Sex and politics collide as Julia Perez takes on Indonesia’s conservatives

Sex and politics collide as Julia Perez takes on Indonesia’s conservatives

The sultry, hip-swiveling actress and celebrity known as Jupe talks to CNNGo about her plans to become "like Barack Obama"

Julia PerezJulia Perez is a sultry, hip-swiveling celebrity in a country where her cleavage draws ire from Islamic hardliners and a conservative broadcast commission recently censured a public television station for airing a program of her in a skimpy skirt.

But it’s not just the way Perez dresses that provokes controversy. The 29-year-old actress and performer, popularly known as Jupe, also works as a condom rep for DKT, one of Indonesia’s largest condom distributors, and helps educate women and teenagers about the need for safe sex. 

She says parents in Indonesia don’t talk to their children about sex because many consider it taboo. Indonesia is home to the world’s largest -- largely moderate -- Muslim population, but Perez says people with deeply held religious beliefs still see sex as sinful. “People think, ‘Oh it’s really nasty, I’m not going to talk about that.’”

Off limits

The problem when a subject becomes off limits, she says, is that it increases people’s curiosity. Perez believes it’s the government’s responsibility to educate children in school about sex and the proper way to protect themselves from disease. She works closely with the Indonesian AIDS Commission, which helps streamline the government’s health policies. But the country’s conservative-minded education minister has said sex has no place in school.

As a public figure Perez believes she can help. She says it’s her responsibility to watch what she says and to not misinform, but she also must be understanding of Islam. Rather than talk about religion, she tells people to choose the right path for their own lives.

There is a positive way to talk about condoms, she says. “People say, ‘Oh, Julia, you agree about free sex.’ I say, ‘No, I don’t agree about that.’ But if you don’t want to get sick, if you don’t want HIV, if you don’t want to have more kids, you use condoms.”

In cosmopolitan Jakarta talk about sex is more common, but a recent sex video scandal has ignited concern about increasing conservativism and the impact pornography has on children. When the videos, involving two of the country’s biggest celebrities, went viral on Facebook and YouTube it sparked a debate about the need for more Internet censorship.

Throughout June Indonesia was captivated as the government threatened to charge the stars involved under a controversial pornography law. Perez worries that her latest film, “Istri Bo’ongan,” (now showing) a twist on “Meet the Parents” that stars Perez as the lead character’s sexy, stand-in girlfriend, could make her the government’s next target.

Scapegoats and morals

“In Indonesia when you talk about sexy, one name comes up, my name,” she says. “People are always searching for a scapegoat. We talk about morals, the government says it is embarrassed by this porn thing, but what about the corruption? I want to talk about that.”

It is that brashness that allows Perez to continue taking the stage. At the end of June she donned canary-yellow platform heels and a matching two-piece jumper strung with pearls to entertain DKT staff with games that involved guessing the color of people's underwear.

Perez’s infuses her signature racy remarks with humor to make them more acceptable. She says she looks up to Jenny McCarthy, and believes one day she could be like Barack Obama.

The celebrity is currently running for deputy district head in Pacitan, the province Indonesia’s president comes from. She says she has done her homework on how to be a good politician. She wants to give the people a better life, and thinks she has the team in place to do it.

Conservative groups have placed pressure on her run for office, and much of the public has called it a joke. Perez shrugs off the commentary: “No one trusted Evita Peron, they all judged her, but she proved that she could do it.” 

As a makeup artist applies fake lashes and attaches hair extensions in preparation for an appearance, Perez explains the reasoning behind her political aspirations. “I want to be the head of a district, but it’s like I want to be the president. All of Indonesia is watching me. People say I’m too young, that I don’t have the right to run because I’m too sexy. But politics is about honesty, it’s about having a good team. I can be like Barack Obama also.”

Sara has lived in Thailand and Cambodia and currently lives in Jakarta, Indonesia. She likes to keep moving and uses these pages to write about the exciting things she learns along the way.

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