Foreigners Reveal What Shocked Them About Sex in the UK

"Maybe they need to be taught about their bodies and sex by someone who doesn't look and act like they want to turn inside out and die."

08 October 2021, 8:15am

One of the best parts of hanging out with locals on holidays is swapping cultural differences. It’s the all inclusive equivalent to arguing about whether your last meal of the day should be called “dinner” or “tea”. Did you know Spanish people don’t sit down to eat until 10PM? And other countries don’t see a Warburtons Toastie loaf as the best bread on the market? Mad.

As with all conversations involving getting pissed with new people, the discussion often pivots to shagging. Vividly, I remember sitting at a bar in New York, explaining how almost everyone in my high school lost their virginity before they turned 16 and how much of a loser I felt not getting my cherry popped before that super sweet birthday. The gals – friends of a friend I was staying with – were aghast.

Apparently in North America the shagging culture is not that of Euphoria but rather Easy A. Virginity is sacred and losing it before college makes you a massive whore who gets ostracised by her classmates. The ongoing joke that Americans wouldn’t last a day in the British school system bears repeating here. Outside of the great Yank divide, it’s interesting to know how people from other countries see our Love Island-style banter towards banging. Luckily, the immigrants below gave us their generous insight into British sexual sensibilities.

Photo: Courtesy of Thomas

THOMAS (HE/HIM), 42, SWEDEN: ‘IT’S DEFINITELY MORE OF A CASUAL VIBE, SOMETIMES TO THE POINT OF BEING SLOPPY’

I lived in London three separate times between '98 and '07. British attitudes towards sex don’t differ massively but it’s definitely more of a casual vibe, sometimes to a point of being sloppy. Flatmates sleeping in the same room – once even in the same bed – as me and my ‘love interest’ wasn’t portrayed as that big of a deal.

I also found out quickly that there was a lot of ‘talking the talk’ outside the bedroom but not as many would commit to ‘walking the walk’. I would advise Brits to relax a bit and see what happens naturally between you and the other person.

Photo: Courtesy of Indigo

INDIGO (THEY/THEM), 24, SPAIN: ‘I REMEMBER BEING SHOCKED BY HOW UNCOMFORTABLE PEOPLE IN THE UK WERE WITH THEIR BODIES’

I think there's a general 'immaturity' and discomfort around sex for people in the UK, which is less common in other places. In non-religious schools in Spain the sex education takes place earlier and I remember being shocked by how uncomfortable people in the UK were with their bodies and with physical contact in general.

I think that children in the UK should learn about their anatomy far earlier without sex being mentioned – it doesn’t need to be – so they can learn about bodies being natural and normal. And they absolutely shouldn't separate girls and boys for this as it makes them unable to talk about it together in the future. Maybe they should learn about sex earlier too? Or maybe they just need to be taught about their bodies and sex by someone who doesn't look and act like they want to turn inside out and die.

Photo: Courtesy of Indre

INDRE (SHE/HER), 30, LITHUANIA: ‘I COULDN’T COMPREHEND THAT PEOPLE HERE WERE DOING IT AT SUCH A YOUNG AGE’

When I first came here I thought everyone was crazy! It was freshers week at our uni halls, and on the evening I arrived everyone in my sixteen-person flat was playing "Never have I ever". Not only did I think ‘WOAH, this lot is experienced’, but also ‘Wow, you talk about this with people you've met yesterday?’ that completely blew my innocent 19-year-old mind.

In Lithuania, sex was definitely a taboo subject. Even with my closest female friends we never spoke about it, about wanting it, or whether any of us had had it. It’s never really discussed at school either. I vividly remember the only piece of advice I was ever given regarding sex of any kind in school – I was 14 and a woman came in to talk to us about period stuff for a bit, and then told us to never have anal because the men will just use us as cum dumpsters! We're not really taught about contraception or safe sex either, just not to bum each other.

When I arrived in the UK I thought of sex as I was expected to think of it in Lithuania – something extremely important, something I should "save myself for", for when I meet someone special, I really could not comprehend that people here were doing it at such a young age and without shame. By the time my first year my virginity was gone though, I honestly just wanted to get it over with.

VI (THEY/THEM), 27, RUSSIA & LATVIA: ‘SOMEHOW BANTER HERE BECOMES THE HIGHEST FORM OF INTIMACY’

Romance, flirtation and sincerity is just not one of the common British skillsets. Somehow banter here becomes the highest, truest, most sought-after form of intimacy. What I get from people in regards to sex is more like an impulse to stay reserved and keep things at a distance, and maybe like a strange commitment to pain and repression? I just watched a film about trans sex workers in Spain in the 1980s, and one of protagonists explained the codes for different service packages on offer (which I now realise are universal codes): ‘Greek’ is code for anal, ‘French’ for oral, and ‘English’ for S&M, bondage and discipline. I don't know what the history is behind the codes, but it paints a picture, no?

In some close friendships, especially with white British men, I feel like they'd rather die on the spot than have a casual conversation about sex life and sexual experiences. But why though? Sex is one of the most fascinating and juiciest subjects ever.

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British attitudes can do with a little bit less anxiety, less avoidance, less calling everything "awkward". We are in this first-world country and there are so many systems that keep us alienated or make us want things to be sterile and categorised. Sex and the erotic in it's widest sense is not just about the acts you do – it's the way you are in a relationship with the world around you, what drives you, what excites you, what brings you pleasure, it's this grand life force. As fascinating as the weather. Let’s talk about it.

Photo: Courtesy of Helena

HELENA (SHE/HER), 32, SPAIN: ‘I FELT LIKE PEOPLE WERE USING A LOT OF PORN KEY-WORDING WITHOUT KNOWING WHAT IT MEANT’

Young people here definitely feel the same [as they do in Spain] on the bigger picture about sex, in terms that is not a big deal socially, having hook ups, etc – but "the dating culture" is quite different. I found that people I had sex with normally have in their minds exactly what they wanted, what turned them on. Meanwhile, my previous experiences in Spain were more about experimenting together.

I’m not sure if it is just a British thing, or a dating app thing, but I felt like people were using a lot of porn key-wording without knowing what it meant. On apps people are like "What's your kink?", and I was a bit overwhelmed about all that wording. I thought that a lot of people were really into it but all it meant was "just not boring" rather than kinky.

ELLA (SHE/HER), 38, ITALY: ‘REALISING YOU COULD BUY SEX TOYS FROM A SHOP WAS DEFINITELY A BIT OF A SHOCK!’

Where I grew up was a fairly repressive environment where sex had to be kept hidden. We didn't know which of our school mates were having sex because they were ashamed of it. I feel like here, people would talk about it quite openly. I have so much jealousy for things people here were able to experience growing up that I couldn't.

I don't think I can pinpoint it down to examples, but I think I started understanding how things were different here when someone I knew posted that they had sustained "their worst sex injury to date" which although didn't give any detail about the sex itself, hinted at the person normally talking about it with a certain level of detail!

There was also the time I inadvertently walked into Ann Summers with my mum when I was roaming around a shopping centre looking for my first UK job – realising you could just buy sex toys from a shop was definitely a bit of a shock! My mum's reaction was priceless, I think she was very out of her depth, but also a bit amused too.

@GINATONIC

Tagged:

Sex, relationships, cultural differences, hook-up culture

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