The word ‘contraception’ isn’t discussed openly in polite drawing rooms. But it’s time we tossed the decorum and taboos aside and sought accurate, scientific information which is necessary to keep us in good health. Here’s more about the use of contraceptives...
Are educated Indians shy or ignorant about using contraceptives?
As a society, we are sometimes confused about how to respond to global changes. In this case, ignorance that leads to unsafe sex is a serious concern for us. The young especially are confused because they are exposed to globalisation and modern ways of thinking through various channels like media and peers but, in general, our society is still conservative and not ready to accept these changes.
Do you think sex education in schools needs to be upgraded and the topic of contraception has to be included?
Yes, I believe it should be upgraded and taught in an open, transparent and age-appropriate manner to provide correct biological and physiological information. Workshops for the parents should also be organised regularly. Even adult Indians need sex education.
People must be taught the correct use of condoms. Young people need to know that low dose contraception pills are available and safe. They also can lower the risk of some cancers in the long term.
Women need to understand the different contraception methods available and know when they are most likely to get pregnant. Women should also be informed about the possible side effects of some of the contraception methods and be advised by their family physician about the best method that suits them.
How can women be more aware of their sexual and reproductive health rights?
In India, women often do not make these choices because of which there is a dismal lack of use of birth control measures. Many myths prevail and there is a fear that there may be adverse effects and challenge to their fertility. This ignorance about contraceptive methods has led to an increase in the use of medical termination of pregnancy as a contraceptive method.
What is the minimum age to safely begin usage of contraception?
As per the Government of India guidelines, sexual contact before age of 18 is an offence. Even if consensual, it is considered to be a rape. The Indian social structure does not appreciate sex out of legal framework and considers such consequences as illegal.
It is important therefore, to understand first the minimal age for sexual debut.
Girls are susceptible to infections such as HPV as their reproductive system and immunity is not matured then. Every sexual act should be a protected act.
What advice would you give to youngsters who are buying over the counter emergency contraceptive pills?
Be informed, be safe, learn to exercise restraint and ask for guidance. Do not feel shy to consult a doctor who can guide you better and additionally offer you other preventive advice and help you make the right choice. Also, these medicines are ideally meant to be used when a regular birth control method has failed or not used.
Can you also share your views on the advertisements that talk about contraceptive pills?
Audio-visuals and advertisements have helped raise awareness about contraception amongst women, but it is still poor. Take for example the emergency contraception advertisements that are commonly telecast. Some women and young people who have watched the advertisements think that the pills can replace regular contraception and use them regularly.
In fact, I even know of some married women who engage in sexual activity regularly but use emergency contraception instead of the other methods.
Doctors must counsel these women about other methods of contraception that may be more effective and appropriate.