RESEARCH SUMMARY Understanding Youth Sexuality: A Study of College...
Understanding Youth Sexuality:
A Study of College Students in Mumbai City
Dr. Leena Abraham is Faculty, Unit for Research in Sociology of Education, Tata
Institute of Social Sciences, Mumbai.
Young girls and boys, in all cultures, experience sexuality in diverse
ways. The construction of male and female sexuality is based on gen-
der roles, on division of labour and on kinship arrangements which, in
turn, are constructions of a patriarchal social structure. This paper de-
scribes the results of a study of sexuality among college going youth
in the metropolitan city of Mumbai (formerly Bombay) in India. The
study aims at understanding the social, cultural and ideological con-
texts within which the youth explore and experience sexuality and the
various constructions of sexuality that the youth encounter, negotiate
and reshape. The study also seeks to understand the consequences of
the sexual behaviour of youth in terms of immediate and future health
risks such as unwanted pregnancies, Sexually Transmitted Diseases
(STDs) and Human Immuno deficiency Virus (HIV) infection for
themselves as well as for their partners. Empirical data for the study
was collected from a representative sample of urban, low-income,
college going youth in Mumbai.
The growing literature on sexuality in the last few decades shows
that sexuality is a complex concept as it encompasses not only the bio-
logical and psychological, but also the social and cultural dimensions
of sexual identity and sexual behaviour (Kakar 1989; Weeks 1986). It
embraces many aspects of human existence such as the economic, so-
cial, political and genetic (Horrocks 1997). Sexuality, being culturally
defined and socio-historically evolved, has different connotations
within different communities, societies and groups and even within

234 Leena Abraham
the same society the understanding of sexuality may differ with age,
social class and gender (Vance, 1984). Sexuality has also been used as
a powerful conceptual tool to explore power and gender relations
(Dixon-Mueller, 1993).
Much of the literature on sexuality has arisen within the contexts of
social and political movements such as the feminist and gay move-
ments in the West with Christianity and capitalism as the backdrop.
The contemporary significance of the study of sexuality stems mainly
from three sources: the feminist and gay studies which emphasise the
relation between gender and sexuality; the behavioural studies in
AIDS research and family planning; and from studies in psychoanaly-
sis. The present study, which is primarily motivated by concerns aris-
ing out of the spread of AIDS and contraceptive use, also deals with
the gender dimensions of the construction and experience of sexual-
The initial effort to control the spread of the HIV virus was domi-
nated by an epidemiological approach and focussed on the identifica-
tion of groups of potential victims or carriers, the so-called 'pool of
infection' or 'conduit of infection'. In the early stages of research,
such groups were thought to consist of homosexuals, intravenous
drug users and prostitutes. They were referred to as 'high risk groups'
in the HIV/AIDS literature. Subsequent research, which revealed the
transmission of the virus through heterosexual routes in many coun-
tries including India, blurred the boundaries of the pools of infection
and showed the entire population to be at risk. High-risk groups were
then expanded to include adolescents, truckers, migrant workers,
women, street children, and so on. It is in this context that adolescents,
as a special category, emerged and gained currency in studies of sexu-
The advent of AIDS and the threat of an epidemic that has the po-
tential of wiping out social groups have thus brought adoles-
cents/youth into focus especially because they constitute a large
percentage of the total population in India. Recent research on adoles-
cents has largely focussed on their sexual behaviour with a view to as-
sess the extent of 'risk behaviour' as measured in terms of the
potential for contracting and transmitting the HIV virus. The research
carried out in India on this topic has been influenced by studies done
in the Western counties. As a result, sexual behaviour of adolescents
is understood largely within a framework that places the individual at
its centre with an emphasis on informed choices. There is

Understanding Youth Sexuality 235
considerably less emphasis on the analysis of societal and cultural
factors. Recent research in different parts of the world shows that HIV
infection cannot be tackled through medical interventions and infor-
mation dissemination alone and that the norms governing sexuality
that act as barriers to HIV protection need to be understood in order to
design culturally appropriate policies and programmes.
In India, the experience of adolescence by boys is almost diametri-
cally opposite to the experience of adolescence by girls. The experi-
ences of girls and boys are largely shaped by the constructions of
gender, caste, class and community norms. The institution of mar-
riage underlies and strongly determines the gender differential norms
that govern Indian youth, such as the taboo on premarital sex. With
the onset of puberty, the norms of sexuality underlying the general so-
cial norms come to the forefront. The attempt to understand adoles-
cent sexuality must engage itself with the changing constructions of
sexuality in general and specifically, with the asymmetrical power re-
lations of gender, caste, class and community within which
sexualities are constructed and experienced.
The spread of HIV among young people in India is a growing cause
for concern. It has been pointed out that a large number of reported
AIDS patients in India are below the age of 24 years and have con-
tracted the disease through sex (Goparaju, 1993). The surveillance
data show that a large percentage of the infected persons is between
the age of 20-40 years (National AIDS Control Organisation,
1994:16). Despite the limitations of the surveillance data, the trend
shows that many of those infected have contracted the virus early in
life. A study in Mumbai found the average age for men with HIV to be
28 years and for women to be 25 years (ARCON, 1995). In another
study, data collected from 12 hospitals/blood banks between 1988
and 1994 revealed that nearly 34 per cent of HIV cases were within
the age group of 16-25 years (Bharat, 1996). Hence, viewed from the
perspective of public health alone, sexuality among Indian youth con-
stitutes an important area for study.
Despite these alarming trends, sexual behaviour studies have
rarely considered it important to include unmarried youth in their
sample. In India, sexual behaviour was studied traditionally as part of
demographic studies, in relation to family planning and birth control
measures within marriage. In recent years, it has become part of the

236 Leena Abraham
HIV/AIDS research into sex related risk behaviour. Research into
sexual behaviour from the perspective of family planning focuses
mainly on married couples, and AIDS research focuses on specific
groups-at-risk. Both kinds of research tend to leave out the adoles-
cent/youth groups. The often unstated assumptions behind this exclu-
sion are perhaps that, unlike in the West, adolescent sexual activity is
low in India because parents and educational institutions exert greater
control over their sexual behaviour, and that premarital sex is taboo.
The few studies on youth sexuality in India that are available have
been reviewed in detail in Nag (1996) and Jejeebhoy (1996). These
studies focus mainly on sexual behaviour and vary significantly in
their objectives, approaches and methodologies. Nevertheless, they
arrive at a common conclusion that sexual activity (in terms of sexual
intercourse) among the youth is on the increase especially in urban ar-
eas (Goparaju, 1993; Rakesh, 1992; Savara and Sridhar, 1993; Watsa,
1993). This conclusion is not drawn on the basis of comparison with
prior statistical data since no such data is available, nor are these lon-
gitudinal studies done over a span of few years to observe trends. The
inference that sexual activity has increased is based largely on young
people's attitudes towards premarital sex and data collected retro-
spectively on premarital sex. Jejeebhoy's review of literature on ado-
lescent sexual and reproductive behaviour in India points out that
studies on adolescent sexuality are rare, chiefly exploratory in nature,
and lack methodological rigour. Most of these studies are restricted to
the urban, educated upper class.
A survey conducted on sexual attitudes and behaviour among ur-
ban educated youth (15-29 years) found that about 28 per cent of the
males and 6 per cent of the females had had sexual contact with some-
one (Watsa, 1993). Other studies reported that 25 per cent (Goparaju,
1993: 19-23 years), and 19 per cent (Savara, 1993: average age 19
years) of males in their sample were sexually active. A recent survey
among college students in Mumbai showed similar trends in sexual
behaviour (Rangaiyan, 1996). Some of these studies, Goparaju's for
example, did not include females. In Savara's study, the unmarried fe-
males did not report having had sexual intercourse. An important
finding of these studies is the age at which sexual activity is initiated.
It ranges between 16-18 years among males and even earlier among
females. Thus, it appears from these studies that sexual activity

Understanding Youth Sexuality 237
among adolescents is much higher and begins at an earlier age than
what is commonly believed.
The need to understand adolescent youth sexuality gains importance
not only in the context of increasing abortions, STDs and HIV/AIDS,
but also with regard to other health problems such as Reproductive
Tract Infections (RTIs). The data (again very limited) available on
abortions, STDs and RTIs among young people indicate that their sex-
ual activity could be on the rise. For instance, the incidence of teenage
unwanted pregnancies and abortions has shown a steady increase in re-
cent years. In 1987-88 there were 24,091 reported Medical Termina-
tion of Pregnancies in the age group of 15-19 years and by 1989-90 the
figure increased to 41,846 (India, 1992). An increase of one and a half
times within a span of two years is certainly alarming. Unsafe abortions
are a major source of reproductive mortality and morbidity in India.
Many abortions in India are done illegally and often without adequate
professional support, which often lead to serious reproductive morbidi-
ties. It is estimated that around 5 million abortions occur annually in In-
dia and out of these, 4.5 million are done illegally (UNICEF, 1991). An
earlier study observed that adolescents constitute a sizeable proportion
of the abortion seekers and the typical adolescent abortion seeker is un-
married (Divekar and others, 1979).
In India, STDs rank third among the major communicable disease
groups. Of concern, however, is the fact that around 12-25 per cent of
the total STD cases are teenage boys (according to studies cited in
Ramasubban, 1995:218). A study conducted among the clients of a
STD clinic in Pune (a city close to Mumbai) found that three-fourths
of the clients were in the age group of 18-19 years (Urmil and others,
Studies on reproductive health have shown that women, especially
those from the lower socioeconomic strata, who suffer RTIs and Sex-
ually Transmitted Infections (STIs), contracted these infections early
in their lives (Bhang and others, 1989; George and Jaswal, 1995;
Ramasubban, 1992). The RTIs and STIs are closely related to sexual
practices and behaviour, and their role in making a person vulnerable
to HIV infection has now been well established. These facts indicate
that sexual behaviour of the youth have serious health implications.
They also indicate that the adolescent/youth in India are perhaps not
sufficiently informed about the consequences of unprotected sex, the
of contraception and the social and health implications of
their sexual behaviour.

238 Leena Abraham
The urban adolescent/youth in India are sexually initiated at an
early age due to crowded living conditions, changing aspirations and
role models, the influence of mass media and the reduced age at men-
arche of urban girls (Watsa, 1993). As the available data indicate, the
incidence of STDs and the process of urbanisation appear to go to-
gether. Maharashtra state, with a high rate of urbanisation has the
highest percentage of reported STDs in India (32.6 per cent of the na-
tional total) and Mumbai, the capital of Maharashtra, is called the
AIDS capital of India. Exposure to mass media, decline in the control
over youth traditionally exercised by institutions such as family and
schools, increase in age at marriage, changes in social values and aspi-
rations are some of the features of a modern society and an exaggera-
tion of these may be seen in urban centres such as Mumbai.
Taking cognisance of the need to target youth and the role of educa-
tional institutions in providing sex/AIDS education, the Ministry of
Human Resource Development of the Government of India initiated a
project in 1991 called 'The Universities Talk AIDS' in various col-
leges throughout the country. This project is still current and is under-
taken by the National Service Scheme (NSS), an all-India
organisation of college student volunteers. The project attempts to
improve AIDS awareness among college students through discus-
sions, debates, seminars and exhibitions but is still not fully imple-
mented in many colleges. The NSS officer, who is also a teacher from
the college, is responsible for conducting these programmes. The suc-
cess of these programmes relies heavily on the enthusiasm of the indi-
vidual NSS officers and the support given by the college authorities.
There are other programmes organised at the initiative of local
self-governments and by various non-government agencies. The
Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation (BMC) has introduced AIDS
awareness programmes in some of its schools in Mumbai, at the sec-
ondary school level. The Government of Maharashtra, too, has intro-
duced similar awareness programmes in rural schools. An evaluation
of these programmes shows them to be ineffective in raising aware-
ness among the students (Verma and others, 1997). The evaluations
attributed the failure of the programmes mainly to the manner in
which teachers implemented them. An additional reason could be that
the programmes were designed on the basis of inadequate information
on students' knowledge, their attitudes and behaviours.

Understanding Youth Sexuality 239
No detailed study of sexuality among unmarried young adults ex-
ists in India, so the study reported in this paper aims to bridge the gap
and contribute towards a general understanding of youth sexuality in
India. The present study focuses on unmarried youth and specifically
on the low income urban college students who belong to the age group
of 16-22 years. We envisage that the findings of this study may be of
use in implementing relevant programmes that are especially aimed at
such groups.
The main objectives of the study were to:
• ascertain the knowledge, understanding and perception of
low-income college students of Mumbai regarding reproductive
physiology, sex, STDs and contraception;
• understand the nature and extent of premarital sexual activity
among the students;
• analyse the personal and social contexts in which sexual activity
among students takes place and to understand the influence of
gender, social and cultural factors; and
• understand educators' viewpoints on adolescent sexual
behaviour and the role of educational institutions in influencing
adolescent sexual behaviour.
The exploration of sexuality, thus, covers a range of areas such as
social interaction among students, knowledge of and attitude towards
matters concerning sex, sexual behaviour and sexual experiences,
contraceptive use, sexual health and sex education. Finally, the views
of students are juxtaposed with the views of educators.
In general, studies on sexuality or sexual behaviour have used either
qualitative methods or the survey method to gather data and have not
combined the two. The studies using qualitative methods have tried to
gather in depth information on the difficult and sensitive topic of sex-
uality. Their attempt is to discover structures and meaning systems
that underlie sexual behaviour. Those using the survey method
mainly provide the extent of sexual activity among students, their
partners and frequency of sex. While the latter set of studies informs
us of the general trends, the former provide in depth information
about perceptions, ideas, reasons associated with the behaviour pat-
terns. In this study we have combined qualitative and survey methods
to gather data on the varied dimensions of youth sexuality. It was nec-
essary to combine the two methods to meet the objectives of the study.

240 Leena Abraham
Study Design
The study was carried out in two phases. In the first phase, qualitative
data was gathered and analysed. Qualitative data was gathered first in
order to gain a general overview of students' behaviour and to identify
certain dominant trends. The information thus gathered was used in
designing the second phase of the study. The first phase of the study
was carried out during the year 1995-1996. The second phase of the
study consisted of designing and conducting a survey, which was
completed during the year 1997.
The study was conducted among the students of four colleges selected
from the city zone of Mumbai. The criteria used for selecting the col-
leges were:
• students must be drawn mainly from the low socio-economic
strata of society,
• the colleges must be coeducational; and
• the colleges must offer both higher secondary (Junior College)
and undergraduate courses (Senior College) in Arts, Science and
Commerce streams.
These criteria were employed in order to have adequate representa-
tion in the sample of boys and girls from various streams such as Arts,
Science and Commerce. The study was designed to cover students
who had just entered college and those who were about to leave col-
lege, and therefore colleges having Junior and Senior colleges were
selected. It was assumed that by choosing both kinds of students, the
study sample may include both students without sexual experience
and those with experience. The low-income group was specifically
chosen for the following reasons:
• The existing studies are mainly of students who speak in English
and/or those from elite' colleges.
• It is likely that the family may exercise greater control over the
behaviour of students from low-income groups when compared
to students from higher income groups.
• Students from higher income groups are likely to have more
resources and opportunities to explore their sexuality than the
lower income group students.

Understanding Youth Sexuality 241
• Some elite' colleges have been organising sex education apart
from the regular NSS programmes for their students, while such
programmes are rare if not absent in non-elite' colleges.
Out of the four colleges thus selected, two colleges were selected
for collecting qualitative data and the remaining two colleges for the
Qualitative Methods
The Qualitative Methods included observation, Focus Group Discus-
sions (FGDs) and in-depth Interviews.
s method was used to gain a general idea of the nature of social inter-
action among the students and to assess the level of participation of
students in the curricular and extracurricular activities held within and
outside the college. Students' behaviour was observed in the college
canteen, premises of college, restaurants, parks and beaches near the
college. The research team also attended some of the health/sex/AIDS
education programmes organised by the NSS programme officers in
these colleges.
Focus Group Discussions
At the beginning of the qualitative data collection, members of the re-
search team first addressed students from different streams (Arts, Sci-
ence and Commerce) in their classes and briefly introduced the
research project. Students who volunteered to participate in the group
discussions were contacted subsequently and separate groups were
formed. The FGD participants were, hence, self-recruited.
Separate FGDs were held for students of standard XI (first year of
the Junior College) and Third year (final year of the Senior College)
and for boys and girls. A total of 10 groups (75 students) participated
in the FGDs. A series of discussions were held with each group rang-
ing from two to six sessions. The sessions were of 45 minutes to one
and a half hours duration. Reports of all sessions were prepared sepa-
rately by at least two members of the research team irrespective of
whether the session was being taped or not. The individual reports of
each session were checked for consistency and were also checked
with the transcriptions of the recordings wherever possible.

242 Leena Abraham
The sessions were conducted in the local languages, Marathi and
Hindi. The verbatim reports were prepared in the language in which it
was conducted and later translated into English. The English terms
used by the students were retained, while the local terms and phrases
were translated into English depending on the context. For instance,
boys used the Marathi phrase 'khali jaayache', which literally means
going down, but in this context means visiting commercial sex work-
In Depth Interviews
In depth individual interviews of 87 students (46 boys and 41 girls)
were conducted. They were contacted individually by members of the
research team at random.
A few of the FGD participants were interviewed in depth while
others were newly recruited. The FGD participants chosen for inter-
views were those who appeared to be more informed about students'
activities or had had some personal experiences of relevance to the
study. Others were approached by the staff directly. Each participant
was informed about the objectives of the study, confidentiality of the
data collected and the non-requirement of their identity. They were
informed that their participation was voluntary and they could discon-
tinue the interview if they wished to do so. A few students, especially
girls, refused to be interviewed.
The total number of students in each of the two colleges selected for
the survey ranged from 2000-3000 students. The sample size planned
for the survey was 1000 to be equally distributed among standard XI
and Third year students. The sub sample of 500 students was selected
based on the principle of sample proportional to the distribution of
boys and girls in the different streams of Arts, Science and Commerce
in the two colleges. However, the final sample consists of only 966
students (625 boys and 341 girls). This is roughly proportional to the
distribution of boys and girls in these colleges, which is around 65 per
cent boys to 35 per cent girls. As a result of high rates of absenteeism
among the Third year students in these colleges, especially among the
Arts and Commerce students, the sample size for Commerce boys fell
short by 29 and Arts boys by 5.
The survey in each college was completed in a single day. The
sample was randomly selected from those who attended college on

Understanding Youth Sexuality 243
that particular day . A structured self-administered questionnaire was
used for the survey. The qualitative data gathered during the first
phase of the research was used in designing and structuring the ques-
tionnaire. The questionnaires, both in English and Marathi, were pilot
tested with students of two colleges different from the four colleges
chosen for the study.
The teachers and the college authorities were not involved in the
administration of the questionnaire. The students were informed that
their participation was voluntary, yet none refused to participate. The
introductory talk given by the research team about the significance of
the study, confidentiality of the data collected and also the
non-requirement of their identity seems to have helped in achieving
high rate of student participation. The absence of teachers and college
authorities during the survey was equally important in eliciting stu-
dent cooperation.
Topics Covered
Combining different research methods enabled us to gather informa-
tion on a wide range of topics ranging from general awareness to spe-
cific individual sexual experiences. The FGDs were used to explore
general views of students on topics such as male-female interaction
among the students, types of friendships, qualities sought in part-
ners/spouses, views on marriage, virginity, premarital and extramari-
tal sex, physical intimacy among the students, what actions are
considered to be sexual acts, extent of sexual activity among students
in their college and the sources of information on topics related to sex.
These topics were explored in detail in the interviews.
Topics such as same sex and heterosexual peer interactions, erotic
exposure and language used in describing sex and related topics were
also explored in detail during the FGDs and interviews. It is difficult
to gather such information through a survey using a structured ques-
tionnaire that is self-administered. However, topics such as students'
hobbies, habits, their perception of family atmosphere and some in-
formation on peer interaction, social networking, exposure to erotic
materials and sources of information were covered in the survey.
Thus, not all the topics covered in the discussions and interviews were
included in the survey.
It was necessary to extensively train the research team in the meth-
ods of data gathering and more importantly to sensitise them to the
various issues that were likely to come up during data collection. The

244 Leena Abraham
young staff (age 23-29 years) themselves carried prejudices, lacked
basic information, which was being gathered from students, were in-
hibited in using local terminology some of which were generally con-
sidered vulgar or obscene. Extensive discussions and numerous
training sessions were necessary to get the staff to overcome some of
these difficulties and to accustom themselves to the use of informal,
local language. A deliberate attempt was made to include ex-students
of those colleges from where qualitative data was gathered, among
the staff. This proved to be immensely useful as they were familiar
with the working of the college and the student subculture, and their
inputs were useful in preparing probe questions.
The qualitative data was analysed with the help of a word process-
ing package and no other specific software was used. Analysis of the
data was done by going over the manuscripts repeatedly. Besides a
summary of each interview that was prepared, the data was organised
according to emergent themes such as sexual experience, condom
use, information of specific topics, misconceptions, and so on. The
survey data was analysed using the SPSS package for bivariate and
multivariate analyses.
Sexual Experience
The study showed that college students, especially boys, are sexually
active while girls have reported low rates of sexual activity.
Non-penetrative sexual experiences (kissing, hugging, touching sex
organs) were reported by a large number of boys and girls, while sex-
ual intercourse was reported only by 26.1 per cent of the boys and 3
per cent of the girls. The survey data showed that sexual activity
among boys increased with age and work status and more signifi-
cantly with increase in the level of peer socialisation and erotic expo-
sure. Sexual behaviour among girls was not positively correlated with
their work status. However, it was higher among those with higher
erotic exposure and social interaction.
Qualitative data showed that male students explored their sexuality
more than female students, through multiple partners such as com-
mercial sex workers, 'time pass' friends and older women. The 'time
pass' friendships (serial, monogamous, casual sexual relationships)
with friends and relationships with older women whom boys refer to

Understanding Youth Sexuality 245
as 'aunties' are of shorter duration and those who reported such rela-
tionships had had multiple partners.
Levels of Knowledge and Attitude to Sex
The general level of knowledge regarding anatomy, physiology, con-
traception and STDs among the students was very low resulting in
various myths and misconceptions. Although overall knowledge lev-
els were low, very striking gender differences were observed. Girls
were poorly informed about both the male and female anatomy, con-
ception and contraception.
The findings regarding the association between knowledge and
sexual experience are specifically interesting. The bivariate analysis
showed statistically significant association between knowledge and
sexual behaviour. However, in the multivariate analysis, knowledge
exhibits an inconsistent relation with sexual experience indicating
that higher levels of knowledge need not necessarily lead to increased
premarital sex (for details see Abraham and Kumar, 1999).
The qualitative data show that those with sexual experience not
only discussed their experience with peers but showed keen interest in
gaining more knowledge and clarifying their doubts about sex, con-
traception and STDs. They are also more motivated to attend the sex
education classes. Experience may, therefore, form the basis of seek-
ing knowledge and may become the instrumental reason in seeking
and retaining knowledge. Thus, it may not be the case, as is com-
monly believed by policy makers, college authorities, educators and
more so by parents, that sex education leads to increase in premarital
Boys were more liberal in their attitude towards premarital sex
than girls. While they held liberal attitudes with regard to male sexual
behaviour, their attitudes to female sexual behaviour was conserva-
tive. Such double standards regarding sexuality was strong even
among the younger group of boys.
Contraception, HIV and Health Risks
Although there were misconceptions, nearly all boys in the sample
knew about condoms and their function. Girls, however, had little or
no information about condoms. Even the few girls who knew about
condoms had only incorrect information. They also had no access to
detailed information on other contraceptive methods. Abortion and
sterilisation, commonly practised among women from low-income

246 Leena Abraham
families and communities, were the most commonly reported meth-
ods of preventing pregnancy.
Despite their knowing about condoms, less than 50 per cent of the
boys who had reported sexual intercourse had used condoms. Con-
dom use was inconsistent and almost never occurred in the first few
instances of commercial sex. The findings show that basic AIDS
awareness although widespread among the students, did not prevent
boys from engaging in unsafe sexual practices.
While the AIDS awareness campaigns have been successful in
providing basic information on HIV/AIDS among the students, they
left students with no knowledge about STDs. Lack of information, un-
safe sex practices and poor risk perception clearly indicate that the
risk of contracting STDs, including HIV, is high among boys. Even
though most girls refrain from premarital sex, they may still risk being
infected by STDs because of the unsafe premarital sexual practices of
boys and also because of their own level of ignorance about STDs and
preventive measures.
Sources of Information and Role of Sex Education Programmes
For the boys, the main sources of information on the topics of sex
were peers, blue films, mass media campaigns and advertisements.
For girls, the main sources were peers, Hindi films, media campaigns
and advertisements. Some of these sources reinforced the existing ste-
reotypes, myths and misconceptions, while others appear to have gen-
erated newer myths and stereotypes. For instance, some of the AIDS
campaign messages reinforce notions of male sexuality as uncontrol-
lable and aggressive while emphasising the need to protect their lives.
In another instance it was found that advertisements of condoms had
led to a general belief among the girl students that these are tablets to
be consumed by both male and female partners. Such misconceptions
arose because such campaigns assume a certain level of information
to be universal and focus only on the marketing strategies. In the ab-
sence of other sources of reliable information, girls had tried to make
some inferences about condoms from these advertisements.
The study clearly established that the sex education programmes
have not yet reached most of the college going youth of the lower so-
cioeconomic strata in Mumbai. This is in spite of the efforts by the
State Government, the BMC, the Ministry of Youth Affairs, Mumbai
University, the NSS programme and the widespread media campaign.
It may be important to evaluate the existing sex education

Understanding Youth Sexuality 247
programmes and to find out why they have failed to reach a majority
of the students and to what extent these programmes succeed in pro-
viding useful information to students.
The study shows that educational institutions have failed to be an
effective agency for providing information to students. These institu-
tions are caught in a conflict of values wherein they perform their tra-
ditional role of being moral guardians and agents of discipline and
social control, while sex education demands an openness to discuss
tabooed topics. The situation is compounded by the conservative atti-
tudes of the educators in discussing the topic of sex with students. The
programmes that are currently followed rely on technical or medical
language in order to convey information and are not favoured by the
There is a strong belief among educators that sex education will in-
crease promiscuity among the students. This is in contrast with the
views of the students themselves and the findings of this study.
Gender Differences
The study revealed the extent of gender differences in every sphere of
youth sexuality—in the level of knowledge and access to information,
in their sexual experiences and their consequences. While the study
provides insights into the gender differences in the construction of
sexuality, it shows the operation of sexual ideology derived from a pa-
triarchal social order through the sexual and cultural norms.
Not only do the social and cultural norms, but also the myths and
misconceptions act in a manner that subordinate female sexuality.
Family socialisation, rigid sexual norms centred around virginity and
marriage, inadequate information and differential access to informa-
tion place girls at a greater disadvantage than boys. The fact that they
are urban dwellers and educated up to college level does not enable
them to overcome these barriers in order to protect themselves from
unwanted pregnancies, STDs and sexual exploitation.
The study found that the influence of religion, family and educa-
tional institutions on morality and regulation of sexuality was weak-
ening for males while for females, it continues.
The existing studies, few as they are, provide only glimpses into youth
sexual behaviour. The present study, by combining qualitative and
quantitative methods, has explored different dimensions of sexuality

248 Leena Abraham
among the urban unmarried college students in an Indian metropolis.
While the FGDs provided a general overview of students' awareness,
attitudes and behaviour patterns, the in depth interviews provided de-
tails of the individual's knowledge, attitudes, beliefs and the context
of their sexual experiences. The survey attempted to find out the gen-
eral level of knowledge, attitudes to premarital sex and sexual behav-
iour and its correlates. The study has led to both findings that can be
generalised and findings that are contextual and specific. On the basis
of the findings, the following recommendations are suggested.
1. More innovative sex education programmes with a high de-
gree of student involvement at all stages of its planning and
implementation are needed. These programmes need to be
carefully designed taking into account the adolescent subcul-
ture, their language, their anxieties and above all, the myths
and misconceptions they hold.
2. Sex education programmes should be introduced at the school
and integrated with the curriculum, wherever possible.
3. The scope of the current AIDS awareness campaigns needs to
be broadened to include general sex and reproductive health
4. Efforts should be made to reorient educators and parents to un-
derstand adolescents' need for sex education especially in the
context of the growing threat of AIDS and other STDs.
5. There is a need to create platforms and occasions that facilitate
open discussions on sex among students as well as between
students and teachers.
THE INDIAN JOURNAL OF SOCIAL WORK Volume 62, Issue 2,April 2001