This episode of Sexplanations is my best
effort to share textbook knowledge of other cultures as well as the personal
experiences some of you have offered. It’s important to note that cultures
change over time and though we may think we understand what is going on and have
put things in present tense, this might not be accurate now. Even the
anthropologists get it wrong. Please take the following as a lesson on sexuality,
the value of staying curious, and not as a statement about societies. [WHIP CRACKING, COUGH] Studying other cultures is really valuable
for two main reasons. One: We learn about variation, get perspective,
stop thinking that our way is the way. And two, we find that our behaviors,
in this case our intimate behaviors, are determined by more than
our biology. When I hear the word “intimacy,”
I think of the mnemonic my colleague Dr. Ava Cadell uses: Into Me See.
So with this in mind, what does seeing into each other look like across
cultures? How do we invite people to feel close to us physically and emotionally?
How do we express a sense of connection? Well, the Kwakiutl of Canada,
Trobrianders, Alorese of Indonesia, and Trukese show intimacy by exchanging
saliva, sucking each other’s lips and tongue. The Sami in Eurasia go for kissing
the mouth and nose at the same time. In contrast, when the Thonga of Africa
first saw Europeans kissing, they remarked, “Look at them! They eat each
other’s saliva and dirt.” And they wouldn’t think of partaking in such a
dirty act. If intimacy was all biological, we’d all want to kiss, but many cultures
think kissing is disgusting. Some also think it’s dangerous. That’s cultural.
Some African tribes believe a person can take your soul into their mouth and do
harm with it later, and then there’s the public health take, that kissing will
transmit infections. Three musicians from Liberia put this song together as a
public service announcement about Ebola, a virus that can lead to death. The lyrics go, Ebola
Ebola in town Don’t touch your friend!
No kissing! No eating something!
Its dangerous! [“Ebola in Town” plays as Lindsey dances] Catchy, right? How about sans saliva intimacy?
Tinguians in the Philippines get close with their lips and suddenly inhale.
In Bali, it’s more of a dance, where they catch each other’s scent and
body warmth with a slight head movement. And in Thailand a similar thing: haawm kaem,
or what in English we call a sniff kiss. Cunnilingus, or oral sex on a vulva, is another form
of intimacy some are into, others aren’t. Pohnpei islanders in the South Pacific
place a fish in the vulva to lick it out. There’s this piece of Japanese erotic art
called The Dream of the Fisherman’s Wife, which suggests cunnilingus is an
accepted form of intimacy in Japan, too. Sometimes. I found a fascinating thread
on Reddit called “Cultural differences in how oral sex is
viewed,” and the discussion gives more modern first-hand accounts of the
Japanese relationship to vulva-mouth play. And the Israeli accounts and Canadian
and American. Basically depending on the person but also the culture, oral
sex may be viewed as far more or less intimate than penetrative and vagina sex.
Cultural differences! Variations! Society impacts behavior! Here’s another example
of intimacy: biting. In the Brazilian highlands, Apinayé women express intimacy
by biting off their partner’s eyebrows and then noisily casting them off to the
side. The Kama Sutra, an ancient Indian Hindu text, explicitly describes eight
different kinds of intimate bites: hidden, swollen, point, line of points, coral and the jewel,
line of jewels, broken cloud, and biting of a boar. Here in the US, a love bite
refers to a small bruise caused by kissing, sucking, or biting the skin. Then
there’s a more permanent version: actual amputation practiced among the Dani of
Papua New Guinea. It’s called “ikipalin,” where every woman
close to someone who dies has a portion of their finger removed. They bite, cut, or
wrap their digit with a tourniquet to represent a physical loss of an intimate
relationship. Speaking of hands, in highly gender-segregated places like the
Middle East, men will hold hands with one another. Like President George W. Bush
holding hands with Saudi King Abdullah. Depending on where you live, you might
perceive this as a public display of affection among homosexual or bisexual
men, but in Saudi Arabia where same-sex relations are punishable by death, the
gesture is a form of social intimacy, a way to communicate friendship and
respect. Many cultures touch as an expression of intimacy. They all have
different parameters by which to engage, though. For example, researchers found
French adolescents kissed, hugged, and leaned against each other more while
American adolescents were more physical in aggressive ways: jabbing, poking, and
kicking one another. It’s not that the French don’t poke and the Americans
don’t kiss. They’re different. Dr. Ken Cooper, a touch researcher, suggests this
list as a guide for when to reach out at all. Touch friendly cultures: Middle East,
parts of Asia, India, Turkey, France, Italy, Greece, Spain. Wouldn’t touch cultures:
Germany, Japan, England, USA, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Portugal, Northern
Europe, Scandinavia. Here’s a map of the human body: researchers surveyed more
than 1300 individuals from Russia, Finland, United Kingdom, Italy, and France.
Where would you allow particular people to touch depending on their gender and
relationship? Partner, female friend, male friend, mother, father, etc.
Keep in mind this is not permission to touch people. Even strong partnerships
between people who share the same cultural perspectives express and
experience intimacy uniquely. They decide if and how to be intimate. If you want to
know about me, I’m into what the Welsh call “cwtching.” There isn’t an equivalent
term in English, so think full body cuddle to convey protection, love,
validation, and belonging. So very intimate – for me. I’d love to know how you
and your culture express intimacy. In what ways are you similar to those I’ve
listed and in what ways are you different? Responses you’ve already given me! [kissing noises You’re awesome. Stay curious! Hey! Thank you to all of you who
support Sexplanations and our efforts to offer accessible and comprehensive
sex education to cultures worldwide. Whether you do so by sharing
our videos, being sex-positive yourself, and/or giving on patreon.com/sexplanations,
I’m really grateful.