Originally published on MEGA (March 21, 2022).
For too long the topic of sexual wellness has been told in a hushed manner—or worse—edited out from the health education lesson plan. In the Asian diaspora, where female sexual health is often poorly marketed, hyper-aggressive and highly gendered, it’s also never about pleasure and all about procreation. “Kababae mong tao”, “ano na lang sasabihin ng iba?”, “that’s not how a lady should act,” are all statements that Filipino women are used to hearing. It’s not surprising that according to the Philippine Commission on Women, the country has one of the highest rate of women who experience sexual challenges in Asia. This includes troubles with the physical act, but also being highly vulnerable to intimate partner violence and sexual health conditions such as HIV/AIDS and reproductive tract infections. “We were taught that the pursuit and exploration of our own pleasure are lewd, that it is vulgar, that it is unwomanly to talk about anything that pertains to our sexuality, that it is not how a ‘good’ Filipina should be. Our sexuality was used by society to control us,” says Dr. Rica Cruz, a sex and relationships therapist.
Thankfully in recent years, the conversation on sexual fulfillment has moved on from being an overly eroticized subject to being a part of the full make-up of a healthy person. What’s even more interesting is that the idea of sexual pleasure, rather than being dependent on your partner, is now considered a form of self-care. Think of the oils and vibrators infiltrating the beauty scene and—like an effective moisturizer—becoming a necessity. Even Dakota Johnson’s sexual wellness line “Maude” has a cult- following for being incredibly chic.
It’s also quite ironic that sexual wellness is treated as a mature topic, but there’s still a stigma around menopause, hormonal and physiological changes, and the decline of libido of older women. Dr. Cruz cites that older women would often feel shame in using sexual lubricants so they put the blame on themselves. “Using lubes should be as normal as kissing during sex! Lubes reduce overall friction, intensify sensations and actually enhance pleasure!” she clarifies. “Normalizing these sexual experiences can help us have a more positive attitude when it comes to our sexual health.” Even taking the annual trips to the OB/GYN (obstetrician/gynecologist) whether single or sexually active, helps build self-confidence Dr. Cruz adds, “to be aware of our sexual health is a vital part of our well-being. It is advisable to go to the OB/GYN to have your pelvic exams, discuss your menstrual issues and get your HPV vaccines.”
She also advocates that sex education should start at home and parents who are sexually empowered also allow them to create an open and honest relationship about it with their children. This in return will avoid unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections. “Children, by the time they’re 3 or 4, start to ask questions about sex, and we as parents should learn how to answer them accurately instead of creating stories about storks, packages and the like. We should be open to talking to them about their bodies–their penises, vulvas, their differences with other kids, their crushes and so on. Young people, regardless of gender, need to learn about concepts such as respecting boundaries; asking before touching; and who to turn to if they feel uncomfortable. And these lessons need to be taught through effective, age and developmentally appropriate ways.”
However, with the rise of sexual positivity, Dr. Cruz makes it a point to remind people that every sexual journey is different. “Most of the messages of sex-positivity out there can be too loud, too raunchy and too soon for a lot of us. In all honesty, some made me feel self-conscious, questioning myself if I’m being a prude,” she personally shares. This is what pushed her to create her sexual wellness store Unprude, a place where women can explore their sexual selves freely and openly at their own pace. “Whether you’re conservative or progressive, beginner or experienced, a ‘slut’ or a ‘saint’ or somewhere in between. It means we get to indulge in both our sexual explorations and boundaries. We get to celebrate our quirks. We get to root for others in all their uniqueness.”
By untangling ourselves from sexual shame and treating women’s sexual health with the weighted respect it deserves, Dr. Cruz states that we are finally demanding the respect our bodies deserve and we are embracing every intricacy of our womanhood. “By doing this now, we get to teach the younger generation that it’s okay to be in control of their sexualities. And thus, we get to nourish generations of women who are proud, responsible, educated and most especially, not ashamed of their sexual selves.”