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If it can be said that Stanford, with its hookup culture and open discussions of reproductive health, is “sex positive,” then Jogja universities would be the embodiment of sex negative. One of my bahasa language tutors and I were talking about gender-separated university housing the other day and got into some interesting issues regarding sexual attitudes and intergender relationships. While many of the expectations here seem a bit extreme in comparison to those in the U.S., I am sure from an Indonesian perspective the American concepts of “casual sex” and “sexual empowerment” must be equally as shocking.

As a college town, Jogja is home to hundreds of thousands of university students, most of whom live either in on-campus dormitories or off-campus boarding houses called kos kos kontrakan. Whereas in America most dorms are coed (the University of California, Berkeley is even known for having shared bathrooms), the dorms in Indonesia are strictly separated by gender, meaning if I were a student here, any male friends who wanted to visit would be limited to the lounge or common areas of my dorm.

Except for a few of the newer kos kos kontrakan that have began allowing visitors of the opposite sex and are, in general, more modern, slightly more progressive, and also more expensive, boarding houses, like college dormitories, are generally still separated by gender as well.

Indonesia’s highly conservative attitude toward sex is also reflected in the fact that sexual transgressions by common citizens become the subjects of news stories. The Republica, a prominent Indonesian news site, featured an article shaming a policeman who was caught having an extramarital affair, while Kompas.com published a piece a few months back about two sexually active middle school students. Kompas used the initials of the students involved to blur their identities but published the names of the parents, essentially warning other parents to keep a close eye on their children.

It is evident that anything sex-related is a taboo topic, and as a result it is extremely difficult to facilitate discussions on reproductive health. I was told that sex education does not exist in schools here and that puberty is often a very confusing time for Indonesian youth, especially for those who are unable to talk about the changes to their body even with their family. Every time I have asked about sexual attitudes here, the response has been in a hushed and slightly embarrassed tone. Indonesians say the term “free sex” cautiously, using it to refer to any sexual activity external to marriage, which is forbidden by sharia law. In contrast to Stanford where hookups are discussed so openly, where people wear neon hats stamped with the word “SEX” in all caps and crack “Thats what she said” jokes, in Jogja I constantly have to filter my words and opinions for the sake of PG conversation.

I am skeptical that such a sexually oppressive climate, one that uses public shaming or “moral policing” to enforce its standards, is the best way to prevent sex and unplanned pregnancies altogether. The current fear is that discussion of sexual health in schools will prompt greater curiosity to participate in sexual activity, and there is talk of making condoms less accessible. Ironically, my tutor told me about a conversation he remembers between himself and a close female friend, who was in a committed relationship at the time. Upon asking her whether she and her boyfriend were sexually active, she defiantly negated the question. That conversation, quite predictably, was followed by her becoming pregnant sometime later and the couple’s decision to marry before the baby was born.

Taking sharia law and the dense Muslim population in Indonesia into account, advocating sexual liberation is not a viable option, but the Indonesian government and education system may nevertheless want to reconsider their avoidant approach toward sexual health education. The fact that Jogja, along with other cities like Jakarta and Bandung, has already earned an underground reputation for high participation in free sex speaks clearly for itself.
[My name is Maggie, and I am from America. I am 19 years old, live in California, and am a student at Stanford University. I will be studying Indonesian language and culture for two months this summer, and during that time I will be working here at Kampung Halaman, an NGO dedicated to helping Indonesian youth recognize and raise awareness of social issues within their local communities.

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