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Conversations about Sexual Relations



By: Wahyu Tanoto
Conversations about sex between wives and husbands can ideally be done openly. However, unfortunately, there are still some men (husbands) and women (wives)who feel shy or bad to discuss sex.

Based on the author’s experience as a guide for discussion forums in various places that discuss the issues of gender equality, prevention of domestic violence (PKDRT), and sexual and reproductive health rights (HKSR), it is revealed that there are still married women who actually get the doctrine of “haram” (forbidden in Islam) to discuss what sexual relationship she desires to her husband, or who do not feel free to express opinions despite having a strong desire to.

The author believes that the current conversation about sex has not become part of culture or is still taboo even though in the digital, online and millennial era of today, most people have been exposed to displays related to sexuality through the internet, especially on social media and messaging applications.

It is taboo in this case because everything related to sexuality is a display that is considered sensitive because it is closely related to one’s personal experience or even for moral reasons. However, on the other side, conversations about sex could also make someone feel curious because it can contain passion and be tempting.

The impact is most felt if the conversation about sex is considered taboo. Then the issue of sex (read: sex education) will rarely or even never be discussed deeply, comprehensively and openly, both in the family (domestic) and general (public) realms.

In the author’s view, there is a background for why sex is still taboo to discuss for married couples.

First, there is still an assumption that men are considered as holders of power (patriarchy), including for matters of sex. Sex is also considered as under male authority. The effect is that in any condition, women are required to be able to serve the desires of men.

In fact, in certain cases, there are some men who use the teachings of the book (read the hadith or messages of the Prophet Muhammad) to persuade his wife to have sex. From this, women often end up seen as objects or means to satisfy desire. As a result, if the husband compels or forces sex with his wife it is sometimes considered normal or even natural.

It is true that there is a tradition that outlines a “threat” to a wife if she refuses a husband’s invitation to have sex. The wife will get an angelic curse: “When a husband invites his wife to his bed and the wife is reluctant so that the husband is angry at night, the angel curses his wife until dawn” (HR. Bukhari).

However, it should also be noted that those who base their actions on the hadith (teachings of the Prophet Muhammad) must also remember that the husband must abide by good actions and honor, not force (ma’ruf) his wife. That means that good treatment is not only felt by the person, but also by others.

In the author’s opinion, the hadith is a suggestion for the wife not to disappoint her husband. However, on the other hand, there is also an order to treat the wife well; that is, for the husband to treat the wife in ways that are not coercive or arbitrary.

Because there is another teaching that states that glorifying your wife is an obligation; “And treat your wife in a ma’ruf way” (Surah an-Nisa: 19), “For a woman is entitled to get ma’ruf treatment, as she is obliged to treat her husband with ma’ruf” (Surah al-Baqaroh: 228) (ma’ruf: good or acceptable).

We already have a deeply rooted habit to consider men as having more power than women. As a result, in the case of sexual relations, women are almost always forced to submit to and obey all of men’s desires, which eventually becomes a sign that women should even be forbidden to show their sexual desires.

Instead of asking for sex, just asking about sex is susceptible to cause prolonged problems. But on the other hand, women also often get branded as individuals who like to demand and who have a higher sexual appetite than men.

The consequences of the assumption that men rule over women we can see in plain view, namely the higher violence experienced by women: domestic violence; physical, psychological, economic, sexual and social violence; as well as other violence experienced more by women. 

This has been confirmed by the National Comission of Women (Komnas Perempuan) data which states that in 2019 there was a 14% increase in cases of violence against women, numbering 406,178 cases.

The above data reported by Komnas Perempuan was compiled from three sources, namely the District Court (PN) and the Religious Court (PA), Komnas Perempuan partner service institutions, and the Referral Services Unit (UPR). 

In addition, the Komnas Perempuan even revealed about marital rape, incest, dating violence, cyber crimes , and sexual violence against women with disabilities.

We understand that patriarchy is born due to many factors, for example, there are still interpretations of scriptural texts that tend to “benefit” men, habits and customs that are preserved until now or even because they get legitimacy from institutions (religion and in general). 

In the personal sphere, patriarchy is the root of the emergence of various violent practices done by men against women. The impact is that men get special power that is considered true or righteous by some people.

Second, negative assumptions from husbands. Some wives’ who have expressed their desires and choices when having sex with their husbands have experienced actually getting a negative label (vain or overly flirtatious) or even insulted, demeaning the wife and distrusting the wife’s expression.

Supposedly, if a wife expresses her desire to get appreciation or even get support. Because, in the writer’s opinion, women who are able to express their opinions about sexual relations have already exerted all their courage.

Sexual relations should not be monopolized by anyone, including men. If we agree that sexual desires are owned by every individual, then conversations about sexual relations should be had about feeling comfortable, openness, agreed time, the style desired by each, stimulation in the place / body that tends to be more easily sexually aroused and other conversations.

If this is done, according to the author, the discussion of sexual relations in the realm of the household will become a habit, tradition or even eventually become a culture. So that there are no more taboo terms in conversations about sexual relations.

Third, the existence of shameless labels. The feeling of shame that has been internalized (practiced) by women is a result of the “coercion” of values, that women are considered more graceful if they have shame.

This feeling of shame is subsequently produced and distributed continuously through various media, so it is not too excessive if I call it a standard doctrine that being a woman means one must have shame. Finally, there is an indirect justification from the public that women must have and put forward a sense of shame, especially shame related to sex.

In the writer’s opinion, everyone has the same right to express their opinions or desires with a sense of comfort, security, and joy. Especially for wives and husbands in the realm of the household. Both have equal positions in each role.

Regarding sexual relations, we no longer need to debate and disagree because it is clear that sexual relations are the right of everyone. Therefore, when a sexual desire arises, it should be treated by each party in good and justified ways.

The author believes that by promoting values of mutual appreciation, respect, mutual trust, mutual support, and upholding the concepts of justice and equality as a treatment entity, sexual relations need not be considered a taboo area for discussion and neither does male power.  




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Are American and Indonesian Women Really So Different?



by Jacqueline Lydon – Volunteer internship Program Mitra Wacana

After growing up in the U.S., now living in Indonesia for about five months and interning at Mitra Wacana for three, I’ve been surprised at the similarities between conditions for women in the two countries.

On the surface level, women in the U.S. and Indonesia may seem like polar opposites. 

When comparing the two, people tend to focus on the behaviors and appearances of women. Women are judged for how they dress, how they act, and how independent they are, for example. 

Americans might judge Indonesian women for dressing conservatively, staying in the domestic sphere, and being seemingly submissive to their husbands. Meanwhile, Indonesians might judge American women for not covering their bodies, being too sexual, not focusing on domestic roles, or being too loud and demanding.

What I’ve noticed since being here is first, that these differences are less noticeable than I had thought, and second, that they seem to stem from differences in cultures and societal norms. There are different ways of understanding gender and gender roles, yet women in both America and Indonesia want safety, respect, and to have a voice.

There are many similarities between women’s behaviors and struggles in the two countries.

  • 51.9% of Indonesian women are in the workforce, compared to 57.1% of U.S. women
  • 17.4% of the Indonesian parliament is female, compared to 23.9% of the U.S. legislature
  • The first Indonesian woman was elected president in 2001, while a woman has never yet been president in the U.S.
  • The first female supreme court justice in Indonesia, Sri Widoyati Wiratmo Soekito, was inaugurated in 1968, while the first woman to join the U.S. supreme court was Sandra Day O’Connor in 1981, about 15 years later.

There are many issues – from sexual harassment to rape – that have a widespread impact on women in both countries, but it’s hard to have accurate statistics because many women do not or can not report these incidents.  But based on what is reported, it’s clear that these are major issues in both countries. 

  • 3 out of 5 Indonesian woman and 81% of American women have experienced sexual harassment
  • 15% of Indonesian women and more than 1 in 3 American women report being a victim of sexual violence 
  • 16% of Indonesan women and about 25% of women in the U.S. have reported being a victim of intimate partner violence (physical, sexual, or psychological violence from a partner or spouse)

With two countries in which women’s attitudes and behaviors seem so different, it’s surprising how similar women’s successes and struggles are. 

 Just last year, a poll in the U.S. found that only 29% of American women identify as feminists. (Feminist: someone who believes men and women should have equal rights.) In both countries, there are both feminist movements and anti-feminist movements (In the U.S., “meninism”; in Indonesia, “Indonesia tanpa feminisme”). In both, women’s voices are suppressed; women who advocate for themselves are often seen as too demanding, and their problems are ignored.

Why is there so much judgement for women’s choices in both countries?

Part of this is based on stereotypes, which are continually built up about women who act differently. Women in each country are taught that their culture’s roles, behaviors, and values are the better choice, and if only they stick to that, they will avoid the problems faced by women in different cultures. For example, women in the U.S. are taught that being more assertive will help them achieve more political representation, and women in Indonesia are taught that behaving modestly will help them avoid sexual violence or harassment. Yet the similarities in statistics prove that it is not the behaviors of women that cause these problems, and neither culture’s prescriptions for women will solve the issues.

Of course, there is not one simple answer for these systemic issues.  But, the main culprit of sexism around the globe is the patriarchy – the system that has been constructed to empower men and subjugate women. It is this system that has created this notion of victim blaming – to judge and blame women for their own oppression instead of the overarching system.  

Instead of looking at the choices of women or judging them, we should look at the system of patriarchy that is prevalent in both countries. 

I think we need to stop focusing on the behavior of women and instead focus on the way that society judges and oppresses all women, and then build solidarity to break down those systems. The ideal of how a woman should be and should act may be different in both cultures, but it is universal that women should be free from violence and treated with dignity and respect.

Editor: Arif Sugeng W



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