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.

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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.

11 Replies to “Sexuality in Philippine society: imprisoned in an obsolete tradition-religion complex”

  1. 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 . . .

    1. That behaviour in your mason actually extends far more broadly into the whole sort of thinking that underlies the way Pinoys behave. Whilst other cultures are able to defer their ethical judgment to the context of the bigger collective, Pinoys defer to the smaller context of their selves and their personal feelings on a circumstance. You see this in its most highly developed form in Japanese culture where the average Japanese individual has layer upon layer of traditions and cultural cues that suppress individual motivations. Not always good of course. But I’d say Pinoys are at the other end of that extreme — always bowing to their small-minded whims and mindless emotions. Perhaps Western culture is somewhere in between ranging, say, from Germanic traditions closer to the Japanese and American individualism swinging closer to the Pinoy extreme.

  2. 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…

    1. That’s between her and the Catholic Church. You’ll note that both parties are among the (if not the Top Two) most influential cultural artifacts in Pinoy society today. Observe dysfunctional Pinoy culture and understand how it merely reflects its most influential relics.

  3. 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.

  4. 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 way, they are effectively the macho society’s rejects. Less well-known are the women that aren’t “feminine” enough living the appearance of the “tomboy,” and I have seen quite a few that are almost indistinguishable from men at first glance.

  5. 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 previously.
    As an example, we own an apartment block in a provincial city. At one time we have 4 tenants, all filipina with either western husbands or fiances who were overseas at the time. In all four cases, the women openly had filipino boyfriends. And I am seeing so many young girls of 16-18 pregnant or with small children so I don’t think the older style morality has much creedance these days.

  6. 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.

  7. 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 sell a lot more than newspapers. Filipino celebrities love to look hot and steamy a lot rather that being cute and wholesome (think: Anne Curtis vs Toni Gonzaga or Jennylyn Mercado vs Kris Bernal). Pinoys do love sexting too (taking bra-fies, recording own sex videos, etc). There’s even competition of whether who has more sexual experiences among teenagers and yupies. Unfortunately, these same people are the very devotees of Mama Mary who openly states that sex is immoral. They even don’t wear appropriate swimwear during summertime because they’re so conservative. Duh! Too hypocrite and plastic. Unfortunately, clergymen do also that. They preach against divorce, artificial contraception, and sex education, yet you find them with secret wives, concubines, and children. This is like the joke “sa umaga, hawak ko katawan ni Kristo, sa gabi, katawan ni Cristy” (at daytime, I hold Christ’s body, at night, it’s Christy’s body). Husbands want a faithful wife, but they keeps big harems more that Arab sultans do (think: Ramon Revilla Sr. with 88 children from many mothers) and they ‘protect’ their daughter’s fragile vaginas from being ‘broken’ by boyfriends while buying their sons GROs from Pegasus and Classmate. Very, very funny, and stupid.

    Sorry folks, but PH is one of the most sexually preoccupied countries in Asia, if not, the top one hypersexualized Asian country (more than Thailand or Japan). We have one of the highest rates of sexual crimes in Asia: rape, incest, sextortion, white slavery, etc. We also have the highest rates of teen pregnancies, STDs and HIV/AIDS, and birth rates in Asia. And while the Asian average age of losing virginity is 21, the Pinoy average is 16 or 17. Sexual revolution outside the West is most profound in the Philippines (think: bomba movies, bold movies, and titilating films). And yet we continue to cover up our guilty pleasures and try to be holy and untouched. Ahahahaha. Too funny. We’re like ‘”banal na aso, santong kabayo” (holy dog, blessed horse).

    Why is PH such a hypocrite when it comes to sex?

    First reason: Our culture is an extension of the ‘Pakistani-Peruvian Axis’, where Arab behaviors are emulated by non-Arabs. This is found in Latin America, southern Meditteranian, and Arabized Asia. Forget shawarmas and flying carpets. The Arabs usually are devout in religion, yet love to wage wars and are obssessed with virgins. An unmarried Arab female should be virgin to be considered honorable (but the reality is she is just brainwashed so that she will have a high market value to Arab men and not look like ‘damaged goods’) When a typical Arab male finds out that his wife is no longer a virgin, he immediately kills her because she is already ‘damaged’ like her vagina is already broken like a shattered glass. Here, because of the Arab’s voracious appetite for sex, he becomes obssessed with it that he develops strategies to control women, like the virgin thing, and religion. The good thing is, we are not that as brutal as them.

    Second reason: the Latin Culture of Honor. Core Latin Countries (Italy, Spain, Portugal, and to some extent, France, though not as much as the former three) are nominally Christian, but actually a combination of pagan and Arab) where honor is attached to material wealth, religiosity, and sexual status but with a twist. Boys should be virile and girls should be chaste, except if a girl wants to be dirty, go ahead and fuck a lot of boys (Madonna-Whore Complex). So, like the Arabs, Latin men should behave like ‘boys will be boys’ while girls, to be clean, she must only have sex with her husband, if she did that before marriage, she will become dirty; hence, “kalapating mababa ang lipad” (soiled/low-flying dove). Worse is, they have this bias to Mama Mary, making her Virgin Mary, without even knowing the real historical Mary’s actual sexual status, to give Latin girls a model to be sexually naive, even if they continue to be faithful to their philandering husbands even if they already have STDs from their husbands.

    Both Arab and Latin people are already sexual hypocrites and thanks to them, they brainwashed the free Filipinos’ minds to be like them.

    Third reason: American sexual revolution. Yeah, thanks to them, we now have birth control, sexy fashion, and free sexual behavior. Unfortunately, we also have unregulated sexualized pop culture, ranging from pop songs (Bruno Mars’s Lazy Song, Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball), reading things (Cosmopolitan, FHM…), to dolls (Bratz with lips that look like goldfish), sexting, and the like. Even the girls are encouraged to look ‘hot’ as young as possible. Include also zealot evangelical Christians who promised virginity at purity balls, yet do have sex scandals like Pinoys do.

    Add these three reasons and poof! You got the Pinoy love-hate relationship with sex.

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