Things I’ve Learned From “Love & Sex Around The World”

Christiane Amanpour: Sex & Love Around the World is a documentary series by CNN, streaming on Netflix.

I highly recommend this show if you want to 1. learn a lot and 2. be entertained at the same time.

The host, Christiane Amanpour, doesn’t tiptoe around awkward questions; she cuts to the chase, asks direct questions without a filter, and as a result, the viewer gets some amazingly honest answers, stories, and exposure to perspectives that one would never have access to otherwise. Without hesitating, she candidly asks people about everything from how they feel about their 20-year spans of celibacy in their marriages (which is apparently a norm in Japan) to details of their affairs, from their secretive practices of kink to the role of religion in sex and what the deal is with people getting hymen reconstructive surgery in order to pretend they’re still a virgin.

The Berlin episode casually opens with the line, “I thought that dropping in on bondage workshop would be a good entry into the famously edgy Berlin scene.” Then you have Christiane, a middle-aged white woman, sitting in on a bondage class with half-naked people hanging from ropes all around her. 
The show is not only incredibly educational and eye-opening but highly entertaining to boot.

Here are some highlights from the episodes and a few questions to reflect upon. (I haven’t finished all the episodes, so there are not questions from all of them- yet.)

Berlin

Facts and quotes from the episode:

  • Berliners take their sex very seriously, and not just in the cabarets or the clubs or the sex shops. The world’s first sex research institute was established here in 1919. It was established by Magnus Hirschfeld, and it was a place for Germans to open up and learn about all matters of sex. But all this progressive sexuality was too much for Hitler. Amidst the horrors of the Third Reich, the Nazis burned the institute and all of its archives to the ground.

Questions to think about:

  • How do politics shape the culture we create?
  • As in the movie Who Killed The Electric Car, how do waves of liberal or conservative politics control whether or not progressive ideas are accepted and adopted vs. hidden, or even completely killed off?

Beirut

Facts and quotes from the episode:

  • With the ever-present memory, and threat, of war, instant gratification has become the principle to live by… “We cannot plan. We don’t have a vision for ten years, or five years, or two months. We’ve never lived a time of peace. Because of war, we’ve learned to live for today, and we want to make the most of today because we don’t know when we’re going to die.” There might be a war outside, but you’ll still see women coming into the salon… Even during the war of 2006, the nightlife was still kicking.
  • I never saw my mom, inside the house, without her lipstick and her high heels, even if she was just cleaning.
  • The most Googled word in the Arabic language is “sex.” Everybody is obsessed with it only because it’s a taboo.
  • To be a woman in the Arab world — to be an Arab in general — means to be a hypocrite.
  • “Do not unite with a woman until you have been playful with her, and then the pleasure will be mutual. You will bring excitement to her by kissing her stomach and her thighs. Once you finish, do not neglect any part of her body. Hold her tightly, with tenderness.” 
    — The Perfumed Garden
  • The Perfumed Garden of Sensual Delight is an Arabic sex manual and work of erotic literature that was written sometime between the 12th and 15th century.
  • “It was the first book written in universal literature that started with an orgasm in the name of God.” It was written by an Islamic man, in conformity to Islamic theology, and apparently used to be a great hit!
  • In ancient Islam, sexuality was a gift of God. Sex was an act of procreation but also of pleasure. More than 5 centuries ago, sex was not only allowed, it was encouraged. Every chapter of the book gives sexual advice to both men and women, with equal weight on male and female pleasure.

Questions to think about:

  • Is intimacy a necessity or is it a luxury?
  • How does death awareness affect our relationships and our capacity to love? Check out our interview about Love & Death on the BBXX podcast here.
  • How consistent vs. hypocritical are you in regards to honestly “practicing what you preach”?
  • What happened to the amazing Islamic erotic literature that was so popular centuries ago?? 
    This reminds me of what happened with The Vow of Onah from ancient Jewish scripts, which is talked about in episode 8 of the BBXX podcast.

Tokyo

Facts and quotes from the episode:

  • In Japan, they don’t really say I love you, even in married relationships. There’s also very little PDA (public displays of affection), even holding hands in public is uncommon.
  • 47.2% of married men and women are in sexless marriages.
  • 40% of men in Tokyo are still virgins.
  • Rather than brothels where people would go to have sex and interact with / touch someone else, now places to go and masturbate- while someone watches- are gaining popularity.

Questions to think about:

  • Is technology moving us towards greater connection and intimacy, or towards an intimacy crisis? Episode 4 of the BBXX podcast touches on this.
  • How does language- what words we have vs. don’t have, and use vs. avoid- shape our belief and values systems?
  • How much do cultural norms determine our behavior in private vs. in public? How different do you act in your relationships in private vs. in public?

India

Facts and quotes from the episode:

  • When you’re a child in most of India you’re not allowed to talk to a boy until your parents deem you fit to get married… so it’s “don’t talk to boys, don’t talk to boys, don’t talk to boys- now fuck this one and have babies.” 
    … and that is why Indian men don’t know what to do with relationships.
  • I would suggest that people go against their parents and get married. Really. Because if you feel you’re really happy with someone, that person is going to keep you happy all life long.
  • What matters is if the person next to you is willing to accept you the way you are, give dignity and respect, and treat you as an equal partner.

Questions to think about:

  • What do you wish you had learned; what do think should be taught in schools (or at home) about sex and/or about emotions and relationships.
  • Is love truly all you need? How much of the success of a relationship is about love, vs. about culture or simply timing and circumstances?

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