The world is divided into two sections – people who have healthy, safe sex and confidently endorse it and the others who have some problem with the first set of people.
I am part of the first group. I am sexually active. And, yes, I carry condoms in my pocket. I also grab ugliest stares as soon as I share this so-called “private” information about me. Then comes inappropriate, unsolicited queries: So if you buy condoms and carry it with you, what is left for the guy to do? Doesn’t he get offended? So like, do you just carry a box of condoms around all the time? You know, because you are saying that you are sexually active so you must be having sex all the time, huh? Don’t you believe in monogamy? If you carry condoms all men will think you want it…
Fortunately, I am used to it (but that doesn’t make it okay for you to say it). I believe smart girls carry condoms rather than just depending on their partners. When you have sex, you need to protect yourself. Every year, about 6% of the adult population in India contract STDs, according to WHO. Dr Vaishali Joshi, senior Obstetrician and Gynaecologist at Kokilaben Hospital, Mumbai, says “We are in the era of consensual sexual relationship which can pre maritial in modern society. So carrying a condom should not be a symbol of loose character. It should be taken as a token of modernism and forward thinking”.
But again, the taboo around topics like sex and contraceptives, shame and stigma particularly impact women. In 2019, by the Family Planning Association (FPA) released a report claiming that in India, 14% of women pregnancies aged under 20 are unplanned. According to another survey, 34% of adolescent married girls admitted to being physically, emotionally, or sexually assaulted.
If that’s not upsetting, many times, men refuse to wear condoms and try sweet-talking to you to have unprotected sex. Often it happened to me so now I have learnt my lessons as I carry condoms to ensure safety for both of us. And, guess what, it made me more confident.
Indian context and patriarchal system
It is time to start the conversation around why young women’s sexual choices are limited and stigmatised. Sekulu Nyekha, an advocate of sexual wellness and reproductive health of young people, Director of Operations, Our Young Voices, said, “A lot of the shame also comes from being called out by salespersons while buying condoms or any contraceptive especially if you’re a young person. There is no shame in claiming one’s right to reproductive and sexual health.”
So, why women shouldn’t feel ashamed to carry around condoms. “We can all contribute in breaking the stigma around sex and contraception by discussing the same without judgments and also making it a health code to carry protection always if you’re sexually active. Introducing Comprehensive Sexuality Education in schools as a subject can go a long way,” Nyekha added.
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Addressing the Stigma
Society teaches girls to repress sexual emotions and shame them when they go try to express them. I also believe that having a straightforward conversation when you need to ask something about sex, either to your partner, friend, or acquaintance, is okay. I never shy away from a discussion about sexual wellbeing and safe sex. Better safe than sorry, right? There’s also the topic of the unequal power relations between young men and women engaging in sex. Raising awareness around the crucial subjects like contraceptives among young women is empowering, I feel. If a woman has a sex life why isn’t it okay for her to carry condoms with her wherever she goes out?
Continuing on that question, Nyekha explained, “Any conservative society welcomes sex as a ‘hush-hush’ topic. Discussing the same is difficult even in progressive urban cities. The fear of accepting the fact that women too need and can have their own pleasures and desires makes it difficult for women to discuss sex. Lack of comprehensive sexuality education affects not only accessibility to contraceptives but also contributes in sexual violence. This mentality will be somewhat gone when sex is understood as a thing of nature and one that comes through consent from either side.And young people are not afraid to talk about it and are given the space to ask questions about their bodies. When sex is a matter of open discussion, and not a topic to be tabooed. Only then, could sex be seen as a way of pleasure and not as a weapon to abuse. As we discuss sexual offences, we must pursue sex education.”
“When sex is a matter of open discussion, and not a topic to be tabooed. Only then, could sex be seen as a way of pleasure and not as a weapon to abuse.”
Dr Vaishali Joshi says, “We live in a male dominated society and it is always seen that male partner usually takes the initiation to start the act of sex. It’s nothing abnormal when the woman takes charge and can be the first one to make the move. However, it is looked upon as the person has a loose morale or character in the society, if a woman talks about sex or has a condom with her. It is important to have good sex eduacation and public awareness of different contraceptive methods to address this issue. A woman should use a condom along with regular contraceptive which we call in our term a double dutch method. Even if she is in a monogamous relationship, pre-marital, because condoms not only prevents unplanned pregnancy but also protects against various sexually transmitted infections like HIV, Hepatitis B, C, etc.”
A woman should use a condom along with regular contraceptive which we call in our term a double dutch method.
Every time, I bring out this topic in public, I anticipate a little maturity but instead, I receive immediate criticism. As women, we especially need to overcome the ridiculous and dated stigma attached to buying and carrying condoms, and get on top of our sexual health. And Dr Joshi agrees with me. She says, “Endorsement of such a woman would be a symbol of a modern progressive educated woman who takes her destiny and her life decision in her hand. It also will give a message to society. ”
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