What do you think about it when you hear the word SEXUALITY? If you were Indonesian, if you had heard it at all, it would have likely been in relation to public health concerns such as, HIV, sexually transmitted infections and unwanted pregnancies. You would have undoubtably been overloaded with the risks, dangers and even the immorality of sexual activities and most likely encouraged that absence was the answer – especially for unmarried young people.
These are all arguably important aspects, yet ones that do not typically appeal to or represent the realities of most young people. In Indonesia an estimated 23 million teenagers become pregnant each year, and maternal death is the leading cause of mortality among girls aged 15-19 years old. If we are to turn these statistics around it is time that we start listening to young people and that is exactly what we have done!
Today we are pleased to be publishing two reports, as part of our Youth Voices Research, which reveal often untold perspectives and realities of young people and their sexuality – told by young people to young people. What unfolds is that youth sexuality is much more complex than public health alone, despite the latter being much easier to talk about. Important and life-changing decisions about sex, romance and more are all influenced by complex, and often contradictory ideas on what girls and boys should and should not do. These messages have an important impact on development and wellbeing, and not just when they are young, but often throughout their lives.
The stories gathered through this research help us to answer an important question: how can we support young people to grow up free from fear and fully equipped to make healthy sexual decisions? Our simple answer: Comprehensive Sexuality Education (CSE). The unique insights of the research show how CSE is critically needed to address: harmful cultural stigmas and taboos regarding sexuality; confusing and conflicting norms on gender and sexuality; and even, to reduce incidences of bullying and sexual violence.
Through the critical work of our Explore4Action programme (of which the Youth Voices Research is part) and the foundation of young people beneath it, we aim to change perceptions and understandings of sexuality in Indonesia. Hopefully one day the word sexuality will be understood and discussed in the mainstream not only in relation to risks, but with an understanding and acceptance of how young people can be empowered to influence their sexual decisions and their futures.
Explore4Action (E4A) is a four-year programme investigating the factors that influence adolescents to make a positive and healthy transition from childhood to adulthood, and if and how comprehensive sexuality education can support this process. The Youth Voices Research is the qualitative research part of E4A, where young researchers in three sites across Indonesia interviewed their peers about experiences of sexuality and gender socialization. The first part focused on older young people aged 18-25, while the second part focused on younger adolescents aged 12-13. The findings of both parts are published in reports here and here. Three young researchers who worked on the Youth Voices Research reflect on their personal experiences related to the findings, available here, here and here.