On 'Horny' Latinos and Their Taboos Around Sex

04/13/2016 05:17 pm ET Updated Apr 14, 2017
Hispanic couple hugging on beach
Hispanic couple hugging on beach

Latin Americans are usually seen as open and uninhibited when it comes to sex. At least that's the cliché so often portrayed by images of voluptuous women in bikinis enjoying piña coladas, served to them with a snap of the fingers, by a finely muscled, shirtless man with a tan and sunglasses next to a hotel pool surrounded by palm trees.

Naturally this is just that: an image. It's an enduring cliché and one that portrays Latin Americans as overtly sensual beings, maybe just a bit vulgar, but certainly highly experienced in the vicissitudes of sex and love. Nothing could be further from the truth.

Evidence of this disparity lies in the types of questions we regularly get on our site, Hablemos de Sexo y Amor: "My penis is 13 centimeters in length, how can I make it longer?" or "My boyfriend doesn't let me wear a skirt, should I listen to him?" or "If I hang out with homosexuals, will I become one?"

As superficial as these questions may seem, the answers we offer are always carefully considered and provided in the simplest, clearest way possible. However, it's questions like these that make me wonder how we ever got to the version of Latin Americans which exists in the popular imagination, as people widely knowledgable about sex and open about their sexuality. We see them in the media, but not always in practice.

And when I look at the number of teenage pregnancies in Venezuela or Nicaragua, the rate of violence against women in Mexico or Guatemala, and the discrimination against gay people in the Caribbean, I become increasingly concerned.

On the one hand, I understand where all these prejudices come from -- it's something that goes beyond the palm trees and piña coladas. There are historical, socioeconomic and cultural reasons that explain them -- but on the other hand, I believe as a journalist that we in the media, can do more to shift this reality.

I first got involved in RNW Media's Love Matters Project about four years ago. The Spanish language Latin American version of the site began as a support for the numerous initiatives by sexual and reproductive health organizations seeking to inform and educate different communities. Their passion for the subject and their urgency in trying to reach those who most need this information, motivated me, along with my team, to seek ways in which we could most effectively convey our message and engage our users.

What we did, and continue to do and improve upon, is transform and adapt the discourse around sex education. We don't communicate through a language of fear, claiming that by having sex you will contract all the sexually transmitted infections known to mankind and probably go to hell as well... Instead we take a friendlier approach, closely inked to the natural pursuit of pleasure that all human beings possess, We reach people through stories and with tools that engage while simultaneously meeting their information needs on the subject.

While the constant call for the respect for sexual and reproductive rights is reinforced by activists and institutions dedicated to this work, we at Love Matters also favor the process of dialogue and we provide open spaces for everyone to engage, where all their questions and comments receive the nonjudgemental attention they deserve.

A girl who asks on our website whether she should remain a virgin until marriage, is as important to us as one who asks where to buy the morning-after pill. And the anxiety of a young man who experiences premature ejaculation deserves as careful a response as that of one who is tempted to hit his girlfriend and then asks whether he should be less jealous.

If the sexuality of Latinos was as simple as that image of happy, voluptuous women and handsome macho men who show no vulnerability whatsoever, I believe our work would not make much sense. The reality is that there is much to do and the space we have created is just the beginning.

Love Matters is a program of RNW Media, an organization using media for social change. It is a finalist in this year's Index on Censorship Freedom of Expression Awards, which honor leading groups and individuals internationally tackling censorship. The awards ceremony was held in London on April 13th.