Long before the 16th century-colonization of the Philippines by the Spaniards, tribal Filipinos already had their own established beliefs and practices. Being the ethnic archipelagic norm at the time, polygamy was widely accepted and practiced by the early Filipinos, with tribal men often having three or more wives.
It was the advent of Catholicism that gave way to beliefs that millions of Filipinos now identify with. By converting the native Filipinos to Catholics, Spaniard missionaries introduced and advocated for Christian ideas of fidelity, chastity, and the purity of the Virgin Mary.
Fast forward hundreds of years later, where the Philippines is a predominantly Catholic country. Deeply spooled in its Catholic roots, the Philippines reared in a society that stresses virginity and purity as a sacrosanctity. It is no surprise then that this kind of belief engendered a culture—purity culture.
Purity culture, in brief, is the piety linked with virginal status and the association of sin and shame with sex. This culture is pervasive in fundamentalist Catholic cultures, but also present in progressive Christian communities.
It was only in the 70s that the Philippines formally introduced sex education in its educational programs. Before then, talking about ‘the birds and the bees’ was considered taboo; discussions about this delicate subject would prompt curious whispers and expressions of disapproval from anyone within earshot.
Today, talks of sex can still mean stepping on tender ground. In a Catholic society such as ours wherein the word can have negative associations, especially among the conservative youth, it is not surprising that it is easier for some to play deaf than mention it in conversation.
Nevertheless, GENDERS professor Anastacio Marasigan shares that there is nothing wrong with talking about sexual intercourse. “Some people would say that if you teach young people about sex, you’re encouraging them, but you’re not. When you raise something intimate and someone gives you concise information about it, you know things better.”
What is pure? What isn’t?
The pure identifies with the impeccable, often associated with the clean, the good, and the pious. Its opposite is the impure, which can be associated with the different, the tainted flesh.
Dr. Noelle Dela Cruz, a professor of GENDERS and hailing from the Philosophy Department, points out that the idea of purity is an exclusivist mindset that identifies and devalues the ‘other’—the impure. “A purist attitude is an oppressive tool to discipline bodies and to serve a system. Anyone who steps out of line is marginalized and ostracized.”
Dr. Noelle points out that purity culture is a piece with double standards that curtails female freedom but seems to encourage male promiscuity, as in the ‘slut’ and ‘stud’ archetypes.
Professor Anastacio also shares that purity culture perpetuates a double standard of morality. “Both genders are capable of doing sexual things, but in society, women are told to be virgins while men are encouraged to have sexual conquests as a sign of being a ‘real’ man. Purity culture is also very sex-negative; if you’re not a virgin anymore, you’re considered a sinner.”
Although the Philippines is still attached to its Catholic roots, statistics show that the youth today are more liberal and open-minded in terms of premarital sex.
In the Youth Adult Fertility and Sexuality Study, it is shown that 1 in 3 Filipino youth aged 15 to 24 has engaged in premarital sex. It looks like the youth of today have caught wind of the convenient brevity of hookups; casual sexual activities and friends-with-benefits arrangements seem to be on the rise, with the youth having regular sex with friends they’re not in a romantic relationship with.
The old-fashioned belief of ‘waiting for marriage’ just doesn’t seem to apply to a significant portion of the new generation as another culture—the hookup culture—has punctured the scene.
In this new culture where intimacy is often bypassed and feral pleasure is sought after, Ellie* (III, MGT) appears to have a very open approach to her sexual affairs. “I don’t mind being touched [in a sexual way], it’s safe and pleasurable,” she jokes. An openly bisexual woman, she explains her liberal mindset. “There are different ways to have sex naman talaga, common lang talaga yung straight sex… Pero momol with someone, it’s nice and I don’t mind at all.”
On the other hand, there are those who still choose not to dip their feet in wild waters. Greg* (II, CAM) is an example of someone who does not want to wait for marriage, but also does not want to engage in anything casual, as he sees sex as a chance to show love that may be given at any time, regardless of marital status. He says, “It’s my choice whether I would like to have sex with my significant other now or when we get married. Nothing will stop me because it is a way of showing love, as long as I love the person and I really want to [have sex].”
Nevertheless, there are still those who prefer to wait until marriage. Raised in a strictly religious family with talks of “never having boyfriends until you’re able to support yourself” Paula* (I, OCM) shares, “I will wait for when I’m married, kasi ayoko ibigay yung katawan ko sa tao na hindi naman committed sa pagmamahal sa akin.”
A moral warfare no more
Some engage in sexual intercourse for love and for reproduction, some choose to do so for sexual gratification, pleasure, and the thrill of a no-strings-attached arrangement. What has become clear, though, is it no longer just a conversation held behind closed doors. Through time, people have become more open in talking about and performing sexual activities.
It is important to note that in a predominantly Catholic country such as the Philippines, some people may or may not still consider premarital sexual acts as deviant, but the cultural changes are unmistakable. Time has indeed brought about significant change. From an age wherein premarital sex was considered taboo and losing one’s virginity before wedlock meant getting a social penalty, it’s ushered in a time of acceptance, curiosity, and exploration of one’s own sexuality.
What once provoked social hysteria has kept up with the pace of time and changed on its own—through open fora, curious discourse, and experimentation.