Misconceptions about HIV abound
An increasing number of young people are indulging in sexual activity but they still have a lot of misconceptions, according to the doctors and social workers who have been running adolescent-friendly centres for lower middle-class youth in Central Mumbai.
Many feel that only heterosexual sex can lead to HIV transmission while homosexual sex is safe.
“The advertisements for HIV awareness usually show a man and woman. That’s the reason some young people are under the impression that they will not contract HIV as they have homosexual or anal sex. They don’t know that this is more harmful,” said Dr Beena Joshi from National Institute from Research in Reproductive Health (NIRRH).
The NIRRH and the city’s civic body had been running adolescent-friendly centres called ‘Jagruti; within two health posts in the F-South ward as part of a three-year project to address the need of young people and develop a model for providing services to them within the existing health infrastructure.
Around 2,000 adolescents have approached the centre over the last two years. About 70 per cent of them and majority were females below 24 years of age. Most girls approached the centre for information on menstrual problems, pregnancy detection, sexual abuse and occasional emergency contraception. Boys, on the other hand, often came to the centre for queries related to masturbation, drug abuse, sexual problems and STI-related symptoms.
Other myths include the belief that masturbation is harmful and that it is therefore better to have sex to vent one’s sexual urge. Many girls were unsure of what exactly is the ‘safe period’ for sex.
During a pre-intervention survey of 1,200 youth in the area, the team from NIRRH found that 18 per cent of the boys were sexually active and only 66 per cent of them used condoms. “Many of them don’t buy condoms because they are embarrassed to go to a chemist,” said Joshi.