By TRACEY EATON | The Dallas Morning News
HAVANA – As Americans ponder war, many Cubans are thinking of something else: sex.
“Americans may have invented the phrase, ‘Make love, not war.’ But we’re perfecting it,” said Yuleski Perez, 29, a Havana cafeteria worker about to spend a romantic evening dancing with her boyfriend.
Given Cubans’ reputation for sensuality and the country’s opposition to the U.S.-led attack on Iraq, it was only fitting that Havana hosted the 16th World Congress of Sexology earlier this month.
More than 3,300 specialists from 124 nations shared the latest wisdom about sex and offered more than 1,000 presentations. Among them: Does a Woman Know When Men Stare at Her Body?; Sexual Dysfunction in Subjects with Pathological Gambling; and Sexual Predators: Lovemaps and Their Perversion.
For $40 a plate, participants also dined on purported aphrodisiacs such as shark and crocodile dishes, all prepared by master Cuban chef Gilberto Smith, 82. A Colombian woman sold a $25 Monopoly-style board game aimed at getting couples into bed. And Mexican surgeons fixed up a volunteer with a penile implant.
The head of Cuba’s sexologist delegation was Mariela Castro Espín, daughter of Raúl Castro, chief of the country’s armed forces and the second-highest ranking official behind his brother, Fidel Castro. Ms. Castro, president of Cuba’s National Center for Sexual Education, emphasized the scientific character of the event.
Sexologists have a “scientific, social and political responsibility” to educate the populace, she said.
Serious about sex
Indeed, beyond the playful attitude that many Cubans have toward sex, the country has made important strides in spreading awareness of such threats as AIDS, specialists say.
“Cuba is well-known for its expertise in public health ... and its courage to speak out and take a position on the fundamental importance of equitable access to health care,” said Tomris Turmen, executive director of family and community health at the World Health Organization. “Many lessons can be learned from Cuba.”
Out on the streets, some Cubans prefer to think that such lessons are purely practical.
To put it bluntly, they say they know best when it comes to sex.
Consider a March poll of 200 Cubans in Bohemia magazine: Most described themselves as “ardent” and “passionate.”
The men, unabashedly macho, called themselves creative, accelerated and marvelous with their partners. The women described themselves as loving and tender.
Fourteen percent said they made love every day.
Such results are only natural, said Jose Antonio Torres, a sexology expert from Puerto Rico. And that’s because natives of the Caribbean are among the hemisphere’s most sensual, he said.
Culture, upbringing and religion sometimes get in the way, “making it seem like sex is something bad,” he said, adding that sex is natural.
Attention to women
He attended the sexology congress and was selling sex-education products for women, including his book on the misconceptions about the female orgasm.
“All kinds of products are available for men, but there’s not that much out there for women,” he said. “I’m trying to help meet the need.”
At this event, at Havana’s Palace of Conventions, Mr. Torres was preaching to the choir.
Of course, sexologists need to pay more attention to women’s needs, said Andres Flores Colombino, president of the executive committee of the Latin American Federation of Sexology and Sexual Education.
“Some 20 products resembling Viagra have come out, and they’re all for men. And I think we’ll see in the future a patch or a nasal spray that would be similar to Viagra. But there haven’t been enough studies looking into women’s sexuality,” said Mr. Flores, author of 12 books and a dictionary on sex.
‘A human right’
Unfortunately, many people are “sexophobic,” said Milton Diamond, a professor at the Department of Anatomy and Reproductive Biology at the University of Hawaii.
“Sex has been censored in most countries. Western culture has tried to keep it hidden,” he said.
“But people are realizing that this is too important, that sex is a human right. It isn’t just AIDS and divorce. Sex is normal. And very few people in the world don’t get involved in sex in one way or another.”
Across the convention hall, a British sexologist talked about the trauma of sexual assault.
About 77 percent of assault victims knew their assailants, one study showed. Many victims had consumed alcohol or cocaine. Many had difficulty remembering the attacks, yet they suffered lingering psychological trauma, the sexologist said.
Other presentations were more technical. Like this one: Use of Interferon Alpha Leucocitary Cream in Recurrent Simple Herpes.
Closer to something most mortals can understand, Zaira Benavides, an entrepreneur from Bucaramanga, Colombia, sold an erotic board game – known as Ra-Re-Ri that was complete with cartoons and jokes.
“I invented the game two years ago, but it just went on sale in October,” she said. “Playing the game is therapeutic. It eliminates tensions. It’s especially good for couples that have trouble communicating.”
Her game is in Spanish, but she may offer an English version by 2005. That’s when the 17th World Congress of Sexology is expected to be held in Montreal.
Brett McCann, executive officer of a group called Impotence Australia, has his sights on 2007. Australia, he says, is in the running to host the sexology congress that year in Sydney.
“We take sexology seriously in Australia,” said Mr. McCann, part of a three-person team working the crowd in Havana.
“For us, this is like the Olympics.”