Growing Adolescent Sexuality in India and Health Effects

Growing Adolescent Sexuality in India and Health Effects

By Murlidhar Shrivastav

Adolescence [as per WHO 10-19 yrs] is a critical transitional period in one's life characterized by perceptible physical, psychological, emotional and behavioral changes. During adolescence the body develops in size, shape and the secondary sexual features appear along with reproductive abilities. Adolescents not only have to deal with these changing physical appearances but also with the gripping sex urges.

In India, there are 250 million adolescents comprising nearly 22% of the total population [National Youth Policy]. In a large number of recently conducted surveys, it has been observed that Indian adolescents are becoming more sexually active, breaking off from the traditional social values. A study revealed that about one-third of high school students were sexually active. In urban areas 25.2% & in rural areas 20.9% have had intercourse before marriage. There are approximately 10 million pregnant adolescents throughout India at any given time. These implications of adolescent sexuality may have serious health repercussions for the society and the nation.

Those adolescents, who start having sex early, are more likely to have sex with multiple partners as well as with high risk partners. They are also less likely to use condoms, and other contraceptive measures. The outcome of these activities could result into serious physical, social and economic adversities such as unintended pregnancy and unwanted childbirth, unsafe abortion and its complications, reproductive tract infection and sexually transmitted diseases including HIV/AIDS. Socially and economically, it can hinder educational and job prospects and affect the overall development, especially of an adolescent girl.

Unwanted pregnancies and abortions

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Among Indian girls there are large delusion about sex and sexual health. In a study, only 40% of sexually active girls were aware that use of condoms could prevent the spread of HIV / AIDS and decrease the likelihood of a pregnancy and from those only 10.5% used condoms during the last time they had intercourse. As a result many adolescent girls are at a great risk of unwanted pregnancy and abortion, which enhance the risks to their reproductive health and well-being.

Sexually Transmitted Infections

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Adolescents are much more vulnerable of contracting sexually transmitted infections than the older groups. The reasons could be that adolescents are less likely to use contraceptive but are more likely to have an infected partner. They are also less likely to receive medical attention and care when suspected or diagnosed a sexually transmitted infection. Early treatment is important for preventing many medical complications which may arise later on in life like infertility, birth of low birth weight babies and increased infant morbidity and mortality.

50% of all new infections of HIV/AIDS have been observed in the people aged between 10 and 25 years making young adolescents, the most vulnerable group. As per a WHO figure, 20% of persons with HIV/AIDS are in their 20s and one out of every twenty adolescents' contract a sexually transmitted disease each year.

Sex education

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Provision of sexual health education has remained a controversial issue in India but the experiences from across the world clearly suggest that it has helped to lower risk pattern. Various Indian studies have pointed about misconceptions in Indian adolescents' knowledge of contraception use and sexually transmitted infections. They lack access to correct sexual health education and are exposed to various misleading sexual messages in today's media and internet.

Though these days it is seen that information in form of TV ads, hoardings etc is provided about the AIDS awareness to the young population, but it remains confined only to AIDS awareness. It should be broadened and contain other aspects of adolescent sexuality as well, like reproductive physiology, menstruation, contraception, infections, etc.

Parents too need to impart important information' with supportive family care. Healthcare providers need to provide the adolescents accurate information about all aspects of sexual health. They should visit and address groups of adolescent girls and boys at various schools, and other organizations in rural areas.