By Dr. Surekha Jain
Women are finally breaking free of social barriers and inhibitions. As a result, there is a concomitant need to change the definition of sexual health as well. Some of the most important aspects of women’s sexual health is the right to be in a safe sexual relationship and taking ownership of one’s own sexuality and sex life, including the right to choose a sexual partner. As today’s woman is more educated and aware, she does not fear discussing about her sexual wellbeing right from an early age. However, a majority of women still feel apprehensive when it comes to sharing their concerns about unprotected sex, unwanted pregnancies, abortions and sex before marriage due to social pressures and the taboo associated with these topics.
Topics related to, or in fact the word ‘sex’ itself, signify social stigma in our society. This prevents young girls and women from opening up or consulting with qualified medical practitioners, thus leading to compromises and so-called adjustments. Even though most women (both rural and urban) are aware of more than one method of contraception, they lack the support and the initiative to make use of them due to family pressures. For example, even today, many families see women as a tool for taking their progeny forward and feel they do not have a say in matters related to sexual intercourse. Often men do not feel there is a need to ask their permission before indulging in intercourse.
However, if women are given the space to express themselves freely without having to fear being judged, then many of them will come forward to discuss contraception and various options available that give them the freedom to take charge of their sex life. Gynecologists and social health workers are calling upon women to take control of their sexual health and reproductive life as sex involves active participation of both partners equally. If a woman is not ready for sex or pregnancy, she has every right to say a firm ‘no’ and ask her partner to use a condom. Even though condoms are the highest and the safest form of contraception that prevent both pregnancy as well as STDs, it is important to raise awareness about other methods of contraception as well.
The advantage of a woman knowing about other contraceptive measures such as the hormonal interventions including pills, intrauterine device, the use of spermicides, and the calendar method, is that women may employ them independently. Hence, it is important to raise awareness and knowledge about these methods.
Sexual health is more than just contraceptives
Good reproductive health is an essential part of a woman’s existence and general wellbeing. Sexual health in women includes a keen understanding of a complex set of organs and hormones. Women experience many stages of sexual development and changes throughout their lives. A woman’s reproductive journey begins as early as the onset of puberty with the beginning of physical changes leading to menarche to fertility and pregnancy, and eventually menopause. Each stage is associated with specific sexual health issues including sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, unplanned and unwanted pregnancies besides many social and mental implications.
Lastly, there is also a need to make sexual education mandatory in schools especially for adolescent students who may either be pre-pubescent or have reached puberty. When done in a systematic manner, sex education can help students learn about reproduction, procreation, and safe sex. Access to the right information at the right age will bring down the incidence of unwanted teenage pregnancy, and sexually transmitted diseases (STDs). It will help students in becoming responsible and better-informed citizens. There is also a need to dispel myths about sex, bodily changes that happen during puberty, and make them have a healthy perception about their bodies and that of others. Dealing with these concerns requires unrestricted access to quality information, individual knowledge, medical assistance, support from family and a healthy lifestyle.
There is also an urgent need for a change in the mindset of both men and women to inculcate the habit of a healthy dialogue with respect to topics related to sexual health especially in a developing country like India where women’s health, primary healthcare, as well as maternal and infant mortality are major concern areas.
Dr. Surekha Jain is a gynaecologist on Lybrate, a mobile healthcare technology company.
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