Title

Ignorance and inequality: Youth sexuality in India and its implications to HIV spread

Date of Award

1998

Degree Type

Dissertation

Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)

Department

Anthropology

Advisor(s)

Susan S. Wadley

Keywords

Immune deficiency, Gender, Social class, Ignorance, Inequality, Youth, Sexuality, India, HIV

Subject Categories

Anthropology | Public Health | Social and Cultural Anthropology

Abstract

This dissertation describes and analyzes Indian young adults' sexuality discourses, construction of sexual knowledges, and behaviors, portraying gender, class and rural/urban differences. I focus on sexual experiences as constructed by the social and cultural contexts in which they take place. I combined qualitative and quantitative methods and worked with large samples of male and female college students (17-24 age group) in Hyderabad, India.

Sexual ideologies of these young men and women are gendered. Their sexual discourses are centered around male privilege. Both men and women mystify women's first sexual experience, which in effect justifies male privilege to have virgin wives. Male domination and women's submission are the main features of their sexual negotiations. My survey findings on their premarital sexual behavior challenge many common assumptions in India: 26 percent of the young men and five percent of the young women reported premarital sexual experience, and more importantly, most of them have had multiple partners. Commercial sex workers' roles are limited in young men's premarital sex lives compared to that of female neighbors and relatives, who are likely to be already married; young men believe that sex with "family ladies" is safe. Incidence of STDs was extremely high amongst women--14 percent of the sexually experienced women reported STDs compared to six percent of the sexually experienced men. Premarital sex is as prevalent in rural areas as it is in the urban areas, in fact slightly higher.

As one of the first few studies on sexuality in contemporary India, my research contributes to a theoretical understanding of sexuality construction and exposes the links between sexuality and patriarchy. At the applied level, my research findings highlight previously unconsidered pathways for HIV spread among young adults, women, and rural populations. The study demonstrates that a comprehensive sexuality education program that addresses gender issues as well, could have a profound impact, not only on AIDS prevention but also on responsible behavior in the areas of sexual experience, contraception and disease prevention.

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