#GirlTalk is SheThePeople’s advice column. Have a question? Send it to us girltalk@shethepeople.tv – It can be anonymous if you’d like it that way. Women from different walks of life share advice and their personal experience to help you overcome your own. Today’s question is answered by Tanvi.

Dear Girl Talk

When a woman carries a condom, it’s not just protective gear – it’s a tool of her sexual agency. So why are men lauded for being responsible when they carry a condom, while women are shamed for it?

Safety First Girl

Dear Safety First Girl,

Thanks for asking this. I think most of us have wondered this a few times. For most of India, it is considered appropriate to have sex only after marriage. Especially for a woman, who is expected to bring her hymen to sasuraal, because bringing dowry is just not enough. If you belong to that other category – the one that is sexually active even before marriage – chances are, society has labelled you a loose, characterless “slut”. On top of that, if ever they spot a condom in your purse – then god forbid… But women, why should we feel ashamed of carrying a condom? 

So I have been thinking about it and there are some excellent reasons. For one, sex counts as the most basic human requirement on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs – along with food and water. The body needs it, so never mind what society calls you. Secondly, is safe sex a crime? But what else can we expect from a society that averts its gaze even when it spots a harmless sanitary napkin in a woman’s purse. Thirdly, if a woman does plan on having sex with a guy, then why should the onus of getting a condom always be on him? Let’s talk.

Safe Sex is a Responsibility of Both Partners

For some it’s a fair argument that condoms, largely a male artefact, should obviously be a man’s responsibility. But look at the flip side. When a woman carries a condom, it’s not just protective gear – it’s a tool of her sexual agency. The ball will always be in her court – she can allow or deny sex to a partner on grounds of sexual health and safety for herself. Moreover, shouldn’t a woman be the one to take necessary precautions if ever she is at risk of contracting STDs from someone?

Sexually Active Boys and Girls Must Be Sex Educated

Why are men lauded for being responsible when they carry a condom, while women are shamed for it? Granted, women may feel embarrassed in carrying condoms or broaching the subject with their partners, because that is not the norm. But it should be. Especially given that teen pregnancies are still a major problem in India. A think tank, ORF reported, that adolescent pregnancies account for 9.2 percent pregnancies in rural India, and 5 percent in urban areas.

Another report by the Population Council read, that in Bihar, only 20.3 percent of unmarried boys and 8.2 percent of unmarried girls used a condom regularly.”

I recently read an interview of Sunil Mehra, executive director MAMTA, that works on adolescent sexual health, and he said in a recent interview, “Social and policy barriers do not allow the sexual and reproductive needs of adolescents (10 to 19 years) to be addressed because many of those who have sex are unmarried and below the age of consent.” Clearly, this phenomenon needs a change – and change should come in the form of more women realising that carrying condoms for safe sex is a mark of maturity.

Bhaiya, Ek Condom Dena

Women may feel that carrying a condom portrays them as sex hungry maniacs. But it’s quite the opposite apparently. In a survey conducted by Cosmopolitan in New York in 2016, it was found that men reacted positively to women carrying condoms. One said, “It’s a positive thing I think because she’s owning her sexuality, she doesn’t feel ashamed of it,” while another said, “They’re taking care of themselves, which is totally a must.”

But that’s New York for you. In India, a country that still considers a woman’s menses impure and taboo, attaching a stigma to condoms is but natural, unfortunately. Here, a woman buying condoms at a chemist’s has to resort to secret code words – remember Konkona Sen Sharma in Lipstick Under My Burkha? And sometimes it’s also simply just “bhaiya, wo dena.

But according to reports, the situation is improving and women buying condoms is slowly normalising as an idea. During the lockdown, condom sales increased. 

So, the next time you visit a chemist, ignore the ‘judgy’ eyes that widen in shock when you ask loud and clear, “Bhaiya, ek condom dena.” Screw what society tells you and ignore the labels it gives you. It anyway hands out labels with the rapidity of condom sales in a lockdown. Carrying a condom does not make you an “easy” woman. Instead, it tells the world that you’re confident, practical, and ready to take on the world, one sexual encounter at a time. Or several at a time, if that’s how you roll.

Tanvi

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