The shape of the world a generation from now will be influenced far more by how we communicate the values of our society to others than by military or diplomatic superiority. William Fulbright, 1964

Monday, November 14, 2005



© Duncan Graham 2005

To stay healthy and be responsible Indonesian youth should have access to condoms and other contraceptives in places where they feel relaxed about obtaining them, according to a new report on sexual health.

Although young Indonesians are hungry for information on sex, many parents, teachers and religious leaders believe education should suppress youth sexuality.

The report titled Youth, Sexuality and Sex Education Messages in Indonesia: Issues of Desire and Control was written by East Java academic Dede Oetomo and Dutch social studies lecturer Brigitte Holzner. It has been published in the British journal Reproductive Health Matters.

“If sexuality is a form of knowledge-seeking that creates identity and connectivity, then sexuality is not something dangerous that should be suppressed,” the report authors said.

“Young people can have a healthy, informed and responsible sexual life. By providing information and the means to sexual health we actually reduce the risk of young people inflicting harm on themselves.

“Non-prohibition does not mean ‘you must have sex’; on the contrary it means having information and the acceptance of desire, dialogue, negotiation and pleasure. This is the meaning of empowering young people in relation to sexuality.

“(However) the dominant prohibitive discourse in Java denies and denounces youth sexuality as abnormal, unhealthy, illegal or criminal, reinforced through intimidation about the dangers of sex.”

Research for the report included open discussions with young people in Surabaya, and analysing the contents of youth magazines and publications on sexual health.

The authors said young Indonesians were fortunate to be living in a country with one of the freest presses in Asia where the opportunities to discuss sexuality were growing.

A highlight of this media freedom was the hostile public reaction to a new draft Criminal Code that sought to prohibit adultery, cohabitation, oral sex and homosexuality under 18. Outraged citizens demanded the State keep out of their bedrooms. The authors described the response as “refreshingly strong.”

Magazines about celebrities, music and fashion also invite readers to write about their lives and ask questions about relationships. The researchers found the replies did not carry “preachy remarks” from “nanny-like parent figures”, or treat young people as incapable of taking care of themselves.

The images of young people found in the magazines didn’t show them as frightened of sexuality and needing protection. Instead they were experimenting with pleasure using caution and responsibility.

Most participants in the group discussions had already engaged in some form of sexual activity. Only a few thought they should maintain their virginity until marriage. None had read government publications about sexuality.

“Our sample did not seem to be impressed by proscriptions by State and religious sources,” the authors said. “They relied on their own will and found the information they needed.

“They were not activists for sexual rights but young citizens living a right that officially is denied to them.”

Dr Oetomo, a special reader in social sciences at the University of Surabaya’s postgraduate program, is also prominent in the Indonesian gay rights movement. He told The Jakarta Post that many young people were damaged by lack of reproductive health services and accurate information about sex.

The damage included unwanted pregnancies, unsafe abortions, sexually transmitted diseases like HIV /AIDS, depression and suicide.

“For example, girls become pregnant while still at school because they don’t have access to contraceptives,” he said. “These are only provided to ‘married couples’. In most cases the girl is expelled and her future ruined.

“Young people must be able to be active citizens in their society, have pleasure and confidence in relationships and all aspects of sexuality.”

(First published in The Jakarta Post Sunday 6 November 2005)