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Sex goes viral in Indonesia

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

The videos featuring rock star Nazril Ilham, known as Ariel, and actresses Luna Maya and Cut Tari are the first such videos to hit the public, and many say this, coupled with the intrigue of celebrity misconduct, is the reason for their massive popularity. Past sex scandals involving government ministers have drawn far less attention — and moral condemnation.

Since the story broke, the mayor of Ariel’s hometown has named him persona non grata and Islamic hard-liners have threatened raids on a cafe owned by Luna Maya. On the other hand, people say they are increasingly frustrated with the growing gossip and hypocrisy as media devotion to the story continues, and many say the news provokes ill will between Muslims and Christians.

In Indonesia it is both culture and religion that restricts people from talking about sex, said Ahmad Suaedy, the executive director of the Wahid Institute, which aims to promote a moderate and tolerant view of Islam.

Suaedy said it’s normal to criticize pornography, but too often fundamentalists appeal to morality to get conservatives to join their agenda. And many cite studies by groups such as the Witherspoon Institute, a nonprofit research center with ties to Catholic establishments, to show that pornography leads to violence and social detachment.

Jason Iskandar, 19, disagrees.

“It’s just for my imagination when I masturbate. There’s no influence on my private life,” he said.

The recent high-school graduate made a film in 2007 called “Sarung Petarung” (Fighter Gloves) in which he asks classmates at his all-boys school about the usefulness of condoms. He finds that while his parents told him about the dangers of unprotected sex, most of his peers had never talked about the subject.

“Sex is taboo, but not pornography,” Iskandar said. “We could swap our porn collections, but it was more taboo to talk about condoms or our own sexual activity.”

Because Indonesia has only gained widespread access to the internet in the last decade, it has perhaps been more sheltered from pornography than the United States. But sexual innuendo has long existed in Indonesian popular culture. People often make sexually suggestive jokes and many TV shows are rooted in sexual comedy.

But serious talk about sex is still heavily repressed, said Baby Jim. And trying to keep a lid on something only increases interest among the uninitiated.

“It’s not about Ariel and Luna any more, it’s about who is going to explain when children want to know about [sex]. This is the responsibility of the government now,” Perez said.

Suaedy suggests having a counselor or psychologist talk with students individually rather than adding sex education to the national curriculum, while President Susilo Bambang Yudhoyono has stepped in to say the scandal is an embarrassment and shows the need for lawmakers to keep the country’s morality intact.

That makes Perez laugh: “If you want to talk about morals, what about corrupters? In Indonesia, they’re the ones who really, really break the morals. It’s not about being naked.”