Indonesian Human Rights Activist, Aka “Orgasm Lady”, Spreads Female Empowerment Through Sex Education

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Orgasm. There, we said it. That word which makes many people feel uncomfortable because of the way we have been culturally conditioned to view sex, sexuality, and bodies. We fully believe that for sex education to be more effective and an informative tool for youth, it must include discussions about pleasure, along with all the other stuff.

A woman in Indonesia is on a mission to ensure that men and women in her conservative culture can find the comprehensive information they need. Firliana Purwanti is a human rights activist, who is on a mission to promote gender equality and female empowerment through her sex education organization, The O Project. Her nickname is “the orgasm lady” because, well, that is one of the main things she talks about. She is also very politically active, and by day is a development worker tackling natural disasters.

Firliana believes equality in the bedroom should be a conversation that happens more often. Her mission began in 2010 when she wrote a book called ‘The O Project’, documenting the sexual experiences of 14 Indonesian women. It became a best-seller, considered one of the most well-known feminist books in the country.

While there are definitely common threads throughout discussions about sexuality in many countries, Firliana is specifically focused on changing the conversation in her home country because of some of the hideous and antiquated ways Indonesia views virginity.

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Indonesia is the largest Muslim country in the world where up to 90% of people identify as Muslim. Religion infiltrates legislation in shameful, harmful and unnecessary ways. In an op-ed for the Guardian written in 2015, Firliana writes that the national police force require “two finger virginity tests” for female recruits, but strangely nothing of the sort for men.

The military mandates virginity tests for women who marry military men, and some high schools even tried to impose virginity tests for girls who wanted to graduate. The Hindustan Times reports the country’s highest court is currently hearing a petition from conservative Islamic activists lobbying to outlaw sex outside marriage.

She wants to educate people about sex so that there isn’t an unhealthy obsession with valuing women based on whether they have had sex or not.

“Our morality is being watched through our vagina,” she told The Straits Times.

Firliana hopes that by opening up more dialog about sexual pleasure and breaking down taboos and myths surrounding sex, it will lead to more women feeling empowered in other areas of their lives and not being judged for their sexual desires.

“Our self-esteem is very much dictated by the society based on the hymen as an indicator… that is so wrong and so unfair. Not the case for guys, doing it for the first time, losing virginity, is an everyday story,” she said.

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Her transition to being an empowered feminist activist came from her strict conservative Muslim upbringing. She and her sister attended religious classes, but weren’t raised with sex education. When she did decide to become sexually active at the age of 21, she hid it from her parents. But eventually she started to question the ways many other girls are taught to feel about their sexuality and decided to do something about it.

For her, the idea of being open and honest about female pleasure extends far beyond just one intimate act. Like many other aficionados of comprehensive fact-based sex education, Firliana believes being informed can prevent young women from putting themselves in harmful sexual situations, understand rape and sexual assault, and know the signs of an unhealthy relationship. Teaching women not to be afraid to enjoy sex, not to think of themselves as shameful or dirty because of it, can set them on an entirely different and more empowered trajectory.

“Why can’t women choose to enjoy sex when they think they are ready without hesitation?. It took me years to make that decision. The moral debate in my head was so strong, it really made me hesitate,” she recalled.

In the United States, there is a similar idea about sexual purity as seen in the “abstinence only” curriculum. It is also tied in with religion, which often dictates sex before marriage is wrong. While there should also never be shame in a person making their own commitment to wait for marriage before having sex, as this is absolutely part of the sex-positive conversation, the idea that we value (mostly) women differently according to their decisions is where we start to see a pattern of harmful attitudes and behavior toward them.

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Yet the abstinence only model focuses exclusively on the message about not having sex, and often fails to recognize that young men and women are probably going to do it anyway and need guidance in this crucial time in their lives. They need to know about STDs, pregnancy, consent, abuse, how to communicate one’s needs, and of course, anatomy.

Across the US, only 22 states require public schools to teach comprehensive sex education, and only 13 of those require the info to be medically accurate. The states which teach abstinence only have the highest rates of teen pregnancies and STDs. This is a horrible failure on behalf the adults in our society who refuse to face facts and equip teens to be successful and healthy.

While there is a lot of change needed here at home (President Obama eliminated all federal finding for abstinence only education for the 2017 budget and we are thankful for his administration seeing the problem), Firliana is part of a growing movement in Indonesia that is also starting to recognize the need for a revolution when it comes to sex.

Giving women in a conservative culture permission to demand equality in their sexual relationships means they know how to value themselves as equal, and can have a powerful effect in the rest of their lives. She has been a part of former President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono’s Democratic Party since 2010 and plans to run for a parliamentary position in the 2019 national elections on a women’s rights platform.

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There are too few women in Indonesian politics which she wants to change and incorporates this into her message about sex.

“Sex is also a political issue. You can use sexuality as a tool to understand the power struggle between men and women,” she said.

She makes an interesting analogy about how the lack of women in political leadership is essentially the same as the power dynamic in an assault situation.

“Power imbalance is rape. Rape is not about desire, but about someone who feels superior forcing his urges on the inferior one,” she said.

Firliana is also in the process of writing another book, due out in 2018, which she says will be a lot more serious than her last. She is the kind of activist that is going to make a lasting cultural impact on the lives of future generations, choosing to go against the grain in order to dismantle ideas about sexuality that should be discussed in open, healthy and safe ways, rather than in such polarizing, fearful tones.

“From my research I’ve discovered that women who have orgasms have equal personal relationships, are able to express themselves and, most importantly, are free from violence. I believe women who reach orgasm are empowered and can make decisions about their own bodies, with or without a hymen. Pleasure is a human right. My ambition is for all women to have orgasms, because that’s the ultimate indicator they are empowered,” she concluded in her Guardian op-ed.

Orgasms and Orgasm Lady FTW! You can hear more from Firliana herself in the video below:

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