Better safe than sorry

Better safe than sorry

The population of India already at a staggering 1.32 billion is poised to overtake China’s 1.37 billion in the next six years making the prospect of...

The population of India already at a staggering 1.32 billion is poised to overtake China’s 1.37 billion in the next six years making the prospect of its citizens reaching 1.7 billion in 2050 seem more real than ever. Top these statistics with the fact that there are 2.1 million people living with HIV and 12 million children in the country married off below the age of 10, and it becomes obvious that we are actually sitting of a volcano. It is not just the baby boom that is worrying.

It is the spectre of a greater spread of the dreaded HIV epidemic of which we already have the world’s third largest population that looms large. In a society that skirts over “real issues”, talking about safe sex is not seen as reasonable or fashionable.

Viewed against this backdrop the latest buzz on internet, the #IndiaHatesCondoms, in response to a survey put by condom makers Durex questioning why 95 per cent of Indians do not wear condoms, reveals non-seriousness and utter disregard to safe sex practices in the country, if anything providing grist to the mill of stand-up comedians and meme makers. The same company had a couple of years ago sent netizens into a frenzy over the launching of eggplant flavoured condoms only to reveal later that it was a publicity stunt to promote safe sex.

Commercial concerns and attempts to boost sales apart, the fact that unsafe sex can have severe repercussions affecting the health of women and children in the country is a reality that cannot be ignored. Coming on the heels of the outrage over condom bans being banned during “Prime Time” on television, the latest survey report has worsened fears that social stigma associated with the issue is taking precedence over right action.

“Condoms are one of the few spacing methods that encourage men to take responsibility in family planning. They should not be seen just as a family planning tool but as a means to promote safe sex, prevent HIV ADS and sexually transmitted diseases,” says Poonam Muthreja, Executive Director, Population Foundation of India, who is emphatic that advertisements promoting their use are vital for the country which can ill afford to take population control measures lightly.

Lack of awareness in rural pockets and the belief that family planning is a female concern that doesn’t really fall under the male purview is perhaps one of the causes for its low usage according to social activists. Social stigma and the lack of privacy at condom selling stores is one of the reasons cited for the decline in contraceptive use with many Twitter responses supporting this line of argument. Vending machines and ATM’s for condoms are some Twitter responses which make it clear that there is a clear discomfort associated with purchasing them from retail outlets.

The myth that condom use reduces the experience of pleasure, coupled with the social stigma that prevents openness in purchases are perhaps responsible for the low usage of five per cent compared to 50 per cent in European countries, it is largely felt. Condoms are said to be highly effective in preventing the sexual transmission of HIV with a low failure rate of 0.4 per cent - 6.5 per cent. Reducing the risk of unintended pregnancy and requiring no medical intervention or follow up, their usage needs to be promoted to prevent the increasing incidence of “AIDS orphans” throughout the world.

Proponents argue that there is a need to increase awareness and break the taboo relating to sex in a country with an ever-growing adolescent population adopting rapidly evolving attitudes towards sex. Liberal attitudes have crossed borders in our digital world and not acknowledging or closing our eyes to reality would be foolish. Reflected in films, campus behaviour, literature, physical protests and online expressions casual relationships have jolted our conservative society waking us up to new truths.

Sex education then has to be an important component of the education system to increase awareness aimed at prevention of unhealthy practices.…. a website dedicated to women’s issues carries an article which talks about India’s “sexual awakening”, which it says has been long overdue. Attitudes towards sex still need a fundamental change it reiterates. “Just as crucial as making condoms available is changing people’s attitudes towards them.

Here condoms carry connotations of casual or non-marital sex, so successive advertising campaigns have aimed to tackle embarrassment and promote condoms as a normal part of sexual health,” according to freelance journalist Chryselle D’Silva Dias.

With several platforms for discussion and debate, it is hoped that government policy, media initiative and active participation of non-governmental organisations (NGO’s) root for the goal of improved sexual and reproductive health. Population control, the safety of high-risk groups and general awareness aimed at reducing the prevalence of sexual diseases should be high on the agenda as we strive for our general goal of “better days”. This can only be done by adopting better ways.

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