In the current issue of Color Lines, Dulce Reyes Bonilla explores the "boom" in Spanish-language morning radio shows that are "mostly about sexo" -- and whose ratings beat out Howard Stern's in 2003 and 2004. On these shows, Reyes Bonilla writes, "DJs and callers discuss dildos, anal sex, group sex and not getting sex. Although no one -- not activists, academics or community leaders -- can readily agree on what all this raunchy sex talk means for Latinos, everyone is worried." Why? Well, it's about more than just using the word "dildo" while the kids are getting ready for school.
Currently, the leading show in New York City is "El Vacilón de la Mañana" (WSKQ 97.9 La Mega, 6-11 a.m.). ("El Vacilón" means "The Big Goof-Off" or "The Big Ass Party," notes Reyes Bonilla, "depending on whom you ask.") "The DJs boast and encourage (hetero) sexual bravado; a show may start with host or listener 'confessions' or jokes about deflowering virgins, overpowering wives or girlfriends who are into unwanted sexual behaviors or a secret experience -- one that usually contains transgressive undertones, hinting at homoeroticism or other highly taboo sexual topics," Reyes Bonilla writes.
"On the now defunct show Coco y Celinés, which rivaled El Vacilón, hosts and callers expressed their anxieties about an active female libido, showing that the concept of women wanting sex, asking for it and having the power and willingness to get it from multiple partners is seen as a threat. Some of the talk about nymphomania went something like this: 'Ladies and gentlemen, today in the news is the story of the woman in the Bronx who slept with over 300 firefighters since 9/11. That's what I call a nymphomaniac! Call us and tell us if you've had experiences with women who like sex. A man with a woman wanting a lot of sex has little recourse but to kill her 'cause she can't be trusted.'"
While these shows might seem to challenge generally conservative Latino mores, Reyes Bonilla writes, they actually do very little to change the sexual status quo: women as Madonna-slash-whore, men as "mythical hot Latino," homophobia. (Likewise, they may promote girl-on-girl action, but I don't think they'll have a float at NYC Pride.)
"Frank" though this talk may be, it misses a major opportunity to educate. "Radio allows immigrants to talk about subjects that would be unspeakable in their own homelands," writes Reyes Bonilla. "In this way, radio gives them a chance to find answers." But what if the answers are wrong? On one recent segment of "El Vacilón," a male caller complained about being allergic to latex condoms. The response: "Wear a lambskin one instead!" Good call, if you're into STDs. "These shows [profit] from the inequalities that surround our daily lives and in the process are at risk of misleading the audience and damaging their healthy development with regard to sexual health, love and dating relationships and intimacy," said one researcher of Latino sexuality.
While "activists and community leaders seem to agree about the potential harm" of this kind of programming, they are not sure how to get around the fact that, boy, does it sell. Nor do they agree on a "strategy for reform," writes Reyes Bonilla. "Some are invested in an antiseptic public image of Latinos, upholding the one-dimensional idea of a 'family-oriented people,' apparently devoid of sexuality beyond reproduction. Others believe that with Latinos' growing social, economic and political power in the U.S. comes a certain responsibility to shed traditional (and repressive) ideas about gender and sexuality that undermine feminism and sexual diversity, as well as multiculturalism. And for some, there is a conviction that in order to address Latinos' sexual health issues (high rates of teenage and unwanted pregnancy and HIV infection), sexuality itself needs to be liberated."