Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Cross Cultural Sex Education

As I’ve mentioned previously, pretty much everyone knows I’m the “sex scientist” around here or the weird American lady who’s always talking about sex. But of course, since most people secretly want to know more information about sex (and just won’t admit it) I get a lot of private one-on-one conversations with people about the topic. I was hanging out with 2 friends the other day talking about this and that and they asked me about my research and how it was going (e.g. not at all). These two friends said they would like to know more about my research so I was asking them some of the questions I ask in my interviews. The first question is “Tell me what you think about abstinence.” This usually ranges from what they think about it personally to what is the meaning of it. This conversation became very intense around the definition of abstinence.

Before I go further I have to say that these 2 friends are quite opposite. Friend 1 (F1) is very sexually naïve and not experienced at all. Friend 2 (F2) is much more knowledgeable and I believe (though can’t confirm) is much more experienced.

So I say “what does abstinence mean?” F1 says “not having sex.” So I say “All kinds of sex?” and F1 says “I’m sorry Aunty Lindsay, but is there more than one kind of sex? I don’t know what you mean.” Oh goodie. This should be fun. So I say “Yes, there are different kinds of sex. Would you like me to tell you about them?” And she said yes. So I said “First there is vaginal sex, which is what you probably are thinking about when I say sex. But there is also anal sex.” And F1 says “I don’t know what that means. Can you explain it more.” So I say “That is when a man puts his penis into your bumbum (which is what Nigerians call the butt).” I seriously wish I would have had a camera to capture the look of horror and disbelief on her face. She shrieks “WHAT? Why would someone do something SO DISGUSTING???” So I go into non-judgmental educator mode and explain why some people think it is pleasurable and how some people like to experiment and spice up their sex lives. After a lengthy discussion F1 says “Aunty Lindsay, you have failed to present any reasonable explanations for why someone would do this. I could understand why if there was a benefit of some kind, like maybe it made you stronger or healthier but you didn’t. If my future husband asked me to do something like that I would think he had lost his mind.” In the meantime F2 had remained quiet about this and F1 turns to her and says “Did you know about this?” and F2 says “Yes.” F1 tries to remain insistent that it is an American practice and Nigerians DO NOT engage in this behavior. I assured her she was incorrect and F2 backed me up. Hopefully we have not scarred her for life.

So then she says “Are there any other kinds of sex I don’t know about?” And of course I had to break the news that yes there were. So then I explained oral sex. Again, horror. Her main thought was that your “private parts” are the dirtiest, filthiest parts of your body so why would anyone put their mouth on them? I assured her that your private parts are actually very clean and as long as you bathe regularly there is no harm. She remained unconvinced and again declared this as something Nigerians do not do (wrong again).

The next day when I saw her she told me that she couldn’t stop thinking about our disgusting conversation. She said she was brushing her teeth that morning and she almost threw up because she kept thinking about it. The even funnier thing about this all is that she is always telling me she wants to marry an American man (or perhaps a white European). After this conversation I asked her about her feelings on this topic and if it affected her desire to marry a white guy. She assured me should would find one of the “non-disgusting white men” to marry. She kills me, she’s so funny. All in all I guess I would consider the education session a win. Even if I can’t convince her to be less judgmental of a variety of sexual behaviors she is at least now aware and can hopefully build a successful relationship with someone who shares her opinion on these sexual behaviors. I hope she finds the non-disgusting man of her dreams.

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