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More than a quarter of India's youngsters have premarital sex

BMJ 2001; 322 doi: https://doi.org/10.1136/bmj.322.7286.575 (Published 10 March 2001) Cite this as: BMJ 2001;322:575
  1. Rohit Sharma
  1. Mumbai

    A quarter to a third of India's young people indulge in premarital sex, a new study conducted by the National Institute of Health and Family Welfare and suppressed by India's health ministry, has said.

    The study, coordinated by V K Tewari, surveyed premarital sexuality and unmet contraceptive needs among school and college students, young working men and women, and young people aged 15–24 years living in slums in Delhi and Lucknow. It concludes that premarital sex varies from 17% among schoolchildren to 33% among young workers in the typical north Indian population. Premarital sex was more common in Lucknow than in Delhi.

    A majority of the 3300 respondents who had had premarital sex reported first having sex at age 16–18 years. The average age for first sex estimated by the researchers was 17.4 years for boys and 18.2 for girls. Sixty per cent of respondents said that they had sex rarely or sometimes; 14% had sex frequently.

    About a third of the respondents were found lacking in awareness of unsafe sexual encounters. Three to four per cent had sex with multiple partners.

    Interestingly, 30% of respondents (54% men and 20% women) stated that, although they did not have premarital sex, their friends did. Eighteen per cent of male respondents had sex with strangers or commercial sex workers. Only a fifth of the respondents experienced guilt after sex. Homosexuality was declared by 5% of respondents.

    A vast majority (79%) of the respondents agreed that liberal mixing of boys and girls in the traditionally segregated society promoted better understanding between the sexes. A greater percentage of males (59%) than females (35%) in Delhi stated that kissing, caressing, and dating had become common among young people.

    Unsafe sex was more common among less educated young people and unskilled workers. The use of contraceptives ranged from 55% among young workers to 75% among university students.

    The percentage of respondents who never used a condom was quite high—50% of females and 45% males. The use of a condom “always” was higher among males (19%) than females (9%). Overall, 46% never used condoms, 22% sometimes, and 17% always.

    Although the researchers emphasised the unmet contraceptive need of the youngsters, the study highlighted the need for sex education felt by 70% of the respondents. The study recommended that the reproductive health needs of young people should be given more priority by opening clinics for adolescents and counselling centres in schools, colleges, professional institutions, and working places.

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