For decades, Dr. Margie Holmes has been top of mind for many Filipinos when it comes to discussions on sex and psychology.
One of the most scandalous pieces of sex advice Dr. Margie Holmes remembers giving could have been salacious and outright vulgar, but an academic pedigree which included graduating magna cum laude in Psychology from the University of the Philippines and a master’s degree in Public Health with special studies in Sex Therapy and Marriage Counseling from the University of Hawaii, established that Holmes knew what she was talking about when it came to sex.
It could have been medical and antiseptic, another version of a biology lesson, but Holmes’s effervescent character, her quick wit, and humor shaved off the shame and guilt built into the taboo of sex.
Her topics spoke to our loins and her intellect appealed to our rationale, but it was her advice and insights, always thoughtful and punctuated with her unabashed laughter, that won our hearts.
It was the ’90s when Holmes came into the scene, ditching the preachy morality that usually accompanied sex topics and replacing it with raw honesty. She electrified TV screens as a regular guest on evening and daytime shows, lit up newspapers and tabloids through her sex advice column, and wrote books about how our attitudes to sex implicated our perceptions of self-identity, desire, and pleasure. Her TV segment “No Nonsense with Dr. Holmes” was the first Philippine-based show to deal with psychological issues.
Holmes’s presence was the equivalent of today’s social media ubiquity and the playful notoriety of her quips had the virality that current influencers can only envy.
As she tells Vogue from her home in Quezon City, Holmes did not set out to bust open up sanctimonious dams and start a new sexual revolution. She didn’t mean to be adversarial to the critics, religious or otherwise.
Rather, her work started from wanting some kind of closure after an affair with her married professor left her confused and lost. “I would like to think we were in love,” she says. “When we were found out, he was ready to give up his teaching post to be with me. But it was just too ridiculous so I ended it.”
The end of the affair left Holmes with nowhere to go for advice or counseling. “At the time, I thought I could only go to either the psychologists who had foreign points of views or the priest who I was afraid would judge me. Where could women like me go?”
Injecting her usual humor, Holmes quipped, “I also wanted to see if anyone would still marry me if I was no longer a virgin.”
Giney Villar, a veteran gender rights activist and advocate for lesbian visibility, remembers religiously tuning into the late night show Two For the Road specifically to watch Holmes who was a regular guest. Later, she wrote to Holmes via her advice column in response to a letter sent in by a lesbian woman about her sexual experiences. “Margie published my letter and added her own thoughts. It was such an honor!” she says.
In the 1993 Manila Times article which Villar has kept and shared with me, Holmes with her trademark magnanimity, thanked Villar for sharing her lived experience as a lesbian woman and how many would benefit from learning about female sexuality through personal narratives rather than from “studies and experts devoid of real feeling and insight.”
Villar says she will not take away from Holmes’ contributions in terms of how she had opened discussions about sex, in contexts which people used to remove it from. “She also had a feminist perspective by looking at things through a holistic and intersectional approach,” she says. “So whatever the sexual orientation and gender identity and expression (SOGIE), the principles and lenses she provided has helped everyone—lesbians included.”
Sex therapist Rica Cruz said much of her work has been influenced by Holmes. “Doc Margie is the giant who continuously gives me the courage to confront the issues of sex head on,” she says. “I am in awe of her energy and how she can have everyone in the room listen to her wisdom.”
As for me, I still remember watching Holmes for the first time as a teenager on Martin Nievera’s late night show Martin After Dark. I no longer remember the sex topics discussed but to this day, I remember how the episode left me feeling like I was in the middle of a momentous realization: The gravitas of psychological research sprinkled with the levity of humor could make sex and sexuality… accessible and relatable instead of alienating and intimidating.
More than that, I saw Holmes not just as a doctor and quirky sex therapist, but as someone I’d like to have as my friend.
Democratizing sex education
Three decades on, Holmes brings that same ethos of non-judgemental and inclusive sex advice to platforms like live streaming and an online sex and relationships column for Rappler which she co-writes with her husband, Jeremy Baer.
“Jeremy’s my fourth husband,” Holmes laughs, making a jab at having found the answer to the question she asked herself in her youth: Would anyone marry her if she was no longer a virgin? Together, the couple answers questions from readers using the dual vantage points of rationale and the psychology of emotions.
Three decades on, Holmes says that she still gets the same questions about philandering husbands and virginity. While she has found the answer to her own question, many women still have not. “This makes me sad. Is virginity the only thing of value a woman can bring to a relationship? What about her humor?” she asks, with a benevolent smile.
“Different strokes for different folks. We’re not trying to convince them and we don’t want them to convince us,” says Baer.
“But we hope for respect when addressing these issues,” adds Holmes.
There are advances, of course, Holmes and Baer note, like more open discussions about and acceptance of different sexual orientations and the many dimensions of attraction. Both hope to contribute to these discussions through their column.
Reflecting on her life’s work, Holmes says, “I told myself when I grew up, I will be the sort of person any man or woman–or adolescent, especially–can come to for straight forward answers about sex. No hidden agenda. Someone who could ethically separate fact from opinion.”
“What I’ve learned is that in life, you just have to find your tribe,” she adds. “The kind of people who will stand by you and always be at your side for whatever you need.”
This article was originally published on Vogue Philippines, June 2023 Issue.