A Glimpse into Indonesian Sexuality
By L. Murbandono Hs
The pros and cons on “Council mulls ban on aerobic exercise” (The Jakarta Post, Feb. 17, 2010, Reader’s Forum) in which aerobic moves were criticized for a tendency to inflame sexual desire is one of many signs that sexuality in our country is not yet enlightened. But if we merely despair over it and take no action, our country could be pushed back centuries.
Whatever peculiar religious interference on matters of sexuality, it must be taken as a catalyst to think more clearly about Indonesian sexuality today.
Of course this formulation can be very broad and this article is limited to exploring two parts of it: (1) Does Indonesian sexuality today differ from medieval sexuality? (2) What is the difference between Indonesian sexuality and contemporary Western sexuality?
Middle Age was a period when law and order in relation to sexuality was determined by preconceptions, assumptions and the interests of the elites, especially religious rulers. The principles in which laws and rules were based on included, among others, fairytales, myths, legends, magic spells, the scripture verses and religious dogma.
These principles cannot be measured and tested by rational minds today. Moreover, the success stories of these laws always had to do with iron-fist rulers.
In medieval times, key words defining right and wrong in terms of sexuality included dichotomous pairs such as sacred-sin, good-bad, faith-damned and the like.
They were dedicated to discourse on abstract things, such as heaven, hell and eternal punishment, with all its variations. These became social and moral principles in which positive law-making processes were based. In many cases this occurred both in the West and the East.
However, the socio-religious morals of that time, as principles for the rule of law in medieval sexuality actually collapsed a few centuries ago with two waves of civilization.
First, science. With the dawn of science – physics, mathematics, chemistry, medicine, psychology, astronomy, philosophy, theology, etc – the positive law regarding sexuality as part of social law, then, was processed and determined by rational thought. Religious faith still had its place insofar as it could be objectively tested and measured with reason.
Second, was the cultural impact of the first. Because of knowledge, the mystical shifted to the technical and functional, which influenced sexuality. In the mystical stage, absurdity was impossible (forbidden) because it was considered taboo.
In the technical and functional stage, absurdities and all taboos were broken. A free rational mind requires that all things must and could be clarified, measured and tested.
All the above descriptions passed a long time ago. We are talking about the universal history of sexuality especially in the Western world, about three or four centuries ago.
In later centuries, there was the 1960’s sexual revolution in the West. Any sexual taboo – gay, lesbian, free sex, extramarital sex, infidelity, pornography, prostitution, masturbation and a long series of abnormal behavior – was (de)formed! It became part of education: An obsession with clarifying discourses of sexuality in science, law, criminology, medicine, sociology, psychology, etc.
Our country has no experience of this. And, it is not necessary to have it! Moreover, the sexual revolution in the West itself has passed. And, as a cultural dynamics of thesis-antithesis-synthesis, it has become a new thesis.
In the new thesis era of the post-sexual revolution – I lived in the Netherlands from 1983-2008 – “horrible” things about Western sexuality as imagined by many people did not actually exist in general. If it did, it remained an exception.
Therefore, the Indonesian people who have lived in Western countries have not necessarily faced a cultural shock in terms of sexuality. Contemporary Western sexuality, in my opinion, is nothing but in harmony with our Pancasila (state ideology).
Of course, the latest Western sexuality – the sexuality following the sexual revolution in the 1960s – is complicated, but in short, it simply leads to the following four points.
First, Western sexuality today is based on the impact of the sexual revolution in the 1960s which is “more sensible” and allows for many “sexualities”.
All elements of sex are considered in line with morals as long as they are honest, faithful, happy, and liberate everyone, enrich others, and respect life. It means that those involved get a good result and no one suffers from “bad” consequences.
Second, human sexuality is based on the individual. It is more individual than social. Very biological in nature, sexuality is natural and exceeds the social reality.
The “good” and “bad” elements of sexuality are based entirely on individual morality. It is impossible to regulate sexuality with outside elements. Because, “good” or “bad” from outside elements are always a social construction: A fib! Religion? It could play in the individual morality, but is not automatically part of public policy.
Third, regarding the public sphere, such as sexual crimes, there is a right and wrong, which can be measured and tested rationally. Sexual crimes are nothing but ordinary crimes that should be handled by law.
Fourth, human sexuality is personal wealth, which is biological, physiological and psychological. Through this, a person expresses his or her freedom in a social order that respects people’s different choices.
Finally, in front of the medieval and the contemporary Western sexuality formulated above, where is the position of the Indonesian sexuality today? And, what is the real basis of the pros and cons dealing with religious fatwas (edicts) saying this and that on sexual matters.
L. Murbandono Hs
The writer is a journalist.
Source: The Jakarta Post, Tuesday, 3 February 2010