How My Sex Life Changed When I Left the U.S. to Live in Another Country
How My Sex Life Changed – Language barriers are only the beginning.
How old are you?
Woman A: Twenty-seven.
Woman B: Twenty-five.
Woman C: Twenty-three.
Where did you move and why?
Woman A: I moved to South America five years ago from California when I became a Peace Corps volunteer.
Woman B: I moved to East Africa five years ago to work for a local health nonprofit for a year.
Woman C: I moved to Nicaragua in September 2015 for work.
What was your dating life in the U.S. like when you left?
Woman A: I had a partner at the time I moved to South America. We stayed together when I left for the Peace Corps and remained in a relationship for about a year and a half.
Woman B: I had a partner in the U.S., and we were committed to doing long-distance … but that only lasted half a year until we broke up.
Woman C: When I left, I was dating someone I was having sex with five times a week but wasn’t in love with. It just trailed off because I knew I was moving
What was or is the dating scene like in your new home? Did any part of it surprise you?
Woman A: The “dating scene” here is starkly different from the scene in the Bay Area, where I grew up. I now live in a very Catholic, socially conservative country and city. I think I always held a stereotype of Latinos as being sexual and flirtatious before moving here, but that is only half true — people can be very flirty and make sexual jokes out of anything, but when it comes to actually talking seriously or honestly about sex and having the sex itself, [my experience is] they tend to be quite conservative. With my partner, who is a local, it took a long time for us to be on the same page in talking about what we wanted and what we thought about sex. He was also very slow to try new things. That was very surprising to me given the stereotype of a “Latin lover.”
Woman B: Maybe this was totally naive, but I didn’t expect the social scene in general — at least, the part of it that was most familiar to me — to be so insular and focused on other expats, mostly Europeans who were in the region working for governments or NGOs on aid projects. People would spend all day in the field or in offices working with locals, and then at night would go to dinner or parties with only other expats, who were mostly white. And expats ended up just dating and hooking up with each other too.
Woman C: A lot of really awesome Nicaraguan men are already in relationships — and long-term relationships, so in a way it feels like all the good ones are taken. That didn’t surprise me. There is also the option to date other expats, which is sort of hard: a lot of expats are really transient, and since I live here long-term (I don’t have some end date in mind), it’s hard for me to feel like I can invest in anyone who isn’t staying here for at least a year. A lot of transient expats have a totally different mind-set too — they’re more inclined to take the role of a guest or treat everything as a new experience. It can just get old when you’re the one in the mind-set of, “OK, I live here. This is my life.”
What differences did you notice in how people approach sex?
Woman A: People are less emphatic about condom use, focus less on foreplay, and tend to have sex outside of the home, such as in a sex motel or even in a park — I think this has to do with the fact that most unmarried people in their 20s and 30s still live at home with their parents.
Woman B: Well, the expats in general were more anything-goes than my friends at home — there was lots of drinking and sex and to be honest it seemed like a lot of it was unprotected, in both my personal experience and in talking to others. It’s like there’s this mentality that nothing can touch you, and you take risks that maybe you wouldn’t at home, because you’re there to help other people through your aid work — it’s kind of backward. Locals I think tended to be a lot more conservative. It was a very Catholic setting, and people didn’t believe in premarital or extramarital sex — not that it didn’t happen, of course it still did, but birth control was not readily available and kind of taboo.
Woman C: I’ve only hooked up with one Nicaraguan guy and it was an unpleasant experience — and that is not meant to generalize Nicaragua at all. It was aggressive and sort of indicative of other things I’ve heard about gender roles and machismo.
Did you meet a partner in your new country?
Woman A: I have a partner who is from here — we’ve been together for about three years.
Woman B: I wasn’t in a formal relationship with anyone but I casually dated a couple of expats while I was there — an American, a European. In government and nonprofits, people are always on short contracts and about to move somewhere else, so it’s hard to get too close to people.
Woman C: I have been dating an expat who is really cool and here for at least a year. He’s new to Nicaragua though, so he still has some of that “freshman” attitude that I’ve just described, but other than that, he’s very pleasant and smart and engaged. I don’t feel emotionally invested in him at all though and I can’t totally figure out why. I wouldn’t call it a relationship at all. I’m having sex once a month or so with the same person. I am definitely [trying] to date other people, expats or locals! Preferably local; the pool is limited though.
Have you dated online in your new country?
Woman A: I haven’t, but some friends — mostly foreigners — do. They’ve had mixed experiences — in the city where I live, many of the men on dating apps seem to be cheating on their wives and [app use is] somewhat looked down on, but some have used apps successfully to meet people and start friendships in a new city and country. I’ve heard that it’s easier and more fun in other cities.
Woman B: Um, no. Where I was, Internet was barely reliable enough to check email.
Woman C: In the U.S., I had Tinder, Bumble, and the League, but I don’t use any in Nicaragua. It’s pretty useless in Nicaragua. There are plenty of people on it, but it doesn’t exactly scream quality dating culture.
Do you prefer dating in the U.S. or the country you moved to? Why?
Woman A: I couldn’t choose — it is such a different experience. I love the openness, freedom, and creativity that is so common in the Bay Area, but I also think that sometimes people have expectations of finding someone who is perfect for them in every way, and this expectation leads them to disregard amazing people or settle for something casual with them rather than investing in a strong relationship. I get frustrated by the conservatism and machismo associated with dating in South America, but there is also an emphasis on romance and really celebrating when you’ve found someone you love that I think it amazing. Dating someone here has also been the best way to really connect to my new home, meet people, and learn about the culture more deeply.
Woman B: In the U.S. people are so often just not willing or able to invest in relationships in aid-focused expat communities. It’s fun for a while, you meet amazing people, maybe have some interesting sexual experiences, but it gets tiring and kind of lonely after a while. You can’t put down roots.
Woman C: In the U.S. I think the biggest challenge is that when you’re living somewhere with a lack of a dating scene it can be easy to lower your standards, which you don’t want to do. I’m not really a casual sex person, so I’m looking for someone who I at least enjoy being around and who can stimulate me intellectually.
What advice would you give to someone moving to a new country about love, sex, and dating?
Woman A: Understand that sex, just like any other element of life, is a facet of a larger culture you’ve moved into. Culture will really play out in sex, just as it does in language, dance, politics, education, and so on. Another thing that is important to keep in mind is that, as foreigners, we really need to be respectful of the people we are dating, and how their culture influences their values and perceptions. For example, it can be quite complicated, and common, for a foreigner to come to South America, hook up with a local, meet their family and friends, and leave a few weeks later without considering that the local might be taking the hookup as the beginning of a serious relationship and might feel very deceived. We need to talk clearly about ourselves and intentions in these kids of relationships.
My advice [about moving abroad in general] would be to immerse and love the new culture you’re in for what it is in all its beauty and complexity rather than comparing it to your own. If you want things exactly like they were at home, stay home. Don’t get stuck in your comfort zone. You will get the most out of your privileged opportunity to live in another country if you continue pushing your limits of learning.
Woman B: Protect yourself, and prepare for your reproductive needs before you go — get an IUD, pack condoms, bring six months’ worth of birth control, whatever that means for you. Seriously, there is nothing worse than needing birth control and not being sure where or how to get it. Also, you have to try to form connections with locals, otherwise you’re just living in a bubble — I don’t mean romantic connections even, just friendships. You didn’t go wherever you went to hang out with Americans all the time, right?
Woman C: Try to think, Would I date this person in the U.S.?