Intersections: Theorising Adolescent Sexualities in Indonesia—Where ‘Something different happens’
Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 18, October 2008

Theorising Adolescent Sexualities
in Indonesia—Where 'Something different happens'

Lyn Parker
      There is indeed a task to be done of making the space in question precise, saying where a certain process stops, what are the limits beyond which one could say something different happens.[1]

      I contend that distinctive forms of discourse and culture continue to be place-based, bounded, bordered, and marked by spatial discontinuities, even under globalisation, and it is a key task of contemporary Asian studies to map the lines beyond which it can be said that 'something different happens.'[2]

  1. This paper is a response both to reading and fieldwork. It takes up the challenge posed by Peter Jackson at the Conference of the Asian Studies Association of Australia in 2002 and developed in two papers published in Sojourn in 2003. Jackson made two observations: the tendency among scholars in Asian Studies to avoid Theory and their preoccupation with the specificity of 'facts' and place, especially of the Asian nation-state. However, he was also adamant that area studies, in this case Asian Studies, has a lot to offer, because it provides expertise in areas where 'something different happens.'[3]
  2. Pheng Cheah has also pointed to the challenge of area studies to offer anything more than interesting empirical modifications—in contradistinction to the disciplines, such as anthropology and political science, which claim universality.[4] Others, such as Mary John and Kanaki Nair, have resisted allowing the West to remain in command as the source of Theory, leaving the non-West to provide the 'local colour.'[5] Yet they acknowledge the power of Western theories, 'since they [Western theories] "determine at an unconscious level, the reading practices we bring to bear" on our work.'[6] These papers raise many questions for scholars in Asian Studies.
  3. Fieldwork among Minangkabau adolescents in West Sumatra, Indonesia, in 2004 left me grappling with several problems that may not at first appear relevant to the issues raised by Jackson et al.[7] First, many of my informants were puzzled about my apparent preoccupation with sex!—and put it down to my 'westernness.' Second, there was a distinct silence about sexuality in official or state discourse. One important aspect of this is that adolescents are officially non-sexual beings, albeit they are understood to be heterosexuals. Third, and on the other hand, there was and is a very public moral panic in Indonesia about sex, evidenced in the furore over anti-pornography legislation, but actually well under way in West Sumatra and elsewhere some years ago. Fourth, the social conservatism of many young people in West Sumatra contrasted with the 'Westernised' behaviour (such as drug-taking and promiscuous premarital sex) which tends to dominate recent scholarly writing on youth in Indonesia.[8] How can I cope with, that is adequately represent in my writing, the diversity of worldviews, practices and beliefs surrounding sexuality among young people in Indonesia? And finally, the religiosity and religious worldview of most of the people among whom I worked highlighted the secular nature of most academic (and anthropological) understandings of sexuality.
  4. Originally I had hoped that this paper would be able to address the conundrums thrown up by reading and fieldwork, by positing some sort of unitary principles or axioms underlying sexuality in Indonesia. I had in mind the helpful positing by Kam Louie of the dyad wen–wu, glossed as cultural attainment–martial valour, as a general paradigm for ideal masculinity in China,[9] much as the complex notion, and practice, of machismo has dominated the field of study of Latino masculinities and hetero-normativity. Keith McMahon and later Louie, in recent papers, have suggested the possibility of an 'Asian or Confucian sexuality,' and in this regard posit containment and control of passion and of the self as characterising the ideal Chinese male sexuality, contrasting it to the conquest and control over others that seems to characterise Western male sexuality.[10] Much as I would like to be able to lay out a similar single ideal or paradigm of sexuality in Indonesia, I simply cannot find evidence that such exists. In many ways this is due to the heterogeneity of Indonesia: its famous ethnic and linguistic diversity, different histories and socio-economic classes, and varying degrees of isolation and incorporation into the global economy. The diversity of Indonesia, and the extent to which we can discuss a single, unitary adolescent sexuality in Indonesia, are addressed towards the end of the paper. I argue that, while 'something different happens' in Indonesia, it is more appropriate to use a plural term and that there are multiple adolescent sexualities in Indonesia.
  5. This paper now aims not to develop a grand theory of sexuality in Indonesia, nor to posit a general paradigm of Indonesian adolescent sexuality, but to open debate about how we approach the study of adolescent sexuality in Indonesia. I do use and engage with theory from the West—first, theory about sexuality and later theory about adolescence—because this enables comparison and thereby the highlighting of the particular nature of adolescent sexualities in Indonesia. Then we can see that indeed 'something different happens' in Indonesia compared to Western paradigms.
  6. Adolescence adds an extra dimension to the problem of sexuality—partly because adolescents are spearheading major social transformations under way in Indonesia, and partly because it is an under-researched field of study in Indonesia and we really do not know how adolescence is perceived in Indonesia nor how Indonesian youth perceive themselves. We do know, from statistics on teenage pregnancy, by extrapolation from the distressingly high rates of maternal mortality in Indonesia, and from qualitative studies by demographers and anthropologists, that some, probably many, young people in Indonesia are sexually active.[11] The significance of the topic of adolescent sexuality cannot be doubted, and there are urgent policy issues on sex education to be debated in Indonesia. This paper aims to contribute to these debates by setting out some ways to think about adolescent sexuality in Indonesia, interspersed with the odd foray into the largely uncharted waters of the sexual ethnography of remaja or adolescents in Indonesia.
  7. The paper proceeds by analysing the two key terms—first, sexuality, with reference to theorising, mainly but not exclusively, in the West and then with reference to the ethnography of Indonesia, and second, adolescence, with reference to Western ideas about adolescence and then as found in Indonesia. I develop some key themes or principles that demonstrate ways in which adolescent sexualities in Indonesia are different from those in the West. A third section discusses more explicitly the engagement of the nation-state of Indonesia with adolescent sexualities. My hope is to signal some of the ways in which adolescent sexuality in Indonesia demands that scholars re-think accepted analytical tools, shuck off Eurocentric assumptions and proceed afresh with some conceptualisations or at least possibilities that mean we are not just providing 'local colour' variations on a Western theme.


      I am suggesting that what we define as "sexuality" is an historical construction, which brings together a host of different biological and mental possibilities—gender identity, bodily differences, reproductive capacities, needs, desires and fantasies—which need not be linked together, and in other cultures have not been.[12]

  8. Consideration of the concept of sexuality, dubbed seksualitas in Indonesian, instantly brings one up against the obvious point that it is a recently borrowed term from English. Yet it is clear that Indonesia is a place where 'something different happens.' There are many different terms in local Indonesian languages that express aspects of this constellation of meanings,[13] and 'There is a considerable corpus of literature in the manuscript traditions of both Bali and Java that can be broadly defined as erotic, that is, as primarily concerned with the sensual and the sexual.'[14] Nevertheless, like Tom Boellstorff, I think it would be silly to deny the importance of the global discourse on sexuality in the Indonesian context.
  9. I find it quite productive to think about how sexuality is different in Indonesia from sexuality in the West and elsewhere. Jackson has rightly criticised the tendency for scholars of the non-West to always refer, and sometimes defer, to Western theory, in what he calls the 'centre–periphery model,'[15] and I have found reference to sexual culture in a range of cultures very instructive. For instance, Wah-Shan Chou's thesis regarding Chinese sexuality—that it is the family-kinship system, not sexuality, which is the basis for the identity of a person—opens up all sorts of possibilities.[16] Chou contrasts the situation in China, where the gender of people's erotic 'object' choice has never been the site of greatest oppression, to that pertaining in the West, where identity politics for gays and lesbians is predicated upon individualism and confrontational politics. In arguing against the universalisation of the Anglo-American experience, Chou outlines shifts in Chinese discourse about sexuality historically, and emphasises that Chinese traditions of cultural tolerance for same-sex eroticism (and in the main, he is talking about male-male sexual desire) only occurred when they did not disrupt other stronger social hierarchies based on class, sexism and ageism, and within a society where marriage was a must and was not based on romantic love or sexual desire.
  10. Nevertheless, it is the case that almost all scholarly work on comparative sexualities references sexuality a la the West, and it is impossible to escape this hegemony. Sexuality in the West is currently and commonly perceived in terms of the similarity or difference of the sex/gender of ego and the sex/gender of the object of ego's sexual desire. Sexuality in the West predominantly refers to one of three possibilities: hetero-normativity, wherein ego is one sex/gender and ego feels sexual desire for a person of the opposite sex/gender, and lesbian or gay 'orientation,' wherein ego feels sexual desire for a person of the same sex/gender. While listings of variations are now common—gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgendered, intersexed = GLBTI—they have been critiqued as being always and inevitably exclusive and as lacking fluidity (what Michael Warner calls 'Rainbow Theory').[17] Some now argue for fluidity and overlap between these 'boxes,' emphasising an un-essentialised identity and desire. At this point, for Indonesia, I would like to note that the evidence that we do have suggests that neither the 'pick–a–box' model of GLBTI nor the Dennis Altman model of 'global queering,'[18] nor a converging, homogenising 'globalised' sexual culture appear apposite.[19]
  11. Here I briefly mention the work of Michel Foucault and Anthony Giddens, because attending to them sharpens our views of the ways the Non–West is different from or is impacted by the West; sometimes we can show that the European claims for universal relevance are just 'straw men' (sic). Foucault analysed the history of sexuality in Europe from the seventeenth century, arguing against the previous idea that European society, epitomised by Victorian England, had repressed and hidden sexuality, and instead developed the idea that European society had increasingly become fixated with sexuality, creating a minutely-detailed discourse around sexuality. His attention was not on individual subjectivity or agency but on the production and control of sexuality: on the ways modern society objectifies, defines and becomes expert on sexuality, and the ways individuals internalise and adopt the same processes of self-reflexivity and self-knowledge: modern citizens are self-objectifying, self-monitoring and indeed self-forming subjects via the valorisation and power of sexuality. My own interest is in developing understanding of the subjective production of the sexualised self and the agency that draws upon socio-cultural discourses and yet enables identification of the self in society.[20]
  12. The term 'sexuality' came into the English language in 1800, according to the Oxford English Dictionary. This suggests that 'the concept came into existence with modern society.'[21]

      The separation, with industrial capitalism, of family life from work, of consumption from production, of leisure from labor, of personal life from political life, has completely reorganized the context in which we experience sexuality...Modern consciousness permits, as earlier systems of thought did not, the positing of "sex" for perhaps the first time as having an "independent" existence.[22]

  13. Giddens too highlights how sexuality is a reflexive project of the self in modern societies, particularly in the contemporary US. The pre-eminent importance of sexuality in the modern West depends upon a worldview that privileges individual autonomy and self-sufficiency.[23] Giddens uses the term 'plastic sexuality,' intending to demonstrate the disconnection between sex and reproduction in modern life, and introduces an important gender dimension. The term 'plastic sexuality' attempts to get at this, seeing in episodic (and promiscuous) sex— that is sex without intimacy, commitment, and reproductive ramifications—as the contemporary end-point in the modern.
  14. Some second-wave feminist scholars in the West (notably Gayle Rubin)[24] posited that gender and sexuality were, or had the potential to be, autonomous, socio-cultural and historical constructs. If gender and sexuality are total cultural constructs, free of the biology of sexual dimorphism, then infinite variability is possible. Theoretically speaking, the feminist insistence on the cultural constructedness of gender has been somewhat undermined by the persistence of gender binaries based on sexual difference.
  15. It seems to me that as academics we cannot pretend not to have read such ideas and to deny their influence—we can and should be asking if the same discursive processes of plastic sexuality and sexuality as modernity-construction are occurring in Indonesia.
  16. For Indonesia, I begin by positing two principles that seem uncontroversial and well supported by recent ethnographic research. The first is the hegemony of hetero-sexuality in contemporary Indonesia, with the understanding that all hegemonies are only partial. Second, I posit that in the Indonesian context, sexuality cannot be seen as autonomous or as free from the constraints of the sex/gender system. Even where gender/sexual multiplicity prevails as an indigenous cultural artifact, for instance, in Bugis society, it is striking that at heart there is binary differentiation.[25] In Bugis society, the two categories of unconventional sex/gender, that is the calalai, or biological females who 'act male,' and the calabai, or biological males who 'act female,' do not escape the binary, and the bissu, transvestite priests, who continue a long tradition of ambiguously gendered wielders of sacred power in Southeast Asia, are transgendered and bi-gendered. Evelyn Blackwood's work on the tombois of West Sumatra and Boellstorff's work among gay men in three cities in Indonesia have both underscored the apparent impossibility of escape from the binary sex/gender system.[26] The different possibilities for gender/sexuality multiplicity continue to be played out on a binary sex/gender base.[27]
  17. Time and again, Boellstorff talks of 'the gay world' in Indonesia, as a discrete world, different from both the lesbi world, and different again from the normal world. His chapter, titled 'Geographies of belonging,' describes the physical and subjective spatialisation of the gay world: a gay subjectivity operates as though in an alternative world.

      We find not an epistemology of the closet but an epistemology of life worlds, where healthy subjectivity depends not on integrating diverse domains of life and having a unified, unchanging identity in all situations but on separating domains of life and maintaining their borders against the threat of gossip and discovery.[28]

  18. The gay individual switches his gay subjectivity, including speech and body language, on and off as he moves through a day or week, depending upon the 'world' in which he is currently operating. These are classic fractured subjects. Boellstorff writes: 'The fragmented character of the gay and lesbi worlds influences a sense that these subjectivities are fragmented as well.'[29] Similarly, Richard Stephen Howard writes how gay men and lesbi women overwhelmingly saw Indonesia 'as being divided into distinct social worlds, and they recognized the fact that in some sense they had to be different people in different locations in social space.'[30]
  19. Therefore, the Western idea that sexual identity is all about the sex/gender of the sexual 'object' choice and whether one feels sexual desire for a person of the same or opposite sex/gender, is only one aspect of sexuality, or perhaps one 'world' of sexuality in Indonesia. I do not want to detract from the importance of their gay-ness or lesbi-ness to gays and lesbis, but I do want to bring some balance into the scholarly literature: at present we have the rather bizarre situation that we seem to have more explicit and sophisticated work on alternative sexualities than we do on hegemonic heterosexuality.
  20. A third principle is the persistence of the ideal of heterosexual marriage in Indonesia, and, growing out of this, the fourth principle is the hegemonic inter-linking of marriage, heterosexuality and reproduction in Indonesia. An important finding of Boellstorff is the ubiquity of heterosexual marriage in the Indonesian context, even for gay men. However, more important is that gay men want to and accept that they will get married to a woman. Similarly, Blackwood notes that tombois in West Sumatra assumed that they would marry and have children.[31]
  21. Again, Foucault's theorising is helpful: his appreciation that discursive power operates not just as a force of negative command—you may not do such-and-such—or to exert 'power over,' but also with positive, shaping power—'power to'—is relevant here.[32] Boellstorff found that gay men in Indonesia were generally horrified by his suggestion that they bring their gayness into the hetero-normative world of parents, home and marriage. That that option is unthinkable speaks to the linking of marriage, sexuality and reproduction in Indonesia, and of the way hetero-normativity is embedded in the discourse of respectable home and family.
  22. Ethnographic evidence of hegemonic and fertile heterosexuality is ubiquitous in the anthropological literature of many cultures in the archipelago.[33] For instance, the importance of reproduction to sexuality is noted by Andrew Beatty for east Java: 'sex is not only an image of union, but of fertile union'; sexual intercourse forms 'a focus for thinking about origins and human existence, and the human person itself.'[34] Similarly, the literature on Austronesian dualities traces origins through male : female coupling, and marital alliance is a major theme of the ethnography.[35] The Balinese dual cosmology depends upon the fruitful heterosexual coupling of purusa, the male principle and perdana, the female principle.[36]
  23. Active sexuality should only occur within marriage in Indonesia. Marriage is the social norm in Indonesia, and marriage signals social maturity (e.g. marriage was 'a rite of passage by which girls became women').[37] Men and women who do not get married suffer stigmatisation;[38] 'living together' without getting married has not taken off in Indonesia; married couples without children are pitied and infertility is grounds for divorce and polygyny, though not for polyandry. This sacred triangle of sex, marriage and reproduction is held out as both the ideal and the norm to which adolescents should aspire.
  24. The hegemonic inter-linking of marriage, sexuality and reproduction in Indonesia occurs in a social context of a greater religiosity than exists in many parts of the West.[39] I want to stress that our conceptualisation of sexuality in the Indonesian context needs to take religion into account. I would suggest that the general orientation of Indonesian society to religion and a tradition of religious and moral education contributes to my fifth principle or theme, which is that sexuality occurs within a discourse of morality. This coincides with Islamic ideas that sexual practice should only occur within heterosexual marriage, and that the purpose of marriage is to contain sexuality and to reproduce. However, I am not convinced that for Indonesia this inter-linking is necessarily Muslim in design or origin, even though it undoubtedly is often attributed to Islam in contemporary public discourse. Indonesia has a history of colonisation by the Netherlands which had its effects in public morality and gender relations, as work by Frances Gouda, Elspeth Locher-Scholten, Ann Stoler and others attests.[40] It is a multi-cultural and multi-religious, not an Islamic, state; there are currently six official religions in Indonesia; and many Indonesians who are not Muslims subscribe to the idea that sexuality, marriage and reproduction should be linked.[41] In contemporary Indonesia, various ethnographies of non-Islamic peoples in Indonesia attest to the same morality of sex–only–within–marriage that is elsewhere attributed to Islam.[42] One wonders if the apparent concern of contemporary world religions with the containment of sexuality within marriage is more a comment on the condition of secular modernity, and the threat posed to religions by modernity, than it is a fundamental religious requirement. The commitment of the Indonesian nation-state to the heterosexual, patriarchal nuclear family has been well documented, and there is plenty of evidence to suggest that the nation-state has an interest in containing sex to within marriage. One is therefore tempted to suggest that official religions, in concert with the nation-state, attempt to exert social control via such discourse.
  25. To provide some evidence, I turn to recent ethnography. I concluded a recent paper on sexuality among adolescent girls in West Sumatra with these comments:

      The girls accept that the body is a sexed body and potentially an erotic body. They assume the sexual attractiveness of the female body to men, and believe that physical contact between the sexes arouses sexual desire. They freely acknowledge female sexual desires and an active female sexuality. Sexual relations are an expression of individual desire but also of social relations, and therefore should be subject to the rules of social order…In their minds, sexuality should be controlled and regulated within marriage…Minang female adolescent sexuality is a moral sexuality based on Islam and adat.[43]

  26. All young women and men told me that pre-marital sex was zina, usually translated as fornication outside marriage, a major sin. However, a grey area for them, taken as a group, was the religious judgement of behaviour that had the potential to lead to zina. For instance, some young women considered that holding hands with a boyfriend was 'just the same' as pre-marital sex, that is zina, while others thought that only 'going all the way' constituted committing zina. There is no doubt that for many young women the potential religious ramifications of pre-marital sex were a major shaping force in constraining sexual behaviour. We should imagine the battles of conscience experienced by those young people who were contemplating pre-marital sex and by those who already indulged. Of course, to this we must add the social ramifications of behaviour that smacks of pre-marital sex. Linda Bennett and Megan Jennaway, in their excellent ethnographies of young women in Lombok and Bali respectively, have both stressed the importance for young women of the defence of a good reputation and the dangers posed by a loose sexual reputation for making a good marriage.[44] Both also mentioned the gendered double standards over pre-marital sex, with young men not only escaping scot-free but also putting immense pressure on their female partners to 'show their love' by having sex with them before marriage. This exposed the young women to the triple risk of pregnancy, losing the boyfriend and losing the reputation as 'good girl,' to which one could presumably add, in the case at least of young Muslim women, the risk of committing a major sin.

  27. Adolescence is a twentieth century invention of Western social science. The term was invented by Stanley Hall in 1904, in the first major study of the period between childhood and adulthood.[45] The proliferation of terms in popular discourse in both English and Bahasa Indonesia since the 1950s seems to indicate the way the life-stage has come into its own in the conditions of late modernity.[46] '[T]urmoil and rebellion are seen as the hallmarks of adolescence in Western society.'[47] Concepts such as sturm und drang, identity crisis, identity construction, youth rebellion, and 'youth culture as resistance' have all been deployed by Western social science to characterise adolescence.[48] However, there is some evidence, even from the West, that adolescence does not have to involve rebellion, vulnerability, 'storm and stress' and radical separation from childhood and family relationships.[49] There is a distinct possibility that these sturm und drang characterisations of adolescence are not universally applicable and indeed are historically- and society-specific. The anthropologist Margaret Mead was among the first to challenge these assumptions for non-Western societies.[50]
  28. Social science has generally viewed adolescence as a training-ground for adulthood, and thus for the reproduction of society. Sociologists have often studied adolescence as a period of preparation for the social roles and statuses assumed after marriage. These studies see adolescence from the perspective of adulthood, with adolescents subject to training and socialisation for adult social roles.[51] Young people are 'in transition,' theoretically moving from a situation of dependency within their families, and from a protective formal institution (school), towards independence, autonomy and the assumption of adult and citizenship rights and responsibilities. 'Transition theory' is another Western sociological model that seems ripe for testing in a non-Western, modernising setting.[52]
  29. Adolescence is pregnant with possibilities, not only for the individual, who seeks to establish viable identity, but also for the renewal of cultural life, for social change and for the creation of new ways of living. Nevertheless, most social science has worked from the perspective of adults, viewing them as the authoritative sources, the role models, while children and adolescents are seen as works–in–progress on the way to mature adulthood. Our study seeks to advance the study of adolescence by working from the assumption that adolescents have potential agency. We see the future as open-ended, and thus adolescents as potentially contributing to new cultural production and indeed as potentially steering society in new directions.  
  30. Definitions of adolescence abound. Each discipline has its emphases (social work tends to concentrate on problem youths, psychology has a preoccupation with adolescent vulnerability in the quest for identity, anthropologists tend to emphasise local or indigenous features and particularly life events (e.g. menstruation, initiation ceremonies, marriage). Each government and non-government agency adopts its own markers and age-limits. Some of the difficulties of definition and boundary can be seen from the following:

      The United Nations considers adolescents to be young people aged 10–19 years and youth to be those aged 15–24 (United Nations Population Fund 1999), whilst WHO defines adolescents as all people aged 10–19 (World Health Organization 1975). In Indonesia, the Ministry of Health considers only unmarried persons aged 10-19 to be adolescents (Irdjiati 1997, p. 24), while BKKBN (Badan Koordinasi Keluarga Berencana Nasional, The Indonesian National Family Planning Board) defines adolescents as those aged 10–24 years.[53]

  31. In Indonesia, as noted above, social maturity or adulthood is marked by marriage; a convenient beginning marker for adolescence might be sexual maturity (sudah matang). If these two markers are accepted, adolescence in Indonesia is that period between bodily maturity and social maturity. This is quite an appropriate definition at the level of the individual, but is difficult to work with in mass surveys. In Indonesian the term most commonly used for adolescents is remaja; however, generally this refers to young people at junior and senior high school. As young people are going to school and university for longer, seeking work, seeking their own marriage partners and getting married later, the period between childhood and marriage is growing ever longer. Of course, this is happening in most places in Asia and demographers are now talking about the beginnings of a trend not to marry, or at least to delay marriage, in Indonesia, particularly in Jakarta. Gavin Jones and Terry Hull have pointed out that the 1990 and 2000 Censuses reveal a new pattern in Jakarta of delayed marriage and potentially of non-marriage. If it continues, Indonesia will follow a trend that is causing immense concern in countries like Singapore and Japan.[54]
  32. This leaves those people who are increasingly not getting married rather stranded as far as social maturity is concerned. I well remember the comment of a well-educated female friend going on thirty years of age as we attended a wedding ceremony in West Sumatra. She came as my friend and because I was invited into the inner room of the house to partake of the ceremonial wedding food she was too. She said that this was the first time she had ever been into the inner circle because the inner circle was only for adult women and she was considered 'still a child.'
  33. For research on adolescence, this raises interesting questions about the conditions of adolescence and when adolescence should be considered to have given way to adulthood. While it seems more productive to view adolescence as a life stage, that is as a period of transition between childhood and adulthood or marriage, than as a particular, bounded age-group, the end-point of adolescence is getting further and further away, and we seem to need new terms and new concepts with which to identify younger adults.[55]
  34. Nevertheless, adolescents in Indonesia should still be seen as being on the way to marriage. An early and consistent finding of our research indicates that marriage remains the ideal of almost all adolescents. However, in the meantime, they are mobile and in transition. The period of later adolescence is often marked by increased mobility and decreased parental surveillance, that is children often have to travel away from homes and villages for high school, especially senior high school, higher education and work, often boarding away from home in towns or cities; in comparison with their childhood and in comparison with their parents' generation, they experience greater physical mobility and enhanced opportunities to socialise with other young people. Nevertheless, respect for parental authority remains strong. Another female friend in West Sumatra was, I thought, an economically independent, professional woman. She still lived with her parents but owned her own car and was fully twenty-six years old. She was suffering agonies because she wanted to marry the love of her life, a doctor, but her parents wanted her to marry the man they had chosen for her. The school students I interviewed, aged 15–18 years, reported that their relationships with mothers were strong and intimate, and all girls identified their mother as the one they would go to if they were in trouble. It remains to be seen if reports that there is a big difference between girls who are still living at home and going to school and young women who are living away from home in boarding houses (kost) are broadly applicable.[56]
  35. In Indonesia, several scholars have noted that youth, particularly young men, have played a key role in the evolution of the Indonesian nation-state—notably in 1928 at the Indonesian Youth Congress, in 1945 with the Proclamation of Independence, in 1965–66 and in the lead-up to Suharto's resignation in May 1998.[57] This historically significant role that young people have played suggests that Indonesian society allows young people a period when they are free of responsibility and can, or even should, take a leading role in social and political transformation. It seems to me that it is young men, rather or more than young women, who have been given this free rein, but there is a need for more work on this. There is also the possibility that allowing young men to take the lead in initiating radical social and political change ensures a sort of mass inertia and potentially the discrediting, or at least marginalisation of the radical move. On the other hand, young people in Indonesia are very active in all sorts of community and social work and this is generally well received.
  36. My interviews and field notes with adolescents, teachers, parents and community leaders elicited many definitions and characterisations of adolescence. Here is a sample:–

    Adolescents in Indonesia want to experiment, to try things out. They like to imitate, and to copy—fashions, role models, their idols, new things. They are impressionable. They are not yet mature. They are easily influenced. They are curious, and want to know the truth. They are earnest (sungguh-sungguh). They can be berani (brave, bold) but also malu (shy, embarrassed), shameful (malu-malu) and rebellious (suka berontak kalau tidak sesuai dgn keinginannya). They want to be number one; they want attention (ingin diperhatikan). They are rather emotional (agak emosi-emosi tinggi). Adolescents often do not analyse outside values—if they see something, they just want to try it, straight away, without thinking first. Adolescents have 'a strong family feeling.' Adolescents are a national resource, an investment in the future, the hope of the nation and ethnic group.
  37. Most people are very willing to identify particular qualities that are different in male and female adolescents. For instance, respondents during my fieldwork made statements such as the following: Adolescent girls are malu, quiet, hard workers, they like to learn, they feel proud if they can make their parents happy with their high marks and feel embarrassed if the opposite. Adolescent boys can also be hard-working, but some are lazy; they also like to learn, they like to protect girls and prioritise girls' interests above their own. Boys are more balanced. This gender split is not surprising given the strength of the state-promulgated gender ideology in the New Order and since, but there is interesting instability around gender and passion or sexual desire, and gender and emosi: some think that men are more emotional than women, but on the other hand there are many who think the opposite; and some think men have more or stronger sexual desire (hawa nafsu) than women, or that women are better than men at controlling their passion, while others think the opposite. I suspect that even the individual, depending on context, might display the same ambivalence. This ambivalence has been identified before for young people and adults in Indonesian and Malay societies.[58]
  38. It is very clear that teenage Minang respondents believe that both male and female adolescents feel sexual desire (hawa nafsu). To this we must add the attractions of a globalised, Westernised but also locally-produced, pop culture which dangles the so-called 'free seks' alternative in the noses of teenagers. The exposure of youth to a Westernised pop culture is often nominated by parents and teachers as a dangerous practice. In this discourse of moral panic, particularly in reference to drugs (narkoba), young people are frequently depicted as vulnerable victims rather than agents. Much pop culture lures teenagers into thinking that the West represents everything that is coolest, most modern and therefore most desirable. At the same time, 'The West' is constructed by the agents of moral panic as the source of drugs, of free seks and of immorality and degeneracy. So, the West and its assumed sexual hedonism is both the desired and the demonised.
  39. While scholarly work on youth in the West has been dominated by studies of male youth, newer feminist work on teenage 'girls' in the West for example has been interested to explore their 'constrained agency' and to reclaim 'the label girl from its demeaning connotations of servitude and immaturity.'[59] Work on young women and 'girls' in Indonesia, and particularly on their sexuality, is in its infancy by comparison. There is a general worrying trend for young women in Indonesia who are sexually active not to acknowledge it at one level while worrying about the consequences on another. Laura Bellows has done some subtle work on the meanings of new sexual practices for young people in Bali, evident in their anxious letters to an advice columnist in the Indonesian-language daily newspaper, the Bali Post. Bellows writes:

      young women seem interested in determining the social meanings of their own personal experiences and whether they adhere to or violate cultural norms. To put this another way, young women's (and men's) questions are posed largely in semantic and consequential terms. Young women want to know what 'virgin' means, whether their sexual experiences allow them still to be regarded as virgins, and how they can ensure they are virgins at marriage while still satisfying their own erotic impulses and those of their boyfriends.[60]

  40. While ignorance of conception, and contraception, is rife among young women, there is also a tendency for young women not to protect themselves against pregnancy or HIV until they are regularly engaged in sex with a boy who 'really loves them,' and even then often they do not seek protection.[61] Apart from the physical difficulty of acquiring, storing and using contraception without detection, I put this down to the cultural construction of femininity and the proper placing of sex, that is within a permanent romantic relationship. So strong is the proscription against (pre-marital) sex that good girls cannot admit even to themselves that they are sexually active. Nor can they admit to pre-meditated sex: sex can only happen in a moment of irresistible romantic love, when they are swept away by passion and 'prove' their love for their boyfriend. 'They feel it would be morally and aesthetically wrong to take precautions before sexual intercourse has occurred.'[62] For some young lovers, the morality of a long-lasting romantic relationship may to some extent have taken over the moral legitimacy formerly associated only with marriage, in that the purity of love is felt to morally outweigh the formal conventions of (a sham) marriage, but on another level they know that sexual relations are properly part of social relations, and that they will one day have to 'come clean' or give up their private relationship.

  41. While some Asian Studies scholars have recently criticised Indonesianists for reifying Indonesia as a unit of analysis,[63] it is clear that 'Indonesia' does exist and is a primary—sometimes the—unit of belonging for many Indonesians. The failure of Indonesia to self-destruct in and after 1998 is a testament to the continuing strength of feelings of national belonging and commitment to the project of the nation-state of Indonesia.
  42. Boellstorff, in his work on gay identity and subjectivity in Indonesia, posits that unintentionally the Indonesian nation-state has created a 'gay archipelago': that there are not Bugis gays or Balinese gays, but Indonesian gays. He does not elaborate on the presumably dysfunctional links between urbanised gay men who self-identify as belonging to an Indonesian gay community, and their families and communities 'back home,' though there are some examples of awkward social moments. I want to borrow his version of Ben Anderson's 'imagined community' in order to wonder at the possibilities for seeing Indonesian adolescence as an 'imagined community.'
  43. Should we talk of 'Indonesian' adolescents rather than, say, of Balinese adolescents, or Buginese adolescents? In some ways we can see that this works: when we look at the magazines and sinetron that target adolescents and take adolescence as their subject, it is a 'modern,' urban (read Jakartan), middle-class adolescence that we see, with ethnic identities very underplayed if not non-existent.[64] But this is a step removed from the real world, and is obviously a marketing ploy by the dream-makers to construct an ideal. That does not mean such artefacts do not have productive effects in the real world, but I did find students quite awake to the manipulations of sinetron producers and the seductions of glitzy images of the good life and many were sharply critical.
  44. Further, almost all of the extant studies of youth and youth culture in Indonesia are studies of urban youth, not rural youth. The shift of scholars—notably anthropologists—, away from village studies to studies of identity politics, the middle class and issues of representation, has meant that we have virtually no idea what is happening among youth in villages.[65] Sometimes a clear split between rural and urban is not tenable—circular and temporary migration for work and education is a feature of contemporary Indonesia, and some studies of urban youth are obviously also studies of rural-based youth who have been 'captured' in studies of young people in Medan, Jakarta or Mataram.
  45. When we look at school and university students it is mainly a national student identity that we see. Schools are the institution of the nation-state, and of modernity, par excellence, and there is undeniably a national community of high school students. The unity and homogeneity of this sub-culture is obvious in the state system; there is preliminary evidence that students in the state Islamic day schools (madrasah) and in some private religious schools also identify strongly with a national community of students; however, the situation in the private, Islamic schools (pesantren) is less well known and probably quite various. As a large and growing minority of all children attend Islamic schools,[66] and many are not part of the government sector, this is a significant gap in our knowledge. Arguably, universities speak more of a global identity, though that sector too is divided along public/private and secular/Islamic lines. It may be that in Indonesia the national language and inadequate resourcing of the tertiary sector have the effect of nationalising the university sector.
  46. Another feature of Indonesian adolescents that has so received, as far as I am aware, no attention from scholars, is that Indonesian teenagers are differentiated by class, which I am taking to encompass both socio-economic conditions and lifestyle. Most studies of youth culture in Indonesia have targeted middle-class youth or the products of popular culture, so we have this impression of sophisticated, urban, highly Westernised and comfortably-off young people, busily consuming their glossy magazines, shopping in malls and socialising (i.e. having sex) with boy- or girl-friends. However, during recent fieldwork, I was impressed by the concern of students to do well at school and to find work after school and university. In the main, they were rajin (industrious) and busy scholars; they were very focused on achieving high grades, and many had high (and probably unrealistic) ambitions for university study and professional occupations. Most girls attending senior high school did not express a desire for a boyfriend—they wanted to concentrate on their studies and get good marks, and thought that a boyfriend would get in the way of this serious intent. Those who were not good students were still preoccupied with securing a good future job. There was no mall, only a market; girls only socialised in single-sex girl groups; and while most teenagers not in pesantren (Islamic boarding schools) watched television, most could not afford to buy glossy magazines. Their main concern was with keeping open and maximising their future options; the prospect of unemployment and of insecure and undesirable employment was very real, and teenagers were worried about the quality of their schools and their teachers, the lack of job prospects locally and their vulnerability, given the competitiveness of the job market.
  47. In Indonesia, adolescent agency occurs within social matrices that include not only age (generation), gender and sexuality, but also 'race'/ethnicity, religion, class and possibly region (including rural/urban). Add to this adolescents' usual physical location in the family home, material dependence on parents, and continuing respect for parental authority and it is quite a stretch to describe Indonesian adolescents' identity as primarily an archipelagic one.
  48. Nevertheless, when we shift from a consideration of Indonesian adolescence to Indonesian adolescent sexuality, the matrix must be broadened to include the nation-state. Although Indonesian governments have long been 'in denial' about active adolescent sexuality, they are becoming increasingly conscious of their responsibility to meet adolescent reproductive and sexual health needs. Back in 1994 the Suharto government signed up to the Cairo Conference commitment to 'Protect and promote the right of adolescents to sexual and reproductive health information and services, and reduce the number of adolescent pregnancies.'[67] It took until 2000, after regime change and the dynamic tenure of State Minister of Women's Empowerment and Head of BKKBN, Ibu Khofifah Indar Parawansa, for the government to establish a Directorate for Adolescent and Reproductive Rights Protection under BKKBN and a division responsible for adolescent reproductive health at the State Ministry of Women's Empowerment.[68] In that same year, the Indonesian Parliament agreed to include adolescent reproductive health programmes in the 2000–2004 National Development Programmes,[69] so it appeared that the government intended to take adolescent reproductive health issues much more seriously. However, the Family Welfare Law, Undang-Undang No. 10/1992, states that family planning services are only to be provided to married couples. While it is not illegal for unmarried people to use contraception, and they can legally buy contraceptives through private suppliers, the effect of the presence of this Law is that many people assume that it is illegal for unmarried people to use contraception.
  49. Indonesian school curricula still do not teach students about HIV/AIDS, the importance of safe sex or indeed about sex. The Grade 7 Biology textbook has a few pages about the anatomy of the reproductive organs and the biological changes associated with puberty, but there is no curricular requirement to teach about sexuality and reproduction in a social studies or even health context. The great inertia against institutionalising sexual and reproductive health education in Indonesian schools is traceable to the common misunderstanding that 'sex ed' will encourage students to have pre-marital sex, by giving students the means to experiment with sex and 'get away with it.' The government appears to be happy to leave it to Non-Government Organisations to deliver their commitment to the Cairo Conference Convention. This means that adolescent sexual and reproductive health education is patchy, inconstant, and ephemeral. Many students miss out. Most girls I interviewed had had no idea about menstruation before it happened. One very clear message from our 2007–08 survey conducted among thousands of adolescents in Indonesia is that they want 'sex ed.'[70]
  50. Of course, other people before me have also advocated sex education in Indonesia, and increasingly in terms of a discourse of adolescent reproductive health. This is probably a good move politically, with a view to pre-empting a possible fundamentalist Islamic response— that sex ed. will only encourage teenage sexual activity—, but I have reservations that follow Foucauldian arguments about the effects of hegemonic state 'bio-power.' Foucault's notion of bio-power emphasises the disciplining of 'docile bodies' through routinised bodily practices in locales such as families and institutions like hospitals and prisons. There are two poles of bio-power: control of the individual body and control of the population or species, which, he argued, came together in the nineteenth century preoccupation with sex. They also come together when nation-states and individuals alike are involved in public health, family planning and social welfare.[71] An important insight from Foucault was that,

      biopower, in creating a domain of expertise, constitutes its own objects of analysis to which it then responds. In other words, bodily states are labelled by experts as diseases; certain behaviours are defined as deviant, unnatural, immoral, opening up the way for systemic and legitimized attempts at medicalization of both body and behaviour.[72]

  51. Foucauldian notions of governmentality make us aware that sex discourse is infused with power relations. The identification of pre-marital sex as a major sin, and the condemnation of so-called free seks by those in authority in Indonesia, are classic exercises in bio–power. The institutionalisation of 'sex ed.' invests it too with sinister potential. Nevertheless, on balance, I come down on the side of those advocating sexual and reproductive health education: the government has a responsibility to ensure that young people's health and futures are not compromised.

  52. I would argue that in contemporary Indonesian discourse about adolescence, adolescents (remaja) and adolescent sexualities, 'something different happens.' Assumptions of universal adolescent sexual experimentation and freedom are untenable for Indonesia; 'global queering' has not spread to Indonesian youth;[73] and Western understandings of adolescence as a period of identity crisis, individuation, freedom, rebellion and storm and stress are not generally shared by Indonesians. I would posit the hegemony of hetero-sexuality in contemporary Indonesia, with the understanding that all hegemonies are only partial. Further, I would posit, uncontroversially I think, that in the Indonesian cultural context, sexuality cannot be seen as 'plastic,' autonomous or free from the constraints of the sex/gender system. Sex and gender are almost inextricable in the Indonesian context: differences between masculinity and femininity have been naturalised, such that people generally think that men and women are born that way: it is their natural, God-given kodrat (fate). The combined strength of the gender ideology and the proscription against premarital sex, mainly for women, is such that young women who do indulge are unwilling to acknowledge that fact by protecting themselves against pregnancy and disease. In this sense, for adolescents, especially for young women, sexuality is almost always bound up with morality. The sacred triangle of hetero-sexuality, marriage and reproduction is held out as both the ideal and the norm to which adolescents in Indonesia should aspire.
  53. However, there is a moral panic about adolescent sexuality in contemporary Indonesia. '[T]he dominant prohibitive discourse denies and denounces youth sexuality as abnormal, unhealthy, illegal or criminal.'[74] The Western trope of adolescence as a time of sturm und drang has not taken hold in Indonesia, but in the moral panic surrounding adolescent sexuality (and drug-taking) there is a sense that young people are considered vulnerable and in need of guidance and protection. There is considerable evidence of historical specificity amidst postcolonial and Islamic fundamentalist globalisation and rapid social change that means that ideas about adolescence are in flux.
  54. Adolescents themselves are worried about securing their futures in uncertain economic conditions. Many are serious and committed students, who have set themselves the goal of achieving good marks and try their hardest not to be distracted or seduced by the lure of Westernised pop culture and sexual freedom. They usually espouse an 'idealised Muslim morality,'[75] which sometimes contradicts actual behaviour, and stands in contrast to the sexual freedom and 'moral laxity' portrayed in many press accounts of adolescents in Indonesia. 'The West,' in this rich and diverse postcolonial discourse, is both the devil and the desired.
  55. In some other ways though, this is a re-run of the way the media constructed a myth of a rebellious youth subculture in post-war Britain, by highlighting the 'spectacular' aspects of youth culture.[76] In Indonesia, these include revealing dress; public expressions of intimacy such as opposite-sex kissing and hand-holding; rave parties; rock, heavy metal and other pop music concerts; warring school gangs in Jakarta; the noisy motorcycle jams in city squares on Saturday nights; young couples caught making love in dark parks and cemeteries; drug-taking; and the abandoned babies of unwed teenage mothers. Such behaviours are one end of a continuum of gaya remaja (adolescent style). This is not to say that these do not happen—they do. However, young people themselves generally declare the immorality of premarital sex and denounce degenerate youth. It is a struggle to characterise the immense diversity that is Indonesian adolescent sexuality. For this reason—and not the usual one of acknowledgement of GLBTI identities—I used the plural 'sexualities' in the title. I needed a gloss to cover a huge range of attitudes and behaviours, even with respect to the most important sexuality issue for adolescents in Indonesia: that of premarital sex. These range from fundamentalist condemnation of any behaviour or thinking that approaches zina, found commonly in pesantren but also among students in 'secular' schools; through a conservative 'idealised Muslim morality' that disapproves of premarital sex but may or may not be accompanied by behaviour that is in alignment with professed morality; then through a highly Westernised, wealthy, educated and urban youth who are more secular in their morality and liberal in their sexuality, but who would probably still express disapproval of premarital sex to authorities; to an underground, opportunistic, sometimes survival, sexuality, found mainly among subcultural city youth who live away from families and home and indeed sometimes are homeless.[77]
  56. Yet, despite the moral panic over adolescent sexuality, the public, state, school and parental discourse on adolescence is generally warm and positive. There is no widespread condemnation of youth; young people are not generally perceived as rebellious or troublesome; on the contrary, they are viewed as the 'hope of the nation,' and treasured as a national resource.


    [1] Michel Foucault, Power/Knowledge. Selected Interviews and Other Writings 1972–1977, (ed.) Colin Gordon, trans. Colin Gordon, Leo Marshall, John Mepham, Kate Soper, Brighton, Sussex: The Harvester Press, 1980, p. 68.

    [2] Peter A. Jackson, 'Space, theory and hegemony: The dual crises of Asian area studies and cultural studies,' Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, vol. 18, no 1 (2003):1–41, p. 3.

    [3] Jackson, 'Space, theory and hegemony,' p. 3. The second paper is 'Mapping poststructuralism's borders: The case for poststructuralist area studies,' Sojourn: Journal of Social Issues in Southeast Asia, vol. 18, no. 1 (2003):42–88.

    [4] Pheng Cheah, 'Universal Areas: Asian Studies in a World in Motion,' 2001,, site accessed 20 March 2007.

    [5] Mary John and Kanaki Nair, 'A question of silence? An Introduction,' in A Question of Silence: The Sexual Economies of Modern India, ed. Janaki Nair and Mary E. John, London and New York: Zed Books, 1998, pp. 1–51.

    [6] John and Nair, 'A question of silence,' p. 6, citing Prasad 1998.

    [7] This fieldwork was conducted with funding from a University of Western Australia Research Grant and under the auspices of Lembaga Ilmu Pengetahuan Indonesia. I would like to thank the late Professor Aziz at Andalas University for his kind support of my fieldwork, and Victoria Randa Ayu for her excellent research assistance. Fieldwork and research on the topic of adolescence in Indonesia has proceeded since 2004 with funding from an Australia Research Council Discovery Grant, under the auspices of LIPI and RISTEK. This four-year project, on 'Ambivalent Adolescents in Indonesia,' involves fieldwork and surveys by six researchers in different sites around Indonesia.

    [8] For instance, the special issue of Inside Indonesia vol. 85, Jan–Mar 2006, on Youth Culture gives the impression that sex and drugs are common among young people and that youth culture is dominated by these practices. See especially Firman Lubis, 'Speaking of sex-ignoring teen sexuality only increases health risks,' in Inside Indonesia, vol. 85 (Jan–Mar 2006):16, and Jo Pickles, 'Youth heroin use—How effective is the war on drugs?' in Inside Indonesia, vol. 85 (Jan–Mar 2006):4–6. The special issue of Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs in 2003 devoted to Youth, Sexuality and Personal Life in Indonesia (vol. 31. no 1), consisted of articles on street children, pop culture, sex and sex education, courtship and homosexuality. This is not to say that each of these articles is not addressing a real and important issue—my point is that the impression given is that all young people are engaging in what Dennis Altman calls Global Sex, Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2001: i.e. a globalised and homogeneous world culture of sexuality. However, a recent corrective to this view, which coincides with the finding of my fieldwork in West Sumatra, is provided by Nancy Smith-Hefner, 'The new Muslim romance: changing patterns of courtship and marriage among educated Javanese Youth,' in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 36, no. 3 (Oct. 2005):441–459, Nancy Smith-Hefner, 'Reproducing respectability: sex and sexuality among Muslim Javanese youth,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, vol. 40, no. 1 (2006):143–72 and Pam Nilan, 'Youth transitions to urban, middle-class marriage in Indonesia: faith, family and finances,' in Journal of Youth Studies, vol. 11, no. 1 (2008):65–82.

    [9] Kam Louie, 'Introducing wen–we: towards a definition of Chinese masculinity,' in Theorising Chinese Masculinity: Society and Gender in China, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 2002, pp. 1–21.

    [10] McMahon (1988) cited by Louie in Kam Louie, 'Chinese, Japanese and global masculine identities,' in Asian Masculinities: The Meaning and Practice of Manhood in China and Japan, ed. Kam Louie and Morris Low, London and New York: RoutledgeCurzon, 2003, pp. 1–16, p. 6.

    [11] I would like to record here my unease with this and other terms for sexual behaviours. What does 'sexually active' mean? Does masturbation 'count'? or sexual fantasising? or first fumblings? Demographers and sexologists have their own terms, but I have to admit that sometimes I cannot understand what is intended—e.g. what exactly is the difference between necking and petting (e.g. Iwu Utomo, 'Sexual attitudes and behaviour of middle-class young people in Jakarta,' PhD thesis, The Australian National University, 1997, p. 164, Tables 5.3 and 5.4, p. 168, Tables 5.7. and 5.8)? Indonesian teenagers are generally very ignorant about the sexual body, sexual acts and their reproductive and health consequences (e.g. Utomo, 'Sexual attitudes,' pp. 144ff and Iwu Utomo, 'Reproductive health education in Indonesia: school versus parents' roles in providing sexuality information,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, vol. 37, no. 1 (2003):107–34), about the meaning of terms such as 'virginity' (e.g. Bellows 2003), about how to have 'safe sex,' and so on, so the validity of quantitative surveys that are not complemented with qualitative research must be open to question.

    Further, it may be that distinct Western categories and particular meanings—for instance the difference between friend and boy/girlfriend, and the meaning of having a boy/girl friend—may not be appropriate or might be different in the Indonesian or local context. It is obvious to the most casual observer, that Indonesians are much less inhibited than Westerners in showing affection to same-sex friends. Indonesians do not consider it noteworthy when two boys are walking along with their arms draped across each others' shoulders, but it is definitely noteworthy when a boy and girl are walking along hand-in-hand.

    Another problem of the conceptualisation of sexuality is the way it has been 'captured' by health research. Sometimes this is a convenient umbrella—for instance, in Indonesia it is much more acceptable to say one is doing research on reproductive health education than on 'sex ed.' The appropriation is often a way to have research funded: the HIV/AIDS 'industry' has triggered a huge amount of research on sexualities around the world, which probably would never have been done without this motivation. Of course there are also dangers inherent in this subterfuge. Of broader theoretical significance is the way sexuality is conceived when it is always associated with health, medicine, disease or the body: other aspects of sexuality such as imaginings and fantasy, emotions and feelings, intimacy and empathy, and the quality of relationships, seem to be lost along the way. There is a small literature on this, e.g. Louisa Allen, 'Beyond the birds and the bees: constituting a discourse of erotics in sexuality education,' in Gender and Education, vol. 16, no. 2 (2004):151–67 and D. Warr, 'The importance of love and understanding: speculation on romance in safe sex health promotion,' in Women's Studies International Forum, vol. 24, no. 2 (2001):241–52.

    [12] J. Weeks, Sexuality, Chichester: Ellis Horwood; London: Tavistock, 1986, p. 15.

    [13] For instance, see Helen Creese and Laura Bellows, 'Erotic literature in nineteenth-century Bali,' in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 33, no. 3 (2002):385–413; and Edwin P. Wieringa, 'A Javanese handbook for would-be husbands: the Serat Candraning Wanita,' in Journal of Southeast Asian Studies, vol. 33, no. 3 (Oct 2002):431–49.

    [14] Creese and Bellows, 'Erotic literature,' pp. 386–87.

    [15] Peter A. Jackson, 'Reading Rio from Bangkok: an Asianist perspective on Brazil's male homosexual cultures,' in American Ethnologist, vol. 7, no. 4 (2000):950–60, p. 951.

    [16] Wah-Shan Chou, 'Homosexuality and the cultural politics of tongzhi in Chinese societies,' in Gay and Lesbian Asia: Culture, Identity, Community, ed. Gerard Sullivan and Peter A. Jackson, New York: Harrington Park Press, The Haworth Press, 2001, pp. 27–46, p. 27.

    [17] M. Warner (ed.), Fear of a Queer Planet: Queer Politics and Social Theory, Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1993, p. xix.

    [18] Dennis Altman, 'On global queering,' in Australian Humanities Review internet edition, 1996,, site accessed 9 November 2006.

    [19] Malcolm Waters, Globalization, London, New York: Routledge, rev. ed., 2001.

    [20] I would like to thank Linda Bennett for the suggestion in this last phrase (personal communication 2 November 2006). My first elaboration of this interest was the differentiation of self from society, but in the Indonesian context the embeddedness of self within society seems a more appropriate way to describe the relationship. Of course the nature of the self in different cultural contexts is a huge project in itself and various authors have attempted it (e.g. Shelly Errington, 'Recasting sex, gender, and power: a theoretical and regional overview,' in Power and Difference: Gender in Island Southeast Asia, ed. Shelly Errington and Jane Monnig Atkinson, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1990, pp. 1–58; see also Clifford Geertz, 'Person, time, and conduct in Bali,' in The Interpretation of Cultures, London: Hutchinson and Co., 1973, pp. 360–411 for Bali; and Frederick K. Errington, Manners and Meaning in West Sumatra: The Social Context of Consciousness, New Haven and London: Yale University Press, 1984 for Minangkabau.

    [21] Pat Caplan, 'Introduction,' in The Cultural Construction of Sexuality, ed. Pat Caplan, London and New York: Tavistock Publications, 1987, pp. 1–30, p. 2.

    [22] Ellen Ross and Rayna Rapp, 'Sex and society: a research note from social history and anthropology,' in Desire: The Politics of Sexuality, ed. A. Snitow, C. Stansell and S. Thompson, London: Virago, 1983, pp. 105–26, p. 121.

    [23] Anthony Giddens, The Transformation of Intimacy: Sexuality, Love and Eroticism in Modern Societies, Stanford: Stanford University Press, 1992.

    [24] Gayle Rubin, 'Thinking sex: notes for a radical theory of the politics of sexuality,' in Pleasure and Danger, ed. Carole S. Vance, London: Routledge and Kegan Paul, 1984, pp. 267–319.

    [25] Sharyn Leanne Graham, 'Hunters, wedding mothers and androgynous priests: conceptualising gender among bugis in South Sulawesi, Indonesia,' PhD thesis, The University of Western Australia, 2004.

    [26] E. Blackwood, 'Tombois in West Sumatra: constructing masculinity and erotic desire,' in Cultural Anthropology. vol. 13, no. 4 (1998):491–521; Tom Boellstorff, The Gay Archipelago: Sexuality and Nation in Indonesia, Princeton and Oxford: Princeton University Press, 2005.

    [27] Interestingly, Judith Butler seems to have come round to arguing this. See 'Revisiting bodies and pleasures,' in Theory, Culture and Society, vol. 16, no. 2 (1999):11–20). Also, see Deborah Youdell, 'Sex-Gender-Sexuality: how sex, gender and sexuality constellations are constituted in secondary schools,' in Gender and Education, vol. 17, no. 3 (2005):249–70, for an interesting analysis of the inseparability of sex, gender and sexuality in English schools, and the way subjectivities are constituted using constellations of 'resources,' including class-based positioning.

    [28] Boellstorff, The Gay Archipelago, p. 496.

    [29] Boellstorff, The Gay Archipelago, p. 127.

    [30] Howard 1996, p. 263, quoted in Boellstorff, The Gay Archipelago, p. 127.

    [31] E. Blackwood, 'Transnational sexualities in one place: Indonesian readings,' in Gender and Society, vol. 19 (2005):221–42, p. 230.

    [32] Michel Foucault, Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison, trans. A.M. Sheridan. London: Penguin Books, 1991/1975.

    [33] For instance, Suzanne April Brenner, The Domestication of Desire: Women, Wealth, and Modernity in Java, Princeton, New Jersey: Princeton University Press, 1998; Nurul Ilmi Idrus, 'To take each other': bugis practices of gender, sexuality and marriage, PhD thesis, The Australian National University, 2003; Christian Pelras, The Bugis, Cambridge: Blackwell Publishers, 1996.

    [34] Andrew Beatty, Varieties of Javanese Religion: An Anthropological Account, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 167 and 184.

    [35] James J. Fox and Clifford Sather (eds), Origins, Ancestry and Alliance: Explorations in Austronesian Ethnography, Canberra: Dept. of Anthropology, Australian National University, 1996.

    [36] Lyn Parker, From Subjects to Citizens: Balinese Villagers in the Indonesian Nation-State, Copenhagen: NIAS Press, 2003, p. 183ff.

    [37] Susan Blackburn and Sharon Bessell, 'Marriageable age: political debates on early marriage in twentieth century Indonesia,' in Indonesia, vol. 63 (April 1997):104–41, p. 130.

    [38] Augustina Situmorang, 'Staying single in a married world: the life of never married women in Yogyakarta and Medan,' Asia Research Institute Working Paper no.38, 2005.

    [39] I would be among the first to agree, however, that social scientists have been premature in predicting the demise of religion in the West in the face of modernity. The modernisation = secularisation thesis is no longer tenable, at least for some parts of the West, as well as in rapidly modernising countries such as South Korea, as well as in the rising middle classes of some Asian countries, including Indonesia. The fact that much of the Islamisation movement occurred within, and was led by, the middle classes, has been well demonstrated for both Indonesia and Malaysia.

    [40] For example, see Frances Gouda, Dutch Culture Overseas: Colonial Practice in the Netherlands Indies 1900–1942, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 1995; Elsbeth Locher-Scholten, Women and the Colonial State: Essays on Gender and Modernity in the Netherlands Indies 1900–1942, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000; Ann Laura Stoler, Carnal Knowledge and Imperial Power: Race and the Intimate in Colonial Rule, Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002.

    [41] For instance, Creese's 2004 book about women of the kakawin (courtly epic poems) of the pre-colonial and pre-Muslim Indic courts of Java and Bali is basically a book about women's sexuality and marriage. The puzzle is that procreation and children are absent from the texts. Helen Creese, Women of the Kakawin World: Marriage and Sexuality in the Indic Courts of Java and Bali, Armonk, New York and London: M.E. Sharpe, 2004. In Bali, fertility was central to cosmology, ritual practice, married life, farming, participation in local politics, the naming system—indeed, central to life—until the pressures of modern life in concert with the government family planning drive intervened. There is also evidence that in earlier times, before the arrival of the world religions in what is now Indonesia, sexual intercourse was celebrated as a source of power, and sexual fertility was linked to agricultural fertility. In these times, sexuality and fertility were not necessarily linked to marriage. There are still remnants of this ancient tradition, for example in Tengger in East Java.

    [42] For instance, see Megan Jennaway, Sisters and Lovers: Women and Desire in Bali, Lanham: Rowman and Littlefield, 2002; Augustina Situmorang, Adolescent reproductive health and premarital sex in Medan, PhD thesis, The Australian National University, 2001.

    [43] Lyn Parker, 'Religion, class and schooled sexuality among Minangkabau teenage girls,' in Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land en Volkenkunde, vol. 165, no. 1 (April 2009, in press).

    [44] Linda Rae Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity: Single Women, Sexuality and Reproductive Health in Contemporary Indonesia, New York: Routledge, 2005; Jennaway, Sisters and Lovers.

    [45] G. Stanley Hall, Adolescence, New York: Appleton, 1904/1916.

    [46] Handajani has surveyed the development of terms for adolescence and changing meanings and connotations of terms. Suzie Handajani, 'Globalizing local girls: the representation of adolescents in Indonesian female teen magazines,' MA Thesis, The University of Western Australia, 2005, Chapter 3.

    [47] Tehmina N. Basit, Eastern Values; Western Milieu. Identities and Aspirations of Adolescent British Muslim Girls, Aldershot: Ashgate, 1997, p. 7.

    [48] For example, E.H. Erikson, Childhood and Society, New York: Norton; Harmondsworth: Penguin, 1950/1963; E.H. Erikson, Identity, Youth and Crisis, New York: Norton, 1968; Hall Adolescence; S. Hall, and T. Jefferson, Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, London: Hutchinson, 1976; D. Hebdige, Subculture: The Meaning of Style, New York: Methuen, 1979; A. McRobbie, Feminism and Youth Culture, Basingstoke and London: Macmillan, 1991; M. Pipher, Reviving Ophelia: Saving the Selves of Adolescent Girls, New York: G.P. Putnam and Sons, 1994; G. Schwartz, 'Youth culture: an anthropological approach,' in Current Topics in Anthropology, vol. 3, no. 17 (1972):1–47; P. Willis, Learning to Labour: How Working Class Kids Get Working Class Jobs, Aldershot: Gower Publishing, 1977.

    [49] Basit, Eastern Values; Western Milieu, pp. 7–8; J.C. Coleman and L.B. Hendry, The Nature of Adolescence, 3rd edition, London: Routledge, 1999.

    [50] M. Mead, Coming of Age in Samoa, Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1928.

    [51] A. Schlegel and H. Barry III, Adolescence. An Anthropological Inquiry, New York: The Free Press, 1991, p. 3.

    [52] L. Chisholm, 'From systems to networks: the reconstruction of youth transitions in Europe,' in From Education to Work: Cross-National Perspectives, ed. W. R. Heinz, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1999, pp. 298–318; L. Chisholm and M. du Bois-Reymond, 'Youth transitions, gender and social change,' in Sociology, vol. 7 (1993):259–79; EGRIS (European Group for Integrated Social Research), 'Misleading trajectories: transition dilemmas of young adults in Europe,' in Journal of Youth Studies, vol. 4, no. 1 (2001):101–18; Carlo Raffo and Michelle Reeves, 'Youth transitions and social exclusion: developments in social capital theory,' in Journal of Youth Studies, vol. 3, no. 2 (2000):147–66.

    [53] Claire Harding, 'Adolescent sexual and reproductive health in Indonesia: investing in the future?' Honours thesis, The University of Western Australia, 2006, pp. 5–6.

    [54] T.H. Hull, 'The marriage revolution in Indonesia,' paper presented to the Conference of the Population Association of America, Atlanta, 2002; Gavin W. Jones, 'The changing Indonesian household,' in Women in Indonesia: Gender, Equity and Development, ed. K. Robinson and S. Bessell, Singapore: Institute of Southeast Asian Studies, 2002, pp. 219–234; Gavin W. Jones, 'Not "when to marry" but "whether to marry": the changing context of marriage decisions in East and Southeast Asia,' in (Un)tying the Knot: Ideal and Reality in Asian Marriage, Asia Trends 2, Singapore: Asia Research Institute, National University of Singapore, 2004, pp. 3–56.

    [55] Indonesians are struggling with this problem too. For example, the 'youth' wing of the Muslim women's group, Aisyiyah, now defines the age cohort for its organisation as 17 to 40 years! See Siti Syamsiyatun, 'Serving young Islamic Indonesian women: the development of gender discourse in Nasyiatul Aisyiyah 1965–2005,' PhD Thesis, Monash University, 2006, p. 113.

    [56] See also Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity, esp. pp. 72ff and Natalie Wray, 'Playing by the rules,' Honours thesis, Australian National University, 1998. There are frequent rumours about the free and easy ways of life in boarding houses (kost), particularly with reference to free socialising (pergaulan bebas) and premarital sex.

    [57] For instance, Saya S. Shiraishi, Young Heroes: The Indonesian Family in Politics, New York: Cornell University Southeast Asia Programs, 1997; Locher-Scholten, Elsbeth, Women and the Colonial State. Essays on Gender and Modernity in the Netherlands Indies 1900–1942, Amsterdam: Amsterdam University Press, 2000.

    [58] For examples, see Bennett Women, Islam and Modernity, Chapter 3; Brenner, The Domestication of Desire, pp. 146–57 and 248ff; and M.G. Peletz, 'Neither reasonable nor responsible: contrasting representations of masculinity in a Malay society,' in Bewitching Women, Pious Men: Gender and Body Politics in Southeast Asia, ed. A. Ong and M.G. Peletz, Berkeley: University of California Press, 1995, pp. 76–123.

    [59] Editorial of the Special Issue of Signs, Spring 1998, devoted to 'Feminisms and Youth Cultures,' p. 576.

    [60] Laura Bellows, '"Like the West": new sexual practices and modern threats to Balinese-ness,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, vol. 3, no. 1 (2003):71–106, p. 93.

    [61] Bennett, Women, Islam and Modernity; Situmorang, Adolescent Reproductive Health; Iwu Utomo, Sexual Attitudes; Iwu Utomo, 'Reproductive health education.'

    [62] Stevi Jackson, Childhood and Sexuality, Oxford: Basil Blackwood Publisher Ltd, 1982, p. 127.

    [63] See, for example Simon Philpott, Rethinking Indonesia: Postcolonial Theory, Authoritarianism and Identity, New York: St Martin's Press, 2000.

    [64] See, for example, Pam Nilan, 'Romance magazines, television soap operas and young Indonesian women,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, vol. 37, no. 1 (2003):45–70; Hapsari Sulistyani, 'Girl culture on the big screen—no longer misfits, but far from gender warriors,' in Inside Indonesia, vol. 85 (January –March 2006):10–11.

    [65] The Indonesian National Family Planning Board disseminates statistics on teenage pregnancies on its website. These figures come from the Indonesia Demographic and Health Surveys (IDHS) and, notably, 'Teenagers who have never married are assumed to have had no pregnancies and no births.' In its analysis of the 1991 survey, the website notes: 'Rural women in their teens are three times more likely than urban women to have given birth or be pregnant with their first child.' By 2003, the website notes that 'There is a substantial difference in fertility among teenagers who live in urban and rural areas. In rural areas the proportion of teenagers who have started childbearing is twice the proportion in urban areas (14 and 7 percent, respectively).'

    Although the statistics probably understate the numbers, this is an important indicator of health and opportunity for young women. As the website states,

      Teenage mothers themselves, especially those under age 18, are more likely to experience adverse pregnancy outcomes and maternity-related mortality than more mature women. In addition, early childbearing limits a teenager's ability to pursue educational opportunities and also can limit her access to job opportunities.

    BKKBN [Badan Kordinasi Keluarga Berencana Nasional, National Coordinating Family Planning Board], Adolescent Fertility in Indonesia: Result of the 1991, 1994, 1997, 2002 and 2003 Indonesia Demographic and Health Survey (IDHS) 2004[?], online:, site accessed 2 December 2004. Report no longer available online. Interested readers can apply to the author for a copy.

    [66] About 22 percent of junior high school students attend madrasah, as do 12 percent of senior high school students. Diknas (Departmen Pendidikan Nasional, Department of National Education) 2007, Table 2, please follow the links from:, to Statistik Pendidikan (Education Statistics), then the teaching year (2005-06), site accessed 9 June 2008.

    These figures do not include students (santri) attending pesantren, though some santri may be included because some pesantren send their live-in students to madrasah. The Department of Religion estimates that around 1.76 million students live in pesantren and there are a further 1.7 million santri who attend pesantren but do not live there. See Departemen Agama, Statistik pendidikan agama & keagamaan tahun pelajaran 2004–2005 [Statistics on religious education and religion, teaching year 2004–05], Bagian Data dan Informasi Pendidikan, Direktorat Jenderal Kelembagaan Agama Islam, Departmen Agama, DJ.II.II, 2005, p. 7.

    See also Elisabeth Jackson and Lyn Parker, 'Enriched with knowledge': modernisation, Islamisation and the future of Islamic education in Indonesia,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, Special Issue on 'Islamic Education in Indonesia,' vol. 42, no. 1 (2008), in press.

    [67] N.J. Ford and K.N. Siregar, 'Operationalizing the new concept of sexual and reproductive health in Indonesia,' in International Journal of Population Geography, vol. 4, no. 1 (1998):11–30, p. 23.

    [68] Khofifah Indar Parawansa, 'Institution building: an effort to improve Indonesian women's role and status,' in Women in Indonesia, Gender, Equity and Development, ed. Kathryn Robinson and Sharon Bessell, Singapore: ISEAS, 2002, pp. 68–77.

    [69] Adolescent Reproductive Health in Indonesia, Consultancy Report Prepared for STARH Program, John Hopkins University/Center for Communication Program, Jakarta, Indonesia, 2003.

    [70] This survey was and is conducted as part of the ARC-funded project on 'Ambivalent Adolescents in Indonesia.'

    [71] Hubert L. Dreyfus and Paul Rabinow, Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics, 2nd edition, Chicago: The University of Chicago Press, 1983, p. 140.

    [72] Margaret Lock and Patricia A. Kaufert, 'Introduction,' in Pragmatic Women and Body Politics, ed Margaret Lock and Patricia A. Kaufert, Cambridge Studies in Medical Anthropology 5, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1998, pp. 1–27, p. 7.

    [73] Altman, 'On global queering.'

    [74] Brigitte M. Holzner and Dédé Oetomo, 'Youth, sexuality and sex education messages in Indonesia: issues of desire and control,' in Reproductive Health Matters, vol. 12, no. 23 (2004):40–49, p. 41.

    [75] Nancy Smith-Hefner, 'Reproducing respectability: sex and sexuality among Muslim Javanese youth,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, vol. 40, no. 1 (2006):143–72, p. 166.

    [76] John Clarke, Stuart Hall, Tony Jefferson and Brian Roberts, 'Subcultures, cultures and class,' in Resistance Through Rituals: Youth Subcultures in Post-War Britain, ed. S. Hall and T. Jefferson, London: Hutchinson, 1976, pp. 9–74.

    [77] Harriot Beasley, 'The sexual lives of street children in Yogyakarta, Indonesia,' in Review of Indonesian and Malaysian Affairs, vol. 37, no. 1 (2003):17–44.


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