Why so many Anglo-American men consider Brazilians to be
"so hot" and sexually active? These
are guys who
probably never let their hair down. Suddenly, pretty
prostitutes are draping themselves
all over them offering
sex for less than two hours’ wages back home.
I went to see the gay pride parade down in Copacabana, Sunday.
Before going to meet my friends in the assembled crowds of GLS (which, to hear the local wags tell it, means
Gays, Lésbicos e Suspeitos), I stopped off at the Balcony Bar for a dark draft beer. Balcony’s one of the only places on the beach that
serves these and it’s also a major hangout for the kind of tourist who comes to Rio expecting to find "hot" women. As such, it’s
usually filled to the brim with prostitutes and gringos.
Today was no exception. As I sat there drinking beer, I eavesdropped on the conversations around me. There were
three Americans to my left, with the obligatory professional
gatas draped over them. After listening in for a while I
introduced myself and got an earful of their comments regarding the parade.
Turns out that all three are manager types in the service economy back in Toledo, Ohio. Their reactions to the
assembled viadagem ranged from attempts at derision (but it’s rather hard to snort dismissively at two hundred thousand of
anything), to thinly concealed anger, to straight out homophobia ("If one a dem faggots touches me, I’m gonna punch him in da
face."). After awhile, more than a bit intimidated, they left the Balcony to head in-land where there "weren’t so many queers
around". Just before they left, one of them turned to me, shook his head and said "We don’t see anything like this back home in Toledo".
Continuing on over to the gay pride parade, I shortly found myself ensconced within another group of American
tourists, these more generously disposed to the assembled masses waiting to march. They, too, were thrilled to see something
like this, something which had never occurred (at least at this magnitude) back in their hometown of Des Moines, Iowa. "Oh,
I just love Brazilians!" one of them told me. "They’re so free, so utterly accepting when it comes to sex. Where else in
the world could we feel as liberated as this? Certainly not where I’m from."
Well, there you go, I thought. There, in a nutshell, is the responsein double and on both sides of the sexual
preference lineas to why so many Anglo-American men consider Brazilians to be "so hot" and sexually active. Consider the
source: these are guys who, for better or worse, probably never let their hair down in all their lives except for that one crazy
spring break trip 18 years ago when their fraternity went to South Padre Island. (For the gay crowd, feel free to substitute as
and if necessary: "summer vacation"… "friends from the club"… "San Francisco".)
They’re from sleepy, average towns in the interior of their respective countries where they’ve led sleepy, average
lives, dating sleepy, average people while they get on with what they hope will be a relatively lucrative career. Then they
come to Rio on vacation. WHAM! Pretty prostitutes and/or disco boys are suddenly draping themselves all over these guys,
offering sex for less than (to them) two hours’ wages back home. Man! They’ve NEVER seen anything like this back in
Toledo! Those Brazilians are sure hot, right? WooHOO!
The Forbidden Fruit
75 years ago, the great American journalist H.L. Mencken described another, similar, set of Americans as they
engaged with what they imagined to be a tropical paradise where all that was forbidden back home became, suddenly, accessible:
"…a huge touring car stopped at the door. The diners craned their necks and the headwaiter, an elegant young
Cuban, rushed forward. One second later he was bowled over, and a round dozen Americans leaped out of the touring car and
into the room. Their leader was a handsome and well-dressed young man of the sort seen at country clubs… In two bounds
he was in the middle of the floor. Then, pausing dramatically, he swept off his Panama hat, waved it in the air and
"…The headwaiter and his aides, with great skill, closed in upon the party. Yelling and struggling, its members were
herded to the back of the dining room, and then through a swinging door. Presently they were out in the alley behind, still
bawling. The Latin-Americans, reassuring their women, resumed dinner.
"…We began to observe the crowd more closely. It was unanimously American and obviously highly respectable.
One finds its exact counterpart every Sunday afternoon on the veranda of every country club from Portland to Portland… an
elderly lady separated herself from the rest…. Perhaps the boss of the local Friends of Art. Or the chief reliance of the rector of
the Episcopal Church. Or maybe only grand empress of the Federation of Charities. One could not imagine her, at home,
venturing beyond half a cocktail before dinner, and then only on gala occasions. But [here] she was pouring down highball
after highball, and with each she let a magnificent
What neither group of Americans, then or now, realized is to what degree their repression makes the "natural"
expressions of "Latin exuberance" they so desire possible. Though Rio would obviously have prostitutes and gay pride parades even
if the gringos weren’t around to help foot the bills, it is very doubtful that these scenes would have developed in the ways
that they have without ship and planeloads of tourists disembarking every weekend looking for the sexual freedom they feel
deprived of in their home countries. In other words, much of the Brazilian sexuality that tourists see is subsidized and maintained
by the tourists’ own desires.
Even in those cases (which I’m sure are the majority) where tourists arrive here with no plans to hunt up a sexual
partner immediately upon hitting the streets, Rio’s (partially gringo generated and maintained) reputation has made itself felt,
forming a lens and a mindset, which tends to distort what the typical tourist sees, pulling it towards the sexual. Thus, the
Copacabana strip, about as "typical" of Rio as its counterpart in Hollywood is of L.A., solidifies for the tourist as the
neé plus ultra of their Brazilian voyage.
Women wearing shorts and tank tops aren’t making these fashion choices because they’re practical in a tropical
climate or because that’s how they’ve learned to dress from TV, they do it because they are "naturally sensual". Outrageously
dressed and silicon enhanced prostitutes aren’t marginal figures occupying a geographically restricted sexual underworld, they
are "typical" examples of Brazilian female sexual expression.
Eighteen-year-old disco boys aren’t buff because they take steroids and pump iron `til they drop in the full
knowledge that their body is their meal ticket. No! These kids are hunky because "Brazilians are naturally gifted with beauty". And
ask the tourists, gay and straight, what the "natural" roots of all this supposedly exuberant sexuality are and they’ll tell you:
it’s "Brazil’s mixture of races".
Far be it for me to scream "racism", but it does occur to me that it’s probable that such an idea didn’t just pop into
these tourists’ heads full-formed, innocent and without history. Obviously, when tourists talk about the "mixture of races"
producing "sexiness", they’re not talking about white folks. In fact, most of themgenerally whiteare quite dismissive of
how their own neighbors and family members rate on the sexuality scale when compared with "Brazilians". It’s thus not the
"white blood" which they are commenting on when they talk about Brazilians’ "natural sexuality"…
Now, everyone has their particular tastes when it comes to body types. I’ll admit, myself, to finding curly hair to be
particularly sexy. And I believe that it’s undeniable that, if xenophobiairrational fear of differenceexists, then
xenophiliairrational attraction to differencemust likewise exist. Hell, one could even argue that heterosexuality is based upon xenophilia.
But what’s interesting is the way in which the tourists describe this attraction.
According to them, it’s not their particular psychological quirks that draw their eye to Brazilian bodies: it’s the
Brazilians themselves as these display their "natural" attributes. At the root of this, we can find an unconscious notion of sin. What
most of these tourists door are tempted to dowhile in Rio they would never do at home. By projecting the source of this
temptation onto something outside of themselves, to the sexy "other", they liberate themselves from what they, at some level,
consider to be inappropriate feelings.
It is not at all surprising, then, that these people take as their scapegoats that category of human beings which the
West has always used as its antithesis, has always seen as being oversexed: non-whites. What Rio’s "racial mixture" signifies
within this scenario is simply that, as recognizably European descended or "white" (if only in cultural terms)
Cariocas are accessible for this kind of projection in a way that the Thais, say, aren’t. On the other hand, "racial mixture" makes them physically
distinct from "purely white" and thus an appropriate object for projection of sexual desire.
Now, whenever I write or talk about things like this, the responses come thick and fast into my e-mail box: "But
Brazilians ARE sexy. Surely you can’t be blind? You must not be getting laid enough…" and so on. So let me be the first to admit
that yes, some Brazilians are sexy. As are some Brits and even some Americans. But are Brazilians, as a whole, sexy?
Well, this weekend I also went to a birthday party for a friend’s niece, a working class girl out in Banco de Areia,
Mesquita, a very sleepy, average working class
Carioca suburb. Guess what? Folks out there are pretty much what they’re like
back in Toledo, Ohio or any Anglo fim do
mundo you care to name. The women I met were mostly in their mid to late
twenties, mostly with one to three kids, mostly running to fat and cellulite. The men, similarly aged and family orientated, had
beer bellies sticking out 10 centimeters or so in front of their belt buckles.
Both sexes get off on churrasco, beer and
pagode. They consider downtown Rio and particularly the tourist zones
where our pals from Toledo and Des Moines concentrate to be nests of vice and corruption. About the ONLY difference
between these people and their friends and the masses of middle-of-the-road, middle Americans (and their British equivalents) in
the sexual department is that they aren’t as ready to cast sex, per se, as a "sin", as long as it’s framed within a certain kind
of sexual experience. They talk about it more and cast it in a more immediate and, perhaps, practical light than their
These people frown upon adultery. Whatever they might be actually doing themselves, it’s a scandal when José boffs
his neighbor’s wife and nothing good is expected to come of it. They frown on the spectacle of peopleespecially
womenhopping from bed to bed. Again, whatever they themselves might be doing, if Maria has three or four guys on line, she’s
liable to be called a piranha.
Most of all, they frown on homosexuality, even though many of the men have most probably had homosexual
experiences in their lives (it’s worth pointing out, however, that unlike certain Anglo countries I can mention, homosexuality has
never been openly outlawed in Brazil). Within this culture, "whore" and "fag" are some of the worst insults one can sling, as
is "cuckold". And these categories are very liberally defined to include pretty much any individual whose dress or
behavior does not parallel theirs.
This is not a culture that’s sexually free and easy with itself, y’all. Not by a long shot. These people have a hell of a
lot more in common, sexually speaking, with their British and American working class counterparts than they do with the
folks who run and participate in the circuses currently on display down in the South Zone. Furthermore, they represent the
vast majority of Brazilians.
So the next time you’re tempted to describe Brazilians as "hot" or "sexy", stop a moment and think: who are you
really talking about?
1 MENCKEN, H.L., 1928. "Gin-guzzling American Tourists Crowd Havanna". In: Rodgers, ed.
The Impossible H.L. Mencken. NYC: Doubleday, 1991. Pp.661-662.
Thaddeus Blanchette is a 35 year old immigrant to Brazil who has been living in and studying the country most of
his adult life. He can be reached at email@example.com
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