Originally published on Esquire Philippines on 19 July 2021.
She was hanging out by the bar talking to my friends when I walked in. Introductions were made and when my friends made a big deal about her being famous, I inquired about her profession.
“She’s a sex therapist!” one of them said, over the loud vocals of a decent acoustic entertainment act aping Ed Sheeran down by the beach.
“Are you really?” I asked soon after I requested the barkeep for a Long Island Iced Tea, which everyone else seemed to be having.
“Yes I am,” she said.
How often do you get to meet sex therapists in Boracay bars? Almost never, I reasoned. So, against my better judgment, as I thought I was there to enjoy a leisurely Friday night, I pulled up two chairs right by the bar, opened the voice recorder app on my phone, and called her over to talk about sex.
Rica Cruz, sex therapist
“Everything was serendipitous,” Dr. Rica Cruz answered when I asked the obvious first question: how did she become a sex therapist. “I was in medical school and I was then with my first husband. And we weren't having sex. E ang ganda ko di ba?
“We were together about a year and a half, but we weren't having any sex,” she added. “He wasn't having sex with me. So I said, what the fuck is the problem?”
“So you were unhappy?” I instantly regretted the question as soon as they left my lips.
“Of course I was!” she shot back. “Ikaw ba, hindi ka nagse-sex masaya ka? Ako di ako masaya.”
She may have had a few drinks in her at that point, but Cruz was lucid enough to articulate her points. She loves sex, she said more than a few times throughout the course of our little by-the-beach bar chat. So to have a spouse that was not giving her any was a major problem.
“I was a graduate student in psychology, so I wanted to know what the fuck the problem was.”
And that essentially set her on a path that she’s on right now. At the start, Cruz said she focused on one specific question: How often should a couple have sex for them to be happy?
“And did you find the answer?” I asked.
“Up until now, no,” she admits. “I have a Phd in psychology, I have theories on sexual pleasure, but there's no concrete answer on how often you should have sex for you to be happy. There's a standard for us sex experts that say that you have a sexless marriage if you have sex less than 10 times per year.”
Ten times in a year certainly seems a long way off from zero, but Cruz elaborated on the theory.
“We call it a sexless marriage because we found out that when couples have sex less than 10 times per year, the problems exponentially rise. Kaya sex is really important. That's what I mean.”
At this point, the rest of the group had gathered around us and were listening intently, branching off into whispered commentary between them when the urge hit.
“As I was telling Jelo earlier,” referring to my friend whom she initially bumped into earlier that night, “problems in sex are usually just a symptom of a bigger problem in a relationship. Which is what happened to me. He didn't want to have sex with me, and apparently, yun nga, he was emasculated. Andaming problema. That's why we separated. So that's why I went into psychotherapy.”
But Cruz’s predilection for sex and all things related to it apparently started years before she ever decided to pursue it as a career.
Condoms in college
Many of Cruz’s childhood friends weren’t surprised that she eventually became a preeminent sex expert. When she sees them today, they would tell her that she used to talk about crushes, love, masturbation, and all of the things teenagers discussed stealthily amongst themselves at the back of the classroom or in the farthest table at the cafeteria.
“I would give out condoms in college,” she said. “My speeches in Comm 1 were about masturbation. My speech in high school was about love and science, things like that. I wasn’t conscious of it until they told me.”
Cruz completed her Masters and Phd in Psychology from the Ateneo De Manila University. But because there isn’t an institution here in the Philippines that offers specialization in sex therapy, she had to fly to Canada and study at the University of Guelph. It helped that her family is based there.
“Lumaki ako in a very religious family,” she said while sipping her drink. “Tatay ko presidente ng pastoral council. Pre-pandemic I would be a lector and commentator in church. And the first people I talked to about sex were the people in church. Mga lolo and lola.”
Cruz gestures to the man by her side. “In fact, this person right here used to be a seminarian. Seminarista yan. Magpapari sana, kinuha ko lang,” she joked. She was talking about her husband, Pez De Leon, who was quietly listening and occasionally chatting with my other friends.
Eventually we moved to one of the couches, where a platter of seafood suddenly materialized. I was still working on my (very strong) iced tea as I asked Cruz what she’s learned about Filipinos in particular.
“That we’re so repressed,” she quickly answered. “Because we can't talk about sex. A lot of us grew up without talking about sex and instead learning about it through porn, through our friends, or through magazines. More than anything else, we do not have scientifically accurate sex education. So we think that what we see in porn is what’s real. And that's simply not true. Everything you see in porn is as fictional as Cinderella. It’s all a fantasy. So a lot of people now have problems because of that, because they have expectations about sex that are just not true.
“You shouldn’t be interviewing me while I’m drinking,” she laughed.
But I pressed on. She talked about the dangers of getting our ideas about sex from professionals who do it onscreen.
“Ang dami sa atin na, they have sex irresponsibly,” she said. “Buti sana if they’re having sex irresponsibly and it’s fucking good sex. But it’s not. So double whammy. You’re not getting great sex na, you're risking yourself out there pa. What are you getting out of it? Nothing.”
The answer to this dilemma is clear.
“Sex education,” she stressed. “That’s the serious answer. Sex education should start whenever education starts. It's not just the act of putting whatever in whatever, right? It's more of respecting your body. This is your body. This is what you want to do with your body. This is what you want done on your body. And when you teach your kids that at a very young age, they will also know how to perpetuate that. So we're all respectful of each other.”
When Cruz realized this, she became a sex educator, lecturing at Ateneo. But she soon realized that teaching sex ed to such a small population of “elites” didn’t make sense. The initial idea was to teach kids about sex, but it soon became clear to her that to be more effective, she should be teaching the parents.
She chalks it up to the universe listening to her wants because soon after, she was given a platform to reach many more people through a television show. Feelings is a show about sex, love, and relationships that airs Monday to Friday on OneTV.
“Now I get to teach people who do not have access to any kind of education,” she says. “I get to teach them sex ed. I get to teach them that they need to respect one another, that you shouldn't do this to that, that for you to be happy and for you to be enjoying your body and another person's body, this is what you should do.”
Sex is good
Other people in the group began chiming in and asked the resident sex expert some very specific questions, which Cruz was kind enough to answer. But I had to ask her about what she’s been through in her quest to open up Philippine society to dialogues about what goes on behind closed doors.
“It was a struggle for me as a woman to go out there in public and say that sex is good, and that sex is something that we should talk about.” she said. “I had to go through so much shit. Just recently, I was fighting with the institution I came from. But that’s another story.”
Cruz first became well-known after she was invited as a guest on the radio program Boys Night Out. Soon after that guesting, she started receiving unsavory messages on her social media. They ranged from those questioning her credentials, to men propositioning her, to other women expressing doubt about her own sexual experiences.
“Sabi ko na lang, thank you for that insight,” she said. “I believe I have experience enough to be able to talk the talk and walk the walk. I hope that I can meet you and we can help each other. Kasi we’re pushing for the same advocacy, basically. Pero yung sabihan ka ng ganun? Experience?!”
Today, apart from her TV show, Cruz hosts a podcast and has her own private practice, where she helps individuals and couples who have issues with their sex lives and their relationships. She says her clients list runs the gamut of pretty much every known issue related to those two things.
“For us, we think sex is so innate, but hindi,” she said. “Sobrang daming tao na hindi alam kung anong gagawin. And it's difficult for people to accept that you need to do that if, for most of their lives, they were taught that they shouldn't do that. When you're taught for 25 or 30 years that you can't do it, tapos one day, nagpakasal ka. That night, they're expected to do it. What the fuck. They don’t know what to do! I’ve had clients like that.”
In addition, Cruz has also launched her own company called Unprude.com.
“I started talking to women and asked them, ano bang kailangan niyo? What do you really need to enjoy sex? And to be open to put it out there? I got the answers, I made up the theory and I also got the products. Unprude is really to put this message out there that us women, freely and openly love sex. And there’s nothing lewd and vulgar about it. For us women, okay lang to express your sexuality, okay lang to explore your body, what you want and not be ashamed about it. It doesn’t have to have fanfare.”
A sudden rainstorm halted the conversation and we’re forced to take cover inside the resort’s restaurant. But the group continues to quiz Cruz and ask for her take on slightly personal issues. It’s like an impromptu sex therapy session, only we’re at the beach and the only lubricant is alcohol. The good doctor said she has an upcoming trip to Puerto Rico, where she’s due to present a paper on her theories on Filipino women and sexual pleasure.
Talk also couldn’t help but gravitate toward Dr. Margarita Holmes, who pioneered sex education in media back in the 1990s and is still the gold standard when it comes to educated, professional, and frank discussions about sex here in the country.
“I’m not even going to say that they’re big shoes to fill because I cannot fill those shoes,” Cruz said. “Iba siya.”
“(My) advocacy is to push for good sex education so that people would have responsible sex, that’s number one. And number two, that they would have responsible and fucking-ly good sex. Because we cannot just say now, ‘Yeah okay, I have sex all the time. But what if the sex is fucking bad? So wala naman matutulungan yun. And I really believe that if you have great sex almost all the time—because you cannot have great sex all the time, right, so almost all the time lang—then we'll be happier. And we’ll have a better society.”
We all raised our glasses and said cheers to that.