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Filipina_Gal: A Perspective On Sex In Indonesia

Filipina_Gal: A Perspective On Sex In Indonesia

“Once a woman has seen a man’s dick, he has to marry her because either she or her male relatives will beat the man up,” says my program’s in-country coordinator’s husband. Whoa, talk about the extreme end. I know I’m conservative, but I’m not violent.

Here I am, checking in from tropical Indonesia after my stint in Paris. I had a summer internship with a local NGO. There are many interesting aspects of my cultural transition from French to Indonesian culture – and one of them is definitely sex. Since Indonesia and the Philippines are neighboring countries with the same roots, I was fairly certain that there would be plenty of similarities. In the beginning, I was mostly excited to eat tasty food with lots of spices – and good rice, finally. But this was put behind me immediately because of what I learned about sex and sexuality here.

First off, my pocket of Indonesian land called Jogjakarta city was much more conservative than many parts of the Philippines (see comment above) – and it’s supposed to be one of the more liberal areas in the country. Brides, for example, are heavily dolled up during traditional Javanese weddings, and one of their make-up symbols is the series of three Vs on their forehead. Women with black markings are virgins, while women with green markings are not. Though I know that in the Philippines, brides need to wear white when they’re virgins and other colors otherwise in Catholic weddings, nowadays, people don’t really care. In Indonesia, virginity seems to be much more of a necessary public declaration. According to some magazines, there is still a very strong stigma against non-virgins. They are addressed as if they ‘had made a mistake’. This creates an unwelcoming and isolating atmosphere for anybody who has engaged in sexual activity.

Our program also had classes on these topics, and here are a few tidbits. I found out that there are some studies stating that there are sometimes more than two sides to the heterosexual equation – for example, men and women who are married may have homosexual relationships on the side. Muslim students (which is most of the student population) usually live in dormitories called pesantren, where they have very strict rules but which also is a venue for a lot of sexual experimentation among boarders. There are accepted forms of homosexuality (or even just ‘cross-dressing’), such as the waria, or ‘males with women’s souls’. They dress in women’s clothing and perform in weddings and clubs. Despite the more conservative façade, sexuality seems to be fluid – and along with this, there are challenges to reproductive health.

An American friend of mine worked with the PKBI, a Planned Parenthood program here in Jogjakarta. It’s a clinic offering health services, fully equipped with trained volunteers, medicines, and instruments to deal with any situation. During his time there, he found that there is practically no sex education in most schools. The stigma mentioned is debilitating to their cause of providing reproductive healthcare – in the three weeks that he’d interned there, nobody came to the clinic in spite of their posters, social media, volunteer outreach programs, etc. The extent of the youth’s knowledge about sex education and health is probably frighteningly low – much like it is in rural areas in the Philippines. He also said that some Indonesians he met asked about and/or were obsessed with the idea that in the US, people practice ‘free sex’, a term with unknown origins or real meaning.

In terms of dating, my experience was very limited. However, some of my Indonesian girl friends have boyfriends. Some have been dating for a very long time, even as long as seven years. The topic of their sex lives never came up, so I do not have even anecdotal knowledge on this – which I think also speaks to the seemingly more pervasive taboo on sex. In a place where even wearing a tank top that covers your shoulders in public can be considered immodest, I can see how this could create challenges in trying to incorporate sex and reproductive health education into people’s lives.

Coming from Paris and into Jogjakarta (please see my previous blog) showed me the vastly different cultural landscapes of sex. It made me realize how big of an issue reproductive health is, and how much its implementation has to be patterned according to these landscapes.

Filipina_Gal: “My penis broke.”

My Penis Broke

If he wanted the most awkward post first date conversation topic, this would’ve been it.

Backtrack to when I arrived in France. I couldn’t wait to have my elegant, smoldering hunk of a Parisian man sweep me off my feet and ride off with me in to the sunset, where he and I would make passionate, mind-blowing sex on the beach.

You know, those standard, conventional fantasies that plague women’s thoughts about French men and their sexy ways. However, my experience was quite the contrary.

I met two cute, hot Parisians a few months into my study abroad program. Though they were similarly attractive, I was more taken with one of them. He is a computer programmer, he likes TED talks, he’s into Frank Herbert’s Dune – the works. It made me think he’s boyfriend material. We’d been texting nonstop. Then the morning before our first date after he greets me and a few text volleys later, he talks about how he’ll be wearing a tux later that night. I responded jokingly that I’ll be wearing a swimsuit then, since I didn’t want him to outshine me. He responded with a, “now I’m hard because I’m picturing you on the dunes in your swim wear.”

Now, I consider myself fairly open-minded about flirting, but after a few days of just straight-up cutesie stuff, this very sexual comment put a different spin on my outlook for the evening. I was mostly appalled and apprehensive. But I decided, hey, I’ll give it a chance. So, we went for dinner at this Japanese restaurant, and then caught a movie. He was nice and sweet the whole time, but during the movie, his hands were definitely creeping places I was not comfortable with and he kissed me repeatedly. In terms of trying to win me over, his whole style was sloppy.

Still, I weighed the positives and negatives and decided that the whole evening wasn’t a complete waste. But, when he once again sent me a message two days later, telling me that he has the house to himself (hint hint), so why don’t I recommend a good anime or movie to watch? I felt like there was a disconnect in our respective expectations at this point, but I decided to play the fool and gave him a title anyway.

That night, I thought about what relationships and sex meant in Paris for people my age. Everywhere – in the metros, the parks, the streets, even offices – young people are not averse to openly tonguing each other. Not to say that there’s anything wrong with this and I am obviously no expert on the matter, but it seems as if there’s less or practically no taboo against having sex, which extends to milder (or…harder?) forms of it expressed in public. I have had no conversations about this with the few French friends I made in Paris, but from what I gathered, sex is a more acceptable aspect of social life. Couples are unashamed to show their attraction and affection for each other. Even films manifest this – most of them have extensive, artistic, or funny sex scenes. Once, I spent a good 20 to 30 minutes watching a hot sexual scene with my 65 year-old host mother. Needless to say, it was an uncomfortable situation for me but natural for her.

Given these ideas, I was willing to give my comp guy another chance – cross-cultural understanding and all. However, when he called me the next day and we’d gotten the small talk out of the way, he told me he was not feeling well our date night because during the day “my penis broke.”

Shocked and morbidly fascinated, I listened to him describe in both French and English and in intricate, great detail how such a condition could occur. Here’s the condensed version: a vein pops, usually during sex “which also,” he confided, “first happened to me a month ago when I was having sex with my ex-girlfriend.” My relatively limited experience in the dating and sex department aside, I think any female would be a little freaked out by this point. At the end of his lecture (during which I strove hard to forget every word before he’d said his next), he stated, “so basically, I’ll be useless to you for the next month. Do you still want to go out?”

Despite my embarrassment during this debacle, my bizarre encounter showed me that there’s a level of openness concerning this topic that I hadn’t encountered before in male-female relations. To a certain extent, it speaks to the social and cultural landscape of Paris. However, when I spoke with some people about it, they informed me that it’s not the usual case. Sex education and the pervasiveness of safe sex campaigns, materials, etc. is quite far-reaching – for example, condoms and other sex materials are fairly prominent merchandise in many groceries, pharmacies, and stores. According to some, however, there is still a lack of communication, especially on the female’s part, in expressing their concerns and ideas. I believe I also demonstrated that quite clearly. This experience was most informative, and I’m still processing it months later. It almost seems stranger than if I’d had a one-night stand and never seen him again – because, at least, this can be expected.