Cultural Effects on Sex

People view sexual expression differently all over the world. In some countries having sexual desires is embraced and encouraged, while in other countries this is stigmatized. In this post, I will address the geographical differences in the way people think about sex and examine issues that may have contributed to this outcome.

A term that relates to this discussion is sexual subjectivity. Sexual subjectivity is a person’s right to have sexual desires and to actively pursue his or her sexual feelings. Being part of a society that supports sexual subjectivity makes discussing sex more comfortable because sexual desires are thought to be natural and normal. This makes learning about sex from viable sources easier and obtaining contraception more accessible.

The documentary Let’s Talk About Sex reveals how important it is to embrace sexual subjectivity because the countries that have a more accepting view of sexual expression have lower rates of sexually transmitted disease and unwanted pregnancy. This film discusses how sex education influences society’s view of sex in different countries. In the United States, abstinence is often promoted in sex education classes. This makes sex seem sinful and compels teenagers to hide their sexual feelings. Talking about sex becomes uncomfortable, so kids refrain from asking questions and learning about sex from educated adults. Instead, they often learn about sex from the media, pornography, and friends. A girl in this documentary even talks about how she heard from her peer that putting yellow skittles inside one’s vagina could help with contraception. Ridiculous myths about sex are circulating among America’s youth and this creates misconceptions. No wonder America has high rates of unwanted pregnancy! Sex educations needs to shift its focus because clearly teenagers aren’t getting the right information. Instead of talking about abstinence and using scare tactics to make kids not want to have sex, sex should be discussed more openly. Sex is a part of life, and it can be hard for a lot of teenagers to suppress their sexual impulses. We need to create an environment where talking about sex is acceptable because this will help teenagers have a more accurate view of sex and contraception.

Nancy L. Fisher mentions in her article “Purity and Pollution” that it is very common in America for adults to have the misconception that their children “should be ignorant of all sexual matters”, and that parents should “actively try to shield them from sexual knowledge in terms of talking about sex or allowing them to see sexual imagery” (Fisher 44).  Ironically, parents who try to maintain their child’s innocence and protect them from polluting their minds with sexual information are actually putting them at a higher risk for engaging in unprotected sex and getting sexually transmitted diseases. It is important that young people feel comfortable discussing sex with their parents and educators. This will enable teenagers to receive proper guidance should they encounter any problems or have any questions related to their sexual behavior.

In the Netherlands and Holland, sex is discussed in everyday speech. A Dutch boy in the film says that sex is often discussed during family dinners and that his parents allow him to have sex in the house. He is not afraid to ask questions about sex or discuss contraception with his parents. This openness is not as evident when this film depicts an American female teenager. She discusses how she did not feel comfortable talking to her mother about losing her virginity. In her situation as an American, sex is not as freely discussed, and this creates tension when this topic is brought up. This documentary reveals that a teenager’s sense of comfort with their own sexual subjectivity is related to their parent’s view of sex.

Another enlightening part of this film reveals how people in society view others who carry condoms with them regularly. This documentary revealed that in the Netherlands, women and men who carry condoms were generally seen as responsible and well educated. Conversely, in America, women who had condoms were seen as promiscuous, and men were viewed as players. People should try to cultivate a society that promotes safe sex, and one that does not stigmatize people who are prepared for sexual intercourse.

In the United States, young woman are denigrated to the status of sluts when they display their sexuality; this is commonly known as slut shaming. Nancy L. Fisher’s article, “Purity and Pollution”, discusses how to prevent slut shaming in high schools. She explains how “calling someone a slut has little to do with their actual sexual behavior” but that “the label was used as a weapon” (42). Because sex is regarded in such a negative way in the United States, being labeled a slut is regarded as the ultimate insult. People are eager to label others as promiscuous because it is instilled in them that anything sexual is sinful. This social discourse could lessen if sexual subjectivity was embraced rather than stigmatized in society.

The documentary, Lets Talk About Sex, really resonated with me as I have a diverse cultural background; I am half Argentinean and half American. Similar to in the Netherlands, in Argentina, particularly in Buenos Aires where the psychoanalytic theory and therapy is very popular and have demystified sexual behavior extensively, sex is discussed in everyday conversation and is seen as a normal part of life. I find that I can discuss sex more openly with my parents than many of my American friends can with theirs. My Argentinean mother has always encouraged me to embrace sexual subjectivity and feel proud of my sexuality. I feel that Americans should work towards addressing sexual desire in a way that is similar to how my mother and I discusses this controversial topic and to how it is spoken about in the Netherlands.

How can we create a more open view of sex in the America? How has your sexual education influenced your sexual behavior and your level of comfort discussing sex? How can we improve sex education in the United States? Have you ever been concerned that you would be labeled for expressing you sexual desires? If so, has this influenced your behavior? How should sexuality be expressed in schools and at home?

4 thoughts on “Cultural Effects on Sex

  1. Great article. I think as a culture Americans are slowly getting away from our puritanical roots, however its so deeply ingrained whether it be about race, sex, drugs etc… that we need some space from the baby boomers who have been by far the most damaging generation to american advancement.


  2. I find it interesting how different your comfort with sexual expression is from most people in the United States! In this country we are okay with racy pictures of half naked models and explicit sexual lyrics in catchy songs, but if anyone brings up sex in conversation it is considered taboo. This paradox is frustrating to me because we obviously think about sex (it’s everywhere) so why can’t we talk about it? I think the best way to create a more open view of sex is through education. Encourage healthy discussion of sexual benefits and consequences with parents and teachers and don’t force abstinence down teens’ throats. From the parents’ point of view I can see how uncomfortable and hard this can be, especially if they really don’t want their son or daughter to have sex yet. In this case, logical conversation is much more beneficial than saying “you can’t have sex, period”. My sexual education has influenced me to not talk about sex in certain situations but that’s pretty much it. I would feel uncomfortable talking about sex with my parents but I am perfectly fine talking about it with my friends. Perhaps everyone should learn to talk about sex with caring adults, just in a less explicit way than with friends. Is the taboo surrounding sex talk simply a cultural phenomenon like asking how much money someone makes? Should we even attempt to be more open about sexuality when clearly most people are unwilling to participate? Does our lack of sex talk have to do with judgment and stereotypes because we think we know about others’ sexual experiences and struggles already?


  3. This is such a great post, and the film “Let’s Talk About Sex” really hit home for me too. Pertaining to the part of the film about Dutch culture, I think they handle the idea of sex much more efficiently than we do in America because it is a much more open relationship between parent and child. In America, kids have to hide many more things from their parents, like going out and having sex, in turn increasing more dangerous actions. Do you think having a more open society would influence teen pregnancies? Would it make teen females feel more comfortable with asking their parents for birth control? Also in looking at America in particular, the North is much more accepting of sex than the South. For example, I had a friend that could tell her parents about her sexual relationship with her boyfriend and ask her mom for birth control, when in turn I would never talk to my mom about anything relating to this. Sex is much more accepted in the North because parents are much more modern and progressive, where in the South parents are more old fashioned and not understanding of the fact that teens have sex. Overall, a really compelling post!


  4. I didn’t notice how secretive society tries to make sex in the US. I didn’t know other countries are more open to sex. This says a lot about our culture. I think because we are a very diverse country, we try to make sure we don’t offend people from different countries through any US regulated programs, based on how our government is set up. Our society takes on the philosophical view of, let’s scare them away from it to try to prevent it. While other countries think that if they teach sex and safe ways to have sex, then it will benefit everyone. Are our sexual views regulated through the government or society?


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