Manila (CNN Philippines Life) — When Margie Holmes was a sophomore in college, she fell in love with her Philosophy professor. Having been born in the ‘50s, she says staying a virgin until marriage was what was expected of her, of women.
“I wanted to ask people,” she shares. “If people knew I was not a virgin, will a guy not want to marry me anymore? I had no one to go to.”
Because of this, she sought to be the person that she needed. “I thought, ‘When I grow up, that is what I'm going to do — [to be the one to] give straightforward information.’ That's all. No mga opinion, no religion, no making me feel guilty, and then I decide. That's why I became a sex therapist.”
After getting her degree in psychology at the University of the Philippines, she proceeded to study public health, with specializations in sex therapy and marriage counselling. In 1990, she published her first book “Life, Love, Lust: Straightforward Answers to Provocative Questions,” a collection of letters that Holmes received from readers of her sex columns in different publications. The book features her answers to these letters, which are based on her own research, all while using levity to cut through the shame and guilt that seem to hover over the readers’ questions.
Being one of the best-selling books during its release, “Life, Love, Lust: Straightforward Answers to Provocative Questions” was later republished for its 25th anniversary in 2015. Holmes had since published many other books, including “A Different Love: Being Gay in the Philippines” (1994), which she says is the book that gave her the most criticism and threats, and “Down to 1: Depression Stories” (2010), which she says is the book she’s most proud of.
“I did not want to just focus on sex, because as I say it's not a vacuum talaga. And depression and sex are so closely related in the sense that when you're depressed, you don't like to have sex at all or you want to because it's the only thing you can do,” she says.
“The other connection is when you take antidepressants it can affect your sex life. I was very interested in mood affective disorders, bipolar disorders, depression, dysthymia, etc. because it runs in my family.”
This year, she leads in a new digital series called “Sex Talks with Dr. Holmes,” where she tackles questions that many may be afraid to ask publicly — from the perceived importance of penis sizes to how to make long-distance relationships work.
During a discussion with the media, Holmes answered some questions we had about sex and relationships. Here are some insights from the sex therapist herself.
Sex is never in a vacuum.
According to Holmes, sex in itself is never just about the machinations of sex. It is rarely about the size of your penis or the number of your sex partners. “Sex has a lot to do with your past, has to do with your unconcscious, has to do with your fears,” she says.
“[If you’re insecure about penis size], ano ba naman ‘yan? There are some women who like big penises but most do not, so ano ba naman ‘yan? What's going on? Genuinely, it has something to do with the guy — on how you never felt good enough.”
Through the show, Holmes hopes that it can help viewers understand who they are in terms of how their insecurities, desires, and fears manifest in their sexual lives. “Sex naman is not just plumbing, noh? Although the plumbing can be a lot of fun ... Bakit iba-iba? Bakit mabilis ka labasan dito pero dito hindi? Hindi ba? Bakit natitigasan ka dito? Dito hindi?”
There are many factors at play during sex and it can reveal not only what you want out of sex, but also your feelings, memories, and thoughts.
Sex can be discussed with kids of any age.
When asked if there is an appropriate age to discuss sex to children, Holmes says it doesn’t matter how much or how little you tell your children. “In my clinical experience and the research shows, even if you tell your child too much, ok lang. He will throw out what he doesn't need at that time. Number two, usually, the child can learn subliminally based on your behavior,” she says.
Holmes highlights that what the kids see and experience weighs more heavily than what they listen to. “For example, nabuntis ‘yung kanyang kaibigan. You're kicked out of convent school. Now depending on what the parent says ‘ay nakakahiya naman’ and all that, the message you give to the child is [what you’re teaching the child].”
She adds how children who are afraid to tell their parents about sex or their sexuality are most prone to not knowing how to deal with themselves. Especially with queer children, she’s seen how this fear can lead to depression and suicide. “Your parents are supposed to be your allies. They're the ones who are supposed to help you with the problems you have and yet they are part of the problem,” she adds.
Sex is not necessarily improved by social media.
With dating apps like Tinder, Grindr, and Bumble making it so easy and accessible to date and hook up, it seems safe to assume that people now are having ‘better’ sex lives. Holmes, however, argues that this presumption is hard to quantify.
“As far as I know, there has been no research if your sex life has improved. Because one thing about the research will be: how do you define improvement? Is it because you have many more lovers now without feeling guilty? Or is it because you make more informed decisions?” she explains.
She does think that through social media, people now have access to resources that could help them better decide for themselves. “Personally, I think you make more informed decisions. Hindi lang the guy knows how to dance, [ok na] and then siyempre that's sexy but who may be a great date is not necessarily a great husband,” she says. “I hope in time there will be research because if not, it's just opinion.”
Sex in the Philippines is still a taboo topic.
“Even just looking at the letters, so many of them don't want to say who they are. [They say,] ‘please change my situation.’ It's still the basic questions,” Holmes says. She shares that a common letter she’s gotten over the years is about “having sex with an ex.”
“Sex has been used so many times by women. The old cliche goes, ‘men give love to have sex while women give sex to have love.’ This is an old question; it's been there for so long. Google has answers!” Holmes exclaims, painting how the problems her readers ask advice for are still unanswered, which makes it seem as though these topics are perhaps still undiscussed within their peers or their communities.
This goes back to her main point about sex — that it’s almost always never about just the insertion of one genital to another but its connection with our environment, our choices, and ultimately, our lives.
“Sex Talks with Dr. Holmes” airs on HOOQ, every Friday from July 26 to Sept. 27.