It’s easy to get caught up and more interested in the attitudes towards sex & sexuality in your own community, or even your country as a whole. When researching sexuality, I focus a lot on the US because that is where I’m at, and that’s what effects me. However, thinking about sexuality on a more global scale can really get the wheels turning in your head. Sexuality is a grand, universal thing and each community, culture, and religion have there own view points on what to make of it.
Even right in the US, different communities can have vastly different ideas about sex than from what most of us see on a regular basis. The US is known for being a “melting pot” of race & culture, and that means there is a huge range of values & behaviors regarding sex as well. Things like socioeconomic status and education level also have an element of influence on sexual behavior and attitude. It’s odd to think about that and seems like it wouldn’t have anything to do with sexuality, but there are studies that have shown patterns regarding the sexual behavior of different classes. People with more education tend to masturbate more. Oral sex is by far more common with educated, young white people than less educated black people. Of course, statistics like that serve more as general statements, not hard truths, as most of these behaviors or perspectives I’ll talk about are. There’s diversity within every group. But a lot of young, educated white people sure do like to have oral sex.
Moving away from the educated white people here at home, though, there is the rest of the world and their views on sexuality. There are cultures deeply rooted in religion, such as the Islamic Middle East, where sexuality is ever present, but still is something of discretion & debate. Muhammad deeply valued intercourse within marriage, but opposed it out of wedlock. If you’re married, it is encouraged, and regarded as “the highest good in human life”. Sexuality in Islam all comes back to women, which is where a lot of debate is sparked. The world often views women of Islam to be oppressed by their culture, however that is neither true nor false, and is kind of circumstantial. That is a talk for another time. To hear an eloquent, in depth look at sexuality in the Middle East, check out this Ted Talk. I’ll just be sticking to the facts for now. I will say, though, that this oppression does not come from Islam, but from the patriarchal traditions of the Middle East. When it comes to the sexual tradition of Islam, women are greatly celebrated. They are considered to be inherently sexual, which is why they are required to remain in lose fitting, covered up clothing. They are meant to be a “pearl in a shell”. The son-in-law of Muhammad had proclaimed that “Almighty God created sexual desire in 10 parts: then he gave nine parts to women, and one to men.” That is the basis for sexuality in the Islamic Middle East, however the rest of the culture that comes with it has a large effect on how these things are practiced or perceived.
Moving more to the east, is China. Being such a giant, old country, there’s a lot to be learned about their sexual culture(s). Actually, some of the oldest known sex manuals came from China, and date back to 2500 BC. Another country/culture with deep roots in religion, Taoism promoted sexual activity for growth & harmony of the spirit. Sex is a connection joining the energies of women (yin) and men (yang), and balanced the two. Men were encouraged to infrequently ejaculate to conserve their yang energy, and women were encouraged to orgasm more to create more yin energy. However, around 1000 CE, these ideas were replaced by the more strict sexual principles of Confucianism. By 1949, after the communist victory, government tried to eliminate “decadent” Western sexual attitudes & behaviors. Any public romantic gestures or displays, like holding hands, risked persecution. Sex outside of marriage was thought to be a trendy transgression, and sex within marriage more than once a week was thought to just be counterproductive. However, because of the attitudes, China pretty much eliminated sexually transmitted infections in the entire country. So, they at least had that going for them. Since their reform of the 80s, though, China has become a bit more open with sexuality. Things like masturbation, pornography, and sex before marriage have increased and with a better attitude from the public. In 2005, a study showed that 70% of people in Beijing had sex before they were married, as a opposed to a previous 15.5% in 1989. Unfortunately, due to the near eradication of STIs because of their former more strict ideas, China hasn’t kept up knowledge & safety skills along with the increasing sexual behavior. Abortions & HIV are on the rise, and condoms are minimally used. Hopefully, China can start bringing protection & education along with the great sexual strides they’ve been making.
Surely, the United States, the Islamic Middle East, and China are not the only countries/areas in the world. But, that gives you an idea of how sexuality varies from culture to culture. There is no other topic generates as much attention, pleasure, and distress than human sexuality, and that goes for everywhere. Sexuality is universal and knows no borders, but it’s interesting to see how those borders determine how it might be interpreted. Just as Shereen El Feki says, “If you really want to know a people, start by looking inside their bedrooms”.
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