds like I am in prison – and so will spill my thoughts on sex in the heart of a country that swings from one extreme to the other when it comes to matters of the bedroom.
Let’s start in northern California, where, true to their reputation as liberal pot-smoking hippies, it was also patently obvious that sex was far from taboo. In fact, the candidness, honesty and frequency in which sex was discussed often made me blush. I wasn’t used to people, often complete strangers, enlightening me on their sexual proclivities. Orgies, lesbianism, oral sex workshops, masturbation techniques, sex toys, bondage, you name it, people’s experiences of, thoughts on, tips and advice were spread out before me on a regular basis. Bashfully, I’d either sit back and listen, giggle like a pubescent schoolgirl, ask occasional questions, but rarely if ever offer many thoughts on such matters. I’m not a prude, hell no, but I was busily trying to reconfigure my identity, so was endeavouring to not bare all with the gusto I was used to.
Sex, rather than being something men bantered about amongst themselves, and women confabulated over a bottle of wine or ten (I am aware of these gross simplifications, but this is not an essay, so no footnotes or references are required), entered into daily intercourse with great ease. Thoughts about my own sexuality were challenged, thrown up in the air, and left for further reflection. I admired how what many see as a topic so private and shrouded in guilt, embarrassment, shame or ridicule, was addressed in an honest, compassionate and caring manner. Nudity, sexual liberation and exploration weren’t unsavoury, rather realms of healing, nourishment, development and bloody good fun!
In Mexico, it wasn’t so much the frequency in which sex was discussed, but more the extent of heavy petting that caught my attention. Primarily amongst the teenagers, but not limited to the pesky ones, kissing and socially acceptable levels of fondling in public were ubiquitous. Slurping sounds of lips smacking and saliva squelching could often be heard on buses, in squares and scattered across parks and their benches. Girls would stop in the middle of the street, and snog, couples would canoodle anywhere, at any time, with no concern for how it made people around them feel. I even witnessed amorous affection amongst images of Christ bleeding for our sins on the cross too. This made me smile, as clearly the burden of Catholicism’s emphasis on guilt hadn’t penetrated everyone’s psyche.
I grew up in a hamlet in rural Dorset, and as a sexually curious teenager, I would like to think I didn’t thrust my sexual activities in front of everyone’s faces. This may be far from the truth, but let’s leave self-impressions of my past in tact, for now. Do the English get so raunchy in public during the day, whilst sober? Definitely not to the extent of the Latin Americans, I can assure you. It reminded me of when I was teaching in London one very hot summer of 2003. I’d sometimes teach my class in Kensington Park as the stifling heat in the classroom inspired sleep not syntax. During our lessons under the relief of a big tree, we’d spot couples pretty much dry humping in the grass. The Brazilians would exclaim, “They are definitely from my country” and proceed to tell the class how different cultural attitudes towards sex are in Brazil than England.
Again, I know I am falling into the trap of generalisations, stereotyping and cultural essentialism, so please forgive me. My mind does work in more nuanced ways, I promise. But, when I asked various Brazilians, Mexicans and Colombians what impressions they had of English people’s sexual behaviour whilst in their countries, I got very similar responses. The men I asked, as I am almost certain that’s what most of them were, intimated that English women were considered to be more sexually loose under the influence of alcohol than women from other countries. Now, this statement in and of itself could and should open up a litany of debates. Let’s leave that to the comments section, otherwise this may turn into a thesis rather than a post! However, it does make me wonder where these people got these impressions from, under what circumstances and whether the women were being judged as easy, whilst their own sexual behaviour went unquestioned. Furthermore, there are hundreds of Brits travelling in said countries and just because a few of them felt like having a one-night-stand, that obviously isn’t reflective of the whole country’s sexual behaviour. Plus, what’s wrong with having a one-night-stand?
My observations overseas have enabled me to appreciate that sex, sexuality and attitudes towards can be embraced on a much deeper level than I am used to in England. Although I may not want the youth up in my face displaying their affection audibly to the extent of the Mexicans, I appreciate that some people’s behaviour in public may very well be guided by heart and groin rather than sense and sensibility. I doubt I am anywhere near the lusty liberalism of the Californians, but their loquaciousness and sexual inquisitiveness and experimentation impressed me. It may be time to loosen up a little.