Sun, 13 Aug 2000

Coming clean on Indonesian sexual attitudes today

JAKARTA (JP): The country could be said to be experiencing its own sexual identity crisis. Information and counseling on once taboo subjects are now freely available, yet traditional mores still predominate.

It is a situation which leaves some Indonesians torn between pressure to conform to entrenched sexual mores and the realities of their lives. Jakarta residents give their views on contemporary sexual attitudes.

Djoni Irawan, 42, lawyer and TV soap opera actor. He is married: Things like premarital sex, extramarital sex, sex scandals, orgies, etc., are actually not new here. But now there are more reports about them along with the euphoria of press freedom. They are exposed boldly, nothing is covered up.

And people seem to be indifferent to this moral deviation; I call it moral deviation because it is not allowed by religion.

I know some people who have extramarital affairs or who live together outside of wedlock. It's none of my business. Once a friend who had an affair asked me if it was "normal". I said that he did it because he was under stress due to his rocky marriage -- I said it's normal.

I have been married for 15 years. To be honest, I once thought about having another woman, but I did not do it because I was able to be rational, I did not want to take any risks.

I don't think that virginity is a determining factor in a marriage. What if a woman lost her virginity because she was raped? If a woman is not a virgin due to whatever reason, and she promises to be faithful, I would be on her side. Virginity is only a technical value, what is more important are moral values.

"Renata", a 24-year-old private company employee who lives with her western boyfriend: I make a distinction between "free sex" (promiscuity) and premarital sex in a relationship. I know in religion there is no difference, they are the same sin for Muslims, but for me they are different. If you have a relationship, you live with the person, you know their habits, you know who they are, you have shared goals.

The funny thing is people cannot accept it in Indonesia. Even if we are "modern" people, if we are talking in public we cover it up. I have to be a bit of a hypocrite; about sex before marriage, I will say, "It may be OK for others, but it's not for me." Yes, I would be as hypocritical as that. Look at Boyke -- if he is speaking in public he would never say it's OK. He always would take the middle way. You know how strict we are here.

I was 21 when I first had sex, and it was just between me and my then boyfriend. I was at college, and people were talking about how people were so much freer than before. Of course, I would say, "It's no problem if they want to do it, but I wouldn't do that." It was only two years later that I found out two of my friends, these innocent-faced things, also were not virgins. We were so scared of admitting it.

In the office, everybody assumes I am a virgin. I would not tell them I am living with a man. They would think the negative, that I am amoral. Just look at our celebrities. You see a famous man and woman together, checking into a hotel together, and then they turn round and say they are saving themselves for marriage. Come on! It's all so hypocritical.

I think it is changing with young people. You can see it in their clothes, in the way they mix together. But I think 70 percent of Indonesian men still want to marry a virgin. They are asking too much when they themselves have had lots of sex before getting married. They are really too much.

"Jerry", a 29-year-old bank employee. He is single: I acknowledge that we have this double standard for men and women. I am not a virgin, but I would want my wife to be. If a man is good in bed, it's to be expected, but if a woman is, then it leaves a big question mark.

I could accept it if my partner was not a virgin if she told me it was an accident and she was very sorry. There is a difference between men having sex and women experiencing it for the first time. We can control ourselves, but it's not the same for women once they have lost their virginity. If a woman is not sorry after losing her virginity outside of marriage, then you start to think about what kind of woman she is.

Yet I also realize that this is hypocritical. You know, in Indonesian the word binal (loose) can only be used for women, we wouldn't say it for a man. For men my age, I think it's 50-50; some of my friends may be able to accept a wife who is not a virgin. As for teenagers, well, they don't understand the situation yet, they haven't felt what it is like. Later on it will become an issue for them, too.

Paquitta Wijaya, 30, artist and HIV/AIDS counselor. She got married earlier this year: I am not sure if more people have premarital sex now. This started happening a long time ago, not only in big cities, but also in small towns. They are just more open about this matter. As a counselor, I feel concerned, especially for the teenagers, but I cannot forbid them. I have to be tolerant, otherwise (they would consider me) hypocritical. I can only remind them to be more responsible and think about the risk -- not just about pregnancy, but also STDs and even HIV/AIDS. I can't preach because it is their own choice.

Personally, I disagree with sex outside marriage. I myself got married at the age of 30 and now I can say to single adults who are having premarital sex: if you are ready to get married, just do it.

We can't just blame globalization. It's about our (religious) faith. Communication in the family is important, but there is a gap between (family members). People talk about sex in seminars, in the media, but not at home, where it is still taboo. The bottom line is, if there is a problem, they must talk about it, not avoid it.

Julia Suryakusuma, sociologist: The issue has become more open, but that is a function of globalization, as well as the developments in the country in the past two years. On the other side of the picture, the contradictions are even greater. The freedom and openness are more on the level of discourse; it's more visible, but there is not a fundamental change in values ...

The onslaught has come with globalization influences from the West, which actually causes defensive reactions from fundamentalist groups who reduce it to a form they can reject -- "this is bad, this is from the West" ...

Indonesians are actually very pragmatic about sex -- premarital and extramarital sex are in many ways accepted as part of life, outside of social and religious institutions ... But the situation (greater openness) is not better for women because women's greater availability benefits men. When men are free to have extramarital sex but go home and expect their wives to be faithful, that is a double standard.

Din Syamsuddin, the secretary-general of the Indonesian Ulemas Council (MUI): What we are experiencing now is part of a sexual revolution, which has been remarkable in its scope, reaching developing countries in the process of modernization and globalization. It brings with it the negative aspects of free sex (promiscuity) and hedonistic practices involving sex.

Hedonism, free sex and the like destroy social harmony and bring with them plagues, which is what we see today with incurable diseases. It is all due to anthropocentrism, putting people as the center of the universe instead of God ... People in third world countries should take the benefits from the West, like science and technology, not the moral decadence of western societies, the shallow way of life ... Sex is meant to be confined to the sacred institution of marriage.

We need a self-defense mechanism because our young people are going through a type of culture shock. Religious figures, and here I mean in Islam, need to strengthen our young people through the internalization of religious values and ethics. (brc/sim).