A few days ago, a friend asked me if I had ever had sex before. After some hesitation, I answered yes and told her I had it for the first time when I was 19. She looked startled for a second, but then she told me why she had to ask: she had been wanting to do it with her boyfriend, but was afraid that it wouldn’t be worth it.
No, she wasn’t afraid about her boyfriend not being “the one”, because she knew for sure she wouldn’t be married to him. Instead, she was afraid that if she finally met her “the one”, he would make a big deal out of her not being a virgin.
It is really interesting to observe how sexuality is perceived in the mind of Indonesian society because when it comes to sexuality, we can be quiet diverse. Despite government’s ban on porn and its enactment in the 2008 Anti Pornography Act, Indonesia remains one of the top 10 countries that type the word “sex” the most on search engines; guest houses in Bali offer “extra services” either for tourists or locals; and posters advertising products to elevate sexual desire or to add the length of penis can be found on the doors and windows of public transportation like angkot.
This diversity transcends administrative borders. We can’t really put a label on a city being “conservative” and other city being “non-conservative”. Depok, for example, the city I live in right now, is known for its conservative views, its local government being dominated by politicians from a conservative Islamic party. But this doesn’t make Depok a sex-less place. I witness this odd contrast almost everyday.
Like most students at Universitas Indonesia, I wasn’t actually born and raised in Depok, so I have to rent a room while pursuing a law degree here. My rented room is located in a very religious neighborhood where the mosque speaker is not only used for adzan (the call of prayers), but also to amplify sermons delivered by the Ustad (Islamic scholar), and the sound of praising the name Allah at 4 a.m (yes, 4 a.m.).
Funnily enough, next to this mosque is an apartment. Students or non-native Depok who can afford it prefer to live in this apartment because of the ease of access and the less likelihood that your next-door neighbors would knock at your door and cite Quran verses about adultery if they find out that you have guests of the opposite sex in your room.
Elsewhere in the neighborhood, if you’re found having non-marital sex in your own place, you’ll get kicked out of your home for good, but only after they parade you and your partner around the neighborhood – events that sometimes make headlines on the local newspaper. But in the apartment, no one will tell you to pack your stuff and leave, even if there was a continous moaning sound coming from your room.
A funny example of this contradiction happened a few weeks ago. One Sunday after my running routing and as I was about to pick up my clothes from a drop-off laundry service down the road, an ibu-ibu or local woman approached me and reminded me to wear more appropriate clothes. I was wearing a t-shirt and a pair of knee-high running shorts. I replied with a wry smile, apologized to her, and immediately flew off.
On the very same day, during my angkot-ride heading to a mall in Depok, I saw another ibu-ibu wearing a tight pink t-shirt with “New York” printed around her breast area and animal-print leggings so tight we could see the outline of her labia.
The other thing that is interesting to observe is the highly distinctive environment of my campus compared to my neighborhood. Imagine that everyday I go to my campus from this neighborhood, nodding at ibu-ibu wearing long headscarf, crossing the main road of Margonda, passing the “Damai” tunnel (a shortcut connecting the main road of Depok and Universitas Indonesia), then arriving at the campus area.
It is at this place that sexuality is more commonly expressed, with the exception of some community. Here you can see female students wearing crop shirt or sometimes see-through tops, couples hugging in public spaces, dirty jokes openly exchanged. If you leave campus late enough, you may be able to find a couple making out inside a car at the parking lot. Really, I don’t exaggerate when I say there’s that sense of liberation after passing the tunnel, marking the border of the conservative territory of Depok and the non-conservative one.
Except, not really.
Back to my friend’s case. I understand why she's worried. I would be lying if I told you I never had the same concern. Several months before I decided to do it for the first time, I had been haunted by the thought of my future husband calling off the already-well-prepared wedding because he finds out my hymen is no longer intact.
“It is not fair,” I thought, “I don’t mind my future husband having done it with other women before me, why can’t he be the same?”
My friend’s concern can be very well understood. Considering the diversity in Indonesians’ view of sexuality, choosing to have the hymen broken – if it even exists – before marriage can limit the options of men she can marry. But then again, even without “that” decision, people have, consciously or subconsciously, created those limitations. Some like tall people, some like short ones. Some can only marry men from certain ethnicities or religions. Some can’t stand body odor so they don’t marry those who are not on friendly terms with deodorant. My point is we select our partner.
Just as much as these “gentlemen” want to limit their options only to virgin women – even though virginity is no more than a figure of speech as some hymens can be broken from horse-riding, while others stay intact , even after several times of rough sex – I also limit my options to men who see me as a person who can think. These men will appreciate my work, my competence, my logic – things that make me human, rather than seeing me as a mere thin membrane that he can break off to prove his strength and free him from his masculine insecurity.