First, full disclosure. I am not the most liberated person in the world. Maybe middle of the spectrum. But I’m fascinated by the diversity of sexual, relationship and romantic practices around the world. It started when I was a grad student. One day I was in the Harvard Anthropology Library, falling asleep over a tome, when BAM! I realized this boring book was talking about some very weird sexual practices. For years since then, I’ve collected unusual sexual and other social practices whenever I came across them. When I traveled, as I did to 35+ countries, I continued my collection hobby and guess what? There are some ways that people around the world seem to have better sex.
Are we too uptight about sex here in North America? One thing is for sure: We’re missing important lessons about how to have a happy, healthy sex life. Here are three of them.
3 Ways People Around the World Have Better Sex
Love your Genitals
We Americans are uptight about genitals, especially women’s. Say “vagina,” or “vulva” or “clitoris” aloud and everyone will look awkward, finesse your faux pas, and cross you off their guest list. But in many cultures, women’s genitals are openly exhibited, discussed and praised. Take the Mangaians, of the gorgeous South Sea island, Mangaia. They consider women’s clitoris an important item for study, discourse, and respect. Like Eskimos with snow, they have several dozen words to describe the clitoris to ensure each woman’s is carefully described. Male Mangaians immerse themselves in the topic of women’s genitalia and would be considered woefully ignorant if they weren’t thoroughly knowledgeable about every aspect of women’s genitals.
Our sister citizens, Hawaiian women, traditionally had similar outspoken affection and respect for their genitals. Women gave their own vaginas names like “beautiful flower,” and “bird nest.” They composed love songs to their genitals, praising their beauty and delightful traits, and serenaded their genitals often and publicly.
Then there are the Marquesans, who live on the spectacular Marquesas Islands. They can’t imagine why any man would care much about women’s breasts or legs or lips. To them, none of those are sexual. It’s obvious: the most beautiful part of a women’s body is her vulva. Men study women’s bodies diligently to become skilled and expert lovers, with a particular focus on vaginas to bring women to orgasm as many times as possible.
Don’t be Shy
In the US, it’s assumed that women are ordinarily sexually restrained, while men are sexually assertive. Indeed, the terms for sexually active and outgoing men are complimentary: they are “studs” and “ladies men.” Those for women are disparaging: they are “sluts” and “whores.”
Many cultures see things differently. The Tchambuli of Papua New Guinea assume just the opposite. Men are naturally passive, like flowers trying to attract bees. Women are sexually outgoing. Each woman decides what man is attractive enough to warrant her sexual attention. She consorts with him only as long as he manages to keep her interested.
The Wodaabe of northwest Africa agree. Men’s nature is to make themselves attractive to gain the favor of women. Women choose whom they find sexiest. The Wodaabe even hold beauty contests where men compete for the favor of the women judges and observers. Women carefully scrutinize and rate the contestants, then pick the guys they’ll take for the night.
Take the beautiful land of Tibet. In parts Tibet, there is one quality that quickly turns men off. Virginity! They can’t imagine why any man would want to have sex with someone who’s new to the game. Better to let women explore their sexuality and find out what pleases them and their partner. Practice makes perfect!
The Kreung of Cambodia agree. All of society is healthiest if women get plenty of sexual experience in completely secure situations. Kreung parents give each teenage daughter a safe space to explore her sexuality with boys of her choice. The young men know that they must obey her instantly and willingly. Whatever she says, goes. If she says “Stop,” he complies immediately and without question. Any deviation whatsoever brings down the wrath of the community on both him and his parents.
The Chuukese of Micronesia concur. They explain that sexual experience is not only normal but essential to good health. It’s literally physically and psychologically impossible for older teens to remain virgins. Trying to restrain their sexuality goes against nature. The Marquesans agree. They warn that any young woman who remains a virgin too long will go insane.
These are just some of the wonderful lessons we can gain from our neighbors around the world. The ultimate lesson is: tolerance! Enjoy learning about and from others. Sexual, social and romantic practices are more diverse than you imagine, and – as long as they don’t harm anyone – all deserve respect.
International development expert Janice Zarro Brodman has lived, worked or traveled in 35+ countries. She holds a PhD in political economy from Harvard University. She is the author of Sex Rules! Astonishing Sexual Practices and Gender Roles Around the World.