Last week, amid the mind-puzzling reports coming out of the National Police-KPK saga, a bit of softer news caught my attention — the National AIDS Commission had appointed infotainment goddess Julia Perez as the country’s condom ambassador.
Such news, I’m sure, raised many eyebrows, mine included. What exactly is a condom ambassador? And out of all possible candidates, why Julia Perez?
I learned that the job of such an envoy is to promote the use of condoms, part of the safe sex campaign and an effort to curb the spread of AIDS in Indonesia. I fully support this. But why choose this foxy actress-cum-singer?
In 2008, Perez, popularly known as Jupe, released her debut dangdut album, “Kamasutra,” and buyers of the CD or cassette received a free pack of condoms, which she said was a self-initiated campaign against AIDS.
The gimmick inspired a wave of protests by religious and conservative groups, best exemplified by the Samarinda incident, in which dozens of female university students in the East Kalimantan capital staged a protest condemning Jupe’s “condomization.”
One of the protesters said, “The distribution of condoms with Julia Perez’s album is a kind of seks bebas campaign.”
Seks bebas is an Indonesian term for a lifestyle that embraces unrestricted sexual activities, including premarital, adulterous and polygamous sex.
In this case, I am with Jupe. Conservative and religious groups in this country have led people into believing that seks bebas is utterly wrong and condemnable, and thus, condom use is widely considered taboo.
Well, these anti-condom groups are either naive or in denial. Let’s face it, many Indonesians — young and old, with or without a ring on their finger, religious or not — are engaged in seks bebas. It is an inevitable part of our culture.
According to Ministry of Health data released in June 2009, 50 percent of AIDS cases, which have reached an unprecedented level here, resulted from sexual intercourse. The annual figure for abortions has reached between two million and 2.6 million per year, with 30 percent of the women having an abortion between the ages of 19 and 25.
Ignoring these alarming numbers, which indicate that seks bebas is pervasive, could prove costly to society, and the use of condoms is one way to effectively deal with this problem.
People who are against the condom campaign have their logic reversed. Condoms do not lead to seks bebas. Instead, it is the overwhelming prevalence of seks bebas that has led to the need for a condom campaign.
And, from a strategic point of view, Jupe is a wise choice to help lead it. She has already been involved in the controversy and she is not shy about exhibiting her curvaceous body, voluptuous breasts and luscious lips in a flirtatious manner.
Type her name in the Google images search box and it will offer a parade of drool-inducing images of her in skimpy outfits.
“Kamasutra,” her debut album, is filled with sex-related songs, with titles including “Goyang Kamasutra” (“Kamasutra Move”), “Please Call Me,” “Ketagihan” (“Addicted”) and “Belah Durian” (“Open the Durian”), a song that equates sexual intercourse with eating durian, which is “best done at night with a lover.”
As a live performer, Jupe is known for her tantalizing moves, with a lot of jiggling and gyrating that earned her the distinction of being one of eight singers blacklisted, through fatwa, by South Sumatra’s Indonesian Council of Ulema.
Jupe has also been featured in a number of esek-esek films, which contain sexually suggestive scenes, but no pornographic elements.
All of this combines to make her one of the best-known sex symbols in Indonesia, which makes Jupe a powerful attention grabber who will give much-needed publicity to the pro-condom campaign.
I’m just hoping that people will not misconstrue the whole campaign in light of Jupe’s reputation. The essence of the program is to promote the use of condoms. Choosing a sex symbol has the potential to imply that the program promotes seks bebas.
The crux of the campaign is to reduce AIDS, and reducing the culture of seks bebas is also part of that campaign. A sex symbol like Julia Perez, who many may consider as someone who promotes seks bebas given her symbolic sexuality, may not be the best fit as a role model.
Just because seks bebas is part of our culture doesn’t necessarily mean it should be promoted. But that’s a minor concern. In general, I’m still a proponent of efforts to increase condom use.
So can the durian lover Julia Perez make a difference in the country through condoms?
Armando Siahaan is a Jakarta Globe features reporter.