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Sex and Always Safe?

The United Nations Development Programme’s (UNDP) Country Programme for India (2008–2012) states that an estimated 52 crore people (as of July 2007) live with HIV/AIDS in India. Roughly one–third of these reported cases people in the age group 15–29 years, says the National AIDS Control Organisation (NACO). And NACO acknowledges that the younger age groups are more vulnerable as they are ill–informed about the consequences of unprotected sex and are more likely to get sexually active owing to peer pressure. On World AIDS Day, BT conducted a poll to gauge the levels of awareness and the concerns about HIV/AIDS among 16–20 year olds. And here’s what they thought.

Let’s talk about sex, baby
When asked about the consequences of unprotected sex, 82 per cent of the respondents said that pregnancy and contracting HIV were possible repercussions. However, not everyone was clued up on how exactly HIV is transmitted. While 77 per cent cited unprotected sex, using infected needles and exchange of bodily fluids (semen, blood and saliva), only 13 per cent were aware that mother–child transmission is also a possibility. “Oral sex counts too,” says 19–year–old Swati, and HIV “doesn’t spread through physical contact,” says 20–year old Aman.

Me, worried? Yes!
The ‘It could never happen to me’ mindset has certainly changed, with 68 per cent of the respondents saying they’re concerned about contracting HIV. “So many people our age are sexually active and it’s hard to keep track of things,” says 19–year–old Vinay. “Besides, not everyone might be very forthcoming about the number of partners they’ve had,” he adds.

Better safe than sorry
This means that youngsters are taking precautions – 59 per cent of them, according to the poll. Most say that condoms are enough, but others, like 17–year–old Karen, would like to go a step further and ask her partner to get tested for HIV. Twenty–year–old Vivek, however, isn’t sure about getting his partner tested, “but if I get into a relationship that will culminate in marriage, then I’d want to ensure that both of us are in the clear,” he says.

If you’re faithful to one partner, then you can do away with a Condom, feels 20–year–old Sudarshan. “My girlfriend and I used condoms during the first year of our relationship. Since this is the first for both of us, we stopped using condoms once we were sure that this was going to be long–term. But if I were going to get intimate with another woman, I’d use a Condom,” he says. For 19–year–old Meena, however, “abstinence is the best form of protection.”

Expert Speak
“There’s definitely been an increase in awareness about HIV/AIDS. What we have noticed is that the number of new infections reported is reducing. However, AIDS is still the single largest killer for people in the age group 15–39. And this isn’t a static group. Every year, a new bunch of 15–year–olds add up and the older ones migrate to various parts of the country for studies or work. They’re likely to be sexually active. What we need to do is bring in more focussed awareness programmes for this young populace and incorporate more information into the life skill programmes designed for schools and colleges.” K Sujata Rao, director general, NACO.

“What we’ve failed to do is teach youngsters that just practising safe sex by using a Condom is not enough. A Condom offers protection in covering just one part of a man’s external genitals. There may be broken skin or an infection in other parts of the genitals that can cause transmission. Deep kissing involving saliva can be dangerous if one of the partners has bleeding gums, mouth ulcers or even small wounds caused by fish bones. Oral sex is also not safe. Even a person who has an HIV–negative test result can be given the all clear only if he/she has further tests periodically and all come back negative as the first test could have been conducted when he/she had just contracted the virus and it is too early to detect it.

“You can protect yourself from HIV only by staying faithful to one sexual partner and indulging in sex with him/her only after both partners have been screened for the virus.” Rajan B Bhonsle, consultant sexologist

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