Cover The women behind The Sexytime podcast, sisters Isabelle Daza and Ava Daza

Bravely breaking conservative and cultural barriers, Tatler speaks to three women—Dr Rica Cruz and sisters, Isabelle and Ava Daza—who are at the forefront of normalising the conversation around women's sexual health

“My gosh, during my time, we didn’t even use the word sex,” exclaims former Miss Universe, Gloria Diaz, while guesting on her daughters’ The Sexytime podcast. “You have to go to confession once you say the word ‘sex’! You must go straight to ‘Bless me father for I have sinned’! In the pilot episode, sisters Isabelle Daza and Ava Daza talk to their mother openly about sex. “We’ve had the most listeners in our episode with our mum,” shares Ava. “I think the whole idea of a sex podcast with their mum as the first guest was really intriguing for people because it’s just so uncommon.” Isabelle adds: “It was just very masaya, funny and gave a bit of context on how we grew up.”

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“We attended an all-girls Catholic school,” recounts Ava. “We were taught to abstain [from sex] until we were married, and even when we finally did, it was still something not to be discussed. Therefore, there were a lot of questions and mystery behind what happens when you have sex. Thankfully in my family, we were a little bit more open because we were dominated by women, and they tend to overshare more than others. So it [sex talk] became somewhat normal between us.”

This is not the case for most households in the Philippines, which has a predominantly Catholic and conservative population. Sex is often taboo, particularly with women. “I think it is because of our Asian culture, and then here in Philippines, our religion,” says Isabelle. “It is very difficult for us to talk about something we feel is inappropriate. In the past, my mum was explaining to us how women were just told to have children and that pleasure isn’t really a part of their sexual wellness. I don’t believe in that. I think women deserve their right to pleasure and it’s about time that we talk about it because there are a lot of things that we want to know, and we don’t necessarily have the right resources. The truth is sex, and your sexual life, is part of your health. We started this podcast to create a safe space to talk about sex and pleasure. We want to normalise the conversation.”

The Philippines has the highest rate among Asian countries of women who experience sexual challenges. 65 per cent of Filipinas still hold conservative values around sex and more than 40 per cent of Filipino women admit to having sexual issues such as the inability to orgasm, lack of interest in sex, lubrication difficulties, or lack of pleasure in sex.

“We need to recognise that women’s sexuality is integral to how she lives her everyday life,” emphatically declares Dr Rica Cruz, the founder of online platform, Unprude, host of the TV show Feelings on One Ph, and host of podcasts Conservative Ako and The Sexy Minds. “As women, we need to be able to have full control of our bodies and our physical autonomies, and free access to exhibit our rights to pleasure and to be able demonstrate our femininity the way we want to.” Cruz is a practicing sex and relationship therapist with a PhD in Psychology and training and certifications from the University of Guelph, Cambridge Alliance-Harvard Medical School, and the Society for Scientific Study of Sexuality. The latter recently bestowed upon her the Inaugural Award for Early Career Professionals for her research paper titled Sexual Pleasure for the Filipino Woman: The Wife, The Mother, and The Slut, which outlines the difficulties Filipinas face in reconciling their sexuality and society.

“There are still a lot of challenges for us women that are deeply rooted in societal expectations about our sexuality,” explains Cruz. “We are judged for being unwed, we are judged for being a childless wife, we are judged for having a child out of wedlock, we are judged for being sexually inexperienced, we are judged for choosing to pursue our sexual pleasure. These restrictive expectations inhibit our ability to be our best selves at work, with our families and in our relationships. Thus, we need to take control. I believe that it all starts with us—to take ownership of our sexual selves and embrace the intricacies of our womanhood.”

UNAIDS writes on their website: “Access to education, including comprehensive sexuality education, and to sexual and reproductive health services is essential to supporting the autonomy and agency of women and girls.” They also further explain that that societies that believe in gender stereotyping contributes to more cases of gender-based violence and when women are sexually empowered in themselves, they are more likely to negotiate safer sex, and protect themselves from the impact of gender-based violence. 

Cruz elaborates on the importance of women having ownership and control of their bodies as a key vector in emotional, mental and physical security. “Espousing our own sexuality, seeing ourselves as equal with men, being able to speak up when we want to and say what we want and what we don’t want, knowing when to walk away as women, can help protect us from any kind of abuse and violence.”

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“So many times, we hear actual stories of teen pregnancies or traumatic sexual stories because people are unaware of proper contraceptive use or their rights to consent,” says Ava. “Being open and transparent is so important because we can influence others to do the same, so that they can seek information that might help them in making decisions in the future.”

For Cruz, there is a deep correlation between a woman’s sexuality and her identity, affecting the many facets of life including her work, family relations, her opportunities, how she moves around publicly and even access to education. And it’s not always about fighting the patriarchy. “Women’s liberation is not about fighting against men or invalidating their sexuality as they have their issues too, it is about being able to freely and fully embrace our own sexual selves. Deconstructing the social power play between the sexes is then a pivotal by-product of women claiming their space within themselves and within the spaces they move through.”

She further explains her concept of what she calls a “renewed” woman. These are, for her, women who have had the opportunity to have life changing, transcendental and almost spiritual sexual experiences.

“To become ‘renewed’ women means being able to integrate our bodily experiences, our cultural ideals and our multitude of identities and allow ourselves to be sexually agentic and experience sexual pleasure,” she shares. “This means that we get to be free from the restrictive boxes imposed on us: to understand that being a woman means we can be adventurous and modest, wild and reserved, passionate and calm, sure yet uncertain, a saint and a slut, a nun and a nymph —that we have the power to choose to be everything and nothing in between, all at the same time.”

Listen to Isabelle and Ava Daza’s The Sexytime podcast and Dr Rica Cruz’s Conservative Ako and The Sexy Minds podcasts on Spotify, you may also follow here on Instagram: @_ricacruz. Visit Unprude and UNAIDS to learn more about women's sexual health. 

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  • ImagesCourtesy of Isabelle Daza and Ava Daza
  • ImagesCourtesy of Dr Rica Cruz
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