“Sex is something that men can enjoy. Women should not express their sexuality because they are not supposed to have desire. Women give men sex to get protection from men. Women need to remain virgins until they get married because premarital sex is a sin.“
Sofie*, 22, grew up with those tenets of morality hammered into her. She is a bisexual cis woman from a religious and conservative family in Jakarta.
But few can deny their basic, carnal desires. When she moved to Yogyakarta for college and lived by herself, her world opened up to alternate values and she started to explore her sexuality.
It was then that she realized that she, and no one else, has ultimate control over her own body.
Sofie was 19 when she was first exposed to hookup culture – a concept so alien and taboo in her previous life. For Sofie and her college friends, the emergence of dating apps during this period certainly aided in their sexual blossoming.
For her, dating apps saved her from the grind and sleaze that comes with meeting men at nightclubs. Apps seemed easier, safer – until her sexual inexperience made her prey to a new breed of manipulative men she met online.
“Because I did not know how to enjoy sex and do it safely, I did not have healthy relationships with my hookup partners. Many of the people I know were also doing risky sex,” Sofie recalls.
Risky sex, in this context, could refer to sexual activity without protection such as condoms or dental dams; hooking up with a stranger without having any emergency contact; and sex that disregards one’s mental state.
And because of sexual taboos, Sofie never communicated her expectations with her hookups. And it’s in this realm of ambiguity that she feels she was used, several times, for sex.
Conservatism breeds manipulation
When it comes to premarital sex, Indonesia falls firmly into the conservative category, renowned sexologist Zoya Amirin said. In extreme cases, some unfortunate couples have been persecuted and criminalized after they were caught having sex or getting intimate out of wedlock.
As such, the urge for hooking up is omnipresent, but it’s still dangerously taboo, especially among unmarried young people.
For Zoya, hookup culture presents a double-edged sword conundrum. On the one hand, it could mark a kind of cultural revolution that would return the country to the more liberal attitudes it once held towards sex, long before the creation of its current conservative norms.
Zoya is referring to the era of ancient Indonesian kingdoms like the Majapahit Empire, in which kings were free to take up concubines while men faced relatively little judgment for seeking sexual release with their mistresses (although women were still expected to preserve their virginity until they got married and remain loyal only to their husbands).
[Today’s] hookup culture offers something different in that everyone, including women, can also have sexual desires and express them,” Zoya said.
However, hookup culture will remain a problem while sex is a taboo subject, as is often the case in Indonesia.
“To get rid of taboos, you need to learn to respect other people, including by saying honestly what you want in a relationship. For example, ‘at this point, I’m looking for a sex partner.’ So there’s consent about the sex and the relationship. To me, that’s fairer,” she stressed.
“The problem is people who manipulate the situation to get sex. That’s more dangerous and could lead to people becoming sexual predators.”
Sofie’s case illustrates that hookup culture is thriving in Indonesia, but also that young urbanites who partake in the lifestyle aren’t always ready to have healthy but fleeting sexual relationships.
Oftentimes, Sofie’s hookup partners would initially express interest in a committed relationship after matching with her.
“At this point, I would still meet some men who wouldn’t say that they wanted a hookup explicitly,” she said.
One gentleman, who never talked about sex during their introductory chat, stood out to her as an example of how she had been manipulated in the past.
“I thought he had romantic intentions that would lead to a relationship. Even when I asked him about what he wanted in this relationship, he said he wanted to get to know me better,” Sofie said.
“When we eventually met and had sex, I still didn’t consider it a hookup. Even before we had sex, he said he had feelings for me. But after having sex, he said that he didn’t want a relationship. I was confused and wondered why he could not be straightforward to say that he just wanted a casual relationship from the start.”
Mita*, 26, identifies as non-binary. They grew up in a conservative Minang family in Tangerang.
Mita started swiping through dating apps, and was thrust into hookup culture in their early 20s without knowing how to have casual relationships with strangers. Partnering with cis heterosexual men, they were eager to dive into the experience in order to gain fodder for their hobby of writing adult fan fiction.
“Without any guidance, I walked alone in the wilderness of dating apps. Before that, I had never had sex before, not even a kiss. I only knew about it from fan fiction and movies. I did not imagine I would do that in real life,” Mita recalls.
But their hookup experiences weren’t at all like the romantic fiction they had grown up with. In fact, they almost got raped and scammed.
“There were countless things I did not expect to happen, like when I almost got honey-trapped, almost this, almost that. It was terrifying,” they said.
At first, Mita did not know how to protect themself, but they had a close friend, Tata, with whom they opened up. Soon the two started trading lessons they had learned from each other’s hookup experiences.
“[Tata] was furious at me after finding out about my reckless hookups. She said, ‘you have to use protection, and tell a friend you trust about when and where you will meet your hookup partner!’ She also warned me about the importance of meeting someone in a place that is accessible to my friend,” they recalled.
Mita and Tata soon became each other’s trusted confidants as they navigated the exhilarating but risky world of hookups. Mita learned to establish certain rules to minimize their risk.
“Sharing my live location with my friend is also important. I also will never bring valuable items if I want to hook up,” Mita explained.
Ultimately, to them, the risks of hooking up far outweigh the payoff. But if one were to dare to plunge into that world, Mita says a dependable support system is necessary.
As for Sofie, she says she has learned to be more proactive in asking what prospective partners want out of a relationship in order to avoid getting burned again. This includes setting boundaries from the get-go.
“There were at least two moments when I had to ask, ‘why can’t you say clearly that you wanted a hookup?’” she said.
One of her hookup partners said he was afraid it was not polite to say explicitly that he just wanted to hook up. Another partner said that he was scared Sofie would see him as a sex predator.
Sofie believes that the inability to say what people want explicitly stems from their conservative upbringing. This, more often than not, leads to manipulation for sex.
For that reason, Sofie said she hopes that more people will become open about discussing sex and relationships because hookup culture will continue to have a bad rep if it’s built upon a foundation of deceit.
“[Men] usually blame women, they say, ‘you wanted consensual sex, so why are you being so sensitive?’ So [in Indonesia] women aren’t ready for hookup culture. Neither are the men,” she laughed.
Ready or not, Zoya knows that people hook up all the time in Indonesia. In the end, honest communication is key to establishing a healthy and respectful hookup culture in the country.
“Communication, expectations, and consent are extremely important in any form of relationship, including hookups,” she said.
*Sofie and Mita’s real names, as well as certain details about her life, have been omitted, at their request, to protect their identities.