SEX. Did I get your attention? Great, because that is our topic of discussion of the week - more specifically: sex education. I hope you find our conversation not only entertaining but super educational as well (hence, I will be putting out a parental advisory notice for this episode just in case…). Some questions we hope to have answers for are: how do we make the birds and the bees less of a taboo topic within our community? What are some resources and spaces that we can look into to better educate ourselves on sexual health? And further deepening the conversation, why do some of us have intimacy issues (is it because of all the moments our parents told us to look away from TV sex scenes?)?
All I can say is this: expect to be enlightened and expect the uncensored.
Gilcy Aquino is a lover of Internet memes, flat Soda and soggy cereal. In no particular order. She is a native born Filipina who immigrated to the U.S. at an early age and thus, fueling her love for Filipino food and pointing at things using her lips. When she isn't writing she can be found in the last aisle of a bookstore crying over her favorite fictional characters. A recent English major graduate from University of Illinois at Chicago, she hopes to continue her elicit (and sometimes explicit - if you know what I mean) love affair with the written word by perusing a master's degree in editing and publishing.
Regina Wu /伍嘉嫣 is a human bean who likes to connect with other human beans. While they are waiting for the day they have a stable adult life to comfortably take care of their future pug, they often contemplate the meaning of life at Paradise Pond at Smith College. They hope to continue following life wherever it takes them (hopefully back to Taiwan soon). They are currently pusuing a bachelor's degree in education and child study at Smith College.
TRANSCRIBED BY IVY HANG
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NGUYEN: Hi, welcome to Project Voice! This is Jessica again, thank you for tuning in. So, today, we will be talking about a very fun topic; very fun and interesting topic that I think everybody will enjoy listening to… AND IT’S ABOUT SEX! Well, more like, sex education and sex positivity. And so, this is actually my first group interview, and here we have Gilcy Aquino and Regina Wu. They’re both friends of mine and you know, we’re, we’re excited to talk about, you know, the [LAUGHS] the need.
GILCY AQUINO, INTERVIEWEE: The birds and the bees.
NGUYEN: The birds and the bees.
NGUYEN: Um, the need to talk about sex education; de-stigmatizing the whole subject within our community and yeah! I’m just gonna keep this an open platform for both of you. Have you had anything to share? I know that like, I guess just to start off; within our community, sex is not really a topic that (LAUGHS) I have a good education on. Honestly, I didn’t know what sex was until tenth grade in high school. (LAUGHS) I don’t know...what, where I was in health class. But I—yeah, I remember that we did have sex education; I guess it wasn’t that effective, it didn’t reach me for some reason. So yeah, I learned it through my friend and she was explaining it to me while, you know… giving me, like, the visual aid too. Anyways, it just sounds weird. It’s more appropriate than it really was. But —(LAUGHS)— it just shows, like, you know, this lack of talk—this lack of discussion about sex in the household, in the family. Whenever we watched a movie or a TV show and something gets intimate, like, and my mom would be like, “CLOSE YOUR EYES, LOOK AWAY.” And you know! (LAUGHTER)
AQUINO: My aunt would walk in and see, like, they would just be kissing and she’d be like, “why are you watching that? You’re too young!”, as I’m like 16 and she just turned it off. And I would remember her, like… @ithin “The Bachelor”, it would just be way too promiscuous. [LAUGHS] And she would just turn it off, like “why are you watching this? You’re too young.”
NGUYEN: Oh I know, but I’ve done that since—until college.
AQUINO: You were on “The Bachelor?” What?
NGUYEN: No, not that! (LAUGHS) Just like any, although “The Bachelor” is that, what I hear, quite an addicting show; can get quite, can get pretty heated. (LAUGHS)
AQUINO: Okay, see, I wasn’t even the one watching it. It was my grandmother.
REGINA WU, INTERVIEWEE: Yeah, so it’s really interesting... both of you— the way our parents, or like family members, deal with sex within the household. In, like, a lot of Asian American communities, it’s not really common to discuss or like it’s still very taboo. So growing up, like whenever there’d be like a sex scene or like people kissing or like being onscreen, my parents wouldn’t really say anything. It would just be really, really awkward? And I would, like, cover my eyes—make them feel, like, less awkward. But most of the time, it was just, like, not acknowledged or they wouldn’t really say, “oh, close your eyes” or “stop watching this”; like, they’re just like—they might change the channel if we’re watching TV, but like in a movie, I just kinda cover my eyes. But it was just really… unspoken; like we’re not talking about this, like this doesn’t really exist as a thing.
AQUINO: My family has neither ever talked about it and I’m 23; like never talked about any kind of this stuff with my family and it’s just like. Well, at least I got educated and you know, in my groups of friends, when they were like, “Oh Gilcy, do you know what masturbating is?” and I was like, “Hmm, is that a computer chip?” (ALL LAUGH) And I got proceeded to be made fun of and then I realized, maybe I should learn what the birds and bees are. (LAUGHS) I remember, I was having this really—it was a conversation when I was in like 4th or 5th grade. And I went to Catholic school, so I remember... the priest was giving his sermon. And we were looking at the rosary and my friend was sitting next to me and she’s like “do you know what boobs are?” and I was like “...No!” (LAUGHS) And she gets the rosary and she points to Jesus ‘cause (his) nipples and was like “these are what boobs are.” [laughs] And at the time, I thought it was just the funniest thing because we were in the middle of sermon, like right in the middle of church, and we just, like, burst out laughing. So I got in trouble that day from my teacher, but it was worth it. So I know what boobs are, thanks to Jesus. Like, it just goes to show like, I don’t even know what my own parts were at the time, when clearly other people around me did. And it was just this—it was—it’s always that fear of, like Asian parents, or at least in my family, that we come off as ignorant. And I think because of this lack of education in this area, we come off as what they fear most, which is ignorant.
AQUINO: So it’s kinda like, ironic situations.
NGUYEN: It is and then—I don’t know where they expect us to learn about this. I don’t know whether they even want us to know ‘cause you know, my mom was like—like she was aware that I knew what sex was, although we never had an actual conversation. But she would never even, even mention that—the word itself. She would be like, “You know, honey, baby, you know when you meet people and you get to know them; NEVER give up that… that thing, you know? That thing”.
WU: Oh my gosh.
NGUYEN: Um, that thing, meaning virginity. So... (LAUGHS)
AQUINO: [LAUGHS] I was in like, “What are you talking about, Mom? Like what? You mean like, my very special hoodie that’s my favorite one? My Harry Potter one or...?”
NGUYEN: I would never!
AQUINO: I would like, make her outright say it just because like, it’s so— uncommon to hear anyone even mention just the slightest thing about that subject. And… well now, I think it’s pretty funny, but like, when I was younger, I was like [inaudible]. It was awkward, but now I just take everything with, like, humor and whenever, like anything like kissing and stuff goes on, I always, like, turn to my mom and just, like, look at her; just like with a straight— [LAUGHS]— and then I make eye contact and it’s just the funniest thing to me.
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) That’s really funny. So my first question for you guys is: why should sex education be a concern? And this is a no-brainer, but like… I guess, I think I should better word it. Like, how can we make sex education more approachable within our family? Like, is there a way? I know that all of us have learned it through different means, like through our friends or through our website, you know, just outside sources or TV shows of course. Like sex is everywhere. How do we make sex education a more approachable subject for our parents?
AQUINO: Honestly, I think it—the first step would be to actually acknowledge the fact that it actually happens and then it would be to take away, like, the sorta “ haha, explicit sexual stuff” about it and just kinda talk about it in like a scientific kind of way. You know like, just plainly “this is what happens when a child is being born” and like, lead from that ‘cause, like, there’s nothing sexy about an embryo right? Like, “Oh, haha, look at that really hot embryo, that’s so attractive,” but no, it’s like—oh— there’s sperm goes into the egg and within like 9 months, like, an embryo is born and a baby and that’s how people are made. And then from that, I think, would be a good springboard to say, “Okay and during that process, this is what happens when…” For the act of making it, you know? So instead of being influenced by what the media says about it, I think talking about it from a purely scientific standpoint would be a really good idea when you’re just bringing something up and then when they go into health class, people won’t make fun of them for saying, “Oh what is that?” (LAUGHS)
NGUYEN: Yeah, that’s a really good point.
WU: Yeah. I definitely agree with what Gilcy said about kind of making sex seem a lot more normal, just kinda like natural human development, even if everybody isn’t into sex or wants to have sex, I think it’s still very important for education to be a thing. I think that kind of like define sex education, like it’s not—there are some things that like go into sex or beyond; how babies are made, but I think like Gilcy was talking about earlier, like boobs or ‘what is a boob?,’ like bodily development, and then like actual sex and like beyond sexuality, like what does it mean for you to like a female, what is it like a male, to like someone who doesn’t identify with that. And just like in general, sex education is kinda like really important. ‘Cause like, you figure part of it is that relationship that you have with somebody else and so for people to learn about what kind of skills to use in order to communicate and make good decisions, regarding like sex and like their sexual health, is really important. And also depending on how old the people are, it’s really difficult to make it seem like a natural part of the human development, especially when it’s awkward being not talked about in a lot of Asian families. Like why, I think, like sex education is really important and then kind of how to make it more approachable is kinda really depends on what age you’re talking to? Generally, yeah, just like, making sex seem like a natural part of human life.
AQUINO: I also think it’s important to continue to develop the conversation according to what age the person is. Obviously, if you’re starting it off at 13, you’re not gonna throw out these big things, like—oh—you don’t want to over-complicate everything. So I think as the person grows up, you wanna keep the communication between the parent and the child as open as possible, you know. If they have any questions, they wouldn’t feel embarrassed to ask you because you already had the conversation, so then asking more is just kind of like supplementing their knowledge on what they already learned. And I think it’s also important to keep the fact that there are different, like, as Regina said, that there are different things that go into what sex is, such as your sexual orientation, and like, being—knowing the time when you are ready. I feel like the media always pushes or there’s always that stigma that, you know, “everyone’s doing it.” You have to lose it at a certain age when, like, in reality, I know people that are 23 and they haven’t even had their first kiss yet. So it’s always important to tell, “Oh, okay, this is what it is and let me know if you’re confused about anything or if you hear anything weird. ‘Truffle butter’ or /what the hell’s truffle butter?’ (LAUGHS) But I mean I looked that up on the Internet (LAUGHS), like now I know what it is. Stuff like that, people just don’t know what it is, so it’d be nice to have that open communication to just further their knowledge.
NGUYEN: Yeah, I do agree with everything you said. So for me, I find that age is a huge factor, you two mentioned before. Just really depends where you are in life. I guess personally for me, the older I am and the more open I am to my family about my personal life, I think communication is key with parents; break down that wall, it can lead to a step forward to opening up the conversation about sex or sex education. And I think the older I get, they just have to accept that it’s a part of life and they’re well aware of it [LAUGHS] and I’ve learned a lot through my friends really and honestly, I don’t have much to say because of my upbringing. I was talking to someone else earlier about this. Sometimes your family is more religious—religiously conservative, or can follow through that attitude towards sex, sex education; the aversion to bring up that topic can be passed down the children as well. There are those who are uncomfortable about the idea of intimacy because they don’t really grow up in those households. I know with Asian households, like sometimes children have a hard time expressing their emotions, just being open.
AQUINO: Oh god, that’s totally me.
AQUINO: That’s so me. I think that Kitty, my boyfriend. But, um, he says that I have a tsundere character and I think part of it is because of my Asian upbringing, where my family has always been like not—my family’s not the most affectionate. So whenever, like, I do feel any sort of affection towards someone, I’m just like, “Mmm you’re okay, I guess,” but I actually do like them. But I just have that aversion to expressing how I feel especially if it’s more intimate feeling. And it’s gotten me into so much trouble before. I really wish that my family was a little more emotionally attached to each other. But I think that’s because in Asian culture, it’s kinda weird even in shows— or Asian shows, they don’t really show people kissing or holding hands as they do in American ones. And it’s just so uncommon to see them doing it out in public.
WU: Yeah, I think that when we talk about sex, we don’t often talk about love and affection and intimacy and when it comes to Asian families, it’s really subtle. I remember growing up, I wanted to be Latina because I would see my friends and their parents—when they went to go pick them up or something and they would like kiss them on their cheek or like hug them or would just say, “I love you”. And whenever I would go home, I would be like, “Okay, that’s not happening with us.” [LAUGHS] The ways in which your parents and your family members are telling you that they love you, like the little things. When they ask you if you know— if you have a jacket when you’re heading out—
AQUINO: —Or, “have you eaten yet?”
WU: Mhmm, yes. Yeah, so I definitely kind of resonate with what you were kinda saying.
NGUYEN: Yeah, and then there’s this socially awkwardness that comes out. I think I was more socially awkward before when I was younger because of that lack of display of affections with my parents. But I think that I mentioned in an earlier episode about—sometimes it takes a conscious effort to break that barrier and be the first one to initiate showing intimacy, being affectionate with them. And it can be hard, really, because first of all, it’s awkward; it’s kind of like you’re trying to hug a rock.
AQUINO: So true, though.
NGUYEN: And maybe at first, they’re probably gonna be shocked or you don’t really know what their reaction will be. They’re probably gonna think that we’re—like I’m crazy or something.
NGUYEN: But you know, things take time and repeating that behavior of being affectionate more often may help normalize the idea of being affectionate, showing intimacy and you know, that becomes a good leeway to start a conversation or something that’s more—that’s deeper. Uh. That’s... sex. Basically. (LAUGHS)
Again, in the second podcast on mental health, we were talking about reaching out to our parents, but sometimes, our parents can’t—like we can’t open up to our parents just because we just can’t. So in situations like that, we have to really seek other resources that can provide you legitimate sex education, credible information. And I guess I’m curious to know whether you have any resources or spaces that you’d like to share with our community. What would your advice be for someone who is sexually active or who is thinking about becoming sexually active—being sexually active or would just want to prepare for the future?
AQUINO: Well, for me, I think going to—what I did—was go to, like, my close friends and with them, it’s not awkward so you can ask them like the weirdest shit and they will gladly answer you. So for me, it was just talking about it with someone else that’s gone through the experience and just being—having them keep an open mind and asking really basic stuff. “How do you put on a condom?” Like, “what does that—?” Like, “will I get a rash?” Stupid stuff like that and yeah, they did laugh at me, but they ultimately—they did tell me, like, what the doodads and the doohickeys were, with the whole thing. And I think also just—I know at least in my college, at UIC, there’s a health center where they give out free condoms and usually it comes with pamphlets. Signs to look out for sexually transmitted diseases, and I think it’s also—it’s a great way to have a basic knowledge—just, like, reading through the pamphlet or you don’t even have to read through it. You can just glance at the pictures and just, you know, make sure everything’s good down there. And then, I was kinda— this might be a little iffy, but Tumblr...—
NGUYEN: Yes, yes, yes.
AQUINO: —where I did learn a lot more that built on my knowledge of what I have right now. And even though Tumblr’s just a lot of memes, fan-fiction, and fangirling, but like, there really is a lot of sites that can—that give advice that you could ask them. People post things—tips on, like, how to prevent getting STDs or like UTIs and stuff like that. Um, then I think another resource is—if you do enough “doing it”, I think there’s the other person as well, and I think it’s a lot of trial and error. So you might read somewhere that, in Cosmo or something—which I don’t think is a very credible source—very interesting, but it’s not as credible. That one trick on Cosmo might not work for the person you’re with? And I think it’s a lot of trial and error with what the other person’s preferences are and like, ultimately what yours are. So in that way, you’re kind of learning from each other.
NGUYEN: Very good point.
WU: Yeah, I’m just thinking about what Gilcy said. For me, I think my first kind of introduction to sex education was, like, in the classroom, and that’s cool? But it was like speaking with other friends and also YouTube. There was this one person that I used to follow and watch her videos a lot; her name was “ilikeweylie.”
NGUYEN: Oh, yes!
WU: Yes, she really does normalize a lot of things; she’s kind of—like having her growing up, this kind of Asian American; she would talk about tampons, or sex, like it was just a really normal thing. So that’d be, like, a great resource; generally the Internet, like YouTube, there’s so many different resources. One of my favorite websites is everybodyfeminism.com el-oh-el.
WU: But yeah, like, talking to friends, looking up things on the Internet, whether that be, like, Tumblr, YouTube, Planned Parenthood; there are a lot of different resources that I think that—I can’t—unfortunately, I can’t really think of any particularly just for Asian Americans, but there are a lot of things that people can look into if they want to learn more about sex education.
NGUYEN: Those are awesome resources for our listeners to consider. Also just to add to that, if your school has a sex/health educator, that would be someone you should really seek out, make an appointment with that person; I mean they’re there for a reason. I think that’s like a really precious resource; I don’t know whether every school has that. Or go to your gynecologist? Make an appointment with them and prepare your list of questions and just be comfortable with whatever you’re asking because they’re there for a reason; that’s their job. Their job is to answer questions that relate to your body and to make sure that you are practicing safe sex, to make sure that you are in good health. And I would love to have more episodes, more interviews on these particular topics because it is important, like sometimes what you see on the media isn’t healthy...isn’t what really depict what reality, like it—
AQUINO: [LAUGHS] Like, okay, so I remember my first experience with porn. And it was—it was me and a bunch of friends and we were like, sitting around this circle, just hanging out and one of my friends was like, “Oh, have you guys seen pterodactyl porn?” And we’re like “What? What are you talking about?” So he pulls up this thing of these naked guys just dressed as pterodactyls, this dinosaur, and they’re flapping their wings, a naked lady just like between both of them and they’re like cawing. They’re literally flapping their wings and cawing. And it’s just like three minutes of that and like, I was really scarred from that. So...(LAUGHS)
NGUYEN: Yeah, even this—
AQUINO: Warning: there is no pterodactyl porn that you will expect—be expected to be having, so...
AQUINO: ...ease your mind, children.
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) Such imagery, wow. I will make sure that I will put out, like a parental advisory notice for this episode, definitely. (LAUGHS) But again, it’s a natural part of human life. Oh! I did want to add something that Regina actually—we had a conversation earlier about the importance of masturbation.
WU: That’s when I first started out on the path to sex! And I think a really important part was masturbation. You know in middle school, a lot of people say the word “penis” and giggle, but you don’t really hear the word “vagina,” and it’s more acceptable for males to be more sexually active than it was for females. There’s a lot of shame that goes with masturbation and I think it’s really important in personal sex education because you’re figuring out what your body parts are, in regards to, like, genitals; what cis-females might have—like, what’s a vagina? What are the different parts besides just, like, the vaginal hole; like the clitoris, what do you do with that? What you personally like and what are you into. And just knowing about your own body, I think is like the biggest thing; like how your body reacts, what your body likes or dislikes, and then being able to bring that into any sort of sexual—like, intimate relationship that you’re having with another person where if you know, like— but to have that space to explore and discover somebody else, I think that masturbation is a great way to start with personal sex education.
AQUINO: I definitely agree; I think it’s always good to know what you, yourself, like before trying to focus on someone else and trying to please them. So, I know with my experience, I never really masturbated? Because I didn’t know what it was—clearly, I didn’t know what it was. And it wasn’t until I started being more active that I was like, “Hmm maybe I should try to figure out what—you know—what makes me tick.” And it really helped a lot because I—just at the time—before I just had no idea what I liked, I didn’t know what the hell was going on, like, “Why are you putting that there?” Like stop. What is this? But I think it’s a really good idea to be comfortable in the things you like and to be able to vocalize them and say that, like, “I like it when you do this.” I know when I was living with a bunch of girls, it wasn’t weird to talk about vibrators. And I think you don’t have to have a vibrator, but there are some people that, like, can’t get off unless you—they do have a vibrator. And that opened my eyes to like, “Oh, maybe you don’t just have to use your fingers, you know?” And I think being able to be open with that and being comfortable with yourself ties on—ties into the whole sex education as well beause you don’t know anything as well as you know yourself.
NGUYEN: Preach! (LAUGHS) That was awesome. Yes, I just want to thank you two. I really, really appreciate you taking the time out to share your take on this topic and I know that—you know— sex can be a really taboo topic. I mean, that’s why we’re talking about this, so, and the fact you two are so open about this is just great. I love how you’re setting up good examples of normalizing the topic of sex and bringing that up and conversations like this just happens everywhere, within our peers and of course, in the media, so yeah. Thank you so much! Like I know not everybody can do this and I think that it’s so cool that you guys are here and just so comfortable, like...
AQUINO: (LAUGHS) We’re having fun so...
NGUYEN: Yeah, this has been just… it’s been fun and so real. Thank you for being real and down to earth ‘cause that’s what we need. Like, we need truth, we need to—wait, get down and dirty— that sounds wrong, right? Okay—(LAUGHS)
AQUINO: But it’s accurate though, right?
NGUYEN: Yeah! (LAUGHS) Like, the down and dirty. What we all need to know as a community because it’s important—a part of our life and so I would say practicing safe sex, making sure that you’re healthy and you’re—
AQUINO: —That you’re consensual!
NGUYEN: Mmm, yes. Consent is very important as well. Remember, it’s only okay if both sides say yes.
WU: It’s also totally okay if you’re not into having sex and you’re asexual or aromantic. But it’s still important for you to know about things that relate to your body. But also you can be asexual and still have sex. But anyway—
NGUYEN: (LAUGHS) Agreed, agreed.
AQUINO: Yes, yes.
NGUYEN: And you know—and if you want to wait, don’t feel pressured to give in, again, like, we talked earlier. Virginity, don’t see it as something—something that’s a bad thing—
AQUINO: —It’s not something that you have to do, you know? You can just—you can wait, you can not do it, you can do it and then be like, “I don’t like this. What am I doing? I’m gonna stop.” It’s really—the ball is in your corner, like, you’re the one that’s in control of it. And you can’t let anyone else tell you otherwise, you know? Someone’s like, “Yo, we should totally Netflix and chill tonight,” you can be like, “Nah, I’m gonna go Netflix and chill by myself.”
AQUINO: “I don’t need you,” (LAUGHS) And so, I think it’s really important to like—when you do have that conversation with your parents or your children, even in the classroom and stuff, consent is always the number one priority—like, you need consent, but you don’t need to have sex.
NGUYEN: Mhm, yes. That’s a perfect way to end this. So, yeah! If you guys are curious or if you have any more questions about this topic, or if you want more episodes on this, please let us know. Tweet @projectvoiceaaw; we also have a Facebook page, “Project Voice,” or just email at email@example.com. Once again, thank you so much, you two, for sharing your knowledge with us today! It’s been very valuable. And yeah! Have a great day, everyone. Practice safe sex!
WU: Thanks Jess for bringing us together and talking about this and doing this podcast, I think it’s really, really, really cool.
AQUINO: I’m glad we’re able to be a voice.
NGUYEN: Mmm, yes, thank you! I’m honored to have you two be on this podcast. It’s great, it’s important to have voices like both of you on here, so yeah! We’ll see each other next time!
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