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More women than men have been in at least one relationship: survey

Around 84% of the twenty-something Pune women and 70% of men have been in at least one relationship in their lives.

Credit : Shubham Patil

Pune: More women in their twenties have reportedly been in at least one relationship as compared to their male counterparts. A study by Prayas Health Group, a Pune-based non-governmental, non-profit organisation, showed that around 84 percent of the twenty-something Pune women and 70 percent of men have been in at least one relationship in their lives. “In this cohort of youth, being in a relationship was a norm,” the report summarises. With more young adults indulging in relationships and physical intimacy, the report highlights the need to make sex education more accessible and comprehensive, going beyond the bounds of the school curriculum.

This report titled Youth in ‘Transition: Relationship patterns and dynamics among unmarried youth’ has analysed relationships amongst the never married youth in India, roughly belonging to the age-group of 20 to 29, to focus on their sexual health needs. Almost 10 percent of these participants, more among women, also reported to have five or more relationships that lasted for at least a month. More women (33 percent) than men (10 percent) also reported having found other gender partners through social media.

The study was conducted based on the responses of a total of 1,240 participants, out of which 653 were men, 584 were women and three participants marked their gender as ‘other’. Most of the participants were either raised in urban areas, or had migrated to the city for higher education. A majority also reported to belong to the middle/upper middle class.


Early Relationships


While the study revealed that the majority of the participants started their first relationships in school, the early first relationships were found to be more common in the post-millennial generation (born after 1995, also known as Generation Z). This has been called one of the major markers of the changing relationship patterns in the city, before and after 1995.

“The study showed that precisely 30 percent of men and 40 percent of women started their first relationship when they were still in school. Overall, over 50 percent of both men and women stated that they had their first relationship before the age of 18,” the report states.

Not just the generation, but where they grew up also determined the age of the beginning of first relationships amongst the participants. Compared to people who lived in a village during their childhood (at age 10), those who lived in the city were more likely to start their first relationship early.


Relationships and Physical Intimacy

One of the main objectives of the study was to analyse the sexual health needs of never married youth, and short intimate encounters (relationships lasting less than a month) were found to be quite common amongst the younger generation.

Around 28 percent of the participants reported that they had been in short relationships. More men (69 percent) than women (42 percent) reported penetrative sex in short relationships.

When questioned if the participants had received any sexuality education school and if they had any communication with their parents about it, most reported that there had practically been no discussion with regard to masturbation, sexual pleasure, etc. "Majority of the participants, mostly women, reported that there was some discussion about menstruation, changes that happen in the body and HIV/AIDS, and even that was discussed because it was part of the school curriculum.


Young Relationships and Sexual Health

The survey has further highlighted that it is extremely important to make informed decisions with respect to relationships, to experience a positive and healthy sexual life. While the need for a comprehensive sexual education (CSE) being universally accessible, even beyond schools, was highlighted in the report, it also dwelled upon the possibility of revision of the legal age of consent. According to The Protection of Children from Sexual Offences (POCSO) Act, 2012, sexual activity before the age of 18, even if it is ‘consensual’ is considered a crime.

With many youngsters starting sexual intimacy before the age of 18, access to information and resources becomes difficult when sex at that age is criminalised, states the report. “Though most young people between the age of 16-18 who engage in consensual sexual activity are not currently prosecuted, they are ‘criminals’ in the eyes of law and find it extremely difficult to access any sexual and reproductive health-related services. On the other hand, there is no evidence to support that increasing age of consent has delayed sexual activity or has reduced crimes. Therefore, with the rapidly changing context of the initiation of sexual intimacy in India, there is a need to reconsider a lowering age of consent,” the report adds.

Another important point noted in the report is the need to revise the nature of sex education available in our country. “The sexual and reproductive health and rights (SRHR) programs in India have been traditionally focusing more on reproductive health and hence are dominated by the discourse on maternal health. This has resulted in the formulation of a more bio-medical approach to SRHR that largely catered to married heterosexual couples,” the researchers say, also emphasising that SRHR programmes should also focus on sexual health which is considered fundamental to people’s health and rights.