Are you a 30-year-old virgin who has never been canoodled, never been kissed, never been asked out or, let’s cut to the chase, never been in the thick of real action? Beyond an iota of doubt, you belong firmly to the past. So move on and get a life. It is never too late.
The 2012 TSI-ICMR sex survey reveals that an overwhelming majority of India’s sexually-active urban teenagers – 90 per cent – lost their virginity well before they stepped into their 20s. Clearly, teenagers in India, a country that is experiencing a major ‘youth bulge’ in its population, are today discovering the pleasures of the flesh at a much earlier age than their parents did. Free mixing with members of the opposite sex, a general loosening of parental pressures, access to adult entertainment on the internet and elsewhere, and a gradual easing of age-old social taboos have set them free in a way that would have been nearly unthinkable just a couple of decades ago.
But have we not been aware of the changing sexual behaviour and practices of youngsters in this vast country for quite a while now? The TSI-ICMR survey only reinforces what we already know: Indians in the age band of 15 years to 24 years, the range that the United Nations recognises as “youth”, are making the most of the new climate of freedom that exists in the country.
As many as 65 per cent of the respondents believe that the minimum age for having consensual sex should be either 18 years or more, underscoring the latent fact that while Indian youngsters are not averse to going the whole hog with their boyfriends or girlfriends whenever and wherever the opportunity presents itself, a conservative inner core probably prevents them from confessing that one’s age is only a number while sex is a basic need that can wait for absolutely nothing. Coitus interruptus is out of the question when the urge bubbles to the surface.
This survey also establishes that high school and college students in India’s metropolitan areas, despite their raging desires, are probably not as sexually active as they would want to be. A total of 60 per cent of those surveyed said that they have sex only once a month or after intervals that last even longer.
But no matter what the frequency of the act is, it would seem that urban Indian teens are overwhelmingly in favour of playing fair and square with their sex partners. Only 27 per cent of the respondents admitted that they have had more than one sexual partner simultaneously, while 83 per cent of them asserted that love was either “very important” or “somewhat important” in sustaining a long-term sexual relationship.
One crucial question: how aware are these teens of the consequences of their acts? Here, too, they do not seem to score all that badly. Just 27 per cent say they do not use any contraception while having sex. The fact that the remaining 73 per cent use either condoms or contraceptive pills as a precautionary measure points to a level of responsibility and awareness that is commendable.
Moreover, nearly half of these young sexual partners get condoms across the counter at a chemist’s shop, suggesting a level of confidence that belies their tender age.
As the sexual revolution takes roots and spreads out in a diverse land where many social and economic fissures are a part of everyday reality, are we as a society prepared to handle the fallout?
As one of the reports on the following pages points out, the phenomenon of teen pregnancies is acquiring worrying proportions in India, putting girls in particular under severe physical and psychological strain.
As gynaecologists and counsellors grapple with the problem, India’s sex education module has been coming increasingly under the scanner. How well informed and prepared are teenagers to handle an untimely pregnancy when neither their parents nor their teachers are equipped enough to keep pace with the delirious, if troubled, sexual awakenings of the wards in their charge?
More often than not, young lovers in this country are left to fend for themselves when problems erupt. It might come as a relief that 77 per cent of India’s sexually active urban teens have said that they have never had to face an unwanted pregnancy. But the fate of the 23 per cent that have had to contend with the ramifications of going too far cannot be wished away.
What is worrying is that only 4 per cent of such couples have actually gone on to get married, while 12 per cent went in for an abortion and 7 per cent broke up.
Asked what they would do if the girl ever got pregnant in the course of a torrid affair, only 6 per cent of the respondents said that they would enter into wedlock. As many as 85 per cent would take recourse to the easy way out – an abortion. Only 1 per cent said they would dare to bring a love child into the world.
But this really is not about defiance and rebellion. In a country in which well over 30 per cent of the population is aged between 15 and 24 years, parents and guardians have a huge role to play in rectifying any distortions that might occur
as teenagers grope around for the right way forward in fulfilling their sexual needs. Unfortunately, 71 per cent teenagers in the Indian metros do not discuss sex-related issues with their parents or other members of the family. Only 9 per cent “regularly discuss” such issues at home. Alarming!
Is that the reason why cases of teen pregnancy, crimes of passion involving teenagers, date rapes and a panoply of misconceptions about the sexual act and its place in our lives are on the rise? While there can be no easy answers to such complex questions, read on as we attempt to get as close to the heart of the matter as possible…