What Can We Learn from the French (or the Italians!) about Sex?

What makes a culture good at sex?

Now that things are calmer and the book is in, I want to get back to highlighting a comment or two from the blog in the Friday post each week. (Okay, we had a close call with Rebecca and Connor’s yorkie Wednesday so… maybe not so calm? But anyway. We aren’t working 12-hour+ days anymore. Joanna and Rebecca are enjoying time with their little kiddos again. Etc.)

This week, I shared how I’m grieving and rejoicing simultaneously and we had a really fun discussion in the comments about different cultures and their views of sex.

First, Gemma shared:

I am passionate about people (and especially women) being given a healthy and true perspective on sex. I see a lot of the terrible teaching that is out there is the US and English speaking world. I live in France and I wonder what women here get taught about sex and what resources they have access to. I would love to see something like your blog for the French-speaking world.

Gemma

Then Natalie replied:

I agree, Gemma! And coming from an American/English speaker who’s spent a good amount of time in France and has many French friends (some of whom are married, so I’ve watched their relationship grow and change from dating to marriage to children), from my experience, I’d say the French view of sex is much more mutual pleasure focused, or really just pleasure focused in general. They don’t seem to be as offended by sexuality in general, but especially a woman owning her sexuality. (Same goes for many other non-English speaking European countries). There’s a reason French and Italian men are stereotypically known by English speaking women as good lovers: because they were raised more to pursue pleasure during sex and to view the whole process as all part of sex (foreplay, PIV sex, post-sex) and not with this idea that their wife owe’s them sex once married or that sex is purely about penetration, which seems to be pervasive at least here in the US. I’m sure as European and American cultures continue to merge, these differences will become weaker. But at least historically, I’d say that’s the case. America’s/Britain’s views on sex have always been very Puritanical historically speaking compared to elsewhere in Europe.

Natalie

And then I loved what Andrea pointed out:

I have friends in psychology that say you can tell how a man (or woman) will approach sex by how they approach the rest of life. For example, if he is selfish outside of the bedroom and considers his needs first, he’s going to be the same way inside the bedroom. I think the big difference between the US/UK and countries like Italy and France is not just sex, but the idea of pleasure more broadly. Compare food for example! The US is known for fast food, junk food, obesity, etc., the UK for bland food, while Italy and France are known for delicious food and people who enjoy it in a sensual way, don’t rush through dinner, but savor every bite…

Andrea

This got me thinking: what cultural values shape how things go in the bedroom? And what can we be doing as we shape the culture of our family, church, and community to support couples and set them up for success.

Here are my ideas:

1. Savor Life

One of the things about French, Italian, and Spanish culture that is so lovely is that they take the time to enjoy the good things and they take time and joy in cultivating beauty. I think here in North America, too often we settle for a twinkie instead of putting the work in to make a torte. What if we stopped and enjoyed the good things in life? And what impact would having a sense of savoring life do to our sex lives?

Savoring things means that you enjoy what is right in front of you. You savor the process, and not just the result (many knitters will tell you, for instance, that they are “process” knitters rather than project knitters). What would happen if we treated sex that way?

First, I think we’d be less goal-oriented. Instead of seeing sex like a pass/fail thing depending on whether or not she had an orgasm, you could enjoy pleasure which is more likely to get her there anyway, but you would also realize that the pleasure and the journey is good, in and of itself, even if you don’t get to the destination. And that can relieve a lot of pressure.

Second, savoring means stopping and smelling the flowers. It means that you’re able to let time stand still for a bit and give yourself permission to feel. That’s something that many women struggle with (and it’s why I think sex is God’s gift to women; to allow us to feel for a time and not be in our heads). We’ll be talking next month in our series on the toll that mental load takes on women’s brains, but when we savor, then we silence all the to-do lists in our heads and we give ourselves permission to be here, with our husbands, and relax.


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2. Slow the Pace

Here in North America we work a LOT. And working hard is a good thing! But sometimes we’re less productive because we’re expecting ourselves to be productive for so long. (Studies in Scandanavia actually show that working 4 days a week didn’t hamper productivity because workers were more efficient knowing that they had a 3 day weekend coming up.) The Spanish have an afternoon siesta every day, the French get 5 weeks off in the summers, and on and on.

While I know the pandemic has been hard for all of us, I’ve heard from a lot of people that they are enjoying the slower pace of life, having time to do things that they enjoy… just because they enjoy them. I have to guess that a slower pace leads to more time to enjoy sex, less pressure to be quick when it happens, and (for obvious reasons) more opportunities to be intimate.

Maybe we’re all learning what’s truly important in life right now, and what life’s really about.

(and please–don’t get political in the comments! Obviously some societies would benefit from learning to work harder, but that doesn’t mean that we wouldn’t also benefit from learning to slow down a little bit).

3. Keep Conversations Open

One thing that a lot of researchers point out is that sexual satisfaction is higher if people are able to ask questions of their teachers, doctors, and other important adults in their lives while they grow up. That’s part of why, for example, the dutch are believed to have such high sexual satisfaction. (That’s why The Whole Story is such a great course! It’s all about getting the ball rolling for conversations between parents and kids).

Shocked girl image TWS - What Can We Learn from the French (or the Italians!) about Sex?

Talking about sex with your kids doesn’t always go smoothly. 

That’s why we created The Whole Story, our online course that walks parents through the tough conversations and does the hard parts for you!

And in our survey for The Great Sex Rescue (coming out next year) we found one of the keys for great sex was women feeling comfortable talking to their husbands about what they want in bed.

Some cultures value sex and don’t see it as shameful, and that makes it easier to talk about. We need to find a way to talk about sex without the shame. I know it’s a delicate balance, but shame holds so many women back. If we can let those messages fall by the wayside, I believe that sex would be a lot better.


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Okay. Those are my three ideas. What do you think? What values would you cultivate to help make things better in the bedroom? And what are we in North America doing right? Let me know in the comments!

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