“There is no such thing as ‘sexually incompatible’, so sex before marriage is useless.”
“You’re in the danger zone when you haven’t got married by the age of 30.”
Most people in Indonesia would have heard these remarks at least once in their life. I am not an exception.
You could be successful in your career and live independently, but still something’s wrong with you if you aren’t married. You could be a good looking, successful 40-year-old man, and your future potential partner’s parents would still reconsider you and investigate what might be wrong with you that you are still single at 40. Something must be amiss. You must be keeping some dark secrets. Because if everything is right with you and you have no dark secrets whatsoever, you would’ve gotten married years ago.
I’ve always been curious about sexuality and sexual activities. Along with some other curious kids, I watched my first pornographic flick at the age of 14. I couldn’t forget what I saw for one whole week. A man and a woman in bed moving their bodies passionately, the look of total satisfaction in the woman’s face.
I’d known what sex meant before I watched porn. I just didn’t know that sex involves movement. I’d thought a man would simply lie on top of a woman, put his penis inside her vagina, and they both wait until he ejaculates. I’d wondered what activities they would do while they wait for the sperm to come out and fertilize the egg.
In my late teens and early 20s, I talked to many westerners and from them I learned quite a lot, too. It was shocking for them to see how pre-marital sex was – and still is – perceived in Indonesia. It is a taboo both from the Indonesians’ religious and cultural perspectives. And for the women, it is an even graver taboo than for the men.
When it comes to sex, women have always been in a less advantageous position than men. Sex before marriage is considered “a loss” for a woman, because it lowers her value and dignity. It is not the case with men. Men can sleep around and leave unapologetically in the morning; women are left to wallow in the guilt of having done the act. It is in the Indonesian culture to blame it on the woman to bear all the shame when it comes to sex in general, not merely in pre-marital sex.
So much for the whole female emancipation movement.
As an adult armed with hundreds of sexual facts under my belt now, I have started to wonder why are Indonesians culturally forbidden from having pre-marital sex? Can we ever break from those cultural and religious shackles?
A metaphor that prevails in our society, illustrates this point well. More modern and open-minded Indonesians would ask, “Isn’t it actually better to test-drive before you buy the car?” More traditional-minded Indonesians would riposte, “Why test drive when all the cars are same?”
Sadly, sex is still largely seen as a male privilege only.
I’ve gone to enough wedding parties that I’d begun to despise it ever since I was a kid. I used to hide in a secluded corner at the wedding, enjoying my little oasis of serenity. As an adult, I hate having to get ready for the party that will go on for hours, having to wear tight uncomfortable dress, putting on makeup, wearing high heels, meeting everyone at the party, and finally, being asked the same question over and over again. “When are you going to get married? I’ll be waiting for your invitation!”
Marriage is still the goal for most people in Indonesia, thus asking such question is acceptable by norm. Marriage is sometimes also used – prescribed and sanctioned, even – to prevent pre-marital sex.
Thirty seems to be the upper bound for a marriageable age that is still considered normal for Indonesian women. But exceed the age 30, and you’re a bit too old. Many young women find themselves in a race to get married early. You better lower your standards when you haven’t got married by 30. many Indonesians embrace this view.
You also have to be of the same religion to get married in the country. I can no longer count how many relationships have been broken up in religion’s name. I have seen enough of my friends break their own hearts ending a good relationship, only because they pray to different gods and these gods don’t accept them being together.
Family plays a big role in marriages in the Indonesian society. People say you’re not only marrying your partner: you also marry their family. Many married couples live in the same house with their in-laws, so you’d better wake up earlier than your in-laws or you’d bring disgrace to your own family.
As a result, women have long been prepared traditionally to be an excellent wife. You have to take care of your husband for even the littlest thing, such as serving him food from the dining table to his very plate. Preparing his warm bath, folding his clothes, and so on. Not that I complain or disagree about these stuffs. It’s completely fine if you want to serve your husband. It is, however, not fine if you feel obligated to do it.
It would be liberating for us Indonesians to be able to say “no” to pre-marital sex because we really do not want to do it, and not because we couldn’t do it in the name of religion and culture. Or to say “yes” to pre-marital sex because we want to do it for whatever personal reasons, without being labeled as whores and victims of bad influences from the West.
It would be emancipating for us Indonesians to be able to say “no” to marriage because we don’t want to get married without fear being called weirdo, and to say “yes” when we actually decide to get married on our own terms, and not due to others’ pressures.
For every person, to realize that the responsibility to live our lives are ours alone, never others’, is most freeing.
Illustration by Adhitya Pattisahusiwa