EDITORIAL Editorial K. ANIL KUMAR I This is the second of the...
K. ANIL KUMAR
This is the second of the two special issues of The Indian Journal of Social
on 'Sexuality in India'; the first was published in October 2004.
Broadly, the papers in the first special issue discussed the conceptions of
sexuality, sexual behaviour patterns of selected groups and the
relationships between gender norms and masculinity construction.
The first five articles in the present volume ponder on reproductive
health of adolescents, sexual behaviour, and construction of sexuality
awareness among young people. The subsequent three articles explore
various aspects of sexuality among four special groups: female sex
workers, clients of female sex workers, substance users, and persons
with visual disability.
The paper by Surinder Jaswal presents the findings of an
exploratory study which examines the magnitude and patterns of child
and adolescent sexual abuse (CSA) reported in a cross-section of public
health facilities near Mumbai. The paper examines the process of
identifying CSA in public health facilities in urban low-income
populations near Mumbai as well as the health-seeking behaviour and
the handling and management of CSA by health care providers. The
study findings reveal t h a t reporting of CSA in health facilities is age-
and sex-specific. Female infants, street children and minor married
females were seen to be particularly vulnerable to CSA. Health
providers noted t h a t the presence of Sexually Transmitted Infections
(STIs) and emotional and behavioural problems were indicative of CSA.
Further, reporting of CSA in street children seeking health care was
particularly late, that is when severe symptoms related to the abuse
persisted. Lack of information, feelings of guilt, shame and fear and
attitude of health providers were seen to be the main deterrents to
reporting and seeking early treatment for CSA.
Using quantitative approach, the paper by Jyothi Kamalam and
Rajalakshmi studies reproductive health awareness and attitudes
towards marriage and fertility preferences among post-graduate and
professional college girls in Kerala. Despite the proclaimed social
advancement in this state and the high educational level of
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respondents, the study reports a low level of reproductive health
awareness. Such a low level of awareness points to the probable
situation in other states, which are socially less advanced, as well. Also,
unlike the common view t h a t today's young people have liberated
attitudes, this study shows t h a t students, more or less, conform to
traditionally held beliefs and values.
Reddy and others, in their study of reproductive health awareness
among school-going adolescent girls in Andhra Pradesh also found a low
level of awareness, and the existence of a high extent of reproductive
health problems. Many of the adolescents suffered from symptoms of
psychological stress, both during menstruation and otherwise.
Sandhya Rani uses a combination of survey research and case
studies to examine the reproductive health status of married
adolescent and young girls in the age group of 15-20 years. Low
marriage age, teenage fertility among a quarter of married adolescents
below 18 years, inadequate ante-natal and post-natal care, and height
and body weight lower t h a n the recommended standards were
observed. The study points to some pertinent sexual and reproductive
health problems among married young girls, through case studies.
Rangaiyan and Verma study the state of college-going males
regarding reproductive health knowledge, sexual activity and condom
use. Lower reproductive health knowledge, moderate extent of
high-risk sexual activity, and less extent of condom use, especially in
casual sex relationships, characterise this group. Erotic exposure,
liberal attitudes and perceived peer norms are significant factors
deciding sexual experience among male students.
Abraham examines the construction of sexuality awareness through a
study among unmarried low-income college students using a
combination of quantitative and qualitative methods. The author
argues, based on the study findings, that the prime flaw of 'scientific',
'objective' information imparted through sex education programmes is
the lack of understanding of the desires and concerns of young people.
Now t h a t sex education has gained some legitimacy among parents (a
group t h a t vehemently opposed such programmes), the paper advocates
for sexuality education programmes that recognise and understand the
cultural constructions of sexuality, and the consequent levels and
differentials in the desires, aspirations and needs of the young people.
Anil Kumar, in his paper, examines the linkages between contexts
and sexual behaviour in two high-risk groups through a study t h a t uses
survey method and in-depth interviews. The paper views t h a t sexual
behaviour and its modifications are dependent on the contexts (social,
economic and demographic) and the changes in them. Implications of
the existing situation of female sex workers and the sexual demand
p a t t e r n of their clients are discussed. Sexual behaviour of persons with
substance use has received attention only in recent times with the
epidemic of HIV/AIDS, more so focusing on intravenous drug users.
Through an extensive review of existing studies, the paper by Rego
and Gandevia brings out the linkages in both directions, between
substance use and sexuality. The paper advocates the need to
consciously incorporate the component of sexuality in the programmes
t h a t address issues of substance use. Persons with disability are sexual
beings with similar needs and desires as their able-bodied
counterparts. No one is too disabled to be sexual; yet people with
disability are treated by and large as asexual beings, both by
researchers and interventionists.
The study by Juvva, Biswas and Rego found t h a t sexuality in
persons with visual disability centres more at the cognitive and
emotional levels, with differing notions of concepts of beauty and
attractiveness. The authors maintain t h a t disability can influence the
conceptuialisation and understanding of sexuality. The visually
disabled have a clear disadvantage in terms of opportunities of
socialisation, and access to information affecting their understanding,
experience and expressions.
The research presented in these articles follow the general trend in
sexuality studies to mainly exploer the status, giving relatively lesser
importance to the analysis of factors that lead to such a situation.
However, some of them try to go beyond this general trend and explore the
interplay of various determinants that result in a particular level of
awareness or pattern of sexuality expression. This is a welcome change
and more research in this direction would add substance to the ongoing
efforts at designing appropriate interventions be they directed at general
reproductive health improvement or at the prevention of specific diseases.
By the late 1990s sexuality research in India had become dominated by
the focus on sexual behaviour and its implications for HIV/AIDS. While
recognising the growing need of such research, it was also felt t h a t social
science focus on sexuality research should not ignore the constructions
and expressions of sexuality, differences in meanings attached to the
term 'sexuality', the changes in 'sexualities' over time and space and
variations across class and gender. Understanding these is an essential
pre-requisite in effectively dealing with issues including HIV/AIDS
prevention and care. This was a major concern of the 'Working Group on
Sexuality in India' formed at the TISS in 1999. The primary research
initiated by the Group and the papers presented at the National
Workshop in 2000 reflect this view point. This concern resulted in these
two special issues to cover a wide range of sexuality topics.
Most of the researches presented in this volume were carried out in the
second half of the 1990s or early in this decade. They, in general, conform
to the then existed trend of researching the designated high risk groups.
Welcome deviations from the general trend are the attention given to
392 K. Anil Kumar
general reproductive health issues, exploration of sexuality among less
researched groups, child sexual abuse and construction of sexuality
education. More detailed research need to be undertaken, addressing
sexuality issues of substance users, persons with disabilities and other
under-researched population groups, with a focus on how sexuality is
socio-culturally constructed and the spectrum of inter-linkages that result
in differential expressions of sexuality. Also, somewhat missing is
research on the needs of specific groups as perceived by them. While the
researchers' interpretations and perceptions remain very important,
those of people and groups about sexuality and solutions to problems
should form a vital component in designing interventions.
It is argued that the progression to sexuality research has been from
women studies to gender to sexuality (Murray, 1995; Altman, 2001). In
India, this change has been from fertility and family planning to
Maternal and Child Health (MCH) to reproductive health and to
sexuality. Though an independent stream of sexuality research focused
on broader issues related to sexuality construction and dispositions, it
always remained in the shadows and did not get sufficient avenues for
interactions with the 'mainstream' 'sexuality' research. There have
been only scant efforts at integrating 'basic' sexuality research with
'applied' sexuality research in India.
When sexuality became more and more a public topic of discussion,
the focus of sexuality research had implications of sexual behaviour for
HIV/AIDS. In fact, it was mainly the HIV/AIDS epidemic that has
contributed to the transition of 'sexuality' discussion from a primarily
private to a more public domain. Whereas the transition from a family
planning focus to maternal and child health focus took a long time to
happen, that from MCH to reproductive health happened in a short
span. The phase of reproductive health focus of sexuality research was
soon replaced by HIV/AIDS related sexuality research. Thus, in the
Indian case, the transition from MCH-RCH to sexuality in the broader
sense seems to be obscure. The early 1990s witnessed a spurt in
research interest on reproductive health. This was to some extent
curtailed as the official acceptance of the RCH approach and the
visibility of HIV/AIDS spread almost coincided, thus reshaping the
sexuality research in the country as almost directed at HIV/AIDS
related issues. Reproductive health began to draw much lesser
attention than would have otherwise happened.
Reviews of sexuality research in India during the last one and a half
decade show that a wide range of aspects were subjected to research,
that many groups of special interest were studied and covered a variety
of geographical peculiarities (Chandiramoni, et al,
2002; Verma, et al,
2004). As widely known, the prime attention during the late 1980s and
most of the 1990s was given to the so designated high risk groups like
female sex workers, truck drivers and to a lesser extent, intravenous
drug users. The aim was to examine the sexual behaviour pattern,
condom use and their implications. The focus gradually shifted to
include other vulnerable groups such as street children and men having
sex with men. Subsequent studies used a broader definition of risk
groups and vulnerability and thus included student and non-student
young people among the others. The spread of HIV/AIDS to rural areas,
however, resulted in a temporary abandonment of the term 'high risk
group' and research tended to focus also on rural and remote areas.
Thus, research on the sexuality in the second half of the 1990s also
focused on the general population, comparison of the conceptions of
sexuality among boys and girls, reproductive health of young people, and
the role of societal control on sexuality construction and disposition. Yet,
some of the immensely relevant aspects were left out from sexuality
research during this period. Despite the growing body of sexuality
research in the country, we do not yet have adequate in depth knowledge
on many aspects of sexuality. For example, while there exists some
research on pornography perceived as pervasive knowledge, the political
economy of its existence and increasing availability are not at all
discussed. Similarly, research on violence within marriage and its
implications for sexual and reproductive health have at best remained
descriptive. Non-consensual sex outside marriage, including child-
adolescent sexual abuse also remains an under-researched area in India.
Ageing and sexuality in the time of an increasing life expectancy and
sexuality among the disabled are given only scant attention.
The social science research on HIV/AIDS in India during the past one
decade or so also failed to answer many pertinent questions. For instance,
research in the country has not adequately addressed the micro and macro
level consequences of HIV/AIDS epidemic by studying specific groups and
geographical areas. Only recently, studies began to document and compare
the coping strategies to deal with the effect of the disease, adopted by
individual, households and communities. What at the restraints to
behaviour change especially of the high risk groups despite having
imparted awareness through massive intervention programmes? What is
the association between migration and sexuality in the changing contexts?
How does cross border migration as well as sections? These are some of the
issues that future research on sexuality in the country needs to address.
Chicago and London: The University of Chi-
394 K. Anil Kumar
Femme on the Streets and Butch in the Sheets. In D. Bell
and G. Valentine (Eds.), Mapping Desire,
Sexuality and Sexual Behaviour: A Critical Review of
New Delhi: The Gender and Repro-
Khanna, R. and
ductive Health Research Initiative, CREA.
Multi-method Approaches to Sexuality Research in the
Time of HIV/AIDS. In R.K. Verma, P.J. Pelto, S.L.
lschensul and A. Joshi (Eds.), Sexuality in the Time of
and Joshi, A.
HIV/AIDS: Contemporary Perspectives from Communities
New Delhi: Sage Publications.
K. Anil Kumar