Women will opt for condoms when things get steamy with a steady romantic partner – for one thing, with a boyfriend there’s time to plan ahead. Yet with casual partners, girls are more likely to have risky sex, the study by India’s Population Council reveals.
Casual hook-ups often seem to be in exchange for cash and gifts, or may even be forced. So in the circumstances, the women don't feel confident enough to talk about using condoms. It is because of lack of sex education?
Men on the other hand tend to trust the girls they are romantically involved with and aren't afraid of getting a disease from them. With casual partners, they’re more aware they could pick up an infection.
At the same time, condoms are easier to get hold of for people in risk groups, like prostitutes. “The sex worker gave me condoms herself,” a single guy from Bihar told researchers, adding that he had zero knowledge of it because of lack of sex education. “She told me that there are chances of getting some disease if I don't use them.... I didn't take any precaution with my girlfriend, as nothing happens when we do it just once or twice.”
For many people, getting hold of condoms is the problem. “In our village, we don't have condoms,” says a young married man from Tamil Nadu. “I can't buy them from outside. As a precaution, I take a bath after having sex.” It’s a measure that might make him smell nicer, of course, but it won’t protect him from any sexually transmitted diseases.
Even if condoms are on sale, that doesn’t mean people feel comfortable about buying them, the study found. And like the guy who takes baths for lack of condoms, people often know very little about the risks of STDs.
“I never thought of infections,” a single woman from Bihar said, adding she never had any sex education while growing up. “Which disease can one get by engaging in sex?”
Pregnant on purpose
Fewer than half the young women interviewed who had sex before marriage said they were worried about getting pregnant. For some girls it was because they believed in myths ( because of lack of sex education) like ‘you can’t get pregnant if you only have sex once’.
Others who had sex with a steady partner thought it didn’t matter if they got pregnant because they were going to get married anyway. And some even tried to get pregnant on purpose so their parents would more easily agree to a marriage with their boyfriend.
Young Indians are more likely to use condoms if they have friends they can chat to about it, the research found. “My friends told me how to put on a condom,” an unmarried man says. “They gave it to me after they purchased it from the shop.”
To steer young unmarried people towards safer sex, some “bold and imaginative” campaigns are needed in India that focus on imparting sex education, the authors of the study conclude. And people need to be able to get hold of condoms more easily, without feeling they’re being judged.
Do the study's findings square with your real-life experiences? Did you have sex education as a part of your curriculum while growing up? Let us know.