Whether you post selfies on Tinder, show off your cleavage with a push-up bra, or seriously commit to arm day at the gym, it all boils down to trying to impress your intended. And while the sexual revolution of the ‘60s loosened everyone up a little on matters of carnal pleasure, we Americans and Brits are still pretty uptight. We stress out over dating app bios, we’re disgusted by period sex, and we’re coy when it comes to open relationships. In short, we’re doing okay — but we have a long way to come.
Different cultures around the world have their own tastes and definitions of what’s normal, some of which are downright inspiring. So broaden your horizons with these 10 sexual practices from around the globe that remind us the world is a big, beautiful, open-minded place.
1. Mangaia, Cook Islands — the tribe with sex mentors
When a boy in the Mangaia tribe turns 13, he’s taken away from the village by an older man where, for the next two weeks, he’ll learn about all things sex. But rather being shown how to put a condom on a banana, he’ll be taught all kinds of lady-pleasing positions with, according to one journal, a “heavy focus on one’s partner achieving orgasm multiple times.” Female members of the tribe don’t follow a similar ritual, but they’re encouraged to fully explore their sexuality and have multiple sexual partners before marriage.
2. Brooklyn, US — where polyamory is on the rise
The practice takes its roots from the ‘60s counterculture crowd that rejected traditional mainstream values and politics and set up sex-positive communes where everyone shared everything — including partners. Unlike their hippy forefathers, the poly crowd today has no issues with mainstream culture and is just as likely to be wearing the latest labels and grabbing a coffee from Starbucks as everyone else. That said, polyamory is still political: Practicers often value collective living and believe everyone should be able to act according to their own needs, free from government interference.
3. Chhattisgarh, India — the tribe that defines no-strings sex
Every year, the Muria tribe in Chhattisgarh, India, celebrates Ghotul, a festival where the local teens learn all about songs, dances, folklore, and sex. As soon as night falls, the girls drink natural liquor, which they believe helps prevent pregnancy, then head off to mixed-gender dormitories where they practice premarital sex, sometimes with a single partner and sometimes several. In some Ghotul, teens are paired off in monogamous relationships; in others, they’re discouraged from becoming emotionally attached to their partners, and those who sleep together for more than three nights are punished. The tribe is economically homogeneous and works as a collective, so if a girl accidentally gets pregnant, her baby is adopted by the whole village.
4. Cambodia — the tribe that builds its girls love huts
In the US and UK, most parents insist their teenage daughters keep the bedroom door open when they have their boyfriend or girlfriend round. But in the northeast corner of Cambodia, parents don’t just let her close the door; they give her the whole house.
Moms and dads in the Kreung tribe used to build their daughters huts where they can acquaint themselves with any local boy who takes their fancy until they find the one they want to marry. Traditionally, the man would sit on the steps of the hut and woo his prospective partner with music. If she liked him, she’d invite him in, sometimes for a few nights, months, or even years, then they’d marry or part ways without judgment. Despite the progressive, liberal nature of the practice, misunderstanding fueled aggressive sexual behavior among outsiders, and after an attack on a young girl by a Khymer businessman in 2003, the tribes stopped building huts. Now, the country’s remaining love huts are only to be found in remote northeastern villages.
5. Niger — the wife-stealing tribe
Every year at the end of the rainy season, the Wodaabe tribe — an ancient group of nomadic cattle herders in Niger, West Africa — gathers together to celebrate Gerewol, a festival during which the men dress up in elaborate costumes and strut in a kind of beauty pageant. The aim is to impress or “steal” the wives of other men, who choose their favorites to sleep with.
White teeth and a straight nose are highly prized features, so the men wear lipstick to make their teeth appear bright and paint a white stripe down the center of their nose to make it look sharper. Women wait until their desired man passes by, then tap him on the shoulder. At sunset, the couple disappears into the undergrowth where they’ll spend the night together.
6. Alabama, US — the lesbian village
Founded in 1997, the Alapine Village is a female-only commune and takes its name from the lesbian communities founded throughout the ‘70s. Today, the rural village is home to a group of women who farm the land and host poetry readings, sing-a-longs, and “full moon circles” at night. They’re always looking for new members, so if you like the sound of living in a community based around female nurturing and support, then get in touch. Attendance is flexible and inclusive: Women enjoy a range of diets and live there full time, part-time, seasonally, or short term — so before you take the leap into commune living, you can always try it out for a week.
7. Iran — the temporary marriage
In Iran, they take the phrase “try before you buy” to a whole new level. The temporary marriage, or nikah mut’ah, is a traditional Islamic practice that unites a man and woman as husband and wife for a limited time. Historically it was used so that a fella could have a wife for a short while when traveling long distances, but now, some young Shia Muslim couples are using it as a way to get to know each other a little better before they tie the knot. According to the Oxford Dictionary of Islam, the length of the contract can be anything from three days to a whole year.
8. Yunnan and Sichuan, China — the realm of women
Women of the Mosuo tribe don’t marry and take as many lovers as they want. There’s no word for “father” or “husband,” and lovers don’t live together. Instead, when a woman becomes of age, her mother gives her a key to her own dormitory. From then on, she can begin inviting lovers into her bedroom at night, This arrangement, which is known as a “walking marriage,” can be long-term or last as little as one night. When the couple wants to break up, either the woman stops letting her lover come over, or he just stops coming to see her. Although the tribe’s numbers are dwindling today, records of the Mosuo stretch back to at least 750 BC when the Chinese chronicles named their homeland as nu kuo, or “the realm of women.”
9. Himalayas, Nepal — where brothers share a wife
When a Himalayan son gets married, his family gifts him a portion of their land. But land is scarce on the mountain range, so poorer families who can’t divide their property encourage fraternal polyandry — where the family finds a wife for all the sons so they can live together and leave the estate intact. Once pervasive throughout Nepal’s Mustang region and India’s Ladakh, the practice is slowly dying out and is now limited to sheltered agricultural communities, such as those living in the remote Limi Valley.
10. India and Bangladesh — the community that drinks period blood
While periods remain very much a taboo topic around the world, the Bauls, a religious sect and wandering musical community in India and Bangladesh, celebrate a girl’s first period by mixing her menstrual blood with camphor, milk, and sugar. It’s then drunk by her family and friends.
The Bauls believe spiritual completion involves the “four moons” of menstrual blood, seed, urine, and feces. Women contain all of these, but men are lacking the blood moon, so they must ingest it. They can also absorb the missing moon via their penis during period sex. But this isn’t just any old quickie: It’s a ritualized event where the man must hold back on ejaculating while the women are encouraged to orgasm to energize their partner.
Sure, ingesting blood and indulging in period sex may not be everyone’s cup of tea, but the tribe’s positive attitude towards menstruation is inspiring, especially in a world that mostly views that time of the month as shameful or gross.