Widespread Ignorance About Safe Sex

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Widespread Ignorance About Safe Sex

Yet among India's 300 million young people ages 10 to 24, recent

studies show that premarital sex is increasingly common. A 2001 study

conducted in Delhi and the Lucknow (capital of India's most populous

state, Uttar Pradesh) by the National Institute of Health and Family

Welfare shows that some 15 percent of young people engage in

premarital sex, even though Indian society regards sex before marriage

as deviant behavior. The study, which included grade school and

college students, also revealed that despite a growing HIV/AIDS

epidemic, many young people have unprotected sex. Two common reasons

given by youth for not using condoms are that they are hesitant to

obtain them (39.3 percent) and fear side effects (34.3 percent),

according to the study "Premarital Sexuality and Unmet Need of

Contraception."

Ironically, even the veneer of modernity among the better-educated

middle- and upper-class youth can be misleading. In her 2001 research

work "Youth and HIV/AIDS in India," Allison Drynan observes that a

worry commonly expressed by sexuality educators in New Delhi is that

"middle-upper-class youth" are less receptive to information than

"middle-lower-class youth."

Drynan, who gathered information on youth issues as part of a program

sponsored by the Canadian International Development Agency (CIDA),

attributed this widespread ignorance to an absence of uniformly

established sexual and reproductive health education in schools.

Educators she surveyed also pointed out that middle/upper-class youths

falsely perceived their awareness of "Western sexual behaviors"

?gained through the media ?as awareness of their own sexuality.

This lack of access to reliable information is especially alarming

given the high number of HIV/AIDS cases in India. With a population of

more than 1 billion, even a comparatively low adult HIV prevalence

rate (0.8 percent) translates into large numbers of infections. Thus,

at the end of 2001, an estimated 3.97 million adults and children were

living with the virus, according to the National AIDS Control

Organization (NACO). This number exceeds that of any other country

except South Africa, where some 5.

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