Being a single woman in Indonesia is full of challenges. Access to basic state institutions places a lot of emphasis to one’ marital status and nuclear family, making family cards and marriage licenses central to the governance of Indonesian society. The family card is an essential document to make a passport, identity card and activate your mobile phone and identity cards display marital statuses as either married, widow, and not yet married. For single women this brings a particular set of challenges, as marital status has the power to open access for women to get reproductive health services, including contraceptives. My personal experiences as a single woman and the scrutiny I have received in trying to reproductive health services without having a ‘married’ status on my identity card inspired me to dive deeper into women’s lives and sexuality to find out “what are Indonesian women’s experiences regarding their sexuality?” and “what are Indonesian women’s desires regarding their sexuality?”. I answer these questions by applying a feminist standpoint theory and circle of sexuality. This research is based on life history interviews that expose how history and culture shapes knowledge about and inside the individual, through a collection and analysis of their stories. I interviewed seven Indonesian women. All respondents did the interview online and voluntarily. The interviews were conducted two times per person and followed by personal chats through WhatsApp. I designed and elaborated the questions based on the Circles of Sexuality model to analyse women’s sexuality. This research focuses on analysing sexuality, which is not limited to sensual physical activity but is related to power relations between individuals and many aspects that intersect in society. Women’s sexuality are historically, socially, and politically constructed journeys in women's lives. In their journeys, women are negotiating sexuality and power. Women’s sexuality is about stories of struggle, resistance, resilience, and full of the negotiation process between sexuality and power. Many power models are embedded in family, religion, culture, intimate relationships, peer groups, and/ or social communities. The power has shaped women’s lives into specific and similar forms that are believed to be parts of an official pattern, as kodrat perempuan (women’s nature). This research calls this pattern the illusion of women’s pathway. This pathway consists of four steps: childhood, youth, young-adult, adult-marriage. This illusion pathway traps women in the domestic sphere and limit their agency in public, especially in the political arena. However, this research found that in each step there are spaces for negotiating sexuality and power. The negotiation process are often missed and continue to be underappreciated and undervalued. As we know, there is a power nexus applied in women's lives, and it causes us to have limited opportunities in our lives. We have kodrat; we need to believe in it and live under the shadows of kodrat. The negotiation process happened in between to survive and continue our lives. Even though women are trapped in the illusion of women’s pathway, women always show their agency and become a subject of themselves by negotiating sexuality and power in their lives. Even though women are always 'becoming', we never lose ourselves by realising our experiences and bravely admitting our desires; we will find ourselves in sublime alienation.

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Siegmann, Karin Astrid
Social Policy for Development (SPD)
International Institute of Social Studies

Yusari, Indah. (2021, December 17). Beyond the contraceptive: a study on women’s sexuality in Indonesia. Social Policy for Development (SPD). Retrieved from