Thirteen-year-old Sefritania Salsabilla cringes and looks away every time she sees people kissing and hugging on television.
“My teacher told me that those things are nasty and that teenagers like us should never imitate those kinds of things,” she said.
“I just feel guilty if I see people doing that stuff. It makes me so uncomfortable.”
Like many Indonesian teenagers, Salsa, as she likes to be called, has never received a proper sex education, which conservatives believe would only encourage young people to become sexually promiscuous.
Last year, Education Minister Muhammad Nuh proposed making sex education part of the national school curriculum. A strong backlash from some political parties, however, ensured that the idea was never put into practice. Those opposed were mostly conservative groups worried that sex education encourages premarital sex.
But a new survey of Indonesians’ sexual behavior paints a different picture. The survey, released on Monday by DKT Indonesia, a nonprofit organization that focuses on family planning and HIV/AIDS prevention, found that ignorance about sex only made young people more prone to sexually transmitted diseases, unwanted pregnancies and death from unsafe abortions.
The survey, which involved 663 respondents aged 15 to 25 in five major cities, found that 93 percent of them obtained their information about sex from their peers. Only 10 percent got information from their mothers and 2 percent from their fathers.
“Most of them said they were afraid to ask their parents because when they wanted to ask, their parents usually accused them of being sexually active or at least intending to be,” said Pierre Frederick, senior brand manager for Sutra and Fiesta condoms, with which DKT is affiliated.
More worrisome was the survey’s finding that 64 percent of Indonesian teens learned about sex from watching pirated pornographic DVDs.
Pierre said that 17 percent of respondents aged 15 to 19 admitted to having had an abortion. Of these, 48 percent said that they did so through drinking herbal concoctions or going to a traditional midwife.
The survey also found that teenagers and young people had limited knowledge about sexually transmitted diseases. Some had heard and understood about HIV/AIDS, but very few were aware of other STDs such as gonorrhea and chlamydia.
Sexologist Zoya Amirin said that treating sex as a taboo subject would only put teenagers at a bigger risk.
“Ideally, sex education should start really early. You can start educating your kids about sex when they’re 2 years old,” she said.
Different approaches, she said, should be used, depending on how old the children are. Very young ones should be taught to value awareness and appreciation of their bodies.
“Don’t be mad if your toddlers complain that they don’t like it when someone touches them,” Zoya said. “That means they’re aware that not everybody is allowed to touch them.”
Teaching young children about protecting their body is important to help them avoid becoming victims of sexual abuse, she said.
Older children require more comprehensive sex education, she said. When a girl starts menstruating, parents must explain that she is now physically able to get pregnant and have babies.
She should also be told that during her monthly ovulation cycle it is easier for her to become sexually aroused and that hormones at that time could affect and cloud her judgement.
“This is important because sometimes girls can’t make a good decision when their boyfriends ask them to have sex,” Zoya said. “They give in too easily, but then they regret it and hate themselves for it afterward, so we need to teach them to say no.”
For boys, she said, parents should explain the consequences of engaging in unprotected sex to discourage them from acting irresponsibly.
Zoya said that sex education was crucial for children and teenagers to ensure that their psychological maturity developed in tandem with their sexual maturity.
“I have a 27-year-old patient, recently married, who is frigid because all her life she’s been told that sex is dirty and nasty,” she said.
“That’s just sad. It’s ridiculous that people think sex education will provoke our kids to engage in more premarital sex. If they were better informed, they might choose abstinence. And if they’re already sexually active, they can at least take precautions.”