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200611663

Reproducing respectability:
sex and sexuality among Muslim Javanese youth

Nancy J Smith-Hefner

Despite the fact that, like so many other Muslim-majority countries,


Indonesia has been in the thick of a Muslim resurgence now for over
twenty-five years, Indonesians widely assume that today's youth are far
more sexually active than their predecessors in previous generations.
This assumption is supported by the salacious media accounts of high
school call-girls and sex-paged co-eds, as well as by the very real
evidence of a popular youth culture whose sexual behaviors seem
strikingly at odds with those of their elders. In cities like Yogyakarta in
Central Java, young people can be seen at cafes, fast-food restaurants,
and malls, wearing tight fitting jeans and tee shirts, holding hands and
even embracing. Saturday nights in Yogyakarta's central square (the
a/fm-alrm) young couples park on motorcycles, laughing and flirting
openly. Others seek out the dim shadows of the walls around the
sultan's palace where it's possible to steal a furtive kiss or meet in the
cool darkness of the bridge embankment (je11lbatan) at Kaliurang. On
the opposite side of town, the well-heeled crowd can be seen entering
Western-style discos and hotel bars where the music blares, the dance
floors are full, and customers eagerly negotiate the purchase of ecstasy
or sex. All of- these behaviors, needless to say, violate 'traditional'
Javanese and Muslim norms and are taken as proof of the moral laxity
of today's youth.
Developments in Indonesian youth culture support Robert
Altman's thesis concerning the emergence of an increasingly
globalised, homogeneous, and Western-style sexuality (AItman 2001).
In the global marketplace of products and ideas, AItman argues, the
dominant sexual styles tend to be Western - specifically Americanones in which the focus is placed on individual rights and personal
Ret'iell' of Indonesian and Malcrysian Affairs, vo!. 40, no. 1 (2006), pp. 143-172.

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desires. Altman further speculates, 'the impetus of globalization is


almost certainly to both break down existing taboos (e.g., the very high
premium on premarital virginity for women) and lead to a gradual
convergence of sexual behavior across different societies' (Altman
2001:38).
Indonesian clerics and moral reformers themselves identify
the pernicious effects of Westernisation on the nation's youth in their
impassioned calls for moral reform to stern the libertine tide. Public
moral panics and sensational allegations of widespread sexual
licentiousness among Indonesian youth, however, have overshadowed
the impact of a resurgent Islam on young people's sexual
understandings and behaviors. Both media accounts and Western
studies of Indonesian Muslims have tended to overlook the emergence
among young middle-class Indonesians of a new, more selfconsciously Muslim sexuality.
Indonesia is the world's most populous Muslim nation. About
55 per cent of its 220 million people are Javanese, and approximately
94 per cent of ethnic Javanese are Muslim. Although fifty years ago the
Islam to which most Javanese subscribed was a syncretic variety which
blended Sufism and folk Islam with trace elements of animism and
Hindu-Buddhism (C Geertz 1960), in the last two decades of the New
Order period (1966-98) Indonesia experienced an unprecedented
resurgence in Islamic piety and devotion. The resurgence has had a
particularly powerful impact on young educated Indonesians as
evidenced by the large numbers of women who now veil on school
campuses, the increase in attendance at religious study groups
(pengtyian), and the rise in popularity of conservative Muslim student
organisations (Hefner 2000; Kraince 2003; Madrid 1999; Smith-Hefner
forthco,ming, 2007).
In this article I consider recent social trends as well as public
controversies surrounding middle-class Javanese youth, Islam, and
shifting sexual norms. Using the optic of widespread changes in
patterns of education and marriage, I examine the anxieties
engendered by new social mobility and economic opportunities for
Indonesia's middle class and the appeal of a, more religiously
normativised Muslim sexuality. Against the backdrop of public moral

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panic and purported decadence and promiscuity, I consider how and


why many middle-class Javanese young people are adopting more
explicitly Islamic models of sex and sexuality.!
Research for this article was conducted during nine months of
fieldwork in the south-central Javanese city of Yogyakarta in 1999 and
four subsequent month-long visits between 2001 and 2005. Often
referred to as 'a city of education,' Yogyakarta is home to dozens of
high schools and more than ninety colleges and universities; it also
hosts a wide variety of Muslim and non-Muslim religious institutions.
The research on which this article is based focused on Muslim Javanese
students currently attending or recently graduated from two of
Yogyakarta's most distinguished universities: Gadjah Mada University
(UGM), a large, non-denominational, public university, and the nearby
Sunan Kalijaga National Islamic University (UIN), a smaller, statesupported institution of higher Islamic learning. Students come to
Yogyakarta from across Java and the wider Indonesian archipelago and
are broadly representative of Indonesia's aspiring middle-class. 2
Youth sexuality and the New Order
Contemporary debates surrounding youth sexuality in Indonesia can
only be fully understood within the context of the extensive
development initiatives implemented during the Suharto-dominated
'New Order' era (1966 to May 1998). New Order programs and
policies, particularly those related to population regulation, marriage,
and universal education, effected a dramatic transformation in the
definition of Indonesian youth. By significantly prolonging the period
between the onset of puberty and marriage, government initiatives
have had a direct and powerful impact on youth sexual behavior.
Under Suharto's New Order, state institutions attempted to
link sexuality to fertility and confine both to the bonds of legal
marriage. Although Indonesia's first president, Sukarno, viewed
contraception and family planning as cultural inventions designed to
secure the West's imperialist domination, President Suharto regarded
population control as imperative for Indonesia's long-term
development. Not long after coming to office, he established the
National Family Planning Board and instituted a program for the mass

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distribution of modern contraceptives (parker 2001). State-supplied


contraception emphasised female methods of fertility regulation,
including the IUD, the pill, implants, and sterilisation. Participation in
the program and access to the contraceptives it distributed were strictly
limited to married couples (pasal1gal1 usia subur literally, 'couples of
fertile age'). The state was constrained in the degree to which it could
address youth sexuality by the social conservatism of ordinary
Indonesians as well as the concerns of Muslim leaders. 3 Both groups
expressed the fear that making contraceptives available to unmarried
youth would encourage sexual promiscuity.
Muslim organisations endorsed abstinence and early marriage
as the appropriate solutions to the problem of youth sexuality (Niehof
& Lubis 2003). Other New Order initiatives, however, effectively
encouraged the postponement of marriage. In 1974 the government
enacted important new marriage legislation which established the
minimum age for marriage as 16 for women and 19 for men. It also
'enshrined the principle that the consent of both parties must be
obtained prior to marriage' (Robinson & Utomo 2003:6). Perhaps even
more critical, in the late 1970s, the government began an ambitious
program of educational expansion, building schools - both secular
and Muslim - even in remote villages and training teachers to staff
them (Hefner 1990; G. Jones 1994; Robinson 2000). Identifying
education as crucial for human resource development as well as
national development, the state made primary education compulsory
first through grade six and, beginning in 1989, through grade nine
Oohnson, Gaylord & Chamberland 1993:8; Robinson and Utomo
2003:6). By 1995, 94 per cent of boys and girls aged 7 to 12 years were
in primary school (Republik Indonesia 1996:10 cited in Robinson 2000).
The percentage of youths completing senior high school grew from 4
per cent to more than 30 per cent today (Hefner 2000:17). During this
same period, New Order economic policies shifted emphasis from
agriculture to a program of industrialisation and light manufacturing.
New employment opportunities in factories, the greatly expanded civil
service, and the service sector served as an incentive for parents to
keep their children in school with an eye to obtaining a well-paying job
and a foothold in the emerging middle-class.

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By the end of the New Order period, growing numbers of


Indonesian youth were postponing marriage to take advantage of new
opportunities in secondary and higher education (G Jones 1994). This
pattern, coupled with what Peter Xenos (2004) has identified as a
'youth bulge' in populations throughout Southeast Asia, has vastly
increased the numbers of unmarried young people visible on
Indonesian high school and college campuses, and in the streets, shops,
and theaters. As a result of new educational and employment
opportunities, young people today have significantly more
opportunities to meet and interact with members of the opposite sex
on their own without direct adult oversight. It is this situation that has
fuelled parental fears and public panics surrounding youth promiscuity.

Education, marriage and the new middle class


Although increasing numbers of Indonesian young people are
postponing marriage, they have by no means abandoned it. For
Indonesians, marriage remains a social and religious imperative. 'The
overwhelming majority of young people report they expect to marry,
both as a requirement of their faith and as a deeply felt moral
obligation to their parents (ba/as blldi; see also Bouhdiba 2004). There
is a widespread assumption that those who do not marry are defective
or incomplete tidak sCfJlpllrna. Even male homosexuals in Indonesia feel
compelled to enter into heterosexual unions (Boellstorf 1999).
Similarly, in her study of rural Javanese factory girls, Diana Wolf found
increased education, social mobility, and employment opportunities
have not diminished young women's intent to marry (Wolf 1990:211).
Since the late 1970s, however, some features of marriage have
changed among middle-class Muslim Javanese. There has been, for
example, a marked shift away from parentally arranged marriages and
toward the self-selection of marriage partners. Most young people.
today meet their future spouses at school or in school-related activities,
or through mutual friends. Parents nonetheless still wield considerable
influence over marital arrangements by either bestowing or
withholding their approval of a son's or daughter's choice of marital
partner (Smith-Hefner 2005).4 In interviews and informal discussions,
very few young people report they would marry someone without their

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parents' approval and blessing. And because parents typically pay for
and host the wedding celebration, they inevitably play a critical role in
the planning and organisation of the event.
Weddi.ngs remain the ceremonial highpoint of an individual's
life and a no less salient marker of middle-class status. With the
exception of a handful of ultraconservative Islamist youth, few young
people opt to forego the considerable expense and ceremony of the
traditional Javanese wedding for something less elaborate (cf. SmithHefner 2005). Even mid-sized weddings in urban Java involve three to
four hundred guests; large weddings involve upwards of seven or eight
hundred. And yet, although the bride and groom are the central figures
in the wedding celebration, the status expressed is that of the parents
who sponsor the ceremony. One important aspect of that status is the
bride and groom's educational achievement, prominently embossed
after their names on the wedding invitations and announced publicly
during the akhad nikah ceremony.
In a pioneering study two generations ago, Hildred Geertz
described the akhad nikah - the specifically Islamic and religiously
mandatory part of the Muslim wedding ceremony in Indonesia - as a
brief, unelaborated, and more often than not private rite (H Geertz
1961 :65). In the past, the young couple travelled (often separately) to
the office of the religious officer (naib) for the akhad nikah. Today in
many middle-class weddings it has become part of the public marriage
ritual, placed directly before the series of rituals which are part of the
traditional Javanese portion of the marriage. The Islamic official (naib)
now comes to the bride's house to officiate at the akhad nikah which is
often witnessed not only by the representatives of the bride and
groom, as was typically the case a generation or two ago, but also by
both sets of parents as well as gathered family members and friends.
Not infrequently, then, the previously inconspicuous Islamic ceremony
may involve a hundred people or more. The spectators listen as the naib
addresses the young couple. The groom sits by himself, but the bride
is flanked by her paternal guardian or wa/i. The official asks first the
groom and then the bride's representative to publicly verify the
candidate's name, address, educational level, marital status, and
religious affiliation. For middle-class Javanese parents and those with

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middle-class aspirations, it is crucial that the wedding banns announce


to the assembled crowd during the akhad nikah that indeed their son or
daughter has obtained 'at least an undergraduate degree' (sarjana nluda).5
Middle-class parents typically support their children's
education and living expenses for as long as they remain in school.
Although some students may have part-time jobs (selling book bags,
cosmetics, or articles of clothing on commission), almost none are able
to support themselves fully. It is, in any case, the generally accepted
cultural expectation that college students should dedicate themselves to
studying. Even those students who devote themselves full time to their
studies typically take five or more years to obtain an undergraduate
degree; a significant minority take six or seven years. As paying for a
child's education often involves considerable economic sacrifice,
parents are understandably anxious to see the fruits of their
investment, a diploma.
Middle-class Javanese parents view unsupervised interactions
with members of the opposite sex as detrimental to young people's
attainment of these highly valued educational aims. They describe
schooling as an activity requiring considerable mental exertion which
can easily result in stress, weight loss, and susceptibility to illness if one
is not careful. Students, they insist, must maintain their mental and
emotional equilibrium. Romance can lead to Iraonla, !yok, and depresi
('trauma', 'shock', and 'depression'), particularly, but not only, in young
women. Most critically, romance can lead a young person to abandon
his or her educational goals, thereby forfeiting the possibility of a
prestigious job in the civil service or the professions and a secure hold
on middle-class status. As a newly married couple is under considerable
social and familial pressure to quickly produce offspring in order tq
prove their maturity and fertility, marriage not infrequently requires
that the wife drop out of school to care for a newborn while the
husband leaves school to work and support his new family.6 Parents
make abundantly clear their hope that their sons and daughters will
avoid serious relationships with members of the opposite sex until
after they have finished their education. Many simply refuse to consider
their son or daughter marrying before they have completed their
studies. 7

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Ina, a fourth year student at UGM, is 24 and has had a


boyfriend for two years. He is 27 and is anxious to marry, but has
agreed to wait until Ina has finished her degree. Ina says that her
parents have repeatedly reminded her to be careful to 'guard herself'
(1IJe1!Jogo din) and warned her above all not to do 'that one thing.' She
says, 'My parents told me that if I get pregnant (before getting married)
they would never forgive me. My fiance's parents told him the same
thing, they said if we go so far as to do "whatever"
IJIOCeJJl-1l10CelJl)
then they won't consider us their children anymore. "Please go, leave,
you're not our children any more.''' At the very least, students assert,
most parents would refuse to continue to support their child's
education if they became pregnant and married before finishing their
studies. The threat of the withdrawal of parental financial and
emotional support is a serious (though not necessarily sufficient)
deterrent to sexual involvement for most young people studying at
university.
Sex and adolescence
Notwithstanding their concerns about dating and their insistence on
the importance of premarital chastity, middle-class parents offer little
in the way of sexual counsel or information to their children, whether
male or female. The discussion of sex within Javanese families "remains
charged with anxiety and taboo.
When a young woman reaches menarche, there is no ritual
ceremony or public or private commentary. Although a small number
of women said their mothers had talked with them about
menstruation, most of the information they shared had to do with how
to use and dispose of sanitary products. Other girls said that when they
experienced their first menstrual period, they were too embarrassed to
tell their mothers and instead sought out an older sister or favorite aunt
to confide in. Those who attended religious schools and lived in
Islamic boarding school (pesofltren) dormitories often learned about
menstruation from schoolmates and, because dormitory bathrooms
are communal, from their own observations. According to the young
women I interviewed, few if any of these discussions made clear
menstruation's role in reproduction.

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Indah, a third year student at UGM said, 'My parents just kept
telling me I had to be able to IIlefyaga diri (protect myself). They meant
in my interactions with guys; you know, no sex.' Her classmate, Dian
explained, 'My mom never talked to me or to any of us directly about
sex. She would only say, "Don't disappoint me." Like if we were
watching a film about a girl who got pregnant out of wedlock, she'd
say, "Don't you disappoint me like that.'''
Male students report even less parental instruction on sexual
matters. Sometime between the ages of 8 and 12, 'when they become
embarrassed in front of their lmale] friends,' young boys undergo ritual
circumcision (sunatan/ khitan). Circumcision has been presented in the
ethnographic literature on Java as a male adolescent rite of passage,
marking a young man's transition from childhood to adult status.
Contemporary Muslim Javanese, however, do not readily identify
circumcision as a rite of puberty and play down its social significance.
Instead, Muslims stress that circumcision is above all a religious
requirement, essential to masculine health and cleanliness. Religious
scholars point out that in fact there is no reference to circumcision in
the Qur'an, although there is a well-established tradition of male
circumcision in Islam as a sU1111ah act; that is, one following the practice
of the Prophet and his companions. Many middle-class parents particularly those who identify themselves as members of the
modernist urban-based Muslim organisation, Muhammadiyah - argue
that the operation is just as well done when the child is first born,
though my surveys and interviews indicate that very few of the males
in my study were actually circumcised as infants.
A generation ago, circumcision was often ritually elaborate,
commonly involving several days of feasting and entertainment,
including shadow puppet theater (wtryanl) and ttryuban public dancing
with hired female dancers for hundreds of guests (see Hefner 1987).
This was particularly the case among rural Javanese affiliated with
Nahatul Ulama, the traditionalist Muslim organization, which has a
strong base in the Javanese countryside. As a result of economic
pressures, however, and the efforts of Muslim reformers who objected
to tf!yuban's overtly sexual overtones, today the ritual tends to be
subdued and ritually circumscribed. Middle-class Muslim families,

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whatever their religious affiliation, today take their sons to a


'circumcision specialist' or bOllg supit for the simple medical procedure,
and dispense with all ritual celebration and entertainment. If there is
any social elaboration to the event, it involves male family members
and a few neighbors gathering for Qur'anic readings and prayers. The
young man is congratulated and given small gifts of money and the
guests are fed a modest meal. S Although both candidates for
circumcision and newly circumcised young men are the frequent
targets of sexual teasing, circumcision like menarche does not include
explicit sexual instruction for young men.
Male university students report even more discomfort at the
idea of discussing sex with their parents than do young women. Andi's
comments reflect common themes, 'When I got older, I was around
the house less and less and besides, I would feel awk-ward discussing
sex with my parents.' 'In my family', Agus said simply, 'talk about sex is
still taboo (lIIasih tabu).' For their part, parents say they believe that
young people will 'figure it out on their own' (tahu sendin) and they look
to public moral training and religious education to provide the rest.
Sex and religious education

Sex education is not part of the official curriculum in Indonesian


schools, although young people who follow the exact science (ilflJ1I
pastl) track in high school may study animal reproduction in their
biology classes. By contrast, Indonesian education has always included
an important focus on moral training. Originally, such training took the
form of lessons in 'character [development], budi pekerti, which was
closely associated with teaching the Javanese language and speech levels
and with traditional norms of appropriate social interaction. Beginning
in the late 1960s, religious instruction became a required part of the
Indonesian public school curriculum and budi pekerti along with
instruction in Javanese language has been gradually phased out.
Young people who attend secular state or private non-religious
schools receive two or three hours of religious education per week
beginning in the early grades. (Those who attend religious schools, of
course, receive considerably more.) Many middle-class Muslim
Javanese parents regard this religious education as 'minimal' and send

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their children to afternoon religious school (pengqjian) for supplemental


religious instruction. Others invite a religious teacher (us/ad) to their
home for private lessons for their children several times a week. The
trend among middle-class families is to enrol young children in
religious pre-schools or Qur'anic schools at as early as age three so as
to 'insure they develop a strong moral and religious foundation while
they are still young and impressionable.' These schools have become so
popular, that in Yogyakarta, they are consistently oversubscribed and
many schools resort to choosing new students by lottery.
As a result of New Order educational developments and the
constant upgrading of teacher training, this required religious
instruction in the nation's schools has become increasingly
normativised. Islamic education in pre-schools, public schools, and in
religious after-schools emphasises the proper performance of religious
duties or worship (ibadab). Discussion of sexuality remains largely
focused on matters of ritual purity and impurity, particularly with
regard to the ritual requirements of fasting, religious study, and the
performance of the five daily prayers. This information is introduced
relatively early (in mid to late primary school) in abbreviated form and
is repeated in increasing detail in later grades.
Sometime in the fourth or fifth year of primary school,
religious education - while still focused on proper performance of
religious duties - takes a more sexually explicit turn. At this time,
young people are taught that sexual maturity (aqil baliq) is marked by
the presence of wet dreams (n/in/pi basah) in boys and menstruation
(haid) in girls. When these events take place, and as a youth develops the
other characteristics of physiological puberty, he or she is considered
mature enough to be individually responsible for carrying out the
required five daily prayers, attending daily religious study classes, and
keeping the fast during Ramadan. A young boy, or even a girl, who does
not do so may be physically punished consistent with the injunctions
of jiqh (religious jurisprudence). Girls are likewise taught that at
menarche or shortly thereafter they should take up the veil and
otherwise dress modestly so as not to attract the gaze of male
strangers. They are repeatedly reminded that it is a woman's
responsibility (kewqjiban) to cover herself in order to avoid ji/nah

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(slander, calumny or false accusation) and so as to discourage men


from sinning (cf. Smith-Hefner forthcoming, 2007).
However reluctant middle-class parents may be to discuss
sexual matters, religion teachers are keenly aware that it is imperative
adolescent youth have a basic understanding of sexual impurity and the
processes of ritual cleansing. Without such knowledge, a youth cannot
fulfill his or her ritual obligations. In Islam, fulfillment of these ritual
obligations is one of the most important standards by which
individuals are evaluated on Judgment Day. Prayers which do not
follow religious requirements and are not preceded by the required
ablutions, for example, are carried out in a state of impurity and 'do not
count.' Young boys are taught that they must take a thorough ritual
bath (fllandi besar) before their daily prayers if they have previously
experienced a nocturnal emission (wet dream). In their religious
training they learn that wet dreams are equated with actual sexual
intercourse, and, as such, they require that one engage in ritual
ablutions before fulfilling one's devotional obligations. The focus on
wet dreams rather than circumcision as the defining indicator of male
adolescence (aqi/ ba/iq) expresses a more textual understanding of
Muslim masculine maturity. This more religiously normative view of
maturation is an index of the general shift away from public
celebration of life stages to a focus on personal responsibility and
individual devotion.
The Islamic regulations pertaining to menstruating women are
more complex than those relating to male sexual emissions. In religion
classes girls learn that within Islam, menstruation is viewed as polluting
(najis) and menstruating women are considered unclean. A
menstruating woman may not perform daily prayers (shah!) or fast. She
may not touch or read from the Qur'an or enter the mosque due to her
unclean state. And, she may not have sexual relations with her husband.
The restrictions related to menstruation require that the girl learn to
distinguish what 'counts' as menstrual flow and what 'counts' as illness.
How many days is a cycle? When does it officially begin and when does
it definitively end? In secular schools, male and female students mayor
may not be separated for some of this instruction. Not only women,
but men must also be familiar with these regulations in order to fulfill

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their role as the (future) religious heads of their families, so that they
can lead family worship, and know when sexual relations with their
wives are allowed and when they are prohibited.
It is telling, however, that the details of the religious
instruction concerning menstruation (or wet dreams for that matter)
almost never extend to a comprehensive discussion of its role in sexual
reproduction. Several young female students from rural backgrounds
laughed while recounting that, even though they had memorised all of
the religious requirements related to haid, they were nonetheless
shocked at their first menstruation and didn't immediately recognize
what was happening. They had made no connection between their
religious instruction and the actual physical experience of bleeding.
They also laughed about their misapprehensions concerning male wet
dreams. 'Wet dreams? What was that? We heard about that from the
time we were young, but it didn't concern us and we didn't really pay
any attention.'
Both male and female university students reported they were
taught that sex during a woman's menstrual cycle could produce a child
with birth defects because of the 'unclean' nature of menstrual blood.
A common remark was, 'During menstruation there is the possibility
of sexual diseases. The egg and sperm cannot form, so if a child
results, it could be deformed or maybe cross-eyed. The Qur'an says
"quI hU1J!a aza"; that is, because it's dirty, there are lots of bacteria.' Many
students - male and female - argued that sexual relations during
menstruation can result in endometriosis and ultimately infertility
because the 'dirty blood' is pushed back up into the uterus and 'gets
stuck.' Other sexual understandings reveal an equally uneven
knowledge of the details of sexual reproduction.
Values and virginity

In religion classes, whether in school or outside of school, young


people are taught categorically that sex outside of marriage is not
allowed within Islam. It is 'fornication or adultery' (zina), and is a 'grave
sin' (dosa besary. A group of young male students who had attended a
pesan/rm school said they were taught that 'if one engages in premarital
sex even one time, they will suffer in hell for forty years.' Sexual

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promiscuity is compared to the debased and primitive behavior of


animals which are distinguished from humans by the loathsome fact
that they have no shame or inhibitions. Zina can result in children of
uncertain parentage and therefore raises the possibility of incest. If a
young woman becomes pregnant out of wedlock, it is a source of deep
shame (aib) for her family. Islamic law requires that the biological father
of an illegitimate child acknowledge his offspring and that the father
and mother marry.
To a remarkable degree, my discussions with university
students concerning sex and marriage reflected these normative
Muslim understandings of sexuality. In fact answers to my questions in
many cases appeared to be taken directly from a religion textbook.
Javanese students widely report that they consider sexual purity
(virginity) before marriage a central tenet of their faith. Many referred
to it as 'my most basic principle.' Others cited their Asian or
Indonesian 'values' as keeping them from engaging in immoral
behavior. Virtually all of the women students I spoke to said they fully
expected to remain virgins up until the time they marry.
Male students were somewhat more flexible about female
virginity and the idea of marrying a non-virgin. Some said they were
willing, for example, to marry a widow or divorcee. A few said they
would forgive the woman (for having had pre-marital sex) if she had
been raped or was drunk, drugged and unconscious - so long if she
was repentant and promised never to do it again. A majority, however,
viewed an unmarried woman's loss of virginity as a 'fatal mistake'
leesalahan fatal which could never be corrected.
What is significant, however, is that the great majority of the
male students I surveyed also said they fully intend to remain sexually
inexperienced before marriage. In response to the question, 'Do you
intend to be a virgin yourself when you marry?' the overwhelming
majority of male students answered 'yes.' Their reasons were very
similar to those given by young women - that sex outside of marriage
is a 'grave sin' (dosa besa" and is forbidden (diharamkan) in Islam. Other
common responses included: 'Of course I expect to be a virgin. Sex is
one's honour (leehormatan) which must be protected and handed over
complete to one's wife' and, 'Yes, I expect to be a virgin; I think all guys

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feel that way. It is a responsibility no matter how difficult' and, 'Sex


outside of marriage is a sin that destroys one morally. My ultimate goal
is to remain "pure" (SUet) in the eyes of God.'
Female students were equally adamant that they wanted to
marry a man who had not had sexual relations. A few said defiantly, 'If
I have to remain pure, then he does too,' but most women cited
religious reasons. 'Of course I want a man who is "pure" (suet). That
means he is a good person according to Islam.' 'The requirements of
Islam which I have studied since childhood, teach us that sex must be
confined to the legal state of marriage.' 'In Islam, sex outside of
marriage is "adultery" (zina) and a "grave sin" (dosa besar).'
An idealised sexual morality

Among Muslim Javanese university students then, sex before marriage


is widely considered, at least in the ideal, morally unacceptable and
sinful (zil1a) and both men and women are expected to remain sexually
pure prior to marriage. This would seem to signal a shift from an earlier
era, when Javanese attitudes towards sex were less normatively Islamic
and rather more pragmatic and the answer to the possibility of
premarital promiscuity was simply early marriage. Hildred Geertz
writes about small town Java in the 1950s that 'There seems to be a
general feeling that if a girl is left unmarried very long, she will yield to
natural impulses and as a result become pregnant ... that sex cannot be
inhibited if external constraints are removed' (H Geertz 1961:119).
Therefore, young girls were often married off not long after their first
menstruation. At that time, Geertz writes, pregnancy out of wedlock
was 'not considered so much immoral as awkward,' because the father
might have to pay the groom to marry the girl. As a result, many young
girls were already married and had their first child by the age of 15.
Geertz's account, however, does not consider (urban) prfyqyi
girls who experienced considerably more restrictions on their social
interactions beginning with puberty. Prfyqyi were members of the
traditional Javanese aristocracy and court elite. In the late nineteenth
and early twentieth centuries, the category was extended to include, not
just aristocrats, but all Javanese employed in state administration
(pegawai l1egen). During colonial times, prfyqyi girls were typically

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SmithHefner

provided with only limited education. When they reached puberty they
were confined to the home and their social interactions closely
monitored in order to secure their reputations. Priycryi women often
married at a young age to a partner chosen by their parents (Brenner
1998; Gouda 1995; Hull 1996; Koentjaraningrat 1985). Until relatively
recently, prrycryi-inflected gender ideals remained a model of gender
propriety for many middle-class Javanese (DjadadiningratNieuwenhuis 1992; Suryakusuma 1996).
Boys across social categories, however, were allowed much
more freedom and adolescence was for them a period of prolonged
irresponsibility (H. Geertz 1960; Jay 1969; Koentjaraningrat 1985).
AmongJavanese, there is a long-recognised cultural association of men
with freedom of movement, summed up in the aphorism 'a man has a
long stride' (Iaki-Iaki langkah'!)a pa'!Jan.!Q, meaning both that men travel
far from home and that they can take care of themselves. By the time
a young man married - often in his twenties or later - it was
expected that he had some sexual experience, not infrequently from
visiting prostitutes (H. Geertz 1961;Jay 1969). Unmarried women by
contrast, at least in the ideal, did not venture far from home - and
certainly not alone. A proper young woman was demure, modest, and
above all restrained.
This gender dichotomy which emphasised women's passive,
domestic role and men's active public role was amplified by the
decidedly patriarchal rhetoric and policies of the New Order state.
Government programs and policies identified women as subordinate
to men, representing them as first and foremost helpmates to their
husbands and producers and educators of the next generation of
dutiful citizens (Niehof 2003; Robinson 2000). Despite its clear
patriarchal bias, however, the government nonetheless made new
educational and economic opportunities available to women as well as
men and urged women's participation in national development. Today,
both young men and women may travel and live away from home in
order to continue their schooling or find employment. While
normative expectations are today much greater that young people will
control themselves and remain chaste during this extended period of
pre-marital singlehood, the possibilities of meeting and interacting

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159

with members of the opposite sex without direct parental oversight


have increased considerably for women as well as men.
Religious education in general schools (sekolah IImlll1l) ,
afternoon schools (pet/gajial1), and boarding schools (pesalltrm) has
insured that university students have absorbed the normative ideal, 'an
idealised morality'. Normative ideals do not, however, necessarily
translate automatically or consistently into actual practice. Certainly, in
the radical environments of cities like Yogyakarta, there are many new
and exciting opportunities for social and sexual experimentation and
not all young people are able to resist.
No more Virgins?
In early August of 2002 the Institute for the Study of Love and
Humanity, a private research group based in Yogyakarta, released a
sensational report of research suggesting that free sex had become the
norm among Yoygakarta's university students (Straits Times 7 Aug.
2002). The director of the study, lip Wijayanto, was, at the time, a 23
year old student in civil engineering at the Universitas Islam Indonesia
(UII) and the Institute's executive director. A self-proclaimed sexologist
as well as a Muslim preacher or da'i, Wijayanto also offered sex therapy
out of his home. Wijayanto claimed that according to his survey of
female college students living in rented rooms or boarding houses in
Yogyakarta, over 97 per cent were no longer virgins. Of the 1,660
young women interviewed, the study reported, only 46 said they had
never had sexual intercourse; only three said they had never engaged in
any form of sexual activity. Wijayanto attributed the problem to a
permissive social atmosphere and weak parental control. He is quoted
in the Straits Times as saying the results of his study constituted 'shock
therapy' for the public (Straits Times 7 Aug. 2002; see also, RadarJog/a 4
Aug. 2002). Parents should wake up, he warned, to the reality of their
children's widespread sexual involvements.
Wijayanto's research created an immediate uproar, not only in
Yogyakarta but across Indonesia. Feminist groups criticised the study
for focusing on women's virginity and ignoring the sexual behavior of
men. Members of the academic and research community challenged
Wijayanto's survey methods and statistical measurements. Even the

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Smith-Hefner

Sultan's wife, GKR Hemas, issued a public denunciation of the study


saying that it gave Yogyakarta's women a bad name and could possibly
result in parents deciding against sending their daughters to
11 Aug. 2002).
Yogyakarta's schools and universities (Kedau/atan
Unreported in newspaper accounts, Wijayanto had deliberately
excluded from his study women who identified themselves as
practising Muslims as well as those who were in any way involved with
Muslim student organisations; he also excluded female students who
lived at home with their parents (and presumably were under closer
adult supervision). Even more egregious, he used his former patients
- recovered 'sex addicts' he describes as 'hypersexed' - as research
assistants and gave them specific instructions to find female
interviewees who were distressed over their sexual involvements
(Wijayanto 2002; personal interviews, 2002, 2003). In other words,
Wijayanto essentially limited his interviews to those women who were,
on the basis of their selection, sexually experienced.
Wijayanto's results contrast with the findings of a more
scientific and much less widely publicised survey of youth sexual values
and behavior conducted by Iwu Dwisetyani Utomo only five years
earlier (Utomo 2002). Utomo surveyed 518 high school and university
students in Jakarta in 1994-5. Of her respondents, 82 per cent were
Muslim; 17 per cent were Christian; and the remainder was either
Hindu or Buddhist. Utomo's study found a significant difference in the
sexual attitudes and behaviors of those who identified themselves as
Muslims and those who did not. Among non-Muslim respondents, for
example, 10 per cent agreed that premarital sexual intercourse is
acceptable while dating (pacaran) and fully 25 per cent agreed with
sexual intercourse during engagement (tunangan). Among Muslim
young people, however, only 4.5 per cent stated that intercourse is
acceptable while dating and only 6.4 per cent stated it is acceptable
during engagement (Utomo 2002:216). In dramatic contrast with
Wijayanto's claims, overall, only 7 per cent of Utomo's respondents
reported having engaged in pre-maritalintercourse. Among Muslim
respondents, the figure was even lower. Just 3 per cent of Muslim
respondents reported having had premarital sex, with males more likely
to have had intercourse than females (Utomo 2002: 213). Dtomo's

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161

figures correspond closely with findings from my own surveys and


interviews with Muslim Javanese university students in Yogyakarta.
Public moral panics like the one engendered by Wijayanto's
sensationalist research on virginity, emphasize the tension between
religious ideals and modern opportunities for freer social interaction
between the sexes by focusing particular attention on the purported
immoral behaviors of young women. Certainly women
disproportionately bear the burden of upholding middle-class moral
propriety. Public scandals involving co-ed prostitute rings, call girls in
Muslim veils, and high-priced high school virgins, have all focused on
women's purported sexual licentiousness. My own research on middleclass Muslim youth suggests, however, that while new social and
educational opportunities have more dramatically impacted the
situation of young women, it may in fact be that young men are the
ones who most forcefully experience the tension between categorical
and idealised sexual ideals and masculine gender expectations.
Whereas, in the ideal, sexual purity for both sexes is emphasised, in
practice, male sexuality and sexual prowess remain powerfully latent
concerns.
Sex and the city
In religious terms, college students insist, in order to be a good
husband, a young man needs to know something about sex, not only
so that he can fulfill his religious role within the family, but also for the
important purpose of procreation. Men are expected to lead or guide
(fJlenJbi"'bi1JgJ their wives, including in sexual matters. While stating quite
strongly that they wanted to marry a man who had never had sexual
relations, female students in my surveys and interviews nonetheless
made it abundantly clear that they wanted a man who 'knows what he
is doing;' as several female students put it, 'I want someone who has
never had physical relations with a woman but who is knowledgeable
about sex.'
Both the Qur'an and the hadith reinforce the popular view of
men as the more knowledgeable, active and aggressive partner with
regard to sex. Whereas sex outside of marriage is prohib1ted (haranJ),
sex within the confines of marriage is a religious duty (Bouhdiba 2004).

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Nowadays, this religious message is increasingly overlaid with a


romantic one. Whereas the wedding night at the time of Geertz'
writing was not at all a focus of attention or tremendous expectation
(in fact, consummation not infrequently did not occur for a variety of
reasons including the immaturity of the bride or her refusal to
cooperate), today it's not uncommon for young people (male and
female) to report that they expect their wedding night to be 'the most
beautiful and romantic night of their lives.' Teen novels and popular
women's magazines feature stories and articles that reinforce a vision
of romance as involving an experienced, knowledgeable male and a
simple, naive, and inexperienced (polos) woman. (In these stories the
male protagonist is not infrequently a grieving, young, handsome
widower or even an already married man - who is so good-looking
and clearly experienced that the young woman is willing to become his
second wife.) Here is where the trepidation arises for young men. 9
Religious education is inadequate to answer questions of sexual
technique and actual physical interaction. Most young men turn to
other sources for this kind of information. In urban environments like
that of Yogyakarta, they don't have to look far.
Casual observation of any of Yogyakarta's many book stores
reveals groups of young men milling around the 'health' sections
paging through medical texts, sexual advice books (konsultasi seks dan
cinta), and Muslim guides to sex and marriage. lO lour Enchanting lWedding
Night: Sex Education for Adults (Nugroho 2000), Coitus: Variations,
Positions and Etiquette (Hasan & Asrori 1998), and Preparingfor a Happy
and Harmonious Marriage (Alkaf 1996) are typical of these guides.
Written from a male perspective, they instruct men in such things as
foreplay and identifying their wife's erogenous zones, offering tips on
techniques and sexual positions. The more explicitly religious texts cite
passages from the Qur'an and hadith (in Arabic and translation) for
illustration and support. Most of the material, however, even that
which looks on the surface to be non-religious, has a moral bottom
line; sex before marriage is a sin and the information in the book is for
those who are married or preparing to marry. Even more liberal
authors typically draw the line at such things as oral sex, sodomy, or sex
with animals as not sanctioned within Islam. What is most striking

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about these guides is that men are consistently depicted as the initiators
and performers - while women are passive recipients of their
husband's desires.
)'our El1challtil1g U7eddillg Night: Sex Educatiol1 for Adults
(Nugroho 2000), is a flimsy photocopied publication illustrated with
photographs of blurry but alluring, scantily clad Western women,
among them Princess Stephanie of Monaco, Lady Di, and Cindy
Crawford. The author warns the reader, who is clearly assumed to be
male, that he should not be lured into having sex before marriage with
a prostitute, believing that this is the only way he will be able to learn
about sex and satisfy his wife on their wedding night (instead he
should read the book!).!' The book is divided into three sections:
Approaching Sex the First Night; Elements of Sex the First Night;
and Maintaining the Mood on Subsequent Nights. In a chapter
entitled 'If Arjuna Fails, Don't Lose Heart' (under the section
Elements of Sex the First Night) the author writes, 'The one who is
most burdened on the wedding night is the male, because the male
considers sex as an expression of his masculinity. This is the reason
why, if things don't go right on the wedding night, it can burden his
psyche.' The author reassures the reader that 'sex on the first night
may not be maximal', but that 'this is understandable and one
shouldn't feel bad about it.' Furthermore, it should not be taken as a
sign of impotence (Nugroho 2000:57).
It is common knowledge that young men not only consult
books for sexual information, but also rent X-rated videos (BF or Blue
Films) which are today easily available at corner kiosks or wanmg.
Viewing is typically done with groups of male friends and
accompanied by considerable sniggering and teasing. Co-eds frequently
described men's fascination with porn videos as men's 'daily meal',
explaining that while women might be curious about such things, most
were too embarrassed to rent a film themselves and wouldn't dare to
watch with a group of men for fear of being teased mercilessly or
labelled the wrong sort of girl. Male students explained that it was best
that- women didn't watch these films anyway, because they might be
traumatised and possibly even be completely turned off to sex.
Nowadays, pornography is also widely and easily available on the

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internet and even high school teachers complain that their male
students often skip classes in order to cruise the erotic websites at email
cafes.
Perhaps the most common source of sexual information for
young men, however, are the instructive stories of male friends or
aC'luaintances who were tempted by the 'dark side', sometimes referred
to as dllgem or dlln;o gemerlop, literally, 'the glittery life'. DIIgem is the life
of nightclubs and discothe'lues and of dancing and drinking - and
sex. Many male college students claimed that they were not daring
enough (tidak berol1l) to go to discos or bars (and didn't have proper
clothes or enough money) but virtually everyone could point to a male
friend who had some sexual experience and was happy to share it.
Abbas is a case in point. Abbas, a fourth year student at the
VIN, was drawn to Yogyakarta's night scene. He described how he was
invited to join a group of young men and women who liked to frequent
night clubs and discothe'lues. He got to know the group pretty well and
they felt comfortable confiding in him. He discovered that they were
very casual about sex and that various members of the group had been
intimate. One time after an evening on the town, he recounted, the
whole group spent the night together. The women had the men take
their clothes off so that they could measure the men's penises; then the
women took off their blouses and the men measured the women's
breasts. Abbas decided it was too much for him. His moral conscious
bothered him, he said, and he kept thinking about the teachings of a
Muslim scholar (!l:Yal) from his religious school. Besides, he didn't have
the money to keep up with their party life style. He decided to stop
seeing them.
Abbas's story reflects the general consensus among Muslim
Javanese college students that sexual experimentation is associated with
wealthy individuals who did not have a good family life and moral
upbringing. The stereotype is that sexually 'looser' women and men
attend expensive private schools and that many of these wealthier
individuals come from families that didn't give them sufficient love and
attention while they were growing up. I was fre'luently told that these
young people are the products of 'broken homes' (due to divorce or
separation) or of families in which the parents were too busy with their

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professional careers or consumer lifestyles to spend time with their


children. Not surprisingly, there is also an assumption that these young
people had insufficient religious training. As further evidence for these
generalisations, students point to the recurrent stories in newspaper
and magazine articles of Indonesian media stars who describe their
broken home life and lack of religious education, their flirtation with
sex and drugs, and their eventual turn to a life of Islamic piety.
A Muslim sexuality?
Stories like that of Abbas as well as my surveys and interviews with
other college students indicate a significant attitudinal shift among
middle-class Javanese youth away from less-doctrinally informed
Javanese' mores and toward a more normative, text-based Muslim
sexuality that emphasizes, among other things, sexual purity for both
males and females prior to marriage. This shift from informal religious
culture toward what Dale Eickelman and James Piscatori (1996) have
called an 'objectified' normativity has been facilitated by the expansion
of literacy, the media, and, most importantly, public education. As
larger numbers of young people, particularly young women, have
moved into the public sphere, this normativised sexual discourse has
become a major focus of attention in religious classes, Muslim student
organizations, study groups, and a new Muslim literature. What is
more, for middle-class youth or those struggling to attain middle-class
status, the image of public piety and sexual restraint has become an
important symbol of status distinction and middle-class propriety. By
contrast, sexual promiscuity, lifestyle experimentation, and hedonism
are associated by these same young people with the wealthy elite who
lack moral training and a supportive family life and have succumb to
the enticements of western models and consumer culture. In this
sense, Islamic normativity is for many Muslim Javanese students part
of a wider project of personal development aimed at upward mobility
and social advancement. The new Muslim morality sets students apart
from a lifestyle of indulgence and promiscuity which would threaten
their dreams for self-actualisation while at the same time it helps to
distinguish them from the rural or kampungan backgrounds from which
many have only just emerged (C Jones 2003).

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The impact of this idealised Muslim morality on actual sexual


behavior is, of course, more varied. While religious texts may lead
young people to endorse shared normative ideals, evidence from social
life underscores the fact that there is no insurance that ideals will
automatically translate into practice, particularly within the context of
modern day, urban possibilities. In the context of a rapidly changing
urban environment like Yogyakarta, young people struggle to balance
the greater opportunities for gender and sexual freedoms with more
normative models of sexual relations. The tension is nowhere more
forcefully felt than in the domain of sexual performance. Here we find
the culture of male sexual prowess and male virility still remains very
strong. This masculine ideal, which was amplified by New Order policy
and rhetoric, resonates with images of Islamic masculinity found in
religious texts and manuals - even those that emphasise male chastity
before marriage and fidelity within marriage. Yes, the normative
message relates, one must defer sexuality until marriage. At the same
time, however, religious teachings and popular culture insist that men
be the guides and teachers of their wives and that they be capable of
at least adequate performance on their wedding night. Along with the
greater emphasis on normative circumscription, then has come a
greater emphasis on male prerogative and a reassertion of men as
sexually active and women as passive.
If, as Abu-Lughod has argued, 'Islam figures not so much as a
blueprint for sexuality, as a weapon in changing relations of power'
(Abu-Lughod 1997:168), then the newly normativised ideals in Muslim
Java would seem to reinforce men's power and control over women. In
particular, the increased emphasis on men's virginity bifore marriage has
gone hand in hand with renewed calls for polygyny as a solution to
men's unfulfilled sexual needs within marriage and as the antidote for
prostitution and adultery - a development that has understandably
alarmed many Indonesia women's activist groups (Brenner 2005).12 At
the same time, however, the newly normativised sexual ideals also make
some concessions to 'modern' sensibilities. In particular, the new
norms emphasise the importance of men attending to their wives'
sexual satisfaction. They also give greater emphasis than before to
romance and the development of a personal, meaningful, and

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167

'harmonious' marital relationship. In other words, while identified at


least in part as a conscious rejection of the globalised, 'Western'
sexuality AIrman forecasts, we nonetheless find that this newly
normativised Muslim sexuality bears the distinctive imprint of modern,
individualised desires.

Nal1ry } Smith-Hefl1er is all Associate Pro/essor ill the Department 0/


Alltbropology at Bostol1 Uniz'ersity ill Bostol1, Massachusetts USA. Her elllail
address is sllJhejnef@bu.edu

Notes
1. My focus in this article is on heterosexuality; for an insightful discussion of
the impact of globalisation and the Islamic resurgence on gay sexuality and
identity, see Boellstroff 2005.
2. My findings are based on participant observation; 200 open-ended
interviews, each of which was tape-recorded and transcribed; informal
interviews with teachers, religious scholars, social scientists, political
activists, journalists, and parents; and a survey of 200 additional students
administered with the assistance of a small team male and female university
students. Research was funded by a Fulbright-Hays Faculty Research Grant
and a Spencer Foundation Small Grant; write-up was generously supported
by the National Endowment for the Humanities.
3. Married couples who enrolled in the family planning program received free
contraceptive services. While condoms were available for sale at pharmacies
and in small shops and kiosks, other forms of birth control reguired a
prescription. Indonesian doctors regularly refused to provide contraceptives
to unmarried women.
4. See Parker 2001 for a similar pattern among Balinese.
5. A widespread joke among the young women I interviewed took the
following form: 'My dad says I don't have to marry someone with a sarjoflo
(an undergraduate diploma). A master's degree will do!'

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Smlth-Hefner

6. Since the fall of the Suharto government, contraceptives are reportedly


more easily obtainable. College students, however, report that the use of
contraceptives is still not widespread among young couples. Aside. from
'embarrassment' (malll), students say this is due to the common belief that
the use of contraceptives, even condoms, can negatively affect a woman's
fertility by 'drying out the uterus.' Perhaps even more critically, the use of
contraceptives places the relationship in the category of 'illicit sex' as
opposed to a serious relationship expected to lead to marriage (parker
2001).
7. C Mohammad Fauzil Adhim (2002)
Pemikaball Dini ([he Beauty
of Early Marriage). Adhim underscores how widespread this pattern is
while arguing against it. Adhim's book urges parents to allow their children
to marry before they graduate, continuing to support them if necessary, in
order to avoid the possibilities of adultery (zilla) and out of wedlock
pregnancies.
8. James Peacock, writing in the mid 1970s, identifies an apparent trend among
Muhammadiyah modernists to circumcise their sons at earlier ages so as to
insure their early inclusion in the Muslim (male) religious community. He
speculates that the trend towards earlier circumcision would likely continue,
but I found no evidence that this is the case (peacock 1978:100).
9. Masculinist sexual tensions are further exacerbated by a sub-current of panIslamic belief that depicts women as both more passionate and sexually
insatiable (Brenner 1995; Peletz 1995).
10. The practice is so widespread, that bookstores have responded by sealing
the most popular texts in plastic so that young people must purchase them
in order to read them.
11. Actually the message is somewhat more complicated; men are reminded
that they are experienced by nature because the important sign of sexual
maturity in men is the wet dream and wet dreams are typically accompanied
by a dream of sexual intercourse; therefore, all men have some experience
of sexual intercourse and so visiting a prostitute is not necessary. The
author continues, 'In order to learn more about various sexual positions and
methods, however, this book is all you need ... Buy it and take it home with
you.' (Nugroho 2000:15)
12. See Aj-Jahraniy (1996) PolYgamy from Variolls Perspectil1es, and Puspo
Wardoyo (n.d.) Secrets to Successjili Po!ygan!) in Islam: Tbe Experience 0/ PlIspOS
and His FOllr W'iveJ, which includes a phone number for free advice
on polygyny on the back cover.

Reproducing respectability

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