Views on Sex

Ilana Marder-Eppstein - Ecuador


February 3, 2014

Being my father’s daughter, I could not take my eyes off the screen, even though the movie was absolutely terrible. I was sitting in the back row of the coach bus, heading home from my Spanish class in the nearest city. Each Wednesday, I take a series of eight buses to get to and from my Spanish class in Riobamba. On this particular ride, a movie was playing on the T.V in the front of the bus.  The plot was an action filled drug trafficking story. The main character was a middle aged Mexican man, Jose, (the actor who played the uncle in Spy Kids, my all time favorite movie) who could kill anyone and have sex with any woman he wanted. When a three-way sex scene flashed on the screen my eyes widened and I did a little glance around the bus. There were your usual old men dozing off in their seats, or the window gazers, but the majority of the passengers (all indigenous) were casually watching Jose seduce a sexy mother and her hot daughter.

When I was told that I would be living outside of the most indigenous town in all of Ecuador, I imagined that I would be in an isolated world where the attitude around sex would be extremely reserved. What I have found here is an interesting mixture of the conservative indigenous culture, with an influence of a westernized “selling sex” culture. Along with this mix of cultures comes an intriguing female role, especially in rural Ecuador.  

“It is not easy,” Mama Manuela tells me. “When I first married, I suffered a lot.” Her soft brown eyes cast down, cracked and dark hands working fast as we shell peas and talk.  She tells me about how she
married at the age of 20 to Cesar, and moved into the home of her in-laws. Soon after they married, Cesar went to live in Quito and worked in construction to make money for the family.

“He lived there for five years, sometimes coming home only once or twice a month. At this point in time we had our first three children. I was working in the house with my father-in-law, who, if I didn’t do something right, would hit me. It was a time in my life when I was only crying.” She told me how back then she couldn’t leave the countryside.

“The only things that the women could do were cook, clean, and look after the animals and children.” Now, Manuela is part of a women’s rights group that is working towards creating a healthier life style for rural women. They have just planted quinoa and other nutritious native plants for the women to eat and prepare for their families. After working in Quito, Cesar returned to be with his family in el campo. They now have a productive organic farm, which Manuela manages alongside of her husband. “Today, I am so happy with my life, and I want to live this way until I die,” Manuela tells me. “ The only time I suffer now is for my children.”

Zoila, daughter of Manuela, is eighteen years old, quiet, with silky brown hair that hits just bellow her shoulders. I would like to say that because we are the same age, we have gotten really close really fast, but this isn’t the case. The first month I arrived, Zoila got engaged and married within three days, and moved out of the house. My family didn’t know she had a boyfriend, so this was not only a shock to me. She now lives up the hill with her husband’s family, and a baby on the way. Zoila is not the only one who married young. Students, as young as fourteen-years-old, drop out of school due to pregnancy followed by marriage.  

Teenage pregnancy is a reoccurring problem here and Mama Manuela says that in our community, it is getting increasingly worse. This puzzled me at first. Why would teenage pregnancy be getting worse when accessibility to contraceptives is only getting better? Is there sexual education in the school curriculum?

My sister Carmen, age twenty-two and unmarried, tells me that there is sexual education in school, but the kids don’t take it seriously. She believes that parents in the home give the most effective form of sexual education. “Growing up my dad did talk about sex, but in the homes of our neighbors it’s very covered up and no one wants to talk about it.” Because of this closed attitude towards sex, teenagers are embarrassed to go and buy contraceptives in the local pharmacies.

I think back to the movie on the bus ride home, to the music videos in the stores in Guamote, and all the media behind selling sex that is so present in this seemingly far away, isolated world. I believe that the image of sex in the media combined with the conservative, “hush hush” indigenous culture is a catalyst for the teenage pregnancy problems we are seeing today. 

Ilana Marder-Eppstein