Erotic encounters on the island are having a face-off with worn-out panties, bras and briefs.
HAVANA TIMES – “Selling ten pieces of modern and sexy underwear, secondhand but well looked after,” an ad reads on one of Cuba’s most popular buying and selling sites. The ad explains to interested customers that “they are like new and with the elastic still in place,” a plus in a country where these products haven’t been sold in national currency for over a year.
Brian had his first sexual experience in August. In spite of restrictions imposed by the pandemic, he fell in love with a young woman from Havana that he had met on Instagram. “It was love at first sight as soon as I saw her first photo. I wrote to her and we were sending messages, videos and photos for over 6 months.” For this young 18-year-old, the “right time” came this summer, but there was one detail that neither of them had thought about.
“All of my boxer shorts were ripped, ugly and stained,” Brian remembers. “I couldn’t let the love of my life see me like that,” he explains. “I asked my brothers for help, but they were in the same situation, because they depend on “mules”, and as people aren’t leaving the country, there’s pretty much nothing on sale. I asked around to friends to see if they could lend me something decent looking, even if it were for a night, but we were all in the same boat.”
In recent years, the national market in Cuban pesos has been reduced to some basic products and food. In order to buy clothes, shoes and electrical appliances, you inevitably end up in the USD stores or on the illicit market, sooner or later. Even at hotels, which used to have expensive boutiques to try and attract national customers, you can only find these goods in foreign currency.
Ever since she was a little girl, 68-year-old Maria Elena was taught by her parents to always keep “a back-up change of underwear in case she needed to go to the hospital.” She’d kept a yellow set in the bottom of a drawer, for years. “In January this year, I had to break them out because I couldn’t carry on wearing the rags I had left,” she explains.
“But when I went to put them on, the elastic had already been worn out so if I do need to go to a doctor’s appointment and they ask me to strip down, I’m going to look up at the ceiling because I don’t even want to see what it looks like,” she says ironically. Her son works in a building brigade where he “has to take off his clothes [every morning] and put on his overalls in front of his colleagues. Sometimes, he doesn’t even want to go to work because he’s ashamed to do this.”
Thanks to his parent’s support, Brian was able to rent a room in Havana’s outskirts. “It had a jacuzzi, a double bed, breakfast and lunch included for two nights, a flat-screen TV and lots of privacy,” he told 14ymedio. “There were LED lights in the room that you could program, so when we were going to start to touch each other, I turned them all off because I was embarrassed.”
The next day, Brian discovered the girl’s underwear on the bedroom floor, which was also worn-out and with holes in. “This brought us closer together because we were talking about the issue and the anxiety we both had to keep up appearances, in the end knowing that each one of us was almost living in poverty, but it made us more honest with each other.”
Two months later, Brian and his partner seem to have overcome the obstacle of withered fabric and holes, but for other people, the deterioration of bras, panties and briefs is a matter of self-esteem that they can’t get over. “It’s been over a year now that I haven’t slept with anyone, I can’t like this, it’s really embarrassing,” Claudia admits, a 40-year-old woman from Matanzas who used to buy her underwear on the illicit market in her city.
“Before, I had somebody to buy comfortable underwear from and another one to buy underwear for dates, but you don’t have either of them anymore,” she says. “I had to start using the bottoms of a bikini set every day that I had from when I went to the beach, and it’s uncomfortable because you’re not supposed to wear this fabric all day long, but that’s all there is.”
“I feel sorry for myself, so there’s nobody stripping off erotically in front of anyone else,” Claudia told this publication. “It’s not like I want a brand or anything luxurious, I just want to be able to take off my dress and that what’s underneath doesn’t invoke pity, but arouses and stirs desire.” She laughs, in spite of everything: “They’re going to send me off to retire in this stretched out bikini that’s lost all of its color.”
A young woman who works as a volunteer for a group that hands out donated medicines that come from abroad, independently from the State, told this newspaper that they have received messages from lots of people interested in getting a hold of underwear, especially women: “We’ve had messages from girls who ask us if we have panties or bras to donate, or whether we can do them the favor of using one of our packages to receive items. People are desperate about this issue, but we have no way to help them, even all of my underwear are old and ripped.”
Other people brandish “skin on skin” love, without having the fabric of underwear between them. “I believe that all of this hardship we’re experiencing helps to filter out who really loves you because you have a beautiful bra and who loves you because they really like you,” Monica says, another 32-year-old woman from Havana, who got a divorce in the middle of the pandemic. “He thought that I could give him a certain life because when we met, I was wearing a Victoria Secret set that a friend had left me when she left, but it has nothing to do with my means.”
“Now, I prefer men to see me in a humbler way, because I live in Alamar and I don’t want my partner getting the idea that he’s going to have a comfortable life because he’s seen me in branded knickers and then get disappointed. I don’t turn off the light or anything, I want him to see that I’m a woman of little financial means from the beginning and for him to love me for who I really am.”
Malcom feels like he’s got everything under control. A cousin living in Panama sent him a packet of boxers and every one of them has the name of a day of the week in English on them. “Today, I’m wearing Saturday, but as soon as I take it off, I wash it by hand, not in the washing machine because it’ll break. I take them off and put them away until my next date,” he smiles.
Beyond personal problems, experts warn of other problems. “Social distancing because of the pandemic plus the economic crisis could be creating serious problems in this generation of Cubans linked to interaction, getting to know one another and loving each other,” Lazara Echevarria, a social behavior psychologist, explains to this newspaper. “They can be incubating traumas and rejection that we’ll only see in the long-term.”
According to the expert, “the first sexual encounter is very important. If there is a complex associated with it, with a feeling of being at a disadvantage or shame, then it will take a long time to shake this off. Sometimes, something as simple as a pair of new boxer shorts or panties changes the entire experience.”