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Perceptions of sex: East vs West

Carene Chong

Wed Sep 18 2013


WITH rapid advancements in communication and technology, the world is becoming ever closer. But, as Carene Chong found out, when it comes to sex, the gap between Asians and Westerners doesn’t seem to be getting smaller.

Like Tiffany Leong and other fellow Malaysians or possibly Asians, I was never comfortable discussing the s-word growing up.

My parents never discussed ‘the birds and the bees’ with me or how I came to be in this world. I remember being a bit of a pest, always curious about everything around me and asking a million and one questions at any given time.

But I somehow just knew that ‘naughty’ topics were not to be brought up.

Naturally, I heard and learnt everything about sex through friends, movies, the internet. I was self-taught about the topic, no thanks to the education I received in school and no matter how hard the government tried to throw something in the mix to follow in the footsteps of developed countries.

I always knew the Western world would be more open to discussing the topic but it wasn’t until I arrived in Australia seven years ago and experienced it first-hand that I realised how different both worlds can be when it comes to our views on sex.

My Australian classmates would always talk about how sex was always on their minds or how awesome their little frisky session was with their partners last night.

I remember a local friend asking me: “Do you have sex with your boyfriend? How was it?”

I couldn’t bring myself to say anything except nod in reply to her first question. We were barely 19. Cut us some slack.

She failed to understand why I couldn’t discuss it openly. To her, sex was just as common a topic as what she had for lunch.

Like all my Western friends, she thought sex was beautiful and exciting and she couldn’t wait to talk about it every time she experienced it, but to me, it was an embarrassing subject that I still love to hate.

One would argue that the less you know about sex, the less likely you are to make a mistake like Juno and therefore the better, but then I ask: is naivety a good thing? I don’t necessarily think so.

sextember couple

To Westerners, sex is a beautiful thing they can’t wait to discuss after each experience. Image: LyndaSanchez via Flickr

Which begs the question, why so?

Well for one, the education most Asians receive (or lack thereof) is definitely a main reason. Sex as a taboo topic is so deeply rooted in Asian culture, Asian parents cringe and even accuse schools of contaminating their children’s minds if any sort of sex education is introduced.

To them, sex is sinful and something their kids should not talk about or do until they’re old enough or have settled down.

Parents over here in Australia, on the other hand, are all for a comprehensive sex education so the responsibility of answering their children’s “where do I come from” question is taken away from them.

Speaking of parents, the way they influence you and how much plays a big part in what you think about sex.

Take the movie Juno for example. The high school student breaks the news of her pregnancy to her parents but instead of unleashing any verbal or physical abuse on her, they accept the shocking news openly and think of ways to support their daughter in this taxing time.

Asian parents? For the most part, their first course of action would be disownment. Well, maybe not in this day and age, but endless verbal torture of how stupid their offspring are to do something so shameful would ensue. This would be followed by weeks of fuming and a refusal to speak to their children.

Considering this, how can anyone blame us Asians for avoiding premarital sex or the topic of it like the plague?

Then there’s the heavily censored media in Malaysia in which even kissing scenes are cut out. Remember the steamy scene Bella and Edward shared in Bella’s bedroom in the first Twilight movie? I don’t.

One would argue that the less you know about sex, the less likely you are to make a mistake like Juno and therefore the better, but then I ask: is naivety a good thing? I don’t necessarily think so.

When I was commissioned this discussion piece, my editor raised a very good point. If Asians are so naive and reluctant to talk about sex, why are certain Asian countries considered seedy sex holiday destinations?

Thailand is not only well known for its beautiful sandy beaches but its infamous red light districts. Image: Yago Veith via Flickr

Thailand is not only well known for its beautiful sandy beaches but also for its infamous red light districts. Image: Yago Veith via Flickr

Why do Thailand and Japan come to mind when single men, regardless of where they’re from, need to satisfy their sexual desires?

I found the answer pretty straightforward and at the same time, rather depressing.

Most sex workers have no choice.

I came across the life story of a Thai go-go girl who was born into poverty and received little to no education. Her elders would not allow her to go to school so rebelled and escaped to Bangkok. Working as a cleaner at a sex club, she made peanuts but was told she could turn her life around if she sold herself to sex tourists.

The money she would make was 20 times more than her cleaner’s wage.

Desperate to make ends meet, she gave in and began her career in the sex industry at the very tender age of 14.

Westerners often rave about the service they get from Asian sex workers and how they would return for the same services.

Where does the sexual knowledge come from if Asians are so naive? Again, the answer is, they have no choice but to absorb as much knowledge as they can from their peers and colleagues if they want to survive in the sex industry.

Luckier people like me do not have to go through all that and if there wasn’t a need to, I would never raise the prickly subject.

Don’t get me wrong though, I love sex. We Asians do love it no matter how much we appear to detest it. But our mindset is ‘what happens in the bedroom, stays in the bedroom’ and it appears changing times will not shift anything.

Someone asked me, since I’ve spent so many years overseas, will I raise my children any differently from how my parents raised me and start discussing birds and bees with my kids from a young age?

My answer is, not really. I won’t be discussing sex with them every night over dinner, but I will definitely speak up when the time is ripe.

Sorry kids, no sexy talk until you’re older!

How were you brought up to think about sex? Share with us below.