The Sexually Active But Sexually Ignorant Youths Of Indian Cities

While love was on top of the minds of many a young Mumbaikar on Valentine's Day on Thursday, a recent study showed that young people in urban Maharashtra are groping in the dark when it comes to issues relating to sex and reproductive health. City doctors and researchers added that they worry about the risky sexual practices by this age group.

Their concerns are borne out by the study, which showed disturbing trends of ignorance - only 35.3% of single girls in cities knew that they could get pregnant in their first sexual encounter. A mere 35.1% of unmarried boys consistently used condoms with pre-marital partners.

"When it comes to sexual behaviour, we found that youngsters had very superficial knowledge, which makes them indulge in risky sexual behaviour," said Usha Ram of the International Institute for Population Sciences (IIPS), an autonomous institute under the Union ministry of health and family welfare. IIPS interviewed 8,500 married and unmarried youths. The married ones were aged 15 to 29 and unmarried ones 15 to 24. The study was completed late last year. While 87.8% of single girls had heard of HIV/AIDS, only 40.4% could identify two ways of preventing it and knew healthy-looking persons could transmit it.

Not surprisingly, youngsters knocking at the doors of city sexual health clinics are full of misconceptions. "It isn't unusual to see teens walking in and asking for a spray or medicated cigarettes to improve their sexual performance," said Dr Sanjay Chauhan of the National Institute for Research in Reproductive Health, which runs two centres, called Jagruti, in Parel for adolescents below 24. The ignorance is worrying given that this is the most sexually active group. At the Jagruti centres, nearly 1% of 1,300 youngsters over the past two years asked for pregnancy confirmation.

Myths - such as masturbation can lead to problems like impotence or tuberculosis - are reinforced as teens often turn to 'ignorant' friends for sexual advice, pointed out professor of sexual medicine Prakash Kothari, who runs a clinic at Opera House. "We find that parents and even teachers are often hesitant about discussing sex and sexuality openly," said Kothari. This was corroborated in the IIPS study, which found that only 0.2% of unmarried boys in the state had ever discussed sexual and reproductive matters with their parents.

"We are able to cater to barely 30% of youngsters in Parel. One of the challenges we face is that youngsters who come in for condoms often run away after getting them. They aren't interested in the counselling or education," said Chauhan. "The only way to bust this darkness is to have sex education," said Kothari, who feels addressing behavioural changes would help promote love and its expression.

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