14 Février 2012

FN: 9

Sex in the Peace Corps


We all know it, we all love it, we all like to talk about it, and we especially like to read about famous people having it[1]. If my information is correct, the most current studies indicate that every American thinks about sex at least once every 0.016 microseconds, and they attempt to engage in it at least 37 times per day[2]. And that’s on a bad day.

Here in the Peace Corps, we have lots and lots and lots of sex. We do it in the fields, we do it in the trees, we do it standing up, riding bikes, hoeing fields, and cooking dinner.  We do it covered in mud, drenched in sweat, fully clothed in traditional local garments, and wearing nothing at all. We do it in pouring tropical rainstorms, beneath thundering tropical waterfalls, and in front of vast desert panoramas. It’s lusty, busty, fun, sweet, charming, romantic, and beautiful. That’s right: we are some tropical-living, sex-loving fiends, and you should be immensely jealous. No one has ever had more or better sex than we here in the Peace Corps are always having. That’s why the locals love us so much. In fact, I’m having sex right now. And let’s be honest – you’re immensely jealous. And probably more than a little aroused, you dirty little monkey you.

Oh wait.

That’s right.

Most statistics and claims about sex are absolute bullshit. Including those about sex in the Peace Corps. Sorry ladies, he’s not 11 inches long and able to go for hours. Sorry guys, she’s not a lady in public, an absolute whore in the bedroom, and yet somehow still STD free and a virgin. Sorry everyone, but while sex certainly happens during most volunteers’ service, it just isn’t as interesting or romantic[3] as people seem to think.

I’m not going to name names, but I have gotten more patently absurd questions about sex in the Peace Corps than I’m entirely comfortable admitting. From what I can tell, when people think “sex in the Peace Corps”, they think “two impossibly beautiful young people making sweet passionate love that is a perfect and romantic expression of the ardor that they share, set against some incandescently breathtaking tropical backdrop (and there’s probably some orchestra playing music that swells to a mighty crescendo just as they kiss as well)”. What they don’t think (but should) is “two sexually active former band geeks with ragged hair and bad skin who haven’t had a real shower in 2 months rutting vigorously in 100 degree temperatures with no shower or air freshener to use afterwards”. There’s sex here alright, but it tends to be more…visceral…than your average bored housewife’s fantasies.

Let’s look at the logistics of it[4].

To begin with, most volunteers are willing and able to have sex. Only about 10% are married and therefore dead below the waist[5], and only about another 10% are over 50 and therefore permanently banned from –EWEWEWEWEWEWEWEWEWEWEW!!![6]

This means that about 80% of volunteers are willing and able to have sex. Some are more willing, some are less able, but hey, viva la difference, non?

The problem is, where and how?

When you first get in country, you spend 3 months in training. You also don’t really know anyone. So if you want to have sex then, you’re probably just looking for a quick hookup since you are surrounded by people you only met a few weeks ago. Go you[7].

But where to do it? Where can two aspiring lovers make sexy time whilst serving as lowly trainees? In your volcanically hot one-room oven hut that’s the size of a closet and zealously watched 24/7 by your host family? In the open-air classroom at the training center that’s almost always populated by at least one volunteer? Perhaps in some field or hidey-hole, in the .073 seconds when you aren’t being eaten alive my mosquitoes or chased by local children demanding money, candy, and your shirt? Maybe in the latrine?

You can see the problem here. Sure, sex happens in training, but it ain’t easy. In fact, I suspect that PC takes especial delight in making it extra tough. I don’t know how many people in our stage had sex – nor do I want to know – but let’s just say I strongly suspect that it was not the 1/3 – 1/2 of all volunteers that PC implies has sex during training. Or if my stage did pull it off, props to them for 1) not letting on at all, and 2) definitely being more determined about it than me.

But then you go to site. Surely at site you can have all the sex you want without any problems? I mean, you have your own house and your own bed and everything. Heck, they even give you unlimited free condoms!

Mmmm…sort of.

It’s true that once you get to site, your sexual opportunities broaden somewhat. If nothing else, you do in fact finally have a house, with a door that you can close, and even a bed of sorts. But that isn’t as liberating as you might think. Most volunteers still live in a courtyard with a host family, and their comings and goings are still sharply watched. Also, it’s still mind-numbingly hot, your bed is a crappy cot that tends to break, there’s still no shower to freshen up with afterwards, and local children have a depressingly consistent habit of going through your garbage, finding your used condoms, and using them as balloons[8].

And then there’s the singles scene, or relative lack thereof. In the US, it’s common to casually date and casually have sex. Here, that just doesn’t happen that much – or if it does, I’m entirely unaware of it. From what I can tell, by and large most PC sex happens within the context of at least a temporary dating relationship, and those relationships involve one of 2 options: dating another volunteer (with whom you have a lot in common, but whom you rarely see), or dating a local (whom you see all the time, but may not have much in common with). It’s a real toss-up. I would say more volunteers date other volunteers or people from the States, but not by an overwhelming margin. Sure, some play the field or just go for random hookups, and those that do tend to stick to volunteers or NGO workers[9]. Some seek prostitutes, but not many[10]. There are gay and lesbian volunteers here as well, but I’m neither, so I can’t really comment on their subjective sexual experiences. I bet they’re challenging though.

Happily for the voyeuristic tone of this post, the human need to breed is strong, and all sorts of people do in fact make the beast with two backs once they’re at site. Sometimes, they even manage to do it several nights a week, with several different partners. Go them. But they overwhelmingly tend to do so within the context of an established relationship, and that’s just not very interesting, is it. Either they’re dating someone from back in the States, they’re dating another volunteer, or they’re dating someone they met at site. In all three cases, they’re dating, and their sex lives tend to be about what you would expect from dating couples. Sorry, but there’s just nothing especially exotic or romantic about “girl has sex with long-term boyfriend in monogamous relationship”, even when that boyfriend is African[11][12][13].

So there you have it: yes, we have sex in the Peace Corps. No, it’s not really all that different from sex in the US. Yes, we probably have more of it on average, but that’s more a function of the relative youth of the organization and the copious amounts of free time that we have. I would say your average volunteer has slightly less sex than they had in college. But I’m old, so what do I know?

PS: Happy Valentine’s Day!

[1] At least the pretty ones. “BRAD PITT CHEATS ON ANGELINA WITH ANNE HATHAWAY” = immediate magazine sales. “ROSIE O’DONNELL SEEN RAVISHING GARY BUSEY” = immediate vomiting and a screaming need for therapy.

[2] And that doesn’t include teenage males masturbating at relativistic speeds. They skew the numbers so badly that they’ve been put in their own category.

[3] Big R. As in “beach scene in From Here to Eternity”, not as in “beach scene from anyone else who has ever attempted to make out with sand up their shorts”. I’m sure there’s lots of love and romance, but not much Romance. Or at least, not as much as people’s imaginations seem to think it involves.

[4] All of the following commentary concerns PC in Burkina Faso, which admittedly has a fairly unique set of cultural and physical conditions. Maybe sex is really easy in Bulgaria or Mexico or Jamaica or China. I can’t say. All I can comment on are the conditions here.

[5] What? Everyone knows people only get married once their libidos have withered and died within their breasts, and they have given up the will to go on having happy exciting single lives.


[7] Yes, I’m sure it was love at first sight for some of them, blah blah blah. I’m speaking broad trends, not specifics.

[8] Seriously. It’s a major issue here. You have to remember to save and burn those things, or this will happen. They’ve even been known to dig them up.

[9] It happens, but more rarely than you might think. I can’t say why, but I think the perceived fear of AIDS probably has something to do with it, even though the rate is extremely low here.

[10] This is a post on sex, not dating. I’m just covering all the options.

[11] Interesting side note: the overwhelming preponderance of volunteers dating locals are female. I have no idea why this is, but it’s an observable phenomenon. Actually, that’s not entirely true – I strongly suspect the fact that 17 is the traditional age of marriage for females here has a lot to do with there being no single women for guys to date. By 22 – the minimum age for most volunteers – they usually have 2 – 4 kids. Not much dating can go on then, hmm?

[12] Another interesting side note: I’m told that because excision (female circumcision) is so widely practiced here, local men frequently have literally no idea what to do with certain lady parts. As in, none. To quote one volunteer “he kept touching random things…I went along with it until he stuck his finger in my ear, and then I was like…um…no, that’s not it”. Also, apparently local men are accustomed to just lying there, with no visible expressions of interest or enjoyment, and it takes training to make them get into it. Putting those two anecdotes together makes for an eye-crossing mental image.

[13] Also, I didn’t know you can put footnotes together like this. Fun!