Growing Up Sexually


ORANG RIMBA(Indonesia)


IndexIndonesiaOrang Rimba [IES]



As excerpted from Elkholy (2001)[1] (read all: IES):


“As camp life is normally public and informal in nature, unmediated by walls or strong notions of privacy, children are free to overhear whatever they may take an interest in. Young children may overhear or see the silhouettes of their parents making love in the same shelter should they awaken in the middle of the night. As married men will always be on alert for any undue attention or sexual overture towards their spouses, they will rarely discuss matters that are sexual in nature with other married men so as to avoid attracting such attention to her. However, boys and young men may discuss sex among themselves, outside the company of women. While uttering the word mengawan (sex) in the company of females is forbidden, young boys commonly discuss young girls, as well as their own sexuality, among their close age-mates. Masturbation and female anatomy may also be discussed, often playfully, by young males. Girls may have similar discussions, albeit in a less explicit manner.


Almost all sexual knowledge, therefore, is gained in the informal context of the camp, either through overhearing adults or through rehearsal with their same-sex age mates. Such rehearsal or “play” may occasionally lead to homosexual behavior among boys […]. While girls may overhear the discussions of older women and are well aware of the process of conception, they are generally less experienced in terms of pre-marital sexual exploration, because of the considerable pressures they are under to uphold ideals of chastity. It is therefore most probably the case that women learn the techniques of sexual intercourse only after marriage, following the lead of their spouse. This may simply involve assuming the bottom position, as the act of coitus is always performed in the “missionary” position. […]


As mentioned above, the genitalia of male infants and children are the object of much playful affection. As male children reach adolescence, and often in their pre-pubescent stage, they will begin to explore their own bodies and perhaps even the bodies of their male age-mates. Young boys who have developed intimate relations with one another are extremely uninhibited with their bodies in each other’s presence, and it is not uncommon for young boys to touch and comment on the dimensions, size, and general qualities of an age-mate’s penis. At the site where this author collected data for this report, pre-adolescent and adolescent boys were well aware of which boys could and could not ejaculate through masturbation. And while this was most commonly performed in private, they did not feel any sense of shame or embarrassment when detected by the author of this chapter or their peers.


Orang Rimba do not practice any formal puberty rituals or rites of passage. However, when both genders have demonstrated a degree of self-reliance, which for boys includes proficiency in hunting and forest-product collecting - the former a skill required to perform adequate bride-service and eventually feed a family, and the latter as a means of cash income - they will be accorded relative degrees of respect by their elders. An indication that a child or adolescent has reached a level of self-sufficiency may be when she or he has a personal debt recorded in a villager’s debit book. This implies that debts will be paid for products credited (e.g., rice, cigarettes, sugar, coffee, flashlight batteries, etc.) without the help of the young person’s parents. In some rare cases, parents will wait until the child reaches this degree of sufficiency before giving a name.


Other indications that a child has “come of age” might be smoking cigarettes bought with their own earnings with other males, and for girls, covering the breasts with a sarong. This may occur well before menarche is reached, as the girls become increasingly aware of their sexuality and the appropriate modes of conduct incumbent on them. Marriage, however, is the decisive indication of adulthood, perhaps more so for men than women. A woman achieves the full respect accorded to womanhood when her first child is born.


As noted earlier, adolescents and pre-adults are required to adhere to strict taboos on touching or flirting with the opposite gender, and any act perceived as constituting excessive intimacy is grounds for adults to convene in order to discuss the matter and administer a fine to the accused. Because of such fear of punishment, pre-marital affairs of any sort are uncommon and always secretive. In almost all cases, the male will be blamed for “corrupting” the girl and he will be required to pay a fine (dendo), most commonly in cloth, currency, and occasionally gold. In cases where sex has occurred between the couple, they will be required to marry, but only after the male endures a frenzied beating by the girl’s younger siblings for the shame he has caused her family.


Any sort of premarital sexual activity, therefore, is very rare, as it is considered among the most serious of crimes in Orang Rimban society, and is punished accordingly. In most cases, men also have no sexual experience with a woman prior to marriage. These days, however, pre-adult males are in increasing contact with local villagers and, in one case that was reported to the author, young Orang Rimba men were beginning to seek the services of prostitutes for “unattached” sexual enjoyment. […]


Male homosexual behavior has been reported in rare instances among adolescent boys and young adult males, whereas it is practically unheard of among married men. The actual form and nature such relationships take is unclear, and in most cases may amount to mere sex rehearsal or exploration. One case, however, has been reported first hand to the author by two married men of their engagement in anal intercourse during their adolescent years. After being detected by an adult, they were each fined twenty sheets of cloth and stigmatized for a brief period”. (read all: IES)







Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Sept 2004


[1] Elkholy, R. (2001) Indonesia, Part 2, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed. in chief) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum. Vol. 4, p247 et seq. Expected online ed.