The Cross Cultures of Sex and Dating
I am a Canadian woman and until recently I have only dated Canadians and American men. In the past couple years, I went on a number of Europe trips and got a taste of what dating is like in different parts of the world. This got me thinking of the profound cultural differences that exist in sexuality and dating.
In my experience in Canada and the States. there has been a recent shift where a lot of people meet potential partners online, through friends or at a bar, and then hook up. It is only if the hookup goes well do they consider going on a first date with each other. As a result, many people end up in friends with benefits situations, or existing in ambivalent, undefined relationships that may continue for years. Often at some point there is a “define the relationship” conversation that happens, as partners decide if they want to shift from hooking up, to dating, to dating exclusively, as it is not unusual for people to simultaneously date a few partners. Before the relationship is defined, I have noticed that, often hookup partners are worried to cuddle or show signs of affection towards their hookup, as to not give them the wrong idea if they are hoping to keep the relationship casual. The culture in the States is such that it would be very unusual to hold someone’s hand the day after you met them and you may worry that a kiss goodbye in the morning may give someone the wrong idea, even after having sex with them all night.
This is very different from in France, for example, where dating is much more laid back, so much so that the french don’t even have a word for date. The French report not having to ensure the “define the relationship” talk, and instead tend to be able to enjoy their time with someone without focusing too much on the nature of the relationship or the future. The French are also romantics, and are therefore much more likely to say I love you early in the relationship. Having been with a french man I found that he was incredibly kind and very loving for the short time that we were together. Despite our clear lack of a future together, he held my hand the day after we met and we stayed in touch by writing me letters for years after meeting. We had a strange incident where I planned a romantic trip to Paris to visit him and he told me days before I arrived that he just started seeing someone. However, he didn’t make a big deal out of it and I ended up staying with him and his new lover, and it ended up being a good time. I was upset we didn’t get to hookup obviously, but very much enjoyed him and his new partners no fuss attitude toward sexuality, I remember his new girl saying to him, “of course your old lover can stay with you!” That incident likely would have caused some drama if it happened in the States.
To continue our tour of Europe, I recently started dating a sexy Russian boy and followed him home to Crimea. Although the Russians in Crimea spoke almost no english, through watching people interact and in my interactions with the Russian I was able to ascertain a lot about Russian dating culture. Russians are old school in terms of gender roles, which in a way is really nice because there is a large focus on male chivalry. I have never dated anyone that has taken care of me in the way the Russian does. He bought me medicine when I was sick, rubbed my back when I was tired and … bought me a pool when I said I wanted one (the rumors that Russians can drink are undeniably true). However, the downside of traditional gender roles is that there is a clear expectation that women will spend a lot of time on their appearance and on house related tasks. Although in most ways the Russian I’m dating is very modern, he has also said things like “it would be really sexy if you learned how to cook.” Also, when I talked to him about the possibility of opening up our relationship he gave me a discontented look and said “I’m still Russian, If you’re my girl you’re MY girl.”
What leads countries to develop such distinct dating norms?
- The way different communities feel about sex and dating is shaped by the education that children and youth receive about relationships and sex. For example, a place like the Netherlands begins sex education when students are young, thus normalizing sexuality, desire and sexual communication. As a result, when students get to a dating age they are more able to shape the type of relationship they want, and have more malleable and healthy dating rituals. This is far different from that cultures, like the States, where this is little to no mandated sex ed and the major outlet for learning about sexuality and dating is through the media and pornography.
- The laws and customs that countries have about sexuality also greatly impact culture around dating. For example, in the United Arab Emirates pre-marital sex is illegal. As a result, much of dating is done in secret. Similarly, in ultra-orthodox communities where males and females are separated from birth, dating customs are very traditional and non-sexual, and if pre-martial sex happens it is often done in secret and with someone who is not in the community.
- The gender ratio, the average age of residents, and size of the LGBTQ population also impacts dating in a given area. For example, where I currently live in New York, There are there are 583,705 more women than men in the state, which leaves the New York Gender Ratio at 94 men to 100 women. Perhaps, this is why some men may treat women particularly poorly here? On the other hand in 2016 in China there were 33.6 million more men than women in the country, which makes it harder for men seeking heterosexual relationships. As a result, dating schools for men have begun to pop up in China, with the aim of helping men stand out in the crowd, and speed dating events for those “leftovers” that are still single in their early 30s.
Despite the undeniable impact of culture, religion and upbringing on dating customs, the fundamental components of a good partner including respect, trust and connection can be found in people of all nationalities, it is just often expressed differently.
written by resident sex guru and cross-cultural lover Niki Davis