Sexuality in Philippine society: imprisoned in an obsolete tradition-religion complex

In her article “Between Sensationalism and Censure” (Philippine Journalism Review, April 2002, pages 35-37), Diana Mendoza observed how the bizarreness of Filipinos’ regard for sexuality is reflected in Philippine cinema. Her observations are gleaned from among others, comments made by sociology professor Michael Tan of the University of the Philippines in the Sixth International congress on AIDS in Asia and the Pacific held in Melbourne, Australia from the 5th to the 10th October 2001:

Commenting if the Philippines could be at the forefront of education on sex and sexuality Tan said no, because “media have very sensational coverage but they still have this patina of moralism which is strange.” He said this brims over to the film industry that churns out movies carrying the “crime and punishment” theme — for instance, movies with plots of adultery that run steamy sex scenes but which towards the end, mandate that the adulterer, who is always the female, gets shot or imprisoned.

“With these endings, movies become a morality play after two hours of titillation,” he said.


Tan said Filipino movies also carry the “crime and redemption” theme, in which a sex worker eventually realizes there is a better life outside prostitution, but only after the audience [have] been treated to several sexual episodes.

More disturbing than simply being uncomfortable is how inconsistent and misguided Filipino responses to issues of sexuality can get. The Filipino Male enjoys the better half of a double standard that prevails in Philippine society. And this is what contributes much to the bizarreness of Filipinos’ regard for sex. Male sexual indiscretion, as mentioned earlier, is routinely tolerated and even encouraged and cheered (the famously philandering Joseph Estrada was even elected president). Filipino men are predisposed to openly and indiscreetly staring at and regarding women maliciously. These indiscretions are clearly outside the more well-known but imagined Filipino virtues of modesty, humility, and adherence to tradition. They are nonetheless widespread and accepted as normal (although desensitised may be the more appropriate word to describe Philippine society’s acceptance of this Filipino male condition), but there is presently no Filipino philosophy or code of ethics to frame this condition, it being outside the Tradition-Religion Complex that many Filipinos continue to “officially” validate themselves with. Thus the Filipino male – with all his expected indiscretions and excess – is a social aberration that is accepted, yet at the same time, is not normal and oftentimes unsavoury. Conflicting descriptions that are collectively oxymoronic, to put it mildly, encapsulated in a neat package that we find ourselves using the phrase Filipino (male) sexuality to describe. Remember how I used the word “bizarre” early in this paragraph?

Or take the whole debate on population and human capital. The issue of population – specifically the embarrassingly high rate at which Filipinos continue to multiply – is complicated by the Church’s adamant stand on artificial contraception. Time and again, government efforts to roll out coherent and not-so-coherent family planning programs and population policies have been blocked by the Church. This is not necessarily bad, except that Filipino humanity is not economically productive enough to sustain its own numbers. In other words, we love our multiplication but are clueless about turning out productive products of this multiplication. Many Filipinos are instead born “blessed” – they are blessed because they are poor, and remain blessed for most of their lives – straining state resources as they go (which is why they are encouraged to seek employment overseas). Strangely, the teachings of the Church to “go forth and multiply” are in fact balanced by other teachings. It is also written that The Lord hath given nature to man for him to use productively and that gold coins should be returned two- or three-fold to one’s master rather than kept buried safely in the ground. Why did the Filipino latch on to “go forth and multiply” but at the same time, overlook “make more gold for thy master”? The Church encourages Filipinos to multiply but seems to have obscured its own teachings on how to increase economic output to keep up with the mouths to feed. Worse, the mantra “The Lord will provide” was added to the lethal brew. So rather than focus on increasing economic output, the devout Catholic Filipino would go on to produce lots of babies and then pray for manna from Heaven – a sure recipe for disaster. And this disaster is unfolding right before an entire generation of Filipinos.

The point is, in Philippine society, the unwritten (and ironically vastly more ingrained) cultural framework for guiding “proper” behaviour and conduct is itself convoluted, inconsistent, and unjust. Much of it lies outside the increasingly irrelevant Tradition-Religion Complex. Does this mean that Philippine society is inherently unjust? Maybe. It seems to be a theory that neatly explains a lot of paradoxes about Philippine society, among which is the famous paradox of our high Church services attendance back dropped against the virtually institutionalised corruption and passive-aggressive “immorality” that prevails. We now find that these paradoxes are only paradoxes because we view them through the lens of Philippine society’s Tradition-Religion Complex. The fact is, Philippine society runs on a cultural framework that has already overspilled the Tradition-Religion Complex and is rapidly spreading in an unstructured manner – in other words chaotically (which is why we find so much difficulty making heads or tails of these cultural issues). To the typical Filipino philandering male, there is no conflict between his regular church attendance and the harem of mistresses he maintains. He absolutely loves and adores his religion and complies faithfully with its dogma but at the same time he is aware of the reality of the moral ambiguousness of the society to which he belongs.

We can dare generalise that Filipinos get their kicks from breaking rules. Among Filipinos, there is some measure of cleverness and machismo (remember this is a backward male-dominated society we are talking about) associated with putting one over or being above the System. This contributes to explaining why Filipino motorists drive the way they drive, why tax cheating is so rampant, why corruption is so endemic, why personal connections are so valued in even the most mundane of day-to-day activities, and why street parliaments are favoured over robust institutions. Filipinos do not see themselves as stakeholders in the effectiveness of their own society’s rules and conventions. And this is where we come – full circle – back to our original assertion about the utter lack of ability of Filipinos to think things through critically. Continuously taking stock of how we are organised, our framework of laws, rules, policies, procedures, and approaches to doing things (from the most macro to the smallest of tasks) and continuously tweaking, upgrading, and re-designing them takes an immense amount of structured analytical thought. And because Filipinos, as we’ve shown thus far, are deficient in that field of advanced thinking it is easy to see why we are such chronic rule-breakers. Rather than go through the proper exercise of keeping our governance frameworks (whether they be civil or cultural frameworks) scalable and, therefore, relevant, we simply look for workarounds. Pwede na yan – (roughly translated: “that’ll do”) the triumphant mantra of the typical Filipino. We don’t ensure that the systems work for our ends. Rather, we view systems more as roadblocks to our ends. Therefore very little systemic solutions are ever considered to address Philippine society’s ills.

The irony there is that many Filipinos do consider the existing systems and frameworks stifling. It’s just that we as a people are not, by nature, critical thinkers and therefore lack the faculties to clearly articulate our issues objectively (while tempering sentimentality). Clear understanding of the issues is a pre-requisite to coming up with a coherent solution and plan of action. Which therefore makes it even less of a surprise that no clear vision of where the Philippines is supposed to be headed has ever been crafted.

[Excerpt from Get Real Philippines Book 1 which can be downloaded for free here.]

Image source: AniolMroku.


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11 Comments on "Sexuality in Philippine society: imprisoned in an obsolete tradition-religion complex"

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Joe America

Psychologically conflicted, morally bankrupt. A culture of self for sure. Another fine article. Too bad so few Filipinos will find it. It should be the foundation for a course in personal ethics in high schools. Required. . .

I’m reminded of the mason I had to fire because he felt it was his right to hit upon our 17 year old housekeeper whilst she was trying to get her work done. He thought I was the one who was wrong. The creep . . .

Hyden Toro

How can you explain the sexual behavior of the foremost Whore: Kris Aquino?
The Roman Catholic Church always gives her a Marriage Annulment. Whenever, her LIBIDO calls for another husband…Why is the Roman Catholic Church, tolerate her behavior? While they do not tolerate the behaviors of other women; doing the same thing…


can you give an example of the movie they are describing?

certainly, these days (the past 10 years), these kinds of movies are effectively extinct.

Let’s also not forget the other aspect of Filipino sexuality – the men that aren’t macho or straight for that matter. There appears to be some kind of addendum to the unwritten code that if you’re not macho enough, you’re pretty much O-U-T and are required to flaunt it at every opportunity. On the one hand the Philippines is a lot more “tolerant” of homosexuality than certain other countries in the region, particularly the Islamic countries. But here it is made clear that anyone outed as such is almost required to live the lifestyle of the “flamer” stereotype. In a… Read more »
Peter Nuzum
As a western man living in the Philippines, I find this article interesting. So with the filipino male “sexual indiscretion is routinely tolerated and even encouraged”. That is fine but let us not forget that for every male who engages in sexual indiscretion, there is also a female doing the same thing. So I do not hold with the idea that there is a difference between men and women. It may be that the man is more open and boastful about his conquests than the woman is but many women are now having affairs in a more open atmosphere than… Read more »

[…] going around being indiscrete about their sexuality and “manhood” is but a manifestation of the obsolete tradition-religion complex found […]


This GRF site is such a wonderful, entertaining and enlightening find.

Let me say I first it by Googling….’the romantic notion of Filipino love’….

It should be made compulsory reading for all high school students….but I fear it would never be allowed or it’s value even understood by most authorities.

Long live GRP…as an expat it will keep me sane and balanced in a foreign world.

Aegyo Kawaii
Hi! Thanks for this funny and interesting article. You’re absolutely right in your article. I believe that we Filipinos are true hypocrites. We both despise and enjoy, even worship sex. Parents always tell kids that sex is yuck and bad yet they talk about sex positions and orgasms with their friends and neighbors all the time. Men want a virgin wife but would love to fuck a call girl with lots of sexual experiences. Sexual magazines like FHM and Cosmopolitan sell like pancakes (more than Time magazine). Every Filipino’s favorite doctor is Margie Holmes, a sexologist. Tabloids with sexy vixens… Read more »