Editor’s note: Tremenda Nota is an independent e-magazine in Cuba that reports on the country’s LGBT and other minority communities and young people. It is the Washington Blade’s newest media partner in Latin America.
HAVANA — In Cuba everyone’s discussing how sports fans are abandoning baseball for football. It’s a burning issue. Discussions, whether they’re in a park or on a bus, never fail to mention that Messi must have a small one, that Ronaldo misses as much as he gets it in, and that Neymar can’t hit it like the baseball player Yuliesky Gurriel, who Laura, a young chemical engineering student from Camagüey, admits she only watches play because “it looks like he’s got an enormous package.”
Sex is the national topic, although sometimes it becomes reduced to a kind of urban legend, and as they say, just because it’s talked about so much doesn’t mean “it’s done more or better here than anywhere else.” However, Cuba is unique, for example there aren’t many places where pornography is in the same customs category as drugs and firearms. It’s unlikely there are many other countries where you’ll find a building’s staircase strewn with used condoms every morning.
Why do people have sex outdoors?
Some do it for the thrill. Others do it so they can change partners. But the majority do it because they do not have access to private places where they can have sex. As a result, the country is full of places where people are doing it outdoors.
Cuba has one of the lowest birth rates in the world. According to the official Public Health Magazine, every year fewer babies are born. Among other factors, conditions for procreation are not optimal. In 2015, the Youth and Childhood Research Centre discovered that more than half of 10 to 19 year olds had their first sexual experience between 14 and 15 years old. However, it is more likely that these sex lives are experienced in places more similar to baseball stadiums or football fields than in a bed.
Marriage doesn’t seem to be a solution: Cuba has the tenth highest divorce rate in the world. Different generations of families usually live together, which may be a little inhibiting.
Avelino Crucero Rodríguez, an anthropologist from the University of Havana, says that it’s normal to talk about sexuality but the public discourse usually views it negatively: “There are institutions for eating, for dancing but not for making love.”
Osvel, a 20-something from Holguín, used to live in two rooms with his mother and sister. Now he rents a room for 120 U.S. dollars a month in Cerro, one of Havana’s oldest municipalities, east of Vedado. Osvel believes that the problem is the law: “It’s not like in other countries where you have a contract. Here a landlord can kick you out if they want to. Also if the police find you they’ll deport you to your province.”
Cuba is an archipelago in the Caribbean but it has had more migration legislation than any nation with a border. Osvel lives in fear of the Decree Law 217 of April 22, 1997, which regulates internal migration to Havana, making it possible to fine and imprison citizens who do not have legal residency in the capital.
Where are the beds?
Yoandra Garvei is from Guantánamo and lives in Santiago de las Vegas, south of Havana. She has her own room in the house she shares with her mother but she’s had sex outside on several occasions because “it’s about feeling good and not letting it get monotonous.” Yoandra also feels the machista gaze, “people view a woman negatively if she brings home a lot of men but they approve if a man comes home with lots of women.”
There is no official figure but in 2016 the national press, Trabajadores and Juventud Rebelde, counted more than 450 private households in Havana offering rooms by the hour in national currency, although it is a luxury only a few locals can afford. Sergio is a young nurse who has been with his boyfriend, Aldo, a medical student, for a year and a half. They have rarely had the opportunity to share a bed. As Sergio undresses at Chivo Beach, a length of coast at the end of the Havana Tunnel where the gay community often meet at the mercy of the police, he reflects that, “Neither of us live alone and a room costs at least 5 CUC [equivalent to 5 U.S. dollars] for two hours,” Aldo states, “that’s a quarter of my salary.”
After the collapse of socialism international hotel construction took off in Cuba and the government started to promote tourism. It was further developed with the construction of four and five-star hotel complexes in the 21st century. Sergio believes it’s impossible to pay for a room in those hotels. “They’re almost exclusively for tourists,” he says.
Posadas of love and strife
Alejandro Castañeda, from the Playa municipality, a memorable and beloved member of the LGBTI+ collective, and creator of the Afro + project, argues the problems are not just economic they are also moral. “We suffer rejection from our own families and hardly any of the rooms for rent accept two men. Before the Special Period it was possible for a man to enter a hotel with another man on the sly, but not any more,” he explains. Which is why Alejandro goes to beaches, woods, parks and abandoned buildings.
During Cuba’s revolutionary period, from 1959 until 1990, posadas flourished. Posadas were state run rooms available to rent exclusively for carnal pleasures; they were slightly removed from the city and usually filthy. Among the most well known were the ones on 11th and 24th Streets in Vedado; Acosta Street and Carmen Street in Lawton; Ayestarán Street and Pedro Pérez Street in Cerro or Monumental Avenue. Posadas were found throughout Cuba, the most famous were in Havana, although perhaps the most important one was next to the international airport in Camagüey. In June 2017 the Provincial Housing Company of Havana announced their plan to open new state-run posadas or “love motels” soon. The anthropologist Avelino Crucero believes that this is legitimate and necessary, “but they shouldn’t become focal points for discrimination . . . before gay couples couldn’t use these places. Whoever wants or needs to should be able to enter, why not a threesome?”
Gay cruising: quick or they’ll catch you
Ernesto Betancourt, a student at the University of Havana, prefers less “dangerous” more central areas, such as 25th Street near the Hotel Habana Libre. “Sometimes things go on there if it’s dark; if not it’s one block up to the potajera [gay cruising spot] behind Calixto García Hospital. But I don’t like it very much because someone always wants to watch . . . people go for threesomes and foursomes.”
Famous potajeras in Cuba include Chivo Beach and the military fort Batería No. 1, Great Metropolitan Park and areas around the sports complex Ciudad Deportiva and the Calixto García Hospital are some of the most famous spots for open air sex in the Cuban capital.Cruising, according to Wikipedia, is walking or driving about a locality in search of a sex partner, usually of the anonymous, casual, one-time variety.” It’s a popular option for the gay community although the police harass them with the threat of charges for “public lewdness.”
Avelino Cruzero, who believes that the police officers’ responses are because of the sexual orientation of those implicated. He explains, “Heteros are always accepted but I’ve seen police haul two women out of water in what’s known as the gay beach because they kissed each other in the depths of the sea.”
In addition to the crime of public lewdness Article 303 of the Criminal Code stipulates that sexual assault can be punished with “three months to a year of imprisonment or fines of three hundred quotas [a set fee] to whoever harasses another person with sexual requirements, offends modesty or good customs with exhibitions or obscene acts.”
Legal questions aside, in sexual terms Cuba is a unique case. The debate about football or baseball is relegated to second place. Maybe people like the look of Ronaldo more than Contreras or Neymar, or less than Gurriel, but there’s no doubt that, with or without a home to go to, with or without the police, people like to enjoy themselves to the full in Cuba. It’s not football or baseball; Cuba’s national sport is outdoor sex.