Sex in Indonesia, not only the act itself but merely talking about it, is considered taboo. But with over 250 million of us, sex is happening. Quite a lot.
Unfortunately within Indonesia, sexual oppression exists in a way that is harming one gender on a societal level in particular, as it always has done. Many women in Indonesia are subject to abrasive treatment of their own bodies – from medicalized FGM’s preformed on new-born girls to forced circumcision and invasive virginity tests conducted on female police officers. Control over one's body differs massively if you are an Indonesian man or woman.
Enter Firliana Purwanti. A 38 year-old activist based in Jakarta, she has 20 years experience on the frontline of Indonesia’s women’s rights movement.
Who better to talk about the fight for gender equality in Indonesia? A fight that starts in the bedroom…
Purwanti’s main argument is that sexual pleasure is an important tool in female empowerment. The O-Project, her 2010 bestselling book, is a study of the sexual experiences of 16 Indonesian women from a range of backgrounds and orientations.
"When your orgasm is being denied, your existence is also being denied, as a human being."
This is an interesting concept. If true, the control that men have over woman’s orgasm is tantamount to denying their freedom. Purwanti’s research found that the sexual experience of Indonesian women determined their perceived ‘role’ within a relationship.
Take Ami, for instance, a 45 year-old former sex worker who is the second wife of a polygamous man. She reveals in the book that she received at least physical pleasure during sex with her customers, but oddly, things changed since she got married: "My husband is much older than me, 22 years older. To him, it's very straightforward. Once he's erect, he just enters right away. He never tries to find out where my 'sensitive' point is. He never thinks of that."
Indeed, The O-Project explains that Ami’s bedroom experience in married life is a reality for many Indonesian women. With the objectification of a woman’s body comes an unequal state of affairs, where the man’s pleasure is paramount and the woman’s an afterthought. Essentially, men are put in the driver's seat and women are merely seen as the vehicle.
Curiously, or precisely because of, this state of bedroom-politics works as a great metaphor for gender relations outside the bedroom. The invisible prison walls in which women exist, where they don’t feel they have the ability to voice their grievances is a cultural one. Talking openly and honestly about sex is pamali — taboo. As long as the man is satisfied, there’s nothing to talk about.
In order to avoid this article becoming another feminist man-bashing piece, we have to put the male position into perspective. Men are clueless to the female experience, as are women to the male’s. It is exactly these blurred lines between the genders, the very murky intersections that female and male coexistence is based, that Purwant’s book is enlightening.
"I wrote the book for women, but surprisingly more men are interested in [it]", says Purwanti. "I guess they don't know about [female orgasms]. I guess nobody told them how women would like to achieve it." In fact, she admits that it’s exactly the man’s voice that is required in the cries for equality."When we start talking about sex, when we use the sex language, men start to understand what we're talking about." Sex sells, after all.
But Purwanti may be on to something. For men to empathize with women, and vice-versa, it can be hard to fully understand each other’s point-of-view. It’s in the intimacy of the bedroom, where there is no hiding place, where equality of pleasure is essential for sex to be enjoyed to its fullest.
Perhaps only then, once a woman’s orgasm is liberated, not at the expense of, but in consensual collusion with the man’s, Indonesia will be a happier, more equal place.
And what better place to start than in the bedroom?