Do condoms fit Indonesian culture? – After world

While many countries in the Asia-Pacific region have made strides in their fight against AIDS, cases in Indonesia are growing – thanks in part to politicians accommodating religious conservatives who preach against condoms.

This problem is not new. When I first arrived in Indonesia in 1996, the country appeared to be denying the risk of AIDS. At that time there were officially only 390 cases of HIV, although the University of Indonesia estimated that at least 12,000 Indonesians died from AIDS annually.

I remember when Health Minister Ahmad Sujudi stated in 1996 that the government would not promote the use of condoms to counter the spread of AIDS because the practice was not culturally appropriate. “Consulting and not distributing is the most suitable method for us condoms,” he said. This prompted me – then an editor at a newspaper – to write the headline: “Minister Says Condoms Don’t Fit Indonesian Culture.” It’s depressing that more than 25 years later in Indonesia I can reuse a variation on this old headline.

Indonesia eventually became more serious about fighting HIV/AIDS and launched a national movement against the virus in 2002. But there has always been opposition from conservative Muslim groups who claim that promoting condoms encourages young people to have casual sex.

When a public service advertisement for condom use was broadcast on Indonesian TV channels in 2002, there were complaints from conservatives such as the Indonesian mujahideen council. They believed the ad was pornographic and advocated promiscuity. The government responded by withdrawing the ad.

This pattern of bowing to pressure has continued. In 2013, the Health Ministry gave in to protests from hard-line Muslim groups by canceling National Condom Week, a program to raise awareness about sexually transmitted diseases. Parliament even asked the Minister of Health to know why condoms were being distributed to risk groups such as prostitutes.

At the end of 2009, an estimated 333,200 people in Indonesia were living with HIV, the virus that causes AIDS. By 2020, the number rose to 540,000. According to UNAIDS and the World Health Organization, the number of people dying from HIV-related causes increased by 102 percent in Indonesia from 2010 to 2020. In neighboring Malaysia, the number of HIV-related deaths had fallen by 42 percent in the decade, while Papua New Guinea saw a 38 percent drop.

Do condoms fit Indonesian culture?
Scandalous shame

In Indonesia’s tabloid media, the word condom stands for scandal and shame. Some recent headlines include: “Police Raid on Home, Netting Same sex couples and used condoms”, “Riau police find condoms and pills”, “Perv caught in Ambon, officer finds condoms” and “Selebgram serves guest in hotel, found 6 used condoms”.

Resistance to condoms goes hand in hand with the growing culture of homophobia in Indonesia. Some radical groups say the best way to fight AIDS is to make Indonesia a Islamic State so that homosexuality can be outlawed.

HIV is most prevalent among injecting drug users in Indonesia, particularly in prisons where drugs are rife due to corruption. About 35 percent of people living with HIV in Indonesia are women. Recent statistics show that about 68 percent of the country’s prostitutes use condoms.

An estimated 190 million condoms are sold in Indonesia each year, but manufacturers and health experts alike say public awareness and acceptance of condoms is not high enough.

Condoms Indonesia

Condoms Indonesia


Indonesia’s sensitivity to condoms is perhaps ironic given that the country is the second largest rubber producer in the world. Indonesia has a condom factory run by a state-owned company called Mitra Rajawali Banjaran that produces Artika brand condoms. These come in packets with an open-jawed crocodile, reinforcing the sexist notion that sex is a predatory act. The vast majority of condoms sold in Indonesia are imported brands such as Fiesta and Sutra (both made by DKT) and Durex (made in Malaysia).

Anti-condom sentiment is so bad in Indonesia that some international development agencies have had to downsize or change health projects that involved promoting condoms Safer Sex, for fear of having their permits revoked by the Home Office.

Despite this, some TV channels still air condom advertisements late into the night, attempting to be racy within the bounds of Indonesian decency. These ads invariably suggest that condoms give married men sexual stamina, rather than explicitly stating that they prevent unwanted pregnancy and disease.

Condoms in Indonesia

Condoms in Indonesia

double standards

Where are Indonesia’s pious anti-condom brigades when religion teachers rape young female students? Take the case of Herry Wiryawan, 36, an Islamic boarding school teacher from West Java who is now on trial for raping at least 13 schoolgirls, aged 13 to 16. These rapes reportedly resulted in up to eight births.

Such cases are not uncommon. In July 2021, a 50-year-old Islamic boarding school teacher named Subechan was sentenced to 15 years in prison for raping some of his students. He had told them that sexual relations were a noble religious act that would bring happiness.

In December 2021, a Koran teacher in Depok, West Java, was arrested for allegedly sexually abusing 10 of his students, most of them as young as 10. There have been other cases where students have been raped and then encouraged to marry the rapist.

Sex crimes occur in all religions. In January 2021, Syahril Parlindungan Marbun, a church trustee in Depok, was sentenced to 15 years in prison for sexually assaulting 20 young acolytes.

Is it the availability of condoms that prompts religious figures to rape children? Of course not – but complaints about condom sales continue, especially in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. In recent years, law enforcement officers in various cities have warned convenience stores not to sell condoms to unmarried people. Moral vigilantes have also threatened action to stop condom sales.

condom indonesia condom indonesia “Condoms aren’t cool”

Decades of conservative opposition to condoms seems to be working. I recently spoke to some Indonesian youth who told me condoms aren’t cool. They explained that condoms are not considered macho because they feel unnatural and because there is a social stigma attached to buying them. They also said that sexually active girls are likely not given birth control because they are too embarrassed or unable to buy birth control pills.

So does the taboo against condoms stop Indonesian teenagers from experimenting with sex? Short answer: no. Some teens may just be braggarts, claiming that they enjoy bareback sex and retreat before ejaculation to prevent it pregnancy. However, the Department for Women’s Empowerment and Child Protection has reported a significant increase in child marriages during the year COVID-19 Pandemic, particularly in low-income, low-educated communities. The main factor behind such marriages is pregnancy as families do not want a daughter to become an unmarried mother. When girls drop out of school because of an unwanted pregnancy, they are more likely to be trapped in a cycle of poverty.

It’s up to parents, schools, and government to educate children about reproductive health, but that shouldn’t include stigmatizing safe sex.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.