The spread of HIV among the general population in Maharashtra could escalate as more and more young men are having unprotected sex, a recent study of the sexual behaviour of college-going males has revealed.
It found that less than 5 per cent of unmarried college-going males from seven districts in Maharashtra were using condoms as more of them are now having sex with girlfriends instead of commercial sex workers.
The study, which was conducted by AVERT Society, showed that the proportion of male students having sexual intercourse with commercial sex workers has declined from 23 per cent in 2004 to 5 per cent in 2006 and 3 per cent in 2008.
On the other hand, the number of surveyed students having sex with non-commercial sex partners (girlfriends, classmate or relatives) went up from 11 per cent in 2004 to 16 per cent in 2008.
The students said they preferred girlfriends over sex workers as they have to spend less money and because they feel the risk of contracting HIV is less as their girlfriends belong to “good families”.
The small percentage of those who reported to use condoms when having sex with girlfriends did so to avoid pregnancy and not to protect themselves against the HIV virus.
“It seems that the government’s HIV/AIDS awareness campaigns have managed to scare young men away from commercial sex workers but given them the mistaken impression that they are not at risk if they are having unprotected sex with girlfriends,” said Jayanta Kumar Basu, who coordinated the study.
AVERT Society supports the government in preventing the spread of HIV. The four-year study, which was funded by US-Aid, was completed in October 2008 and the findings were presented at a conference held by the National Institute of Research in Reproductive Health in Mumbai on Tuesday.
The society feels that the government can no more continue to focus HIV intervention programmes on high-risk groups like sex workers and homosexuals.
“The National AIDS Control Programme should target youth with behaviour change messages,” said Basu, who is working with the Family Planning Association.
A separate study was conducted to assess the sexual behaviour of female students in Maharashtra. It was found that the women — 11 per cent of who were sexually active — believed that it was not necessary to use condoms with their boyfriends.
Moreover, 26 per cent of females said did not use condoms consistently with their partners.