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Muslim nation's female sex therapist goes online

Zoya Amirin
Zoya Amirin, who bills herself as Indonesia's only female sex therapist, poses on a bed in Jakarta. Zoya has decided to launch a weekly podcast to provide some frank, accurate talk about the bedroom in the world's most populous Muslim nation.Achmad Ibrahim / AP
/ Source: The Associated Press

Zoya Amirin has come across every myth imaginable in her job as sex psychologist in Indonesia: An uncircumcised girl will become sex-crazed. Clove cigarettes increase virility. A gecko's saliva can cure AIDS.

Knowing such misinformation can ruin relationships and even lives, Amirin — the only woman certified in her field in the world's most populous Muslim nation — has decided to launch a weekly podcast to provide some frank, accurate talk about the bedroom.

Her 15-minute, debut episode of "In Bed with Zoya" will air on her website Thursday.

"People here really believe in myths ... that's my biggest challenge," said Amirin, adding she wants to make her show as cool as possible so people will tune in without feeling they're being talked down to.

"It's time to embrace our sexuality in a healthy way," she said, "and to be mature in our understanding."

Her job illustrates some of the changes taking place in Indonesia, which toppled its longtime dictator Gen. Suharto in a wave of pro-democracy street protests just over a decade ago.

Taboos and tradition
The nation of 240 million remains socially conservative in most areas, including relationships, something old-style politicians are desperate to maintain. Yet these customs are coming under pressure from a more freewheeling approach to sex, in part due to increased wealth and more females living and working alone before marriage.

Nearly 40 percent of teens have had sex, a new survey shows, and the Internet has opened the gates to a subject long considered off-limits in public schools.

Bringing up the word "condom" could cost a teacher his job.

"The taboo is not against sex, but against making it public and formal," said Julia Suryakusuma, an Indonesian sociologist who often writes about human sexuality.

That point was hammered home by Education Minister Muhammad Nuh himself, after a video of a much-loved pop star having sex with two girlfriends made its way to YouTube, putting the country of the verge of sexual hysteria.

Asked whether it might be time to add sex ed to the curriculum, he said "No! ... I may be obsolete .... but I think this is something you should learn about naturally."

'Too embarrassing'
Young people have even less luck at home.

For most, bringing up the subject of sex with their parents is inconceivable.

"That would just be too embarrassing," said Dianita Permani, an 18-year-old high school student in the capital, Jakarta.

"I'd rather talk about it with my close friends ... look things up on the Internet, read vulgar novels," she says with a giggle. "Personally, I don't want to have sex until I get married. But it is everywhere. I'll just have to follow my instincts, I guess, and figure out for myself what's good or bad."

Amirin hopes people like Permani will turn to her as a credible and easily accessible source of information.

Her podcast, which will be co-hosted by television personality Chantal Della Concetta, who has drawn some controversy herself for racy lingerie pictures in a popular magazine, will at first be a frank conversation between two friends.

The first subject: Debunking sexual myths.

Bracing for criticism
They include that putting a bead beneath a boy's foreskin will enhance his sexual pleasure, and that girls will be nymphomaniacs if they don't get circumcisions, which continue despite a 2006 ban. Folklore that gecko saliva could cure AIDS, in a country grappling with the fastest growing endemic in Asia, unleashed a wave of gecko hunting and a surge in prices for the reptiles a couple of years ago.

Eventually, the website will include a free online chat service.

Both women are ready for criticism.

Though most of Indonesia's 210 million Muslims are moderate, a hard-liner fringe has become more vocal and violent in recent years, attacking bars, transvestites and anything else deemed "blasphemous."

The hard-liners also have succeeded in influencing politicians who — afraid of being labeled unIslamic — pushed through a controversial anti-porn law, used to imprison Nazril "Ariel" Irham, the pop star, even though it appears his sexcapades were never intended for public viewing.

Amirin defended him at his trial, saying he did not show any signs of being an exhibitionist.

'I want to change mindsets'
More recently, Jakarta Gov. Fauzi Bowo captured the conservative mood of the country's leaders when he responded to the gang-rape of two young women on a public minibus by blaming the victim. Wear a miniskirt, he said earlier this month, and you're practically asking for it.

Aside from a small protest in the capital, Bowo's comments barely made any waves.

Though Amirin's website marks the latest attempt at online sex education, it's certainly not the first.

Last year the National AIDS Commission launched an interactive Web page aimed at teens and young adults. Others have come and gone during the past decade.

Amirin hopes hers is here to stay,

"I want to change mindsets," she said. "It's about time everybody in Indonesia (is) more open-minded about sex."