[The inspiration of this story is taken from a show called “The Best Sex I’ve Ever Had” by a Toronto-based research-art atelier Mammalian Diving Reflex at the 2012 Singapore Arts Festival. The writer took a pledge not to divulge personal particulars and secrets of the show’s collaborators. Therefore, this writing is an attempt to share her internalization of the show’s messages without revealing any sensitive secret. The writer loved the show and thought that there should be more of it for the public, especially in Jakarta.]
There was a time when sex hurt. My Jakartan friend, Andrini, 27, and I listened intently as the 75-year-old Chinese lady in front of us spoke to an all-female audience that night. We called her Mrs. J, and we soon learned that she has never had an orgasm in her entire life.
Mrs. J was just one of the many speakers at the 2012 Singapore Arts Festival. We sat there and listened to story after story from local women, aged 65 and above, who lived in a very different time and experienced a very different sexual atmosphere than what we expect for ourselves today. It was both comical and earnest when these women shared the qualms they had about their wedding nights, the difficulty of having to learn about sex all by themselves, and the lack of excitement in their sex lives. The experiences ranged from having to deal with a husband whose ‘thing’ was too small, to only having sex once a month (if circumstances permit).
Although there were one or two women who enjoyed making love and had decent sex drive to back it up, most of the panelists viewed sex merely as a duty to their husbands. This was possibly a function of their conservative upbringing, which meant avoidance of the topic altogether. Sex was mostly done either with the intention to bear a child or as an outlet for the husband’s desires. That’s why sex was often painful and not enjoyable to these women. That’s also why the audience clapped really hard when one speaker mentioned that she finally got herself a tub of KY Jelly.
Before we knew it, the lights were back on, and the speakers invited us to join them in front of the stage. There were small round tables where they put some mementos from when they were still young. I ended up exchanging small talk with one of the speakers, a petite lady with a big smile who looked rather young compared to the others.
“I’m really sorry if this is inappropriate, but have you ever faked an orgasm?” Andrini, who was quiet all this time, asked the lady hesitantly.
“Well, why would I? Orgasms are not important anyway,” she replied, laughing.
I smiled and nodded as I thought that it was such a beautifully selfless response. In my head, I could almost make out what she’d say next, “What’s important is the connection that you build during love making,” or something of that nature. However, the end of her answer was unexpected.
“Once your husband climaxes, he wouldn’t care about your pleasure anymore,” she added, still laughing. I couldn’t help but laugh with her, because it’s an annoyance that is still all too familiar today. As I shook her hand and bid farewell, I could only be grateful that my partner is very considerate when it comes to “the business”.
As we were looking through movie posters on our way out of the Esplanade, I noticed that Andrini’s face had turned pale. So, I asked if the show changed anything at all for her.
“If my future husband can’t take care of me physically, what should I do?” she suddenly blurted it all out.
Having decided to save herself for marriage, she grew up to have an overtly romanticized idea of sex. The harlequin novels she reads every week didn’t help either. She always imagined that sex was an emotionally intense affair with a lot of eye contact, stomach-spinning love sentences and fireworks. So, when she learned that men in real life don’t necessarily know (or care enough) to send her to cloud nine every night, she was quite rattled.
For a lot of modern women who are not actively looking for sex, there is this uncertainty looming in the back of their mind: whether they will find both emotional and sexual fulfillment in the same person. Interestingly, this reminded me of a speaker at the show, who never failed to pleasure herself whenever she felt the tingle, but rarely had her way with her husband. Sometimes it’s hard to comprehend how such disconnection between sexuality and marriage could exist.
The source of desperation for a lot of women is that they often don’t know what they like. I’d say, figure that out first, and then communicate it to your partner. If he cares about you, he’ll want to make it work both ways.
I smiled and asked whether Andrini wanted to talk about it over dessert or beer. I was glad that she chose dessert because we definitely needed something sweet to end the night.
Anahita helps decipher the intricacy of relationships by keeping it real.