Originally published on VICE (July 7, 2021).
“As a woman, appreciating my own sexuality has always had a negative connotation,” Amanda, 27, told VICE.
Given the conservative nature of her friends and family in the Philippines, she requested to only be identified by her first name. “It’s easy for the narrative to turn into public views of being too easy, promiscuous, and not pure, because we’re expected to be conservative, modest, and demure.”
Amanda, however, has tired of that narrative, and thinks women should enjoy sex however they want.
She’s not alone.
"Rough sex fantasies… that’s one of the things [Filipino women] want in bed,” Rica Cruz, a sex and relationships therapist, told VICE. She conducted a qualitative study on the sexual desires of Filipino women in 2020 for her PhD dissertation at the Ateneo de Manila University. Aside from enjoying rough sex without reservations, Filipino women in her study also fantasized about having sex in public places where they could potentially get caught.
Cruz said that fantasizing about rough sex could stem from Filipinos’ long-held belief that women are—or should be—gentle and reserved, like the expectations Amanda mentioned.
“[The fantasy] reinforces that narrative,” Cruz said. “But [the women are] using it for their pleasure.”
In the Philippines, most family values are rooted in Catholicism, and children are taught that men are “strong” and women are “beautiful.” That’s why many sexual fantasies are rooted in ideas of power and submissiveness—manhandling, sex outdoors, and threesomes.
“I can’t speak for all girls who have the same fantasy of being ‘manhandled’ but for me, there’s something alluring about being completely vulnerable with your partner while he or she is testing your limits,” Amanda said.
For her, the attraction comes from two things: knowing that her partner is only focused on pleasing her, and the thought that roughness and aggression mean her partner just can’t get enough of her.
In sex therapy, an arousal template is a mental map of the things a person finds attractive, Cruz explained. It can include anything from physical sensations and personality traits, to sights and sounds. According to Cruz, studies show that most people develop their arousal template as early as 6 years old. The root of sexual arousal is the feeling of excitement, so any exciting experiences that happen at a young age can develop into a kink or sexual fantasy, she said. For example, a kid might find it exciting when they are driven around in a new car with leather seats. That person may eventually associate leather with excitement and develop a kink for it.
Cruz said many of her female clients struggle with pain or lack of pleasure during sex—an effect, she believes, of Filipino girls growing up thinking they should not talk about sex and ought to “save” themselves for marriage, or that casual sex will lead to men leaving them.
“These narratives have affected a lot of women in our country,” Cruz said. “In such a way that when it comes to enjoying sex, they can’t, because in their heads, they’re not supposed to.”
In a way, these rough sex fantasies are about women taking power back from the cultural narratives imposed on them.
“They use that narrative to their advantage,” Cruz said.
“In terms of rough sex, there’s a lovely and powerful dance along the thin line between the pain and pleasure,” Amanda said. “Given the right situation for a particular person, [that] can really create a wonderful sexual experience.”
Against expectations of being conservative and demure, Amanda and other Filipino women who fantasize about rough sex have embraced their sexuality and gotten to know what turns them on.
“It’s their agency to tell their partners that they want to be manhandled… It’s not do-whatever-you-want. [The women] know exactly what they want,” said Cruz.
Filipino men, on the other hand, might do better to accept that they’re not sex experts, at least not right off the bat. Cruz said most of her earlier clients were men looking to pleasure their wives better but did not have anyone else to talk to about it.
Filipino culture, Cruz said, tends to look down on men who talk about their sex problems, even with their partners or friends, because men are supposed to be macho know-it-alls. Of course, hardly anyone knows it all, leaving Filipino men with no peers to turn to.
This could translate to kinks that display power and validate sexual performance.
Many Filipino men, Cruz said, tend to have exhibitionist fantasies like sending nude photos, having sex outdoors or in public spaces, watching while their partners masturbate, and being watched while masturbating.
“I think the appeal for me is more of the power trip that I get when I’m doing something like that,” said Ricardo, 26, about his desire to have sex in public. He requested to only be identified by his first name to stay out of trouble with his girlfriend. “I can see or hear other people that have no idea I’m straight-up having sex near them.”
Exhibitionist fantasies may subconsciously arise from trying to live up to cultural expectations of men always being horny, he told VICE
“We are expected to be enthusiastic or always in the mood for sex,” said Ricardo. “I’ve felt friction when my partners have been in the mood and I have not. [They suddenly ask] if I’m not attracted to them anymore or if we’ve lost the fire, rather than [wonder if] I’m in the mood or not.”
Sex store owner Neale Go said she has observed similar kinks in her own clients.
Go started her business in September, when social—and sexual—interaction was much harder to come by in Manila. Most of their customers were new to the world of sex toys. Men, she said, usually buy masturbators with vibrating features and automatic hands-free strokers. Meanwhile, clit suckers are their best sellers for women, and have become a gateway to other sex toys like vibrating wands and dildos.
Go thinks women buy sex toys because they are “wanting to explore their bodies to figure out what they want or how they want to be pleasured.”
Because Filipino culture tends to shame people who express their sexuality, some view sex toys as funny or embarrassing, even though they’ve recently become more popular in Asia. Go said this leads to a dissonance in the way people present themselves in public, online, and in bed.
“Sometimes we get orders on Instagram from accounts who have Bible verses on their bios,” Go told VICE.
She also noticed that most of the store’s customers say they are submissive in the bedroom.
“The idea of having someone tell them what to do really turns them on,” Go said. “A couple of our followers even expressed that they like it when their partners talk down on them while having sex.”
Many of her customers also like it when their partners use sex toys on them.
“We have girlfriends buying automatic masturbators for their boyfriends,” Go said. “[One woman] bought the toy for the boyfriend because they hadn’t seen each other since the lockdown started, and they were able to use it through video call.”
Both Go and Cruz observed that while Filipino society is still largely conservative and traditional, individual sexual beliefs and behaviors are becoming more progressive and open.
“Despite all the limitations we have, I think the current generation helps in destigmatizing the topic surrounding sex, sex work, and sex toys,” Go said. “Eventually, these kinds of topics will be part of everyday table conversations.”
Correction: A previous version of the article said Rica Cruz conducted her study on the sexual desires of Filipino women in 2015, rather than 2020. We regret the error.