Intersections: Gender and Sexuality in Asia and the Pacific
Issue 18, October 2008

Religion, Media, Westernisation and Sexuality among Young People in Urban Middle-Class Indonesia

Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo and Peter McDonald

  1. Many young people in contemporary urban Indonesia are becoming more open and liberal in expressing their identity and in their sexual behaviour. The change within one generation has been most remarkable for young people whose parents have a higher economic status. This is because the level of exposure of a young person to the principal forces of social change depends upon the income level of his or her parents. Young people from higher economic status families are more likely to be mobile, to have access to the internet and other modern forms of communication and thus are more exposed to progressive national and international developments and to global peer groups. They are educated in higher quality schools and have more money to participate in night-time entertainment activities in the cities. Young middle-class Indonesians are also more likely to acquire imported magazines, videos and CDs that contain explicit material relating to sexual relationships and behaviour.
  2. Young Indonesians in this class have developed their own popular culture that includes the ways in which they socialise with their peers, their dating and relationship behaviours, the arrangement of their own wedding celebrations and their living arrangements after marriage. This behaviour extends to dress, style, hair colour, body tattooing and piercing. Young Indonesians have also created a distinctive 'youth dialect' which most older people have difficulty understanding.[1] Young people from middle-class families are important in the market place, and goods and services have been developed to attract the money that they have to spend.[2]
  3. Young urban, middle-class Indonesians are becoming more open about expressing their sexual behaviour. An NGO reproductive rights activist stated that 'I think the incidence of premarital pregnancy and abortion has increased. You might have seen a lot of coverage on these issues in newspapers and magazines.' She and others who were interviewed for this research stated that rates of premarital pregnancy and premarital abortion are increasing. Their remarks are supported by other nationally representative surveys,[3] clinic-based studies in eight cities in Indonesia,[4] research dissertations[5] and in-depth case studies looking at risks related to unsafe abortions among single women.[6]
  4. Another youth culture that is in direct conflict with the liberal and more Westernised culture is that associated with recent Islamic revivalism. An increasing number of young Indonesians have become members of Islamic youth groups.[7] These groups operate in both secondary and tertiary educational settings. They provide leadership training, Islamic studies, Islamic journalism training, fund-raising and social activities. In some cases, these religious groups also arrange marriages among members. Indonesian women in general are increasingly wearing Islamic dress, and syariah (Islamic law) regulations have been implemented in fifty-four districts, restricting women's mobility and legalising public physical punishment for those involved in adultery, gambling, the use of drugs and alcohol, violence and crime.[8]
  5. Islamisation has led to new restrictions on public discussion of policy related to young people's sexuality.[9] However, there are still mixed messages surrounding young people's sexuality and adolescent reproductive health. The government has shown its concern about this issue by establishing a Directorate of Adolescent Reproductive Health and Rights in the BKKBN (National Family Planning Coordinating Board). Compared to other government institutions, the BKKBN is in the forefront of changes that are more accommodating of adolescents' needs. Nevertheless, there has been no clear implementation of reproductive and sexual health education in school curricula and no effort to establish publicly funded reproductive health clinics that are youth friendly and where confidentiality is assured. The 1992 Cairo International Conference on Population Development (ICPD) agenda on reproductive health has not fully been adopted in Indonesia on the grounds that it is a Western idea and would be culturally and religiously inappropriate in Indonesia.
  6. Nevertheless, NGOs, secular women's organisations and Islamic women's organisations working in this field are bridging the gap in the implementation of the Cairo Agenda. More traditionally-oriented Islamic women's organisations have a significant role in the implementation of reproductive health education, including adolescent reproductive health education, by providing interpretations of Islamic texts and the use of terminologies that resonate with Islamic discourse. Their work is producing an alternative discourse on reproductive health in Indonesia that brings together Islam and women's rights, and which has legitimacy in moderate religious circles. Through her work with Islamic women's organising on Islamising reproductive health in Indonesia, Ulla Keech-Marx stated:

      Their [Islamic women's organisations] work involves continuous compromise and negotiation between text and context, of retaining credibility and legitimacy in the Muslim community, while also pushing discursive boundaries. In the process, they are opening up a new discursive space, a new site of agency in Indonesia, where gender equality and reproductive health are translated and framed in a way that presents them as compatible with the Islamic faith. The efforts of Islamic women's organisations to Islamise reproductive health are important in laying the groundwork for future engagement with the Muslim community on social issues, and provide [sic] guidance for those seeking to bring about social change in an increasingly Islamised Indonesia.[10]

  7. Attempts to develop Islamically-appropriate reproductive/sex education for Indonesian Muslims have also been explored by Linda Bennett, who argues:

      for young Muslims, Islam can best provide a theoretical and moral framework for the provision of such education under the umbrella of Islamic education, which applies a holistic approach to the physical, moral and spiritual development of a person. The existing educational programs of pesantren and Islamic organisations in Indonesia that provide sex education for youth according to Islamic principles demonstrate the benefits of adopting such an approach in schools.[11]

  8. A conceptual framework that refers to idealised morality, the state and Westernisation is used in our analysis below to explain how young Indonesians develop new values towards mixing between the sexes on a conservatism-liberalism scale. Idealised morality is defined as belief structures that have developed over a long time; they include traditional values, norms and religious teachings.[12] New values are those stemming from the Western world and developed through the modernisation process, but different new values can also come through foreign-inspired Islamic fundamentalism. New values have often been seen as counter to the idealised morality. The extent to which new values are accepted or accommodated depends upon the level at which the idealised morality is policed by the formal institutions of the society and the state. The role of the family for many young Indonesians is not as powerful as it was in the past because the values of other reference groups provide alternatives to the values of and decisions made by parents. This is also due to the weakening of family supervision because many young people leave the family home in search of education and work. Hence members of the younger generation are starting to have more control over their own lives and the opportunity to make more independent decisions about relationships prior to marriage, mate selection and sexuality. As a result, love-marriage is more common and there is greater freedom in engaging with the opposite sex prior to marriage. Hence some young Indonesians are moving toward the more liberal end of the liberalism-conservatism scale in regard to attitudes and behaviours related to sexual intimacy with the opposite sex.[13]

    Data sources and respondent characteristics
  9. Data used in this paper are derived from the 1994/95 Jakarta Marriage Values and Sexuality Survey and the 2001 qualitative research on marriage values and sexuality in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Palembang conducted by Iwu Utomo.[14] The qualitative research in 2001 was designed to explore the quantitative findings in greater depth, in particular, to examine the processes involved in some of the observed statistical relationships. The survey included 344 high school students and 174 university students located in the southern part of Jakarta. This region of Jakarta was purposively chosen for the quantitative research because middle-class families with children of the appropriate ages are concentrated in this part of the city. Methods included in the qualitative approach were field observation, focus group discussions, in-depth interviews and analysis of media clippings. In this article, the research findings are presented in two stages: the quantitative analysis is presented first, followed by the qualitative.
  10. For the survey, respondents in the 15–19 year old age-group were selected through public and religious (Islamic and Protestant) high schools, while the 20–24 year olds were university students selected from private and public universities. Only middle-class students can be enrolled in high schools and universities in the selected area because the enrolment fees for these schools and universities are quite high. The senior high school students completed the questionnaires in class in groups of 30 to 40 students. The university students completed the surveys individually rather than in class groups. This procedure ensured that responses were free of biases that might have arisen if the information had been provided to an interviewer in a face-to-face situation. For example, in a face-to-face interview, young people might have been less willing to admit to a wider range of sexual practices.
  11. The survey data were operationalised in the following ways. First, from interview data, factor scales were developed within three, broad liberal-conservative dimensions. The three dimensions are religiosity, media and Western exposure, and marriage values. Second, the scales were validated by examining whether or not they display expected relationships with characteristics of the respondents. Then, using both bivariate and multivariate approaches, we examined the extent to which sexual behaviour and attitudes to sexual behaviour are related to the scales considered to be valid.[15]
  12. Table 1 indicates that young people in the survey expressed both a strong attachment to religion and religious practice and a high degree of exposure to westernised media. Almost every respondent (94.6 per cent) strongly agreed that religion is a very important aspect in one's life and the majority of respondents (79 per cent) never or only occasionally neglected prayers. However, the radio and television programs favoured most by respondents are those with a Western slant (e.g. Western types of music). Western films are also the most preferred (82.9 per cent). The most watched television channel, Rajawali Citra Televisi Indonesia, is the one that shows the least number of Indonesian programs. Western forms of night life also appeal to the respondents, as can be seen from the high percentage going to discotheques (31 per cent). In the decade since the survey, media and the entertainment industries in Indonesia have become even more Westernised; however, reflecting the rising strength of the Islamic fundamentalist movement, very conservative soap operas and programs have also emerged.[16]

    Survey results

    Derivation of factors: religion, mass media and Western exposure, and marriage values
  13. As numerous questions were asked in the survey relating to the broad dimensions of religiosity, media and Western exposure and marriage values, factor analysis (principal components method with varimax rotation) was used to reduce the number of variables[17] and to construct several factors within the three broad dimensions. Responses to questions were ordered so that each factor derived from the analysis would be scored on a conservative to liberal scale, with a high value representing a more liberal position.
  14. Two factors were produced from the seven religiosity variables. The first derives from four questions relating to religious obligations, including listening to religious preaching at the mosque or church, adherence to prayer obligations, importance of religion in one's life and listening to religious preaching at school or university (Obligatory Religious Performance). The second factor derives from three questions relating to voluntary religious performance including listening to religious preaching on the radio, listening to religious preaching in other places and reading religious books (Voluntary Religious Performance). The percentage of the total variance of the seven variables accounted for by the two mentioned factors is 43.2 per cent; the first factor accounts for 28.1 per cent of the total variance and the second factor accounts for 15.1 per cent.
  15. Nine factors were produced from the twenty-seven questions relating to media usage and Western exposure. The first factor, Media Influence on Broader Knowledge, derives from questions relating to foreign political news, internal political news, knowledge about Indonesia, and knowledge of foreign countries. The next factor, Exposure to Religious Preaching and Songs on Television and Radio, includes watching popular religious music on TV, listening to popular religious music on the radio, watching religious preaching on television, and listening to religious preaching over the radio. The third factor, Exposure to Western Music and Movies, consists of watching Western popular music on television, listening to Western popular music on the radio, and watching Western movies. Media Influence on Reproductive Health Knowledge, the fourth factor, is a combination of media influence on knowledge about family planning, health and sex. Exposure to Indonesian Popular Music on Television and Radio is constituted from listening to Indonesian popular music on radio and television constitutes the fifth factor. The sixth factor, Exposure to Radio, News and Popular Science Reports, encompasses such variables as listening to the news on the radio, watching Indonesian news on television, and listening to news or programs about science on the radio. Exposure to Science and Health Programs on Television is the seventh factoir that consists of a combination of variables on watching science and health programs on television. Factor eight, Exposure to Sport Activities, is constituted from variables on watching Indonesian and foreign sport programs on television. Finally, the ninth factor, Exposure to Western Influences consists of ever having been to a discotheque and watching English news programs on television. The total variance of all twenty-seven variables accounted for by the nine factors of this model is 64.2 per cent. The first factor accounts for 14.7 percent and the ninth factor accounted for 3.8 per cent of the total variance.

    Finally, four factors were produced from ten questions relating to marriage values. The first factor, Traditional Viewpoint on Marriage, is a combination of variables such as: after marriage a woman should not work any more in the paid workforce, a husband can have the power to stop a wife from working outside the home, a husband should provide the economic support for the family, and a husband is the head of the household therefore he has power like a king. The second factor, Importance of Marriage, is constituted from variables such as marriage should be terminated if each partner cannot develop themselves and marriage as an institution is not important. The factor, Power-Authority in Marriage, is a combination of the following variables: should education between husband and wife be the same, and does the husband have control over his family as the head of the household. The final factor is derived from opinions on two items: the husband and wife should have equal influence on the family decision-making process and, in a successful marriage, each partner must have the same opportunity to develop themselves. This factor is called Status Equality Between Husband and Wife in Marriage. The percentage of the total variance from the ten variables accounted for by these factors is 54.2 per cent with the first factor accounting for 17.0 percent of the total variance and the last factor 10.7 per cent.

    Relationship of factors to respondent characteristics

  16. In the next stage of analysis, factor scores were analysed according to respondent characteristics such as type of school attended, sex, age group, religion, experience of living in other provinces or abroad and parental characteristics such as religion, education and work status. The purpose of this analysis was to identify the factors that appeared to provide reliable measures of the adoption of more liberal views. Thus, it was expected that university students would be more liberal than high school students, non-Moslems would be more liberal than Moslems, and so on. Factors that showed these expected relationships were considered to be more sensitive measures of liberalism.
  17. Both the religiosity factors produced relationships in the expected direction, with the Obligatory factor showing stronger relationships than the Voluntary factor (Table 2). The picture was more mixed for the nine factors relating to media exposure and Western influences. Clearly, the best of these factors was the one that measured Exposure to Western Influences (Factor 9, Table 3). In passing, it is worth noting that young women had much better knowledge of reproductive health (Factor 4) than did young men. Finally, Table 4 shows that among the factors relating to marriage values, the stronger indicators of liberalism seemed to be Traditional Viewpoint on Marriage (Factor 1) and Power-Authority within Marriage (Factor 3).

    Relationship of factors to sexual behaviour
  18. Respondents in the survey were asked whether or not they had ever experienced each of the following forms of sexual behaviour with a member of the opposite sex: holding hands, hugging, intense hugging, kissing cheeks, kissing lips, breast fondling, genital fondling, masturbation, petting and petting with intercourse. The relationship of each of the factors to these behaviours was then examined (Table 5). In the main, the factors identified in the previous section as being good predictors of liberalism and conservatism were also good predictors of experience of sexual behaviour. The two religiosity factors were both strong predictors of sexual behaviour, with Obligatory Religious Performance being statistically significant at less than the one per cent level for all forms of sexual behaviour ranging from holding hands to petting and significant at the one per cent level for petting with intercourse. That is, respondents who have experienced sexual behaviour with the opposite sex are more liberal in regard to their religious performance than respondents who have not.
  19. Among the media and Western exposure factors, Exposure to Western Influences had by far the strongest relationship with sexual experience, with the relationship being significant at less than the one per cent level with every form of sexual behaviour. Among the marriage values, only the Power-Authority in Marriage factor is a strong predictor of all forms of sexual experience. In summary, the factors that emerged in the previous section as being likely to be good measures of liberalism-conservatism, also emerged in this section as good predictors of experience of various forms of sexual behaviour.

    Sexual behaviour indices
  20. In the subsequent analysis, the ten forms of sexual behaviour described in the last section have been combined into a single index. The sexual behaviour index is calculated as the sum of a series of weights. If a respondent is engaged in more intense sexual behaviour (for example, premarital sexual intercourse), then the score would be high, while respondents who have only engaged in holding hands receive a lower score. To simplify the analysis, the sexual behaviour index score is categorised into three groups—low, medium and high.
  21. The survey also included two questions that addressed whether or not each of the ten forms of sexual behaviour would be acceptable if (1) the couple was dating and (2) the couple was engaged. Indices of the level of acceptance of sexual behaviour whilst dating and sexual behaviour when engaged were calculated using the same procedure as that used for the respondent's own sexual experience.
  22. The results of the bivariate analysis of the fifteen factors and the three sexual behaviour indices are presented in Table 6. Similar patterns emerge to those described in the previous section. Obligatory Religious Performance is strongly related to all three sexual behaviour indices, whilst Voluntary Religious Performance is not significantly related to the respondent's own sexual behaviour but is a good predictor of the other two indices, especially attitudes to premarital sexual behaviour when engaged. Thus, the religiosity dimension is clearly an important determinant of sexual behaviour and attitudes to sexual behaviour.
  23. In the media and Western exposure dimension, Exposure to Western Music and Movies emerges as a strong predictor, as does Exposure to Health and Science Programs on Television and Exposure to Radio, News and Popular Science Reports. The latter two factors perhaps reflect engagement with the modern world. Exposure to Western Influences is again strongly related to the respondent's own sexual behaviour, but not to the other two indices. Thus, it is clear that liberal sexual behaviour and attitudes are strongly related to exposure to Western music, movies and other influences and to engagement with the modern or rational world.
  24. Finally, in the dimension of marriage values, Power-Authority in Marriage emerges as strongly related to all three sexual behaviour indices. Thus, those with more liberal sexual behaviour or attitudes were less likely to see the husband in a position of power over the wife and are more likely to believe in greater equality between husband and wife.

    Multivariate analysis
  25. Using the three sexual behaviour indices (ungrouped) as the dependent variables, we examined numerous multivariate stepwise regression models with all the factors and a large number of respondent characteristics (Table 1) as potential explanatory variables. The best models (based on theory, variance explained and parsimony) are shown in Table 7.
  26. In regard to personal sexual experience, women had a lower level of experience. A higher level of experience emerged for those attending university and for those attending Christian high schools. In addition, four factors emerged as significant explanatory variables after controlling for respondent characteristics. They were in order of importance: Power-Authority within Marriage, Obligatory Religious Performance, Exposure to Western Movies and Music and Exposure to Western Influences. In respect of all four of these factors, those with higher scores (more liberal) had higher levels of sexual experience.
  27. When we shift to the two attitude indices, sex of the respondent remains significant, as does attendance at a Christian high school. For attitudes in relation to engaged couples, attendance of a government high school emerges as being associated with more conservative attitudes. The four factors that were determinants of behaviour also tend to be important determinants of attitudes, although some other factors also emerge as well. They are Influence of Media on Broader Knowledge (small impact on the engaged index), Exposure to Religious Preaching and Songs on the Radio (small impact on both attitude indices) and Exposure to Sports Activities on Television (small impact on the engaged index).

    Qualitative analysis
  28. The quantitative analysis quite clearly indicated that sexual behaviour and attitudes to sexual behaviour were strongly associated with liberal orientations in relation to religious obligations and gender roles within marriage, and to experience of Western influences through music and movies or through Western forms of entertainment. The aim of the subsequent qualitative research was to examine these associations more closely in terms of the lived experience of young people and the viewpoints of professionals associated with young people, so that the processes involved in these associations could be elucidated. The data are presented in the form of (translated) statements of young people about sexuality and marriage followed by the views of the older generation. There is a broad consistency of views across all of these cases. Whether this reflects a widespread understanding of social reality or expression of accepted normative attitudes is debatable. Certainly, many people referred to media influences and popular media, which is where we might expect to find normative attitudes.

    Young people's views on sexuality[18]
  29. Case 1 (Student, 18, female, Yogyakarta, 2001)

      A certain group of young people is very free in expressing themselves (sexually). But there are also groups of young people who still respect conservative norms. The groups of young people who behave openly are those who often go to discothèques and parties. They are mostly from the 'haves' class but there are some from the middle class. They feel free to kiss their boyfriend/girlfriend in public, even though only on the cheek. For me and my friend/s, we still guard and respect conservative social norms. We would feel uncomfortable if we arrived home late and our parents would be very upset if we arrived home very late. I also feel uncomfortable because I don't want our neighbours to gossip about me. I don't have a boyfriend yet. I am not ready yet, maybe later when I start uni.

      Premarital pregnancy occurs because young people do not know that their behaviour (having sex) can cause pregnancy. For those who have experienced premarital pregnancy, first they would feel sad, then they would tell their boyfriend, after that they will tell their close friends. Talking about it to their friends can have a positive impact or a negative impact depending on what their friend/s say. They might suggest that she should continue her pregnancy or have an abortion. They might also suggest various places where she can abort her pregnancy. They might discuss traditional healers that can do abortions. Also, they might talk about the possibility of abortion by eating young pineapple. I heard a story from my friend about a girl who became pregnant but her boyfriend did not want to take any responsibility and ran away, so the girl's parents married her off with someone else.

    Case 2 (Student, 16, female, Yogyakarta, 2001)

      Nowadays teenagers are behaving very freely, maybe because of Western influence, because teenagers tend to follow Western culture. I also think maybe because teenagers don't get enough attention from their parents because parents are too busy working compared to the time spent with their family. Parents have to have more time for their children, give their children more attention and guidance, especially for children who are becoming teenagers. Parents have to give girls an understanding of what a period is, what girls should do when they have their period. I think lack of attention by parents to their children and the way teenagers relate to their peers is why (behaviour) is so liberal. This leads teenagers to be free to be more liberal when they're dating. They don't think about the consequences of having a liberal relationship when they are dating. Now teenagers are more open to express themselves when dating, even in public places like the mall, street or even in cafés. They don't feel shameful demonstrating intimate behaviour in public. They think that others around them are rocks and dead objects. Teenagers also dress in a very liberal manner wearing clothes that are not appropriate.

      Now there is an increasing number of teenagers who get pregnant. They are brave enough to do something that is not good (melakukan perbuatan yang kurang baik-meaning having sexual intercourse) so the ovum and the sperm meet and she becomes pregnant. Boys are also too sexually aroused. They have a strong need to do it [intercourse](nafsunya untuk melakukan hal itu sangat besar). Because the boy's sexual desire is so strong, his intention to do it (having sexual intercourse) becomes a reality (karena besarnya nafsu remaja laki-laki itu akhirnya niat untuk melakukan hal yang tidak baik itupun terjadi). I think also the influences of pornographic VCDs or other pornographic materials are very strong.

    Case 3 (Student, 17, female, Palembang, 2001)

      Sexual behaviour among teenagers is freer than in previous years. There are a lot of premarital pregnancies and abortions. Teenagers who experienced premarital pregnancy usually try various methods to abort their pregnancy by drinking traditional remedies. Nowadays teenagers love to read magazines and watch pornographic CDs. In Kartini magazine (a women's magazine), there are a lot of consultations regarding sexuality.

    Case 4 (Student, 16, male, Palembang, 2001)

      I hear young people consulting about their relationship problems on radio LaNugraha. The consultation show is at night at 9.00 p.m. The program often talks about dating experiences (pacaran). In my church (gereja Betani), teenagers are provided with special consulting services. I don't know any other places that provide such services.

    Case 5 (Last year university student, focus group discussion, male, Jakarta, 2001)

      Actually the media, whether it is print or electronic media, whatever the type of media is, is an information vehicle. It provides recent information images. If we evaluate how the media influences the young generation, I think they really affect the young generation. Because people will see, as Rini stated earlier, 'This is a trendsetter, this is the most recent trend, Ok I will follow it.' But the problem is, why is it that the young generation fully follow what has been advertised so they become very consumption-oriented? So does it just happen or is it planned? The problem with the media is that they often are used to modify (merekayasa) information, for example, regarding political information. In this day and age of neo-liberalism and capitalism, media becomes the most important vehicle to propagate their (Western) culture and familiarise us with their (Western) way of life. For example, among the young generation, if we don't smoke Marlboro, others will think that we are not modern, not following the modern way of life. The problem is that many in the young generation are unaware that the media is used this way and they don't realise that the media are promoting something for their own (media) advantage and economic return.

    Case 6 (Last year university student, focus group discussion, female, Jakarta, 2001)

      I think the media, especially through the internet, have a significant impact on our local tradition. I have a different view. I think our tradition will change according to new developments. I myself think that we should move on and I am against the slogan Lestarikan kebudayaan nasional (Preserve our national culture), because in this case it means that the society will remain stupid (pembodohan).

  30. These cases have common themes. First, most young people talk about the behaviour of others that is unacceptable rather than their own behaviour. This shows that they still wish to be perceived personally as remaining within the bounds of acceptable morality. Second, consistent with the survey findings, the main (negative) influences that they refer to are forms of media such as magazines and radio programs, especially the highly popular 'consultation' radio programs where a presenter provides advice to young people with problems. Reference is also made to Western influences and Western forms of entertainment, even to the extent that Western influences are described as subversive and profit-motivated. Case 6, however, is exceptional in being assertive enough to welcome change. Third, the double standard emerges where a girl who becomes pregnant is expected to bear all of the consequences herself—both the boy involved and the parents take little responsibility. Finally, it is evident that girls who become pregnant who are left to their own devices may well endanger their own health through ineffective attempts at abortion. The commonly available sources of advice are peers, whose knowledge seems to be generally deficient and dangerous. The policy implications of this situation are fairly obvious but, as described below, policy initiatives remain highly constrained.

    Young people's views on marriage values
  31. University student, male, Jakarta, 2001

      The most important thing for me in finding a wife is that we have to understand each other. If her philosophy is the same as mine, that would be a blessing, but if not, we should not argue about it.

    University student, male, Jakarta, 2001

      I think virginity is very important. It is the most important thing (in choosing a wife). Looking at her background, for example, if she is not a virgin any more, meaning that she has experienced having sex (then she is unacceptable).

    University student, female, Jakarta, 2001

      Virginity is not as important as in previous generations. Previously it was the most important condition (syarat mutlak banget). Whatever the reason, she had to be in a virginal condition. But now this is changing...but I think that the majority of people think that for marriage, virginity is still very important.

    (University student, female, Jakarta, 2001

      How would we know whether a man is virgin or not? Maybe if we listen to his story...but we will not know. If we keep listening to his story, then, by the end of the day, it is a matter of whether we believe him or not. I have never been in that situation so I don't know. But, of course, a woman will think about it and might not trust her partner. So I think virginity is still very important.

    University student, female, Jakarta, 2001

      Ethnicity is not a problem, but we still strongly believe about having the same religion.

    University student, male, Jakarta, 2001

      For me, the criterion to find a wife is that she has to have the same religion as me. Actually for me it is not that big a problem, but it would be for my parents and extended family. I would be isolated from my family. Anyway, I want to find a wife who is smart and understanding.

    University student, female, Jakarta, 2001

      For us maybe...women might want to have a husband who can financially provide for his family, have future planning, and must be able to be the leader of his family, that is my standard.

  32. Interestingly, in contrast to the more liberal expressions of sexuality, when it comes to marriage and virginity, the majority of university students participating in the focus group still hold quite conservative values. The comments here on virginity again reek of a double standard. Female virginity at marriage is still important but little attention is paid to the groom's virginity. Again, the pressures and consequences of premarital sexuality are borne entirely by women because society has been prepared to tolerate, sometimes even encourage, premarital sexual behaviour by men, but to remain 'wedded' to idealised values about female virginity prior to marriage. This is a situation reminiscent of Western societies prior to the 1970s. Nevertheless, young Indonesian women, now much more educated, are evidently becoming more assertive and are not reluctant to draw attention to the double standard.
  33. Religion and, to a lesser extent, ethnicity, retain prominence in the selection of a marriage partner. Again, this is indicative of a sense among young people that idealised values should be practised. When marriage is involved, parents and the broader social interests (ethnic or religious) are involved. Marriage among Indonesia's middle class maintains its role as a public assertion of family status. Freedom in marriage is not the same as it is in relationships prior to marriage. This again marks an area of conflict or duality for young people in the ways in which they live their lives.
  34. The way the burden of premarital pregnancy and its consequences rests heavily on the woman's shoulders is well expressed by Nancy J. Smith-Hefner:

      A daughter who gets pregnant before marriage is a source of great shame and humiliation (aib). Young people jokingly refer to such relationships as MBA, 'married because accident', but for parents the situation is no joking matter. A female student who becomes pregnant has little choice but to drop out of school and quickly marry in an attempt to 'cover up the embarrassment'. For her parents then, what should be the final testimony to their skill and accomplishment, and a joyous public display of their social status and prestige within the community, is instead a painful, hurried ordeal which becomes the focus of malicious community gossip.[19]

    Views of young people's sexuality from service providers, government officials, religious leaders and parents
  35. Staff member at an Islamic NGO-crisis centre, female, Yogyakarta, 2001

      I think the incidence of premarital pregnancy and abortion has increased. You might have seen a lot of coverage on these issues in newspapers and magazines. Problems that are addressed in the consultation sections in the media are related to premarital sex. Young people try to consult through the media because they know that their parents would not know about their problems. They might have consulted their friends but without success in solving the problems. Clients who come to our clinic also might face problems because they are getting married but they are already pregnant and do not know what to do.

    Religious leader, male, late forties, Yogyakarta, 2001

      The problem is that young people have sexual needs that are quite strong because of their age. There are family and social norms that are very authoritative while on the opposite end of the spectrum there is easy access to pornographic materials from CDs, the media and television. Young people are not educated on how to manage their sexual needs, so when they express themselves they tend to do so openly and they cannot manage their sexual drive

    Mother of two children who is researching at university, 41 years old, Yogyakarta

      In the previous generation, if a girl experienced premarital pregnancy then she and her family as well would be very ashamed, but now it is different and premarital pregnancy is increasing. This is due to television programs, pornographic reading material and magazines as well as social control that is so loose. People do not care and don't want to caution dating couples if they engage in intense sexual behaviour. Parents do not pay attention to their children and parents also are embarrassed to talk about sexuality with their children. As a result, many young people might not know that sexual intercourse can cause pregnancy.

    High school teacher, female, 35 years old, Palembang, 2001

      Compared to previous years, young people of today are more liberal in their sexual behaviour. I think the influence of pornographic films and CDs that can be easily accessed have a significant impact. Nowadays young people are more open and do not feel embarrassed to express intimate behaviour in public. Newspapers, magazines and TV channels have various columns and talk shows on sex. This to some extent must also have an impact on young people. Thus, this is the means by which young people learn about sex. Of course, friends are also a source of information as well as parents, but there is a very limited number of parents who would talk about sex with their children. These parents are those with higher education. I know two girls who have experienced premarital pregnancy. The first girl was trying to hide her pregnancy from her parents so she tried to self abort by drinking traditional herbs, young pineapple and by having a forced massage conducted by a traditional birth attendant. But all her efforts failed and then her parents found out about her pregnancy and decided to seek abortion assistance. The second girl was punished by her parents after they failed to identify the father of the baby and marry them before the baby was born. The parents physically abused their daughter hoping that the physical punishment would result in abortion, but it failed.

    Parent, government employee, female, 45 years old, Palembang, 2001

      Young people's sexual behaviour is very free. There are a lot of premarital pregnancies and many try to abort their pregnancy. They go to midwives to abort. Nowadays kissing while dating is the norm. Without kissing, they say, that it is not dating. From kissing then it can lead to sexual intercourse...and this is now the norm. Maybe this is because they have easy access to contraceptive methods especially condoms. I think teenagers should receive sexuality education first from home, then from school as well as from the media. But many parents still think that this is a taboo subject and they would rather leave their children in the dark without any knowledge in this regard.

    Azrul Azwar, government official, male[21]

      There are 2.3 million abortion cases in Indonesia annually and 11 per cent are experienced by those who are still single. Abortions in the cities are mostly conducted by medical doctors, but in the rural areas more than 31 per cent of abortions are handled by traditional healers (dukun). The government has to take strong measures to overcome this problem by providing sex education, religious and moral education as well as contraceptive use by married couples. Encourage the availability of safe abortion—but this does not mean legalising abortion.

  36. The strongest theme emerging from these cases is that parents are not a reliable source of support or information for young people in relation to sexuality. Indeed, the reports suggest that parents tend to avoid the issue assiduously, which suggests that they may have their own problems in this area. In one case, parents were prepared to place their daughter's health at risk in order to avoid what they perceived as public shame. The persistence of public shame as a driving force for private actions is evidence of the continued strength of perceived idealised morality. Nevertheless, most of the respondents express concern about the dangers of adolescent ignorance in the area of sexuality, especially the risk of botched abortion attempts. Yet, there is also a strong reluctance to take any action that is publicly observed. Even though the minority of government officials might want to support the provision of sex education in school, the majority still publicly expresses very conservative attitudes on adolescent sexuality. Discussions about sexuality education in schools have continued for more than two decades, with no result. This suggests that this policy initiative is unlikely to succeed.[22] If the Indonesian Government is having difficulty including sexuality education in the school curriculum, it is even less likely to provide reproductive health services that are youth friendly and confidential.

  37. This research provides strong support to the hypothesis that young middle class people in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Palembang are subject to two powerful, opposing influences in determining their sexuality. On one hand, the idealised morality portrayed through religion promotes a more conservative approach. On the other hand, Western influences, especially through the media, promote a more liberal approach. The data suggest that the influence upon policy of idealised morality leaves young people vulnerable to unintended pregnancy and sexually transmitted infections
  38. Indonesian young people are adopting more liberal attitudes and behaviours towards sexuality and yet they are not equipped with adequate knowledge of sex and reproductive processes. Western youth are more prepared and aware of what they are facing when engaging in premarital sexual behaviour. Indonesian youth, in contrast, are increasingly engaging in premarital sexual behaviour without considering the risks of STIs including HIV/AIDS and unintended pregnancy. These risks could be reduced considerably through the promotion of comprehensive sex education delivered through school curricula. In this regard, Indonesia needs to follow the lead of its neighbour, Malaysia, which has provided sexuality education in the school curricula. Ideally, Indonesian youth would receive sex education from both their parents and from the school curriculum, but the reality is that Indonesian parents are very reluctant to provide such information to their children.
  39. In the absence of a comprehensive sex education curriculum promoted by the government, it is evident that NGOs working in this field play a vital role in protecting the health of young Indonesian women. However, these services are sporadic and under-funded, and sometimes subject to harassment.[23]
  40. Due to the competing forces of morality in Indonesia, particularly the emergence of fundamentalist Islamic values, the future of Indonesian young people is unlikely to mirror that of young people in the West since the 1970s. Indeed, the rise of Christian fundamentalism in the United States is taking parts of that country in yet another direction and is a force that may also have its impact in policy making in Indonesia. The conservative forces of idealised morality now receiving support from the new force of Islamic fundamentalism, ensure that the public appearance of morality takes precedence over the health of young women.


    [1] Field observation while Iwu Utomo was collecting her PhD data in Jakarta, Yogyakarta and Palembang in 1994–1995 and during her postdoctoral work from 2000 to 2001.

    [2] Twenty to 25 per cent of the content of teenage magazines (Hai, Gadis, AnekaYess!) consists of advertisements for clothing with Western brand names, eating places—such as McDonalds, Kentucky Fried Chicken, Wendys, Hard Rock café—computer equipment, beauty maintenance products, shows, English courses, mobile phone products and servers, cars and motor cycles.

    [3] Budi Utomo, V. Hakim, A.H. Habsyah, Tampubolon L. Irwanto, D.N. Wirawan, S. Jatiputra, K.N. Siregar, L.K. Tarigan, B. Afandi, Z. Tafal, Research report incidence and social-psychological aspects of abortion in Indonesia: a community-based survey in 10 major cities and 6 districts, Depok: Centre for Health Research University of Indonesia, Depok, 2000.

    [4] Ninuk Widyantoro, 'Termination of unwanted pregnancy based on counselling' (Penghentian kehamilan tak diinginkan berbasis konseling), in The Most Recent Findings of Efforts to Manage Unplanned Pregnancies (Temuan terkini upaya penatalaksanaan kehamilan tak direncanakan), ed. Yayasan Mitra Inti, Jakarta: Mitra Inti Foundation, 2005, pp. 37–52.

    [5] Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo, 'Sexual attitudes and behaviour of middle-class young people in Jakarta,' PhD thesis, Department of Demography, Research School of Social Sciences, Australian National University, 1997; Claire Harding, 'Adolescent Sexual and Reproductive Health in Indonesia: Investing in the Future?,' Honours thesis, Asian Studies, School of Social and Cultural Studies, The University of Western Australia, 2006.

    [6] M. Faisal and S. Ahmad, Traditional Abortion: Experiences of traditional Healers and Clients (Aborsi tradisional: pengalaman dukun dan klien), Yogyakarta: Pusat Penelitian Kependudukan (Centre for Population Research), University of Gadjah Mada, 1998; J. Uddin, J. Hadiyono, N. Widyantoro, S.R. Dzuhayatin, M.U. Anshor and L. Hanifaf, Knowledge, Attitude and Practice on Abortion in Indonesia (Pengetahuan, sikap dan praktik aborsi di Indonesia), Jakarta: Mitra Inti Foundation, 2004; Atas Habsjah, 'Research results of safe and unsafe abortion' (Hasil studi kasus safe and unsafe abortion (ARROW), in The Most Recent Findings of Efforts to Manage Unwanted Pregnancy Management (Temuan terkini, upaya penatalaksanaan kehamilan tak direncanakan), Seminar proceedings, 11 August 2005, Jakarta, Mitra Inti Foundation, 2005, pp. 15–36.

    [7] Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo and Peter McDonald, 'Sexual and reproductive transitions of young Indonesians in a context of contesting values and policy inactivity,' paper presented at the International Seminar on Sexual and Reproductive Transitions of Adolescents in Developing Countries, Cholula, Puebla, Mexico, IUSSP, 6–9 November 2006; Nancy J. 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 (2005):441–59.

    [8] Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo, 'Women's rights and regional regulations in provincial Indonesia,' in Development Bulletin, vol. 71 (2006):97–99; Smith-Hefner, 'The new Muslim romance.'

    [9] Utomo and McDonald, 'Sexual and reproductive transitions.'

    [10] Ulla Keech-Marx, 'Faithful translations: Islamising reproductive health in Indonesia,' Honours thesis in Asian Studies, Faculty of Asian Studies, Australian National University, 2006, pp. 93–94. [11] Linda Rae Bennett, 'Zina and the enigma of sex education for Indonesian Muslim youth,' in Sex Education, Sexuality, Society and Learning, vol. 7, no. 4 (2007):371–86, p. 383.

    [12] Peter McDonald, 'Families in developing countries: idealised morality and theories of family change,' in Tradition and Change in the Asian Family, ed. L. Cho and M. Yada, Honolulu: East-West Center, 1994, pp. 19–27.

    [13] Smith-Hefner, 'The new Muslim romance.'

    [14] The survey was funded by the Demography Program, Australian National University and the 2001 qualitative research was funded by the Australian Government through the Merdeka Fellowship when the first author was doing her post-doctoral research at the Australian National University.

    [15] A limitation of the chosen sample is that it does not include individuals who did not go to academic or general high school (for example who attended vocational high schools) and those who work, are looking for work or are unemployed instead of going to school or university.

    [16] Field observations, 2001–2005.

    [17] J. Kim and C.W. Muller, Factor Analysis Statistical Methods and Practical Issues, Sage University papers series on quantitative applications in the social sciences, 07–014, Newbury Park, London and New Delhi: Sage Pubs, 1978; M.J. Norusis, SPSS for Windows professional statistics release 5, Chicago: SPSS Inc, 1993.

    [18] Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo conducted the in-depth interviews and focus group discussion in Bahasa Indonesia. The case studies and quoted passages have been translated into English.

    [19] Smith-Hefner, 'The new Muslim romance,' p. 453.

    [20] Azrul Azwar, 'Government's efforts in dealing with reality in the community regarding unwanted pregnancy' (Langkah-langakah pemerintah dalam menyikapi realita di masyarakat tentang kehamilan tidak diinginkan), in The Most Recent Findings of Efforts to Manage Unplanned Pregnancies (Temuan terkini upaya penatalaksanaan kehamilan tak direncanakan), ed. Yayasan Mitra Inti, Jakarta: Mitra Inti Foundation, 2005, pp. 95–104.

    [21] Cited in Azwar, 'Government's efforts in dealing with reality in the community regarding unwanted pregnancy,' pp. 99–100.

    [22] Utomo and McDonald, 'Sexual and reproductive transitions.'

    [23] I. Mepham, 'Final Report: Review of NGO Adolescent Reproductive Health Programs in Indonesia,' unpublished STARH Project Report, Jakarta: National Family Planning Coordinating Board, 2001.


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