Cross Cultural Intimacy

Cross Cultural Intimacy

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,
I’m really grateful.

100 thoughts on “Cross Cultural Intimacy

  1. Personally I don't generally like to be touched so hugs, cheek kisses and even shoulder, arm or hand touches can feel really intimate.

  2. I was living in China for six months and in shanghai there are so many people from many different cultures and I did my own "cultural expiermenting" with people from many cultures, mainly Asian because they are so different. I noticed chinese in particular aren't as cuddly as north Americans and any form of physically intimacy seems to lead to sex. It's one side or the other, no in-between like I've noticed in the states. The biggest difference I noticed is the lack of shaving anywhere on the body. I've been told it's disrespectful to your partner to shave in any Asian countries contrary to the western countries that for the most part seem to like to shave completely. I could write a paper on the differences on intamacy ive expierence from people of many different cultures and backgrounds.

  3. When did North Americans start french kissing (i.e. using their tongues) . I do believe this was not a common way of kissing pre-world war two.

  4. The “Won’t Touch Cultures” at 4:13 seem to be predominantly protestant countries. I wonder is there’s a connection there.

  5. Here in Argentina, both men and woman say hi with a kiss, it's not seen as something homosexual or weird in any way. We are very touchy, hug a lot, use hands a lot, talk closer to each other if you compare it to united states or europe (but not THAT close). We are very affectionate and passionate people 🙂 ( in general latin cultures are more trusty and touchy)

  6. I'm from the USA, but I think that my group of friends are very into the platonic touching. Hugging, sitting close to each other. I had a friend that I hadnt seen for a while, and we were holding hands while we caught up. To me, if I know you, that isnt a problem

  7. I’m taking an Anthropology of sexuality course and I’m sooooo sending this to my professor!! ❤️❤️❤️

  8. I lived in Japan for a few years while doing a Masters there. Something that I found interesting is that in college age people, physical contact among same-sex friends was quite common. Things that outside the college context would be unacceptable, were suddenly the norm. It was quite common to see male friends cuddling, touching each other's legs or some other forms of close touch, and all of it being purely a form of friendly affection. I don't know how the highschool world worked, but as soon as college ends, these behaviors end with it.

  9. Noticed in Zambia on holiday that men who are friends will hold hands, same as in the Arabic world. Here in the UK we're more reserved, which is really frustrating for cuddle monsters like me who are really tactile and don't know what personal space is!

  10. Always a thumbs up. All your videos and how you explain them ate awesome.
    I was very curious at a young age and I still am now. 😁

  11. Very similar to you.. definitely cwtching for me as well… And I feel kissing and oral to be more intimate then penetrative sex

  12. I'm English and went to university this year. In my student flats there are a few French-speaking students (two from France, one from Canada, and one from Switzerland). Each of them went to kiss my cheeks upon meeting me and it was such a shock! They were shocked about how I wasn't comfortable with it, but it quickly just became something to laugh about

  13. Hey I would loveeee citation list to this; I'd love to read more about varying cultural intimacy and the like. Thank you for this video! <3

  14. Yeah, I can totally relate. I am from the Dominican Republic and my boyfriend is from Germany. I am used to a very open minded and tolerant level of contact, but he isn't. At the beginning, when we weren't together, one day I tried to help him fold his shirt and he reacted so abruptly, I thought he didn't like me. Now we've been together for 4 years and it has been a journey of mutual learning and accepting.

  15. There is a nice and funny video about casual kissing in France (yes, here in France , everyone cheek kiss anyone)

  16. I'm surprised. I really expected that at the end of the video you would have said something like. The best way to know what your partners and friends are OK with is to ask them.

    For example I really appreciate it when someone who is big on hugs asks me if I'm OK with friendly hugs before they dive on in. I don't like being touched by people I'm not very close to. I get really pissed off when people just go for it without asking.

    I can't count the times that someone has tried touching me (hugs, back rubs, or out of the blue massage) when I was already upset only to have me blow up in their face.

  17. Great video! Super super interesting and well researched! For me, one of my favorite forms of intimacy is playfully tickling, nibbling and biting my boyfriend. We love that things never feel too serious, and it’s a good way for me to switch things up when they get a little to intense for me. Sometimes we just end up play wrestling and cuddling when we’re all tired out, and then things pick back up. I love variation in intimate experiences. I’m also very touchy with my friends platonically, and hugs and some cuddling are how I show my best friends that I love and care for them

  18. I’m 14 and I REALLY want to have sex. Of course I jerk off but it doesn’t solve the need for the real thing. Is there any way to control these feelings?

  19. I’m Australian and it’s strange that we are put under the “do not touch” list because we all love a hug, high five, hand shake around here

  20. You are such a bizarre and funny person. When I first found you I just thought, “Oh she’s just a horny unprofessional perv!” But now it’s just you and what I previously though was unprofessional and perverted I know realize is just a part of your job. Also your sense of humor and jokes not only make your videos Education but also hilarious.

  21. I love that you mentioned cwtching! Kudos to you for even spelling it right- a ‘cwtch’ can also mean a small space (such as an cupboard under the stairs) FYI

  22. Really interesting video, thank you! But I have to say, in the ‘don’t touch cultures’ section you listed England not the UK, as a welsh person (attached to England) Americans forgetting Wales/Scotland/Ireland is the bane of my life 😩

  23. Dr Doe……have you ever heard of a culture where sexual acts were as common as shaking someone's hand or hugging them as is in the USA culture?

  24. I been known to hold on to my girlfriends panties so tight that she has to wake me up to have me let go. Just so she can go to the bathroom… but that's only when I am not holding her all night long…. i figure that is weird in other men's eyes… is it

  25. Could you maybe make a video talking about damaged skin on the genitals? I know it sounds weird, but I can't find many resources on it

  26. Welsh speaker here so I thought I would let you know… Cwtching isn't pronounced cutching, it is pronounced: coo (like a pigeon noise) – tch (like itch without the 'i') – ing (you got that right although technically in Welsh it wouldn't have an ing on the end at all… you would just say cwtch). It is a lovely word though and nice to see Cymru (pronounced Cum-Ree 😉 or Wales get a mention 🙂

  27. Hey Lindsey, could you do a video on infidelity/cheating. Like. All of the statistics like male versus female. Heterosexual versus homosexual. The reasons why people cheat. I think it would be really neat to see a breakdown of all of this info. Thank you. Love what you do. Stay curious <3

  28. I just noticed you have a podcast! Looking forward to catching up with those 🙂 Thanks for another interesting and informative video.

  29. So, basically what your saying is  Most other cultures are insane and the US culture is sane.  And the US culture is best. and I agree.

  30. Here in Greece we often use hugs and/or a kiss on the cheek or both cheeks as hellos and goodbyes. Also it's quite common to display physical intimacy with your parents, even sharing the same bed and cuddling. (I remember when i was like 10 and was playing the sims, i once tried to make the daughter cuddle in the same bed with her mother and then sleep and the mother literally told her off from trying to climb into the bed with her and I remember feeling sooo confused.)

  31. My friends and I are American youths all late highschool and college aged. As soon as you said Cwtching it was the perfect word for what we had been calling “cuddle puddles”. It is not a strange sight to see three or more of us cuddled up together next to a fire or on a blanket star gazing. We all are long distance friends and those moments are so pure and there is such a strong feeling of belonging when you are literally surrounded by people you love.

  32. My mother is Spanish (met my American military dad when he was stationed there), so I rarely think about it but will often hold hands with family or friends I’m walking next to. It was a gut wrenching moment when my very American son would no longer hold my hand. [wipes tear]
    From my own experience I think I’m a lot more “touchy feely” than most of my American friends. In a weird contrast I married into an American family that greet with a kiss on the lips. Coming from a culture that greets by touching cheeks with a kiss sound only I often inadvertently engage in a dance when greeting. One of my brothers married a woman from Mexico, who’s cultural greeting is a one cheek kiss and my other brother married an American who took years to get comfortable with anything but handshakes. Diversity is a wonderfully educational dance (in my case quite regularly on greeting).

  33. I was born in the U.S. My family is West Indian. I am the most physically expressive and affectionate person in my family. I always gave hugs and said "I love you" before anyone left the house. My mom told me I was the one who started that in our family and I didn't know that for a long time. It took me a while to realize that we are more rigid than I thought. Hugs exchanged are usually short and minimal and they don't exchange deep sentiments of love as much I personally do. It seems like there's discomfort regarding that kind of vulnerability. However, more powerful and full expressions of emotion are expressed with music and dancing and cooking for one another. So I would say it's not a lack of intimacy. It's just presented differently. To my family, I am a big mush ball of emotions. LOL.

    But with friends, long hugs and cuddles make me melt. With partners, I prefer kissing that is soft and long, followed by more cuddling. I recently discovered that I don't crave sex as much as just being touched and held. Massaged, caressed, fondled, played with. I love verbal expressions of love. My close group of friends kiss faces and foreheads (which makes me DIE from happiness), hold hands, cuddle and massage each other all the time. I've noticed this among artsy and queer communities- mostly queer. I'm not sure why but those scripts seem to be much different for us. I can't hold my straight friend's hands without them getting weird and it makes me sad lol but I respect it. I am very curious as to what creates this difference though.

  34. I love your videos, thank you. I would see myself as a fan of cwtching. My friends and I are very hug and cuddle friendly. Some are more cuddly than others.

  35. Your map of PNG at 3:08 is incorrect… The half of the island you highlight is (unfortunately) Indonesian territory.

  36. I'm from new zealand and I was having a really interesting conversation with a deaf friend the other day where he mentioned that in the deaf community, touching each others shoulders (or knees if sitting) is a common way to get each other's attention in a conversation – you can't start talking if the other person isn't looking at you, but within hearing communities this is often seen as invasive and not the done thing, which leads to hearing people being less likely to make an effort to get his attention in a group conversation due to the perceived awkwardness and thus isolating him in a group. It's incredible how much cultural views of intimacy affect our behaviours even when we're not aware of it

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  38. And I now no longer want a Japanese girlfriend. Fuck that noise. I'd understand if it was a personal feeling you as an individual had, but as a cultural concept? Nnnnnnnnope. Dealbreaker.

  39. I don't know about the "Won't touch" category for Portugal. Among strangers maybe, but I think that if you are close, we welcome touching. I think we fall in the middle, depending on relationships, place or setting.

  40. Ehm, we, the sami, definitely don't kiss eachother on the mouth and nose at the same time 😛 Wherever you got that from, the person was definitely just trying to fool you or something 😛 I won't speak for sami people in russia, but in norway, sweden and finland that isn't considered "normal" way of showing affection/kissing at all.

    And I've never heard any of my grandmothers/grandfathers etc saying anything of the likes either. Interesting video nevertheless 🙂

  41. is it possible to be both bi and have increase sex drive because i am bi and need to jerk off at least 5 times a day

  42. In iran men kiss each other on the check 2 to 3 times back and forth on each side (example: left cheek, right cheek, left cheek) women do the same and even family members and strangers… a lot of people laugh or say they’re gay etc… but it’s to greet each other when they first meet or to say goodbye before they leave. Surprisingly a man and a woman who are strangers usually shake hands or not at all because in our culture they’re considered “namahram” translating to not mahram (A mahram is an unmarriageable kin with whom marriage/sexual intercourse would be considered haram (illegal in Islam ). And it’s not sexual at all. Btw I currently live in canada. Also I noticed men and women are more touchy with each other compared to people in North America (not a male and female) for example: men and woman of the same gender can touch each other more comfortably and without it being sexual.
    And yes there are many people (don’t know how many) that put a white sheet on the bed for the couple to have sex before marriage and I’ve “heard” that usually a virgin will bleed and it’s visible on the white sheet etc… but now it’s become less and less common so idk.
    Sorry for the long paragraph…. also there are a lot of different cultures in Iran and some have stricter or even less stric “rules” so this was my take on the whole thing.

  43. It's always fun when your comfort level with physical contact is far lower than the standard of your native culture.
    It gets even more fun when that standard is already relatively low so travel is just straight up hell.

  44. In Britian it's quite common for very close female friends to be platonically intimate. Standing close to each other, linking arms, holding hands, hugging. Girls will also sleep in the same bed as each other and may be comfortable getting naked and sharing bathroom stalls. However, male friendship are much less intimate. To the point that some of my male friends have been shocked by how close I am with my female friends. I find it strange that male friendships aren't the same here. I know in places like Korea that skinship is common which is physical platonic intimacy like that that I am familar with. In Korea very close male friends may show a similar level of intimacy just like close female friends do here. It seems healtheir to be able to show intimacy if you want and to be less judged for it.

  45. My husband is Vietnamese and Chinese and his family does a thing where you bring your face in close to a partner or family members cheek and sniff. It is a sign of affection and I think they see it as cleaner than kisses, but when he does it to me I feel so loved and accepted into his culture

  46. Could you provide links to the studies you discussed in your episode notes? I would love to read more about some of the topics!

  47. A lot of it depends on my current relationship status. When I was single, I was a lot more touchy, and not in a sexual or romantic way- with my friends, I was more likely to hug, lean on, playfully prod etc. But when I'm in a relationship, I am a lot less touchy with friends, regardless of the friend's gender; usually I just give hello and goodbye hugs.

    This video was very interesting, it's cool to learn about intimacy in other parts of the world! 🙂

  48. A thing that I really love that's a bit unusual is head scratches or being scritched behind the ear like a cat. I find it really soothing and enjoy doing it as a part of casual cuddling.
    I also find kissing less exclusively intimate than most of my friends (for context, i'm american) where most also female friends that I am very close to I enjoy pecking on the lips as a greeting or farewell if they enjoy it as well.

  49. Here in the U.S my friends would never touch me at all, but when a girl from South Korea went to school with me, she held my hand at school. i felt embarrased intially but it felt nice to be intimate in a friendship. i felt more accepted by her than anyone else even if she couldnt speak english. i wish that was more common here. some assholes would snicker and say it was lesbian, but that was actually normal in her country.

  50. Fantastic video! One of your best. But they are all good. And I think these videos are all abit intimate. They are set at a near intimate distance where we can see your facial expressions clearer than is normal in the physical world. then the video is brought right into our personal homes and rooms where we feel safe to be intimate. One more thing: I am with you on the full body cuddle, it is great.

  51. My boyfriend and I hardly ever call each other by our names, we call eachother 'schat' which means (babe/baby in Dutch, actually literally translated it means treasure) so if we call each other by our real names we find that it feels a little formal. So I guess having nicknames for each other feels intimate to us because we only do it to each other. Also undressing in front of my very best (girl) friends feels intimate to me, because I only do that because I really really trust them and feel completely comfortable around them. I think kissing and oral sex are very intimate, but I think going 'all the way' is most intimate because you are completely naked and show bodyparts that you don't show to anybody and don't allow anyone else to touch.

  52. I'm Amarican (USA) for me personally I like Cwtching and tend to identify more with the French culture as long as who ever I am around is comfortable with this and I am comfortable with them

  53. I'm in the USA. I'm a hugger, so when I feel comfortable around someone, or when something is wrong, my instinct is to hug. This comes from growing up in a family where we cuddled with each other all the time. While we had boundaries, we were all incredibly comfortable with each other.

  54. I beat up on the folks i like jabbing pinching poking and such….. But i also grab boobs and ass in playful manners. My now best friend of 10+ years and i met in dance class and she has huge tits…. We had just changed into our workout/dance clothes and so i saw them juggas lol…. So i walked up to her not knowing her and grabbed them lol she thought i was strange as fuck and we have been best friends ever since. I told her she was pregnant the first 3 kids and hinted at it this 4th time as well and we are godmoms to each others children. Our first pregnancies we're at the same time and well she doesnt know yet but my husband and i plan to have another 1 (i have a now 3 week old) soon as in we will have our last pregnancies together as well. Sounds crazy but thats my bestie pooh. Im not so touchy feely (boobs/ass) now but i still harm the folks i love even give love bites lol. Im a strange creature 😂

  55. Us Welsh do love a good cwtch.

    Btw for anyone who is interested, a cwtch isn't specifically for romantic partners etc. I will give me girlfriend a cwtch as much as any member of my family or a number of my friends. Also: a cwtch is the best thing in the world. Ever.

  56. I adore making out and hugging, i like to have lots of little 2 min makeout sessions with my partner and its not because i want to have sex in that moment its because i just want to Express my love and attraction to them, its just flirting!!! Im from western Canada and sucking on lips whike kissing is a must! You dont have to suck the lips into your mouth but even just a slight suction so that your lips feel drawn together like magnets! Without its just lips rubbing and pressing together i find. Maybe thats the indigenous and French influence though 🤷‍♀️

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