(A Proposal) Haven’t You Heard The Word of Your Body?

August 18, 2010 at 1:08 pm (Uncategorized)

Okay, so I finished a full-length research paper proposal that I’m pretty proud of. We’re not required to actually do the research paper, so I made mine as bonggalicious as possible. Just let me dork off and post it here! 🙂

Title: Haven’t You Heard The Word Of Your Body? : Sexuality and Spirituality in the Filipino Psyche

I. Background of the Study

Floy Quintos’s one-act play, “Suor Clara,” imagines a conversation between Rizal’s characters, Padre Salvi, now the bishop of his diocese, and Maria Clara, now the mother superior of her convent. She talks about her efforts to liberate her nuns intellectually and sexually. She tells Suor Agatha to sing the Song of Songs and imagine Venancio, the beefy butcher boy who brings meat to the convent, as the man in the erotic Biblical verses. She shows Padre Salvi a beautiful sketch of a statue of the Virgin Mary she wishes to propose for the convent. Unlike common portrayals of the Virgin Mary, this Mary has her breasts bared and her throne is built of books of science and philosophy. She is a liberated mother for a liberated generation. Padre Salvi becomes enraged and tears up the sketch in anger and shame. Despite this seemingly monumental moral and theological disagreement, the two later share a passionate kiss, a priest and a nun who have been in love for years.

This dichotomy of the Filipino psyche has always fascinated me. How can the Philippines be this Catholic country deeply entrenched in conservative traditions and also a wildly popular sex tourist destination? How can the Quiapo Church be such a powerful place of prayer for Filipinos when pornographic films and sex toys are sold a few blocks away? How can prostitutes and strippers still attend Mass, still believe in their God and yet participate in activities the Church deems sinful? How is the liberal-minded media so popular while Filipinos remain rooted in a faith that frequently condemns it? How do the two concepts coexist in the Filipino psyche without coming into contact with one another and without completely tearing the Filipino psyche in half?

David Carr compares the Christians’ “loss of connectedness” to sexuality to Adam and Eve’s partaking of the fruit of the Tree of Knowledge. This was the reason the two made loincloths of fig leaves because it was only then that they equated nakedness with shame (2003). Historically, one would put our loss of connectedness at the period when Filipinos were being evangelized by the Spanish in the 16th Century. They were told they were unclothed, uncouth and uneducated heathens despite the existence of a refined culture, with an animistic spirituality. They were told that everything they’d believed in prior to that time was false and uncivilized, especially their liberal sexual activities (Arriola 1993, 151).

At the time, the Church taught its doctrine to “heathens” through oppression, abuse and indoctrination. As much as this diminished the power of the babaylans, some of their practices remained through the more open-minded and animistic Folk Catholicism, which is still prevalent in the Philippines.
With little or no academic writing on how sexuality and spirituality come together in the Filipino mind with all these historical elements present, research would be very interesting and would also help develop the field of Philippine sexology.

II. Statement of the Problem

This paper is meant to delve into the historical, sociological and psychological aspects of the concepts of sexuality and spirituality in the Philippines: how the two concepts, once undivided in the Filipino psyche, were torn apart by the introduction of the concept of shame. Seeing the disparity between the two concepts leads us to question how we as Filipino Catholics think.

Some questions I want to answer are: How did the Spanish oppression create the loss of connectedness between our sexuality and spirituality? What traces of this Spanish religious oppression remain today in Filipinos when it comes to an understanding of sex? What role do our folklore and superstitions have in our understanding of sex? How does the Filipino mind process the integration between sexuality and spirituality? How does erotic spirituality figure in the Filipino psyche?

In answering these questions, I want to create a clear definition of this component of the Spanish conquest that isn’t often discussed but continues to affect Filipinos until today. I want to explore the Filipino understanding of sex, its nuances, its phobias and its uncharted regions.

III. Significance of the Study and Review of Related Literature

My study aims to bridge Western research on sexology and erotic-spiritual interpretations of scripture with research on Philippine history, sociology and psychology in the hope of building an understanding of how Filipinos psychologically and sociologically integrate sexuality and spirituality in the present time.

William Henry Scott’s Barangay (1994, 24-25) provides the context for pre-colonial attitudes on sex that saw men and women as equals and how natives saw no distinction between the body and the soul. Carolyn Brewer’s studies (1999; 2004) look deeper into gender relations, sexuality and shamanism before and after the Spaniards came and describe how the Church’s oppression in the Philippines created a good/bad binary for women, so they were boxed into the concepts of “virgin” and “whore” (2004, 39-58) and further discusses the topics of sexual deviation and transvestitism in pre-colonial Philippines (127-139). Arriola’s compact but sprawling compilation, The Body Book (1993), gives us a more personal look into Filipino culture as it unashamedly discusses Filipino customs, superstitions and anecdotes about body parts, including sexual organs and their functions.

Primary sources such as Fr. Francisco Blancas de San Jose’s sloppy Tagalog pieces about God and grammar, Memorial de la Vida Christiana (1832) and Artes Y Reglas de la Lengua Tagala (1832) provide insight into how sinful acts were condemned by the Spanish friars. Brewer shows us how the latter even contains a confessionario describing in detail how confessions were to be conducted by friars to Filipinos with such explicit questions as “How many times did you sin with her?” or “Did something dirty come out of your body?” or even “How many times did you play around in this manner, for example within a week? And how many times did each of you have an emission? Because not only is that a sin, indeed it is a very serious sin.” This would result in the priest learning all the details of the sexual sin and the penitent leaving in shame (2004, 67). The constant use of shame in the subjugation of Filipinos is vital to the study.

Bernard Braxton (1978) shows how religion has historically been used as an oppressive force in many settings including the Philippines. C.R. Boxer (1975) gives this subject a misogynistic twist, showing how the oppression was harsher towards women. Rachel Bundang (2005) discusses the role of women in the Catholic ministry and talks about her personal frustrations with the Catholic Church as much as she feels bound to it by her Filipino heritage. Heather Claussen (2001) gives us a glance of women in the Church and how they became empowered despite the Church’s oppression while still abiding by most of the rules imposed on them.

David Carr’s The Erotic Word (2003) is my key source for the understanding of erotic spirituality. It claims that sexuality and spirituality are truly meant to be connected and cites several Biblical passages and examples to support this. There is no set doctrine to erotic spirituality, which leaves it rather open-ended and free for interpretation. The interpretations within Tori Amos and Ann Powers’s Piece By Piece (2005) provide interesting feminist-inclined insights on erotic spirituality, including a fascinating anecdote of a teenage girl masturbating to the thought of Jesus (68) . Amos and Powers primarily refer to the concept of erotic spirituality as “Marrying the Two Mary’s [Mother Mary and Mary Magdalene],” as a marriage of the sacred and the profane, of the “virgin” and the “whore” inside each of us. The authors state that this is key to our full integration as humans.

My research seeks to find the connections among these seemingly scattered fragments to build a psychosocial perception of Filipinos, sex and spirituality and there is no current literature tackling the topic in detail. If successful, my research is an opportunity to celebrate a unique feature of the Filipino psyche, one of the ways we are psychosocially shaped by our colorful history. It will also open possibilities for readers to look beyond sexuality and spirituality as discrete entities, understand how the Spanish oppression still affects Filipinos in quiet and unexpected ways, reflect on how the Filipino mind sometimes continues to work on the premise of shame and fear of punishment for sins (Brewer 2004, 67) rather than an openness to sexuality and spirituality that erotic spiritualists would advocate.

IV. Theoretical Framework

There are a number of methods used in sociology and psychology for sex research, however, as Edward Sagarin notes, there are numerous impediments to researching about sex at the sociological level. He notes four main problems in sex research: the ethical issue of how the research affects the subject, the ideological problem of the biases of the researchers, the social one of how the sexual revolution has changed human behavior and therefore becomes another independent variable and the normative problem of how varied sexual activity can be and may not form a proper trend in research (2002, 38-43). These problems sufficiently complicate any form of research to be undertaken in the field and make it prone to error.

First, my primary theoretical basis would have to be the work of Alfred Kinsey and his colleagues, Wardell Pomeroy and Clyde Martin. They collated data from tens of thousands of interviews regarding sex. There was a very specific methodology and a very specific goal: to gather as much information from the respondent about his or her sex life and sexual history. They eventually tabulated results regarding frequency of activities such as masturbation, extramarital affairs and prostitution as well as sources of first spontaneous ejaculation, various sex positions, means of sexual deviation, how sex is affected by social class and many other factors that made themselves evident throughout the data-gathering. All this information was collected into two reports, called The Kinsey Reports. The first was Sexual Behavior in the Human Male in 1948 and the second was Sexual Behavior in the Human Female in 1953.
These reports were revolutionary in the field of sexology because of their sheer breadth and ambition and Kinsey’s methods stand as a model for much research in the sociology of sex, including my own. Keeping in mind Sagarin’s note on the irregularity of such study, it is still perhaps the most direct and the most reliable method because the sheer amount of data gathered personally by researchers.

Second, as an interesting framework for sexual psychology, Freud (1940, 22-27) gives us the concept of psychosexual development. As humans grow, they pass through the different stages. From birth to the age of one, infants are in the oral phase where their focus is the mouth and its functions. This is followed by the anal phase until the age of three. This is where the child forms habits such as toilet training that begin to affect their growth and maturity. After this, the child undergoes the phallic phase which continues until the age of six. Here, the focus of the child is on his or her genitals and their functions. Freud explains that this is where Oedipal conflict comes into play, when the child fears his father’s jealousy and thinks his father will castrate him for falling in love with his mother. Girls on the other hand are meant to have penis envy (what Jung calls Electra complex) and they desire to have a phallus because Freud says that it stands for power. This is followed by the latency phase, a sort of interim period until puberty, then the final stage, the genital phase, where sexual and personal habits are fully formed until the end of the person’s life.
This theory has the potential to be helpful to my research because in the interviews I will conduct, the respondent will be asked about his or her complete sexual history, which will include childhood experiences that may have affected his or her understanding of sexuality. However, Freud’s method of psychoanalysis would not be helpful since it focuses more on the subconscious rather than the conscious activities that will be discussed in the interview.

Lastly, I would like to mention the work of William Masters and Virginia Johnson who studied the physiology and psychology of sex by directly observing people masturbating or having sex in a laboratory (Robinson 1976, 120-133). Shifting the focus from the actions to the emotions behind the actions, Masters and Johnson were able to go deeper into the nitty-gritty of sex. They formulated the four stage model of sexual response, from the excitement phase, to the plateau phase to the orgasm to the resolution phase and studied the behavior of people within the context of these four phases.
Although I am not planning to observe people having sex, the four phases would be helpful in the interview because their sexual experiences can be described in greater detail by discussing the phases and the emotions, actions and verbal responses during each.

V. Scope And Limitations

This study will devote itself primarily to the historical, sociological and psychological understanding of sexuality and spirituality in the Philippines. Thus, I will tackle historical texts in relation only to sexual activities and mores of pre-colonial times and modern day times. Some texts on babaylans will be considered also because of their influence on Folk Catholicism and because of their reputation as sometimes-transvestites. I will not tackle Folk Catholicism as a whole, but only when its superstitions and nuances are pertinent to sexuality. The study will focus only on sexuality’s relationship with Catholic spirituality; since the two concepts lend themselves more to juxtaposition and discussing Islam or other Christian denominations could make the study less clear.

Included in the research are studies on gender relations in the Philippines. However, while many of the texts are feminist (or peminist – Pinay feminist) in nature, the focus is more on the liberation of women from the constraints of organized religion. I will also look into the topic of erotic sexuality and the Song of Songs but only for an understanding of how erotic spirituality may exist in the Filipino context and not to delve into a clear definition of it (because there is none).
As much as I would like to include classic and modern Filipino literature such as works of Jose Rizal, F. Sionil Jose, Nick Joaquin, Ninotchka Rosca and Jessica Zafra (that are ripe with sexual politics) in my study of cultural mores about sex, it seems unfeasible and would make the study rather unfocused. To content myself, I will settle for a brief allusion to “Suor Clara” as a sole example.

VI. Methodology

The primary method of research will be much like that of Kinsey, through interviews that ask about the religious and sexual lives of Filipinos. The interviews will be conducted with males and females of reproductive age (18-40 years old) across all social classes in as many possible areas of the Philippines. Interviews will be conducted in the respondent’s language of choice with the aid of a translator if necessary. Before the interview, Kinsey’s technical devices will be used to ensure the best possible answers. These include putting the subject at ease, assuring privacy, establishing rapport and avoiding bias (Kinsey et al. 1948, 47-59). Freud’s stages will be kept in mind during the part of the interview relating to sexual awakening in puberty. Masters and Johnson are key, because we will require descriptions of emotions before, during and after sexual activities.

The interviewer will ask firstly about the respondent’s belief system: how the respondent prays, how often the respondent goes to church, the respondent’s relationship with “God” and the respondent’s moral ideals. Then, the interviewer will ask for an honest in-depth recounting of sexual experiences and related emotions: sexual awakening, masturbation, same-sex experimentation, fetishes and the like. This is followed by an attempt to have the respondent make the connections between the two (i.e. “According to my answers in part A, the actions I described in part B are sinful. However, in truth, I really enjoyed it at the time”). Data will be tabulated according to location. Different statistics are expected from different social classes and from the rural and urban areas.

Given these results, perhaps after a few hundred respondents, conclusions can be drawn from the tabulated results regarding firstly, the extent of the continuing influence of Spanish Catholic oppression, secondly, the current social mores on sex, thirdly, the way the two concepts intertwine within the understanding of the respondents and lastly, to verify possible signs of the development of erotic spirituality. These conclusions will form the primary body of the research paper together with the historical and theological references.


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