There are a lot of preconceptions about the French and sex, not all of them inaccurate. With steamy movies and a sexy French accent muttering sweet nothings, all set against the backdrop of romantic Paris, who can blame them?
But while some French cultural norms about sex may be well known, others are quite exaggerated. So let’s explore the French view of sex, shall we? Allons-y!
1. Sex on the 1st date
The idea of remaining a virgin until marriage, as encouraged in some parts of the United States, is a concept that has long disappeared amongst French teens and their parents. You will not see things like promise rings in France.
And, unlike many Anglo-Saxon countries, in France, it is not necessary to “hold out to the 3rd date” to have sex with someone.
There is no stigma attached to sex on a 1st date. It isn’t considered a hookup or something sleazy, but just another aspect of getting to know each other. The couple can choose to or not, either way, it is their individual choice as well as as a couple.
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2. No French word for dating
Part of the reason that sex on a 1st date is not a big deal is that there is actually no French word for “dating”. French couples tend to go rather fast from seeing each other a few times to being “a couple”.
After a few kisses and a “sleepover”, and both parties usually consider themselves to be in a relationship. There is no big discussion as to whether they are together.
This can lead to a bit of awkwardness between foreigners their French dates, as one of the two might be waiting for someone to bring up the topic. The key sign in France to know where the relationship is going is if your French date starts introducing you to his/her friends and family.
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Nudity is not as big a deal in France as in some other countries, since one of the main symbols of France is Marianne, who is usually portrayed with a naked breast. (A red bonnet with naked breast, and every French person knows who is being referred to.)
The symbol of Marianne is widely displayed in French government buildings and other public spaces. It is so common to see Marianne, that a naked breast on a statue or a painting is not shocking.
That being said, casual nudity like in the films of the 1960s beaches in France, is on the decline. You will not see as many women going topless on the beach as was once the case, due to changing beauty and skincare standards. And most of the women you will see will likely be older than 50. Younger French women have absorbed the message that sun rays are bad for the skin.
4. No rush to the alter
Since there is no need to wait to have sex, or even children to get married, French couples tend to put off getting married for a long time. In the case of children (or property acquisition together), couples sometimes opt to sign on to a legal status known as the PACS which provides certain legal protections.
The union of PACS which is almost like common-law, is easy to get into and easier to dissolve than marriage, tends to be the first step for couples after a long relationship. I know plenty of French couples who have lived together and PACS’ed for years before tying the knot.
In some instances, couples getting married in France will even be asked for proof by their local Mairie (town hall), that they live together and have a real relationship to prove that it is not a “white marriage” (fake marriage), before the Mairie accepts that they will marry the couple. (French marriages may only legally be officiated by the Mayor or his/her Deputy.)
You can read more about French weddings traditions here.
5. Fidelity: French word for Mistress’s apartment
There may not be a French word for dating, but there is a French word for “small apartment used by a married man to keep his mistress”, otherwise known in French as a garçonnière.
There are plenty of anecdotes of high-powered French men (it is usually the men, isn’t it?) who have a small apartment on the side that they reserve for their mistress.
That being said, we’ve seen plenty of stories of American and French politicians doing all sorts of stuff to know that this is not exclusively a French or an Anglo-Saxon predilection.
In addition, habits and cultural norms can be quite different from the rich enclaves of Paris to the rest of the French countryside, so the stories that you hear about Paris are not necessarily what you will encounter in other regions of France.
6. French Politicians and Sex
And speaking of French politicians, one big difference between North American and French voters is their likelyhood to ignore the sex lives of their elected officials.
Famously, French President François Mitterrand, when he died in 1996, had his wife and children on one side of the aisle at his state funeral while his mistress and daughter were on the other side.
Other Presidents like François Hollande and Nicolas Sarkozy both had messy love lives and changed partners during their presidencies. François Hollande was not married to the mother of his adult children, Ségolène Royale (herself a presidential candidate). He cheated on her during her own presidential run, and then cheated on the new girlfriend with an actress during his presidency.
President Sarkozy, on the other hand, was left by his wife for her lover during his presidency. (So you can see this is not purely a male habit.) Sarkozy then rebounded and married famous French singer Carla Bruni, becoming one of the first presidents to get married while in office.
Neither Hollande nor Sarkozy got elected to a 2nd term, but that was due to their policies, not their love lives. (Most French presidents tend not to get elected to a 2nd term, so this in itself is not unusual.)
But the most famous scandal of all has to be President Felix Faure who died February 16, 1899 at the Elysée Palace during a brief “sieste” he had with his mistress, in between two political meetings.
7. Sex and Privacy
As I mentioned above, President François Hollande may not have been chastised by the electorate for changing partners, but when his ex-girlfriend Valérie Trierweiler came out with a book about their love life and getting him to leave Mme Royale, it caused an uproar amongst the French public.
With stories of how Hollande was sneaking out of Palais de l’Elysée on the back of his bodyguard’s motorcycle, the book was written in the style of a teenage romance gone very wrong.
However, it was not the fact that he was now with another woman (still unmarried) that caused the uproar, but that his ex-girlfriend had dared to air all their dirty laundry in public.
The book did hit the French bestseller list, but no one really wanted to know that his pet name was “flamby”. Some things are simply better left unsaid!
Any other funny anecdotes you have heard about sex in France? If you enjoyed that article, you may like to read some French quotes about love that may give you even more insight into the French psyche.
¹ Featured Image: Samantha Hurley
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