International Trends, Chaotic Systems, and Alternative Futures in Sexuality

September 18th, 2006

Arranged Marriages Versus Romantic Choice Marriages

Despite the current sexual revolution, the majority of marriages around the world are still arranged by family or relatives. But marriages based on romantic love are hard to prevent when the younger generation has access to television, Bollywood, and the Internet (see Noonan’s brief discussion of “Sexuality and American Popular Culture” in the U.S. chapter). Almost anything can happen when the older generation(s) in an extended family plan a traditional arranged marriage when a son or daughter is determined to have a Western romantic marry-the-one-you-love view of marriage. How do families cope? How do they compromise?

Our International Encyclopedia has many examples. The one I like best involves the very traditional Berber tribal society in Morocco. Harnadi and Fatima were going along, happily married, when Harnadi decided that it was time to acquire a second wife. Within days, everyone in his immense, extended family was squabbling. Fatima threatened to divorce Harnadi if he married again. She refused to share her house with another woman. Fatima’s brothers warned Harnadi that if Harnadi and Fatima got a divorce, they would reclaim all the land she had brought into the marriage. (Harnadi had spent years planting fruit and nut trees on the property.) Fatima threatened to take their twin daughters to her brother’s house as well. Technically, Hamadi’s family “owned” the infants, but since they were still nursing, he would have to wait two years to collect them. In Morocco, twins are considered to be baraka (good fortune); if Harnadi’s daughters left, people might conclude that good fortune had left Harnadi’s house. To add to Harnadi’s woes, Fatima issued a final warning. If Harnadi divorced her, she would march bare-breasted to the weekly market.

This left him badly shaken. Things got worse. One of Fatima’s brothers had married Harnadi’s cousin. He announced that if there was to be bad blood between the two families, he would divorce his wife. Harnadi’s mother complained that the money Harnadi had saved for a second wife should be spent on Hamadi’s son Ali, who had just turned 15. He needed money for his wedding. Finally, a tired Harnadi surrendered. He concluded, “Women are to be gotten around, but I guess I won’t get around these.”

When other “all powerful” Moroccan fathers try to force their children into unappealing marriages, sympathetic family members often employ an avalanche of strategies to thwart them. Young lovers persuade mothers, uncles, brothers, neighbors, and business partners to plead on their behalf. One fond mother slyly hinted that a prospective bride her son secretly disliked was bad tempered, lazy, and had a bad reputation. When his father forced Abdallah to marry a woman he disliked, Abdallah claimed his wife was a witch. He divorced her and married the woman he had been attracted to in the first place. After that, his poor father’s alliances were really in shambles.

Another strategy the younger generation relies on is witchcraft or magical charms. One woman warned an unappealing suitor (Haddu) that she had visited a dhazubrith (witch) and obtained a spell that was guaranteed to make him impotent. The marriage took place, but the hapless Haddu was unable to “become stiff.” He tried counter-charms, but to no avail. He finally agreed to dissolve the marriage. Some strategies work, some don’t.

Talk about the clash of civilizations!

Robert T. Francoeur, Co-Editor of CCIES

September 14th, 2006

Is There a Universal Taboo on Sex Talk?

I had just finished reading the chapter on sex in South Korea we published in our Continuum Complete International Encyclopeda of Sexuality when I met a Korean graduate student anxious to tell me how he used my college sexuality textbook to help his cousin and bride who were still virgins two years after marriage. In their chapter in the CCIES, the physicians had repeatedly apologized for the lack of information about sexual behavior in Korea and for the traditional taboo on sexual talk—between parent and child, between spouses, between doctor and patient. I asked the student how he could talk so openly and comfortably with his cousins. Was the younger generation ignoring the traditional taboo? Not really. More important was another fact: He announced, “No problem! I’m gay!”

When I mentioned the Korean tradition to a colleague just back from a year with the So people of Uganda, she told me the So have all kinds of words for male sexual anatomy, masturbation, orgasm, and ejaculation, but no words for female orgasm, clitoris, or anything female. Female masturbation was preposterous! Unthinkable! Breasts? They’re for babies. With no loveplay or vaginal lubrications, vaginal penetration has to be painful. Another colleague reported that female medical students in the Sudan had never experienced female orgasm: “Women who have been circumcised cannot experience an orgasm because they do not have a clitoris.” He gently corrected their misinformation, to the delight of their husbands.

Then I read about Muslim women in Northern Cyprus who do not like to discuss their sexual problems with strangers, family members, especially a spouse, or even with a trained sexual counselor. And I recalled the authors of our Nigeria chapter reporting on the Ibo people who believe any sexual talk is vulgar, unnecessary, and taboo. Sex education should not exist.

In our chapter on Israel, Marilyn Safir and David Ribner commented on the major problem they have with Ultra-Orthodox Jewish wives who receive no sex education and have no language to describe the sexual parts of their bodies and the bodies of their husbands. Haredi women are encouraged to avoid being verbally explicit about their own intimate desires and to use nonverbal clues. “Men have more leeway in this than women, but it is difficult for either men or women to be conscious of sexual desires when both have been taught to repress any sexual thoughts or fantasies about their spouse.” It is not uncommon for Haredi wives seeking help for their “infertility” only to be told their infertility is due to their virginity, an unconsummated marriage.

All this, and many more examples from around the world—including the good old USA—have left me wondering where this common, often unrecognized repression of talk about sexual intimacy, started. And why it is so common, so widespread.

Why are our cultures so uncomfortable with female sexuality?

Why are so many cultures dedicated to repressing female sexuality?

How about some thoughts, theories, and comments from readers of our International Encyclopedia?

Robert T. Francoeur, Co-Editor of CCIES

September 11th, 2006

Welcome to SexQuest Blog!

Welcome to the SexQuest Blog! In this forum, we will present and discuss what we hope are mainly cutting-edge issues in the diverse field of sexology, as well as practical issues that may be of interest to our readers. We’ll start by focusing on the overall topic areas that subtitle the SexQuest Blog:

  • International Trends, centered around the CCIES at The Kinsey Institute, the online version of our award-winning book, The Continuum Complete International Encyclopedia of Sexuality (CCIES), that will be posted in its entirety over the next year at The Kinsey Institute website. Discussions related to the actual book are also welcome. The CCIES is simply the most comprehensive compilation of information about sexual behavior and attitudes from 62 countries and places covering every continent by 280 authors. We hope that we will discover others who are knowledgeable about what we haven’t covered to help us expand and update it.
  • Chaotic Systems, derived from the terminology I coined in my doctoral dissertation, the human sexuality complex, to describe the “unity and interconnectedness of the diverse biomedical and psychosocial dimensions involving human sexuality factors” that determine human behavior in chaotically complex ways. It is that complexity that makes sexual behavior so difficult to understand or change or accept for so many people. Thus, using chaos theory, we might say that we human sexuality is governed by probability models that we have yet to elucidate.
  • Alternative Futures, conceived with the belief that we can have a say in what our sexual futures hold. This topic also relates to my interest in sexuality in outer space and other extreme environments, the subject of a chapter I wrote for the CCIES (“Outer Space and Antarctica”), as well as my dissertation on sex in space. As a futurist, I can say that humanity’s probable future is like forecasting a hurricane, yet our preferable future is not out of reach, with respect to sexual health and ecology. What does the future of sexuality look like?

I have included a Miscellaneous Off-Topic category, as well, for some topics that may fit some discussions as peripherally related (it has been said that I sometimes diverge off the topic I’m discussing—that damn chaos). It may also include less-serious asides that others might appreciate or have an interest in. I’ll expand the category listings as time and reader interest allows.

To visit the SexQuest, go to

Enjoy your explorations!

Ray Noonan, Ph.D.
SexQuest Blog Admin.