India’s Most Groundbreaking Study On Sex & Sexuality Is Underway - Take Part! - Homegrown

India’s Most Groundbreaking Study On Sex & Sexuality Is Underway - Take Part!

Searching for a study on sexuality in India is like searching for an Indian school which has comprehensive sex education–there are hardly any and, even if there are, they fall drastically short of being ‘comprehensive.’ Studies on sexuality are usually driven by media organisations mining for sensationalist data or by well-meaning NGOs and government organisations that, with their limited resources, usually focus on specific problems like the spread of HIV and use of contraception. In a country with approximately 400 million young people who are all growing up in a sexual landscape vastly different to what their parents experienced, the need for a study on sexuality is urgent.

‘Prayas’, an NGO in Pune, has paid heed to this need and has embarked on what is possibly the most comprehensive study on sexuality ever conducted in India. Titled “Youth in Transition,” this project is a unique interview-style guide that goes deep into understanding the reasons behind sexual behaviours in young, unmarried youths in Pune’s urban areas. Participants are interviewed by trained professionals for a couple of hours and assured of complete confidentiality and safe spaces. Although being a part of such a historical study should be reason enough for anyone to enroll, the benefits of having this in-depth conversation has the potential for being a transformative experience for the participants themselves.

We spoke to Dr Shriniwas Darak, a senior researcher at Prayas (Health Group) who is overseeing this study along with his colleague, Dr. Ritu Parchure.

Aditya Gautam (AG): Who is this study for?

Dr Shriniwas Darak (SD): Anyone living in Pune aged between 20 and 29, unmarried and has passed high school.We included the criteria of passing high school (class 10 + 2) because whenever sexuality studies are done, they usually target the uneducated poor... We wanted to study the urban youth who are living and working in cities. We have had more than 1,200 to 1100 participants so far and this is the last month for enrolling as a participant. From January onwards, we will start analysing the results.

AG: How did the idea to conduct such a monumental study come about?

SD: Prayas has a clinic for sexually transmitted diseases and HIV... A few years ago, we started noticing a lot of increase in youngsters coming in the clinic with sexually transmitted diseases which made us think we might need to conduct a study to understand what is happening... We first did a qualitative phase where we went and spoke to young people and tried to understand their concerns. In that, it was quite clear that the kinds of relationships we have now is changing... “Friends with benefits,” “Rebound,” type terminology came up again and again... The current research in India is mostly survey-based which focuses only on recent events... They do not tell us anything about how decision making evolves, the reasons why we do what we do. In our study, we used a framework called “Life coach course research,” which I had done my PhD in. This approach has led us to design a study in which we analyse the transitions people go through from age 10 till now and how a single event can end up affecting their choices. For example, your experience in one relationship is likely to inform your decisions and actions in the next relationship. So there are many interconnections [and] we need to make sense of these intricacies.

AG: What is the goal of this study?

SD: Right now, most programs for sexual health in our country focus on the reproductive health of married people, where reproduction is the primary concern. We wanted to take a broader perspective. See, the average age of marriage in urban India is increasing drastically. We have to start looking at this population as not just students and workers of this country, but also as a population that is vulnerable to so many health issues. We can already see a steep rise in rates of suicide, depression, and self-harm in the younger population... A lot of these issues are linked to sexuality because that is the prime age when sexuality is developing. The ultimate goal of this study is to have a deeper understanding of sexual behaviour in today’s youngsters and start a discourse about sexual health that goes far beyond condom use and sexually transmitted diseases and covers more mental, physical, and emotional health.

AG: How has the response been so far?

SD: One thing is absolutely clear– every one of the 1200-1100+ participants felt very good after having taken the interview that lasts one and a half to two hours, sometimes even three. They get to speak about things they have never talked about before like their decisions, their conflicts, their experiences of abuse, the entire journey they have gone through. It has made it clear that non-judgemental spaces where people can talk about such topics are utterly lacking in our society. So, this has been a fascinating insight that is coming out of the study.

AG: Why should one attend this study?

SD: Now I can confidently say that if anyone wants to talk, we have created a tool for people to share their experiences with us in a safe and secure environment... It is helping people gain a better understanding of their behaviour patterns. Participating in the study will also add valuable data for this study.

AG: Is it for all sexual orientations?

SD: Yes, it is for everyone. Except for the three points of selection [anyone living in Pune aged between 20 and 29, unmarried and has passed high school], it is for everyone else. For all sexual orientations.

AG: Who conducts the interviews?

SD: A well-trained team of interviewers. Women interview women and men interview men. It is a completely confidential interview and if someone also needs experts like a gynaecologist or psychiatrist after the interview, we guide participants to them either for nominal fees or for free.

If you fit the criteria for participating in the study, please fill out this Google form. The team will contact you shortly after to set up an interview. Remember, you can only participate if you are 20-29 years old, unmarried, completed high school and live in Pune.

Learn more about Prayas and Youth in Transition here.

Feature image by: Prayas

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