Earlier this week, I had the pleasure of interviewing Ami about asexuality, and she talked about how views of sexuality (and asexuality) differ between Western culture and her own in Indonesia.
I was so curious about this that I asked Ami if she’d be willing to talk more about being asexual in a non-Western country!
Growing up an Ace in Indonesia
First of all I want to thank El, who told me that she would love to have me on her blog post to talk about being an asexual from a non-Western country.
My name is Ami, I’m 37 years old, and I’m an asexual aromantic woman from Indonesia. If you don’t know where Indonesia is … well, Google it *lol*. Indonesia is a country in South East Asia, we’re smack dab in the middle of equator as well, made us a tropical country where we basically only have two seasons. We are considered having “Eastern” culture. In addition Indonesia is predominantly a Muslim country. Due to our population, Indonesia has the biggest Muslim population in one country. Although Muslims in my country are varied – not all of us embrace the “Middle East” Muslim practice, for one.
Because of this – Eastern culture and Islam as majority – the sexual culture in Indonesia is less about sex and more about relationship. As a woman, you are expected to follow a certain path – finish school, get married, have kids. You are more likely to get questions about “why are you still single?” OR “do you have a boyfriend/husband yet”? OR “how many kids you have” (since it is assumed that when you’re above 30, you should’ve been married already) rather than “did you score last night?”
Sex in my culture is considered part of marriage. It is done between a husband and a wife, a private consumption. Pre-marital sex or sex outside marriage is very frowned upon if not at all taboo. Of course I don’t want to sound naïve because I know for sure people still have pre-marital sex or sex outside marriage despite the society norm. It just means that pre-marital sex or sex outside marriage is more or less like “don’t ask, don’t tell” around here. You might do it yourself, you might not do it but know other people who do, but it’s never really a big part of daily conversation. Unless you are among very close friends who you feel comfortable with, you just don’t blurt out things like “I had sex with my boyfriend”.
So what does it mean to a 35+ years old asexual woman like me, growing up in this culture?
Well, on one hand, I don’t get a lot of understanding of sexuality or sexual attraction in the first place. My parents never sit me down and talk about the importance of safe sex because like I said, you’re expected to have sex only after you’re married. I didn’t get Sex-Education in school, the closest I got was Biology, and that was more about human anatomy rather than lesson about sex.
But on the other hand, I also don’t feel a lot of pressure about sex … which probably happens in sexual culture like western countries. The fact that I’m a virgin doesn’t bother me because I know nobody will ask me about it anyway. They will ask me whether or not I am married, but not about my sexual activity. That would be very impolite!
~ Although that also creates dilemma because I can’t exactly say, “I’m not married because I don’t want to have sex, damn it!” They probably look at me and think, why is this woman talk about sex in the first place? *laugh* ~
I don’t think many Indonesians are aware about asexuality or what it means. I only learned about asexuality myself these past years thanks to the Internet and all those M/M romance books I devoured. Before that, asexuality is a foreign concept. I had to read about what sexual attraction means by reading AVEN articles as well as other people’s experience. It takes a lot of pondering and internal monologue trying to understand what sexual attraction means and all that.
Having said that, I don’t really talk about my sexuality either in reality with my Indonesian friends/family; only few real life friends know, and they are my M/M romance reader friends who are already exposed to asexuality. My sister knows, though, and she accepts because she’s awesome.
Don’t get me wrong, it’s not about not being proud as an ace. It’s more that I don’t really feel the need to announce myself to them. They only need to know that I’m single, and not planning to date or marry anytime soon. Whether or not they are internally thinking that I don’t get laid is not a problem for me because it’s never going to be part of conversation. Which is probably one of the blessings living in this non-Western culture.
Is there a word for “asexual” in the language you speak at home (I read that there are more than 300 languages in Indonesia!)?
Yes, there are 300 languages, but we have a national language that everyone can speak of, Bahasa Indonesia. And since asexual is a term that is pretty much coming from English, we translate it as “Aseksual”. Not very different 🙂
If your family and parents learned that you were asexual, would they be upset because you do not intend to marry and have sex? Or is your culture okay with this in theory (just don’t talk about it)?
In Indonesia, the discussion is less about sex and more about marriage. So, for example, people may ask me “why I am still single”, or “why are you not interested to marry” … but usually they don’t counter my explanation with sex topic. They can say “but don’t you want to have kids?” or “don’t you want someone to be there with you as your partner?” or “don’t you want to have someone to talk to when you get home?” … but never really “but don’t you want to have someone to have sex with”? Because that will be a bit uncomfortable for people to ask others, even if it should be implied that sex is something you do with your spouse.
Is that clear enough distinction?
In regards to my parents, I am very blessed that my parents are not really pushing me to get marry or have kids. They do ask me whether or not I have “someone special”. But I don’t need to explain to them that one of the reasons of my not wanting to get married is because I don’t want to have sex. It’s not something we talk about with parents (unless you come from a family that is more open-minded to talk about this thing).
Although the last time when my Mom asked, I did say casually that I didn’t want to have sex with my husband… and she just nodded and didn’t try to further clarify. Probably because she doesn’t feel comfortable to start talking about sex with me *:D big grin
… I cannot speak on behalf of other aces though. To some families, getting married is important, and parents can actively try to introduce you to potential spouse. So it is possible that there are Indonesian aces who enter marriage and have sex with spouses without actually knowing that they are aces … because marriage is something expected of them, and family will be upset if they don’t.
I guess what I am trying to say is that I don’t feel the pressure to explain about my asexuality compared to explaining to them why I am unlikely to get marry. Of course if they (friends or family) try to raise sex as the topic (which is unlikely), I will definitely explain my side of things. But aside from that, I can encounter using other reasons.
Thank you again to Ami for taking the time to discuss asexuality from a different perspective, and for showing us how sexuality and asexuality are viewed outside of Western culture!
You can find Ami online at @amiesavitri!