Getting intimate? Stay protected
Since India ranks third among the countries with highest number of HIV cases, the use of contraceptives become mandatory. It not only protects from unwanted pregnancies but also lessen the chances of STDs.
With changing times, things are changing and improving, and so is the art of lovemaking and condoms. Nowadays, you can buy condoms that taste and smell like vanilla, grape, guava, mint, coffee, banana, cola, strawberry, chocolate, honey-ginger, and bacon– the list is endless. That's not all, you can also get some really innovative and creative condoms like glow in the dark, penis enlargers, rainbow coloured condoms, extra lube, extra strength, and condoms that come with a music CD to set your mood.
The condom industry has been consistently reinventing itself to make sex more pleasurable. Then why is this tiny latex male-contraceptive – which protects from unwanted pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases – still unpopular among Indian people?
The use of contraceptives has declined across the South Asian countries despite several government-run campaigns and programs. It is a worrying situation for the government as country's 1.32 billion population is projected to surpass China's 1.37 billion in the next six years and could reach 1.7 billion by 2050. It's not just the population explosion that is alarming; India faces a much bigger threat from sexually transmitted diseases (STD), particularly HIV-AIDS.
While European countries have an overall 30 percent condom usage, India has less than six percent, even when it ranks third in the number of HIV cases worldwide.
"Everything is correlated but the first step towards an STI free society is to protect yourself," says Dr V. Sam Prasad, Country Programme Director – AIDS Healthcare Foundation. "There should be a sense of urgency towards protection of yourself and your partner, which can only be stimulated by risk perception. When there is risk perception of increasing population and diseases, then only you can talk about an HIV free or bacteria free society. For risk perception to arise, there has to be an awareness about sex, contraceptives, and STDs among people," he further explained.
STDs are infections that are passed from one person to another during vaginal, anal, and oral sex. They're really common, and lots of people who have them don't show any symptoms. Such diseases can happen to men, women, and children. There are a couple of them which can be transmitted to the child when the mother is in labour and hence, sometimes even a newborn baby is infected.
Social stigma around sex
"Ours is a very orthodox society wherein we don't want to discuss sex, gender, sexuality, forget about multiple partner sex," opines Dr Sam.
"The fact is, India is no different than any other country or population. Our population constitutes more than 65% young people who are more sexually active. Sex and sexuality are seen as something alien to us, even for discussion. Not even the textbooks give any clarity about this. The hypocrisy of this country lies even in using terminologies; instead of calling it sex education or sexual education, we call it life skill education – which by the way has nothing to do with the former. For things to change, we need to start discussing these things amongst our families and peer groups," he further added.
Sex education for adolescents is seen as offensive to Indian values and concerns that it might lead to risky sexual behaviour. For example, when the central government in 2007 announced the launch of the Adolescence Education Programme in schools, along with the NACO, NCERT and UN agencies, 13 states called for an immediate ban as they felt that comprehensive sexuality education was against the Indian culture.
What these 'cultured' people fail to understand is that when kids finally reach adolescence and read about human anatomy and sex organs in 10th standards' biology books, they have doubts which are not clarified by their seniors. With easy access to the internet, many of them turn to pornographic sites, dating websites, and other web pages, where they might get false information about sex and safety.
"Nowadays, having anal-sex is becoming a fashion, which is sometimes done without a condom. People are boasting about how many times they have had anal sex. Kids are getting information which is sometimes false and dangerous to follow and ultimately they are at a risk of acquiring infection or STIs. But this doesn't mean we blame the kids. Instead, we should find ways of giving them useful information so that they can lead their lives without the risk of STI," said Dr Sam.Condoms should get cheaper
According to the National health control midterm appraisal report of 2015-16, the uptake of condoms was only 16%. In a country like India, 16% is nothing but a joke which calls for a more serious approach towards family planning programmes and free condom supply.
"If 65% of the population (i.e. the sexually active Indian youth) starts using condoms whenever they indulge in sex, then there will be thousands of condom manufacturers in India. But if the manufacturers sell a simple
dotted or extra lube condom at Rs 250 or Rs 100, those who can afford Rs 100 might afford it a few times but later, even they might get astray by the soaring price of a condom pack. Hence, the big private players in the market should definitely think about more volumes than the profit on every unit," Dr Sam asserted.
The fact of the matter is adolescents in India are now more sexually active than ever and are keen to understand and enjoy sex. There is no point in stopping them or hiding things from them by banning condom advertisements and skipping sex education lessons in classrooms because they can always browse the internet. The right thing to do would be sensitising them about such topics and giving them accurate information about sex, sexuality, precautions, the variety of contraceptives, and STDs so that they lead an informed and safe life.