International Sex: A Worldlier View on Intimacy

A woman’s sexuality is deeply influenced by her culture—and ours may be holding us back.

The U.S. is portrayed as a sexually charged nation, but studies show Americans aren’t actually experiencing or enjoying lovemaking as much as people in other countries. After talking with a group of eight fascinating North Shore women who hail from all over the globe, I’m convinced we Puritan-influenced babes have a few things to learn from our international sisters when it comes to intimacy.

Love the Skin You’re In

Many cultures are more comfortable with the female form in its natural state than we are. Heidi* from Switzerland noticed the difference upon joining Lifetime Fitness, where she was the only woman who walked to the locker-room showers in the nude. “I also find it super strange that little kids are not allowed to run around naked at the beach. Even 2-year-old girls, they wear a bikini top,” she says.

In America, nudity is considered vulgar because it’s seen as sexual. “In Israel, there isn’t the same connection between nudity and sex,” says Sharon*. “I think it’s separate. In art and film, you see nudity, and that’s OK.“

The Latina women in the group—from Mexico, Colombia and Nicaragua—say their Catholic-influenced cultures don’t embrace nudity, yet their countries are accepting of all types of female bodies. “When you go to Colombia, you’ll be amazed at how even older women show everything. They all wear bikinis. They’re very comfortable with their bodies,” says Lucy*.

Manu* from Sri Lanka notices how critical our society is of women’s figures. “Here people comment, ‘I can’t believe she’s showing that!’ If your body isn’t perfect, [they think] you should just cover it up.”

We don’t all need to jump naked into Lake Michigan, but wouldn’t it be nice to relax and simply accept and enjoy our bodies?

Get Touchy-Feely

Americans have a hot image in the media, but apparently we’re cold fish by global standards. “You think, because of the movies, that everyone in America is going to be kissing everywhere, but in reality they are so conservative,” Manu says.

Men and women in other countries are much more hands on. Yolanda*, a doctor from Mexico says, “The Latin man will touch you and hug you. When he comes home, there’s always a kiss. If there’s no kiss, either something bad happened or we have troubles.“

Johana* from Nicaragua says thoughtfully, “I’m married to an American Jew. My husband is not very touchy, and I’ve become like that. I’m affectionate to my kids, but that connection to him—it’s strange. We don’t really have that touch affection that you have in the Latin culture.”

According to The Normal Bar, an extensive relationship study, the happiest couples in the world regularly hug, kiss, touch and hold hands, both privately and in public. So go ahead and reach out. PDA is important.

Flirt for Fun

Americans often perceive flirting as a come-on or a threat, but many of the international women I spoke to miss being appreciated by other men. “That’s one thing you notice when you go to Latin America—men will whistle and blow kisses at you,” Lucy says. “When you’re in America, that would never happen.”

“Flirting is innate in Latin cultures,” says Natalia* from Colombia. “Here a man will never compliment you or say something nice about you or your body because the women here feel very offended. In our culture, a man can tell you something nice, and that’s fine.”

“It’s a compliment,” says Sophie*, who was born in Germany and lived in France. “It doesn’t mean he’s harassing you. I loved flirting with other guys, and I’m so sad I can’t flirt with men here. It’s so boring, so dry here. Everyone is scared.”

“I made a mistake when I first came here,” Natalia says. “I had a friend for a couple months, and when I finally met her husband, I said, ‘Your husband is so handsome, he looks like a movie star!’ She never talked to me after that.”

“Maybe that’s why everyone is so cautious—no one wants to offend anyone,” Manu says.

Loosen Up

We’re not going to change our whole culture, but we might feel better about our intimate relationships if we follow the lead of these cosmopolitan women and appreciate ourselves and the men in our lives more. And one last thing: Not one of the women I interviewed—all married moms—has a TV in her bedroom. “The bedroom is for sleep and sex only,” Heidi says.

That’s one tip that seems to be universal.

*all names have been changed to protect anonymity