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Sex goes viral in Indonesia

Celebrity sex videos in Indonesia launch debate over the need for sex education.

Pornography, protest, sex education
An Indonesian Muslim boy holds an anti-pornography poster during a rally in Jakarta on May 21, 2006. Recently released celebrity sex tapes have renewed debate in the country about the need for sex education and censorship of pornography. (Dadang Tri/Reuters)

JAKARTA, Indonesia — On a recent Saturday night in Jakarta, sultry songstress Julia Perez shook her cleavage before an enamored crowd of mostly middle-aged businessmen. The Indonesian performer and Sutra condom rep uses her popularity to teach people about the need for safe sex, but it’s that type of behavior that has religious conservatives up in arms in a country still reeling from its first celebrity sex scandal.

A homemade sex video involving two of Indonesia’s biggest celebrities has captivated the country for nearly a month, with millions downloading the offending clips to their mobile phones. The case has revived debate over government efforts to filter internet content and raised questions about people’s perceptions of pornography in a nation where nearly 90 percent of the population claims Islam as its religion.

But at the heart of the issue is how Indonesians talk about sex, or rather, what is not said. Sex education is not part of the national curriculum, and that worries health experts who say Indonesian teenagers put themselves at risk trying to learn about a subject that, in most places, is still too taboo to discuss in public.

“Very young people are visiting sex workers because they’re curious,” said Baby Jim Aditya, a sexologist who works on educating women and youth about the dangers of unprotected sex.

When she talks to teens they ask how they can satisfy women and what the ideal penis size is. But people need proper and correct sex education, not one based on gossip, she said.

A week after the sex videos first appeared on the internet, Education Minister Muhammad Nuh rejected public proposals to formally teach sex education in the country’s classrooms. He said children would learn about sex “naturally,” and instead asked teachers to regularly search students’ bags and cell phones for pornographic videos.

Nuh is known for his conservative views on religion and talks often of the need to preserve decency in the media. He said sex education would not protect children from the negative effects of unlimited internet access. But many parents, teachers and civil society groups say education is exactly what is needed to stop kids from quenching their curiosity about sex with pornography.

The government worries that if it teaches kids about sex it will lead to more sex outside marriage, said Baby Jim. “But that’s not logical. We don’t teach about corruption, but still people lie, manipulate and cheat on their spouses. There’s a huge discrepancy between what we teach and what people do.”

She said the government only worsens the problem by spreading misinformation. On June 17, Communications Minister Tifatul Sembiring, a member of the Islamic Prosperous Justice Party and the one leading the charge for more internet monitoring, said increased access to pornography was fueling promiscuity, which was to blame for the rising rate of HIV infection in Indonesia.

Baby Jim said HIV spreads because people don’t understand how to use condoms, and that in reality it is often unfaithful husbands who infect their wives.

“There is no single recipe for every kind of problem, but by teaching [teenagers] proper and complete sex education, then people will understand the value of their bodies, their partner’s bodies and the responsibilities of having sex. That’s important because here we just like to have the nice things, the delicious things, but we don’t want to take the responsibility for those things,” she said.