Jakarta – Talk of sex is still taboo in most parts of predominantly Muslim Indonesia, but over the past few years the country has borne witness to a growing conversation on sexuality led by a younger generation of women.
These women, not bound by society's traditionally conservative norms, are campaigning for sexual and reproductive health, advocating for women to find self-pleasure and encouraging women to tap into their sexuality on their own terms – with confidence.
From female masturbation to exploring fantasies and orgasms, the Bali-based social media influencer known only as Sisil has produced dozens of YouTube videos on such topics since 2018. She currently has more than 180,000 subscribers on her YouTube channel and 54,000 followers on her Instagram account, @sisilism.
"We live in a patriarchal culture where a woman is told that her purpose [in life] is to 'serve' her husband. I want to tell women that that's not true... that pleasure belongs to us too," the 24-year-old told The Jakarta Postearlier this week.
"Women and girls have not been given the freedom to talk about sex, leaving them confused. I want to make a safe space for women to talk about sexuality," said Sisil.
And yet, this sense of openness carries over to the real world too, with or without influencers.
Jenna – not her real name – is just one of an emerging group of 20-somethings who embodies this progressive way of thinking.
The 24-year-old Jakarta-based worker says she does not follow Sisil or other sex educators on social media because she has friends with whom she can comfortably converse about sexuality.
"I started masturbating in high school. Back then I kept wondering if what I did as a girl was normal. Only in college when I started talking about it with friends did I no longer feel the guilt of masturbating or reading erotic fan fiction," she said.
Unlike Jenna, 24-year-old Lani – also not her real name – admitted to having no knowledge of women's sexuality or any of these struggles before she encountered Sisil and other sex educators like Inez Kristanti, a clinical psychologist who has amassed 145,000 followers on her Instagram account, @inezkristanti.
"I did not know before that some women are unable to refuse sex when they aren't into it, or that foreplay often goes easily ignored by male partners," said the Semarang-based worker.
Lani said she followed sex educators on social media to understand how to keep her sexual and reproductive organs clean and healthy, including when it comes to pursuing sexual pleasure.
And although she chooses not to masturbate often out of respect for her religion, Lani said she was eager to learn about her body and explore what she enjoyed so that she could provide guidance to a future sexual partner.
Even as a mother of two, Citra Ayu Mustika is widely known for her bold Instagram posts on @olevelove, where she shares tips about breastfeeding and sex with her 163,000 followers.
Citra agreed that women need to know about their own bodies and desires and be able to communicate them to partners – sex is not merely about intercourse but also intimacy, she says.
Most of Citra's online following comprises young wives and husbands. Many of these wives have confided in her about their inability to reach an orgasm, even after years of marriage.
"Some have even resorted to faking [orgasms] out of fear that their husbands will feel bad," said the hijab-wearing mother, who is famous for promoting the term "solehot wives" – a married woman who is both solehah (pious) and hot, as in sexy.
"Another common problem is that wives are reluctant to ask for sex because of the stereotype that labels sexually assertive women as immoral," she added.
The problem, they say, lies not in the nature of women, but rather, in nurture. Inez said that any healthy woman had the capacity to experience sexual pleasure.
"But knowledge about female sexual organs – let alone female orgasms – is lacking in society, because for far too long sexuality has been defined by men," she said, noting that 70 percent of women reached orgasm through clitoral rather than vaginal stimulation.
Furthermore, Inez said, people usually forget or ignore the fact that the most important human sexual organ is the brain.
She posits that if a person engages in sexual activity but their head is clouded with fear or anxiety, it will be difficult for them to find pleasure.
"Meanwhile, our perception of sexuality is molded by the messages we receive throughout our lives. Sex is often associated with something dirty and sinful," she told the Post.
"We need to start another conversation that sex can be healthy and positive and that everyone including women have the right to it."
Inez, who is also a brand ambassador for condom brand Durex, imparts five pearls of wisdom that she dubs "Eduka5eks".
"The first one is 'dare to know' – where we must start knowing our sexual and reproductive organs and finding as much knowledge on sexuality from credible sources," she said.
"The second is 'let's talk' – rather than just keeping the knowledge to ourselves, we should talk about it with the people around us to help spread correct information and [bust] myths around sexuality.
"The third is 'respect each other', as people have different values regarding sexuality. The fourth is 'always be responsible', where we make sure we have all the information we need before making sexual decisions.
"And the last is 'do routine check-ups' to examine our sexual health status, if we're sexually active," she explained. (aly)