Sex by the numbers

Last November, India Today (with AC Neilsen and others) reported on their fourth ever national sex survey [Thanks reader sohwhat!]. This time round they focussed on India’s youth. Here are some highlights (from behind the subscription wall, although you can see a summary of their findings in this Reuters article):

  • “46% single 16-25-year-old males have had sex, 10% higher than the 2004 survey”
  • “37% single young men have had a homosexual experience, compared to 31% in 2004″
  • “The average age of first sexual encounter for men has come down from 23 in 2004 to 18.”

Some of these findings, by the way, don’t quite add up. For example, while only 46% of young males claimed to have had sex, “49% young men have had sex with sex workers. In Ludhiana, it as high as 63%.” That seems a bit bizarre. After all, if you’ve had sex with a sex worker, you’ve had sex.

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p>Also, the idea that close to 50% of all males have had sex with a sex worker, if true, is trouble from the perspective of the spread of HIV.

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p>As for the women, some admit to having sex, but not as many, and they’re starting later than the boys:

  • “In 2005… only 24 per cent single women between the ages of 18 and 30 … had had sex.”
  • “42 per cent [of single women] said they had their first sexual encounter between the ages of 19 and 21.”

Despite this busyness in the sack for both sexes, both men and women say women should stay virgins until they are married:

  • “63% single young men expect the woman they marry to be a virgin, 10% lower than in 2004″
  • “In the 2005 survey of single women, 66 per cent agreed, saying women should remain virgins till they are married.”

The most disturbing finding was one about the prevalence of incest, which implies that a large number of females are having forced sex with family members:

  • “14 per cent [of single males] claim to have had sex with family members.”

That number is horrifying enough, but when you consider that there was likely under-reporting, it’s even more disturbing.

All quotes from the India Today Sex Survey Cover Article, “Men in a Muddle

73 thoughts on “Sex by the numbers

  1. i am not at all surprised at the results, actually expected much higher percentages… with the rates of HIV increasing, it’s just horrifying to think that safe sex is still not on much of a forefront as it needs to be.. … and the incest numbers are just disturbing, period.

  2. in terms of incest, the family members do not necessarily have to be females who are being forced into sex — it could be male family members who are being forced into sex too.

  3. in terms of incest, the family members do not necessarily have to be females who are being forced into sex — it could be male family members who are being forced into sex too.

    Some might well be, but it’s a lot less likely.

  4. This article is interesting but it is also disturbing.

    Some of these findings, by the way, don’t quite add up. For example, while only 46% of young males claimed to have had sex, “49% young men have had sex with sex workers. In Ludhiana, it as high as 63%.” That seems a bit bizarre. After all, if you’ve had sex with a sex worker, you’ve had sex.

    This disparity concerning the data results could be directly related to how the question was put forward and how it was understood by the males questioned. Although I expected the numbers to be much higher, disturbing part of the whole article is definitely related to HIV. I am not sure how many people in the subcontinent are infected by the virus, but it appears the real data is still yet to come out to the general public.

    That is a scary thought.

  5. This was a topic I talked about back in November. I would rather, these men paid a prostitute for sex than take out their sexual frustrations on a member of their own family.

  6. I remember being in India a few years ago and seeing a lot of advertisements about the AIDS number passing 10 million or something like that. Does anyone know what the number is today? Also have any of the programs that the government and NGOs put in place 5 years ago when this whole issue came to the forefront made any dent in educating the masses affected the most about HIV and protection? I know there was a deliberate and big effort to educate sex workers for example. I’d be curious to know.

    That truly is the only disturbing thing about the survey. The HIV stats. That people are having sex earlier than 30 is IMO a good and positive thing.

  7. Ennis, it is possible that the questions were framed differently when asking about having sex versus having sex with sex-workers. For instance, “Do you visit sex-workers?” might mean the same thing, but can really yield very different answers. Also, there is a lot of ambiguity surrounding the word “sex” and what really connotes as an act. If Bill Clinton can claim he did not do it, then I am sure a lot of guys surveyed might also have made similar claims.

    Mr. K, that book is so sophomoric it makes Kaavya’s magnum opus look like “War and Peace”. I read it on a road-trip between Delhi and Nainital this winter and I roundly cursed myself for picking it up over Suketu Mehta’s Maximum City.

  8. Also have any of the programs that the government and NGOs put in place 5 years ago when this whole issue came to the forefront made any dent in educating the masses affected the most about HIV and protection?

    The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation coordinates a lot of that work in India. Clearly they have made a dent in the masses about AIDS in general if 50% of men have reported using a condom always. That is a pretty high number, although I am not sure how that compares against other countries.

  9. I also don’t believe the 50% figure. Self reported numbers on these surveys are problematic, and you have to assess how much under and over reporting you have. In this case, I would bet that many more people say they use condoms than actually do.

  10. ennis

    dont jump to the conclusion that sex w/ family members = forced…..incest doesn’t necessitate a lack of desire by the female

  11. I read the funniest thing recently in “The Inner Ape” by bonobo researcher Frans de Waal. In talking about why self-reporting is sometimes a problem, he says that when psychologists did an experiment where college students were hooked up to a (fake) lie detector, suddenly the number of men’s sexual partners went down, and the number of women’s went up — to, as you would guess, about even with each other. ;)

  12. Mr. K, that book is so sophomoric it makes Kaavya’s magnum opus look like “War and Peace”.

    I heard him read an excerpt from it, and it sounded hilarious. But I’ve noticed recently that he doesn’t list it among his publications, which is quite odd. DDiA, what were the weaknesses?

  13. I think the ‘incest’ is between devar/bhabhi or jija/saali most of the time, NOT actual blood relatives (I HOPE). Men sleeping with their bhabhis is supposedly not that rare in northern India.

  14. I always lie on sex questionnaires. I have never told a single true thing about my sex life to anyone ever. They just wouldnt be able to handle it.

  15. Very interesting findings. I agree, the perceived incompatibilities of the figures may because of the way the questions were asked and/or interpreted. I also agree that given the sexual repression prevelant in India, it is likely that these numbers represent under-reporting

    The most disturbing finding was one about the prevalence of incest, which implies that a large number of females are having forced sex with family members: “14 per cent [of single males] claim to have had sex with family members.”

    As has been pointed out, this could well have been consensual, and don’t forget that these could very well have been homosexual sex as well… between male cousins for example. As I have been told by other gay Indian friends, this is not an uncommon occurance at all, and probably is because of the sexual repression. High hormones levels and no access to girls in mid- to late-teens often makes even straight guys engage in facultative homosexuality (with friends, cousins et al.). It they are straight of course they would probably prefer to forget it and wouldn’t admit to it later. I should also say that after Monsoon Wedding was released, Indian female friends and acquaintences have asserted that unwanted attentions from a older male family member, usually an uncle, isn’t uncommon.

    And yeah, in the Indian context, I am not surprised at the reported number of men who have had a homosexual experience. As I have mentioned above, people having had a homosexual experience does not mean they are homosexual or even bisexual. And of course people living as heterosexuals, e.g. married with kids, but who are actually bisexuals or homosexuals are not uncommon in India, in fact dominate the Indian “gay” population (or as Indian gay activists prefer to call them, MSMs– “Men Who Have Sex With Men”). Any of the numerous Indian gay forums would provide ample evidence for this.

  16. “37% single young men have had a homosexual experience, compared to 31% in 2004”

    does holding hands or hands over shoulder count?

  17. Are you all sure the “sex with family members” number does not include wives?

    Only single men were polled, so it’s not with their own wives.

  18. suddenly the number of men’s sexual partners went down, and the number of women’s went up — to, as you would guess, about even with each other

    Here’s a formula: For men, take the number of women they claimed to sleep with and divide by 3. That is the real count. For women, usually multiply it by 2 for the real count.

  19. Here’s a formula: For men, take the number of women they claimed to sleep with and divide by 3.

    dammit

    That is the real count. For women, usually multiply it by 2 for the real count.

    : ( … thats its, I am gonna kill her!

  20. I think more indian men AND WOMEN should be having sex as single. And yes, with protection , contraception, medical examination(if they can afford to test for STDs before sleeping with a partner) and sex education. I dont understand why indians have to be sexually repressed.

    I, as a female indian, an upset that I have to feel sex is a TABOO right here in america. My parents nevered talked to me about anything “sex” related and at home we avoided the topic at all costs. If a sex scene came up on a movie , my parents would fast forward through it, or I would chang the channel if there was kissing on TV. My parents would not have any of it.

    I am pretty sexually screwed up, IMO. I now view sex as a horrible thing and get very angry when I hear people say how wonderful it is. In my viewpoint, sex has become a sin. I have a boyfriend, who is white, and doesnt understand my viewpoint at all. My parents would kill me if they found out I am with this white man. I never intended on having a boyfriend, but because this guy kept pursuing me I enjoyed the attention and eventually liked him. I had sex with him. I cried. I thought it was the worst thing in the world. I kept thinking how sinful and bad it is. I kept thinking about how I was raised and that now I am a horrible indian girl. According to my malayalee upbringing, indian girls are to be chaste and those that are not are ostrasized if someone found out. If my parents were to ever find out (by the way Im 200 miles away in college, a senior right now) they would not want anything to do with me. I believe that they will think that my life is over.

    I wish indian people would be less strict when it comes to sex. What I mean is that I wish we could have pre-marital sex with someone and not be looked down upon if revealed. Why must we go against our natural body callings? Why must I not satisfy my body’s needs unless its under a particular “social norm”??

    I hope more young women are able to have sex in the future without being looked down upon as sluts, worthless, used, etc. THis is happening around the world. Men , generally, are allowed to have sex premaritally and not have a bad reputation but women are to be chaste???

    I believe this is social control of women throughout the world. Young women do not need to be told WHEN they are allowed to use their body; rather they should be told how to protect their bodies/minds/wellbeing through the process of embracing their sexuality.

  21. But I’ve noticed recently that he doesn’t list it among his publications, which is quite odd.

    Haha, I predict that Mr. D’Souza will make similar moves in the near future.

    DDiA, what were the weaknesses?

    Mainly of stereotypes and writing style. He makes sweeping generalizations about snobby Tam-Brahms, avaricious Banias (shopkeepers) and petty-bourgeoise Punjabis. Once done, he declaims them for their cleaving so firmly to common notions about caste in India and then sets himself up as the lone Western educated figure that is really above it all. A friend of mine commented that on the subject of caste, Mishraji doth protest too much, and I agree with that assessment.

    This fits in perfectly with his literary style that reminds me of the godawful book called “Inscrutable Americans” by Anurag Mathur. Banal observations tied together with the above-mentioned stereotypes delivered in a long Woody Allen whine. His book is not much of a travelogue as much as it is a denouncement of everything bad that he sees about north India.

    Sorry for the off-topic Ennis.

  22. DDiA, what were the weaknesses?

    The main weakness is his jaundiced view of small-town India (north gets most of his love). It was derided as a sanitary inspectorÂ’s report of small-town India. It is funny in places. The humour often comes at the expense of gawaar Indians. At times, he seems clueless about his surroundings. The guy is at a bus stand. His biggest gripe? Lack of quality English newspapers. He does make some valid points, but a more balanced view would have been appreciated.

  23. does holding hands or hands over shoulder count(as homosexual behavior)?

    someone answer this question because most folks here would consider that sort of behavior to be homosexual. but it’s prevalent in india.

  24. Men don’t necessarily have the kind of boundries in India that they do in the west. Men are far more comfortable hugging, holding hands and even getting emotional over eachother. If women can do it with eachother so can men. I feel like after Brokeback Mountain came out the “brokeback” jokes that went around the office among the guys started to get really irritating. American men are ridiculously homophobic versus the European ones at least in the environment around me. Nothing like making a joke and outing yourself as a homophobe.

  25. My parents would kill me if they found out I am with this white man.

    Just a thought, but perhaps you should not be publishing your thoughts on the Internet with a link to your email address.

  26. OMFG!!!!!!!! I didnt even realize that my email is revealed. O shit. O shit. O god, it even says optional in paranthesis. O dear. I didnt even pay attention.

    well, you guys, I just stole someone’s email account and put it on here. I do that with all the blogs cuz eventually they bann me and then I have to come up with another email address to get access to them again. I never use my real email cuz I dont ever want to be harrassed by people who hate my comments.

  27. I hope that the moderators will remove “MangoPickle”‘s email address from her post #27.

  28. I took care of it. The intern is out buying bananas. BTW, “Pickle” I had emailed you about this but you didn’t respond …

  29. Pickle, I understand where you are coming from. I wish my parents had told me something, anything about sex, instead of “don’t get yourself in trouble.” I want an open communication with my kids when I have them and I want my daughter to come to me if she wants the pill. We can change the way we raise/educate our children about sex. I don’t think sex is evil, granted I had to de-brainwash my parents edumucation.

  30. “Mangopickle” Sometimes you need to check before you write (that’s why it says optional in big letters). Well you must like pickles!!! Hey if you want to get your frustrations of repression out, there are a lot of us that can help you out:)

  31. mangopickle,

    forgetting your little mishap for one second, your original post is probably how many young desi girls feel. i’ve heard your same story many a times from indian girls around your age. know this, you and most second generation (in any race or gender even) have to put up with their folks conservative view of the world. but hopefully you can take comfort in the fact that your kids will be best prepared and confident for the world in the topic of sex, sports, education, culture and society.

    sambol, don’t be jerk dude.

  32. MangoPickle

    Thoughts and advice (handing over a bag of salt)

    You are not alone. Be careful. Don’t be ashamed. Have sex if you enjoy it, but know that guys do lie from time to time, so protect yourself. Sex does not equal love. Lustful sex while good and enjoyable is fleeting. Sex with someone you love feeds you and sustains you.

    Most guys don’t mature until at least well after college, and some of us never at all. Most of us guys don’t know what we are doing when it comes to sex even though we think we do (see Y Tu Mama Tambien discussion with the older woman and the guys about their girlfriends).

    Anyone’s first time is likely to suck, but like anything it gets better with practice.

    My thoughts after my first time (her third) “That’s it?” My experience with two girlfriends who were virgin. One wasn’t ready but thought she was and she cried afterwards. Things got better and it lasted two years. I made the second one wait the first time she brought it up. I told her she needed to think about it. That went much better. Needless to say these were both white girls, so I’m guessing the feelings of guilt cross cultural and religious lines at least to some extent.

    Take care of yourself. Don’t be afraid of what your parents will think if they meet this guy. There will be drama, there will be arguments. All things pass in time. You need to fall in love with someone for yourself and for who he is, not simply because you parents approve.

  33. “I just stole someone’s email account and put it on here. I do that with all the blogs cuz eventually they bann me and then I have to come up with another email address to get access to them again. I never use my real email cuz I dont ever want to be harrassed by people who hate my comments.”

    just out of curiosity, what does that mean – you stole someone else’s e-mail account? you used someone else’s e-mail address without permission or with their permission?

  34. Some of these findings, by the way, don’t quite add up. For example, while only 46% of young males claimed to have had sex, “49% young men have had sex with sex workers. In Ludhiana, it as high as 63%.” That seems a bit bizarre. After all, if you’ve had sex with a sex worker, you’ve had sex.

    Perhaps they misquoted and meant 49% of those who have claimed to have sex have had sex with sex workers? Wow, there was a lot of “sex” in that sentence.

    BS, no. I think what’s problematic is the increasingly lax attitude towards having safe sex and in getting tested for STDs, etc. I find myself continually shocked that my college-educated friends still do stupid shit like use the pull out method, don’t get tested for anything, and don’t know the experiences of their partner. I’m still with Jocelyn Elders that if kids were taught to be cool with their sexuality and encouraged to engage in self-lovin’, this may help mitigate risky behavior and general horniness.

  35. Asha’s dad thanx for sharing that incredible insight. I wish someone had shared that with me when I was a child. Not like I have any sob stories to share but there are so many things in life people learn on their own. I have come full circle to practice and follow what my parents taught me when I was a child and not become ashamed of being deemed conservative but I needed to fail and falter and learn on my own to realize the value of that advice and rebelling and doing whatever the hell I wanted to was an important part of learning to be an adult.

    So often parents can easily forget that. Human beings are incredibly resilient, we have the ability to let life give us so many opportunities to correct ourselves. It’s important to create an environment to let your children fail and eventually correct themselves if the need be because the vast majority of mistakes I’ve seen with me and people around me were always corrected.

    Am I the only one that thinks the increasingly casual Western attitude towards sex is a negative? Leaving aside the dangers pregnancy, HIV and other diseases, does anyone besides me think there may be some value to the idea that sex should be something special between two people that love each other?

    You’d be surprised to learn how many people believe in what you believe in. By your own admission you were promiscuous once but now you think sex should be a special thing between two people. That is just the natural cycle of maturing and growing up. Everyone should be afforded that luxury. Deeming the exploring phase as you went thru as being ‘casual western attitudes’ is not allowing people the option to mature and grow. Young people have been having sex for a very long time, the whole reason why marriage took place far earlier in olden times, because that need was recognized.

    Enjoying sex is not mutually exclusive to protecting oneself from HIV or pregnancy or whatever.

  36. What exactly does “cool with your sexuality mean”?

    I suppose that was vague on my part. What I mean is that I think young men and women would be a lot better off if they were allowed to be sexually confident. So long as a person knows what s/he’s doing, is introspective about where s/he’s at, and makes the decisions s/he feel are right for him/her (instead of feeling pressured by some weird norms to be virgins or whores), then hopefully s/he’ll make the best sexual decision for him/herself. I agree that oftentimes the idea of “being cool with being sexual” is poorly represented in popular media, but also there’s a dearth of alternative narratives and voices out there. I like to think that the less taboo something is, the less likely someone is to make risky decisions because of feeling “pressured” to fit some kind of ideal.

    But I also have to blame sex education in the U.S. The stuff they teach in public schools is absolutely ridiculous.

  37. I remain unconvinced that encouraging sexual activity before marriage somehow leads to healthier happier adults.

    OK so what would you like to teach young people who need an outlet? Abstinence till they are in their 30s? 40s? Since marriage doesn’t happen till then for a lot of people. Do you have other more realistic options?

  38. OK so what would you like to teach young people who need an outlet? Abstinence till they are in their 30s? 40s? Since marriage doesn’t happen till then for a lot of people. Do you have other more realistic options?

    MASTURBATION.

    That said, I totally agree with you JoAT, I’m just teasing :)

  39. But I also have to blame sex education in the U.S. The stuff they teach in public schools is absolutely ridiculous.

    I have so many mixed emotions about this. The sex education in my school was laughworthy and more scientific than psychological, it was also many years too late and everyone in the class already knew what sex was at that point.

    The thing is children learn about sex so much earlier now than they did before. It’s creepy. They say to have conversations with children much earlier about sexuality, morality and relationships but it’s hard to do that with a 7 year old. I of course don’t have any kids so I’d really love to hear the thoughts of any parents lurking who have had to deal with this.

    And ultimately I would like to believe that sex education and ethics/morals/values and what is important should be taught by parents to the kid not by a school. But obviously we have an entire generation here (me included) that didn’t hear a peep about sex from their parents and for the most part sex wasn’t even acknowledged so obviously the school serves it’s purpose.

  40. I would simply repeat my parents advice: That’s pretty much what I was told, word for word, when I was 14.

    You got more than the average desi. The average desi gets anywhere from NOTHING to “I’ll break your legs/disown you/you will go to hell/god will hate you/I will kill myself/you will die of AIDS etc etc” from the average desi parent.