Eye-popping anecdotes reveal ‘Sex Rules!’ in book culled from studies, world travel

Janice Zarro Brodman during travel in Asia.

After getting married, women of the Berom tribe in Nigeria are expected to spend a few weeks with their husbands and then hit the market for one or more casual flings.

Teenage boys of the Apanyekra-Canela people in Brazil will be shamed if they hook up with a teenage girl – instead, their sexual education will start with women in their forties and fifties.

And among the Etoro in Papua New Guinea, all men have male lovers, because it makes the crops healthy. It’s having sex with your wife that ruins crops, which is why married couples do it in the woods, far from the crops and their own home.

These are just a few of the tidbits about strange cultural practices – strange to us, anyway – that Janice Zarro Brodman has been collecting since her time as a grad student at Harvard in the 1980s and has just published as “Sex Rules! Astonishing Sexual Practices and Gender Roles Around the World.” (Though she decided to publish only after traveling to more than 35 countries as an international development expert.)

An Arlington resident, she’ll be in Cambridge next week for a book signing and what will undoubtedly be the liveliest literary Q&A session of 2017.

The book is an affectionate look at fascinating sexual, romantic and marriage customs in exotic places around the world, she said, and though it’s often funny in the telling, it also has a more serious motive. “I wanted it to be fun, but also show that our assumptions about ‘the way things are done’ are not universal. I love telling someone about a culture and hear their astonished, ‘Wow! I never imagined there was anyplace like that,’” Brodman said.

The book includes a long list of sources so readers can learn more, including existential threats indigenous peoples face from illegal logging and diamond mining.

But with a focus on sex, Brodman hopes mainly that the book will help break down stereotypes about gender roles, right down to the cultures with no jealousy, or where men compete in beauty pageants to attract women or have their penises cut to replicate the rite of passage girls achieve at menarche. “These are wonderful cultures that support happy, fulfilling lives. We may think they have weird ideas about what’s ‘normal and natural’ for women and men, but we can learn a lot from them,” she said.

“Besides,” Brodman said, “they also think a lot we do is very strange.”

Janice Zarro Brodman reads from “Sex Rules! Astonishing Sexual Practices and Gender Roles Around the World” from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Tuesday at a book launch party at the The Harvard Coop, 1400 Massachusetts Ave., Harvard Square.


This post took significant amounts of material from a press release.

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