Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Sexual Tensions

Because we have so much down time now, I'm seizing the opportunity to digest a bit more some of my reflections on my first three weeks, spent mostly in Granada.

All of the sexual tension in relationships is carried much closer to the surface in Nicaragua, and I imagine in all of Latin America. Nowhere was this more evident than in Casa Xalteva, which was staffed primarily by men under the age of 40. It's not that they said things that made me feel uncomfortable or harrassed. It's just that everyone there was much more forward about issues of sexuality in a way that I'm used to among friends, but not in a work environment. My experience of teacher-student relationships have always been colored by the near-paranoia about sexual harrassment that exists in American workplaces, which buries all discussion of potentially uncomfortable questions under layers of "professionalism." It's a good thing and a bad thing, but it's what I'm used to.

Perhaps because of this directness, one day in Spanish class we began to talk about masturbation. I'm not sure how we got there. I had asked our teacher, Sergio, to talk about cultural norms regarding relationships between people of different genders. As he was wont to do, he steered the conversation in a direction that was unforeseen yet perhaps even more interesting. He talked about how masturbation was discussed freely among men of his generation, both now and when they were younger, but adolescent boys did not seem to care to discuss the subject when he broached it with them. He thought they might be afraid of being teased, since so much of the talk among adult men about masturbation is carried out in the form of teasing. I don't blame the adolescents.

I asked him about masturbation among women, and he said that as far as he knew, it was never discussed. He'd once heard of one young woman who masturbated, and he wasn't suprised because she was a mojugata: a girl who acted like an angel with her parents but was really a wildly promiscuous party animal. He also said he believed that masturbation should be a topic men and women could discuss openly. After hearing him talk about his mojugata, I can see why it isn't.

This shows the caveat to the openness about sexuality: I don't think it applies to women. Men can discuss their attractions and sexual experience freely, and perhaps women can discuss men's attractions and sexual experiences, but not their own. It's really not radically different from the US. No one ever discussed masturbation with me until I got to college. The only time I ever heard a male classmate ask a female classmate if she masturbated, her response was exactly the same as that of the Nicaraguan adolescents: "Of course not. That's sick."

I know questions of sexuality will come up in working with high school students, and it will be interesting to see how I deal with them. I'll have to be careful, because I can easily fall into super (dare I say self-righteous?) teacher mode when it comes to sexuality, because I believe accurate knowledge in this area is so important. Despite the fact that, as Sergio explained, almost every conversation in Nicaragua carries double entendre at some point, it seems to me there remains a gaping absence of knowledge, especially about female sexuality. Case in point: During our conversation in Spanish class, my fellow classmate observed that her lesbian friends seemed much more comfortable talking about masturbation than other women. Sergio looked at us and said, "Why would lesbians masturbate? They don't like penetration."

Something inside of me snapped. All of my uncomfortableness with teaching miraculously vanished. I explained that, first of all, lesbians are lesbians because they like women, not because they don't like penetration. I taught him the word "dildo" at this point. Secondly, for women, sexual sensation is derived primarily from clitoral stimulation, NOT penetration. I saw his wife in Casa Xalteva after class, and resisted the urge to walk up to her and say "You're welcome." This is why I should never be a teacher! I can get really arrogant sometimes.

If that wasn't enough for one session, the other woman in the class, a theology major from Creighton, referred to God as "she" that day. After Sergio "corrected" her, we began to talk about feminist theology and the dangers of conceptualizing God as solely masculine. Apparently, this had never occurred to him before. We had to take a break at that point, because, as he informed us, "me han explotado la mente." [You've blown my mind.]

Now the question remains: How will these discussions play out in a high school religion classroom? Honestly, I can't wait to find out.


  1. You rock. This is all I have to say.

    But seriously, folks. I definitely think there are times when well-placed and well-informed arrogance is called for. Did I ever tell you about the sex talk I gave my (then soon-to-be-married, now married) orthodox cousin?