Chemical sexualities: the use of pharmaceutical and cosmetic products by youth in South Sulawesi, Indonesia

Reprod Health Matters. 2013 May;21(41):214-24. doi: 10.1016/S0968-8080(13)41709-3.


Although young people in their everyday lives consume a bewildering array of pharmaceutical, dietary and cosmetic products to self-manage their bodies, moods and sexuality, these practices are generally overlooked by sexual and reproductive health programmes. Nevertheless, this self-management can involve significant (sexual) health risks. This article draws from the initial findings of the University of Amsterdam's ChemicalYouth project. Based on interviews with 142 youths, focus group discussions and participant observation in South Sulawesi, Indonesia, we found that young people - in the domain of sexual health - turn to pharmaceuticals and cosmetics to: (1) feel clean and attractive; (2) increase (sexual) stamina; (3) feel good and sexually confident; (4) counter sexual risks; and (5) for a group of transgender youths, to feminize their male bodies. How youth achieve these desires varies depending on their income and the demands of their working lives. Interestingly, the use of pharmaceuticals and cosmetics was less gendered than expected. Sexual health programmes need to widen their definitions of risk, cooperate with harm reduction programmes to provide youth with accurate information, and tailor themselves to the diverse sexual health concerns of their target groups.

MeSH terms

  • Adolescent
  • Adult
  • Cosmetics*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice
  • Humans
  • Indonesia
  • Male
  • Nonprescription Drugs*
  • Reproductive Health
  • Risk Factors
  • Self Concept*
  • Self Medication
  • Sexual Behavior / psychology*
  • Transgender Persons / psychology
  • Young Adult


  • Cosmetics
  • Nonprescription Drugs