News / Asia

Online Tool Teaches Indonesians Sex Education

A screen grab of zoyaamirin.com, a site for sex education in Indonesia.
A screen grab of zoyaamirin.com, a site for sex education in Indonesia.

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Kate Lamb

Although young Indonesians might be familiar with the latest fashions, movies and electronic gadgets, when it comes to basic knowledge about their bodies, they are not as savvy.

Indonesia has one of the fastest growing rates of HIV transmission in Asia, but the majority of Indonesian youth could not tell you why. Data from the country's health ministry indicates that some 75 percent of Indonesians aged between 15 and 49 believe HIV is transmitted by mosquitoes.

Like many of her peers, Ariyanti Tarman, 26, says she did not have any formal sex education while in school.      

"The only thing close is biology class and it was about reproduction and that's it," said Tarman.  "So I got information about sex and issues related to sex such as HIV and STDs from newspapers, magazines, the Internet and also from movies."

The world's most populous Muslim nation is socially conservative and, for many, discussing sex is taboo.

But, a more liberal approach to sex is putting pressure on traditional attitudes.  A recent global survey found that nearly 40 percent of Indonesian teenagers have had sex and almost half of them do not use contraception with new partners.

With the government reluctant to implement sex education into the national curriculum, Zoya Amirin, a prominent female sex psychologist, is taking the matter into her own hands.  

Amirin recently launched a weekly video podcast on issues related to sexual health and says she hopes it will help fill in the knowledge gaps.

"Most of the research actually shows that most of the people learn from porn, asking from their friends and they believe in myths," said Amirin. "That is a dangerous thing. For instance, they believe that washing your genitals after having sex, especially with alcohol, can prevent you from getting a sexual transmission infection."

The lack of basic information about sexual health and the prevalence of myths also runs parallel to the spread of HIV across the country.

The National AIDS Prevention Commission reports the rate of HIV infections is on the rise in several provinces, including Bengkulu, Papua, Maluku, Aceh and Banten.

Official figures show that some 70,000 Indonesians are HIV positive, but it is estimated the real figure could be as high as 300,000.  For Aryanti Tarman, conservative attitudes need to catch up with modern day realities.

"I think lots of people are sexually active even though they are not married," added Tarman.  "It seems that the society in general is still trying to ignore that. They still pretend that it is not happening but it is happening, so, like, you need to do something about it and make sure that if the young people do it at least they do it safely."

Although the government has been reluctant to introduce sex education into the curriculum, non-traditional educators like Zoya Amirin say they are seeing a change in public attitudes.

Amirin says she has received an overwhelming response to her weekly podcasts and has even been pleasantly surprised by reactions from religious conservatives.

While declining to name names, Amirin says several private Islamic boarding schools have hired her to conduct sex education workshops this year.

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