Women, Sex, and Sexuality

Tsion Horra - Ecuador


March 28, 2013

I was raised to be chaste, to wait until marriage, to not discuss sex openly because if I were discussing sex openly then it must be that I have lax moral views towards it. I must not think that it is as sacred or solemn as I was thought to observe through the language our parents and teachers used. In other words I am viewing it lightly and it must not be viewed lightly. I would not have any problem with this view projected by our parents and teachers if only it did not prevent the open discussion of sex. Because in my native culture and similarly in the Latin American culture the discussion of sex is limited if not nonexistent, it makes it hard for young people to make informed and safe choices concerning their sexual lives.

The subject of sex is in many cultures is taboo and even shameful. It makes people uncomfortable. In the Ethiopian culture I grew up in, sex virtually didn’t exist unless we were talking about HIV/AIDS. I never got “the talk” even after I came to America. For me as an Americanized (if only to a certain degree) Ethiopian, sex until this year was a subject I felt ashamed to talk about. And I never bothered to ask why society in general seems to be ashamed and scared of sex and sexuality until I spent some time with my diverse fellow fellows and was exposed to some readings as a Girl Effect Champ.

As one of my assignments as a Girl Effect Champ, I got to read In the Land of God and Men by Silviana Paternostro. The book sheds light on the hidden sexual culture of Latin America and how it is contributing to teenage pregnancy, disempowerment of women, and even the spread of HIV/AIDS and other STDs/STIs. I was surprised to learn that men in Latin America are allowed even forced to have their first sexual experiences at the ages of 13, 14, and so on with sex workers and women of the lower classes. This measure is taken by the fathers as to prevent any future homosexuality in their sons and because boys are looked at as more of a man if they are sexually experienced.  While boys and men are allowed and supported (both financially and morally) to have as many sexual experiences before marriage, the opposite is true for women. Women are expected to be pure until marriage and if they are not their value as human being and future marriage prospects will have drastically decreased. This practice seems to be rampant in the upper and middle class of Latin American society. Even after marriage, it seems to be a public secret that men will go to brothels or pick up female, transvestite, and child sex workers to satisfy their sexual appetite. Meanwhile, women are expected to be the perfect wife, trusting and being faithful to their husbands. Even if they know about their husbands’ infidelity, they’re not supposed to ask questions when their husbands demand sex. They cannot ask their husband to use a condom because that would be accusing them of infidelity and insulting them. Therefore they have no choice but to expose themselves to sexually transmitted diseases and unwanted pregnancies.

Superimposed on the nature of sex as a taboo subject in many cultures and the unequal freedom men have relative to women is the non-existence of female sexuality. In many cultures, women are not seen as sexual beings because women are supposed to be innocent and pure and sex supposedly is dirty and shameful. Even in America (arguably an over-sexualized society) if a man has a lot of sex at best he’s just being a man, at worst he’s a player. However, if a woman were to be doing the same thing she would be considered a slut. Slut vs. player.  In comparing those two words, I think many will agree that the image of a slut is more damaging than that of a player. The image of the slut seems to be perpetuated mainly to discourage young women from having an active sexual life. I direct a question at those cultures, including mine, that refuse to see women as sexual beings: Why is it not acceptable that women have sexuality and that they are not only objects available to men’s sexual desire?

Even though in many societies especially where religion is a big part of the culture everyone is supposed to wait until marriage to have sex, many young people are not following this social rule. With or without the acceptance of society, they are and will be having sex. The difference is that they will be doing it without the support and information that could be provided by open dialogue around sex. They are less informed and thus will be less able to protect themselves. This environment of open dialogue, I believe, is one every society needs to foster.

As a young woman and an individual I have come to realize that suppressing my curiosity about sex is not the only way to protect myself from STDs or an unwanted pregnancy. Those who may choose to be abstinent are not purer or better people than those who choose to have an active sexual life.  I believe that being informed and using such information to have a happy and healthy sexual life (whether that means waiting until marriage or not) is the best way to be empowered and protect oneself. People will make their own decisions and have their own opinions but I don’t think feeling ashamed and guilty about sex is in any way constructive. Sex is a part of our nature and I hope that for the sake of the girls and boys in my native culture and those in other cultures in which sex is a taboo subject, there could eventually be open discussions that would be helpful in reducing health issues that arise from being uninformed about sex.

Tsion Horra