Indians use less of Condoms; much taboo linked

Indians use less of Condoms

Indians are aware of sex more now with social media playing a bigger role. However, the young people in the country use less of condoms and other contraceptives, according to the first ever condom report.

India ranks third in HIV cases and witnessed over a lakh unintended pregnancies in 2020. However, the first “Condomology report”  by Condom Alliance says that condom usage remains much low. Condom Alliance is a shared value collective of condom market players and other stakeholders to improve the well-being of young people in India.

The National Family Health Survey – 4 (NFHS – 4) said that the overall condom usage in India remained extremely low. It said that 70 per cent of male adolescents between the age of 15 and 19 and 78 per cent young male between the age of 20 and 24 did not use a contraceptive with their last sexual partner.

The Condomology report says that the Moving Annual Total (MAT) in March 2020 for condom market size was calculated at 2.3 billion pieces, valued at Rs. 1,521 crores. It said that the market grew 11 per cent (year on year) in volume terms in 2019, but decreased one per cent in 2020. The report notes that urban areas accounted for 65 per cent of the volume and 72 per cent of the value.

Brijj Balaji Singh, Condom Alliance member and Senior Vice President, Operations, TTK Protective Devices Limited pointed out that condom usage in India was almost 1/6th the size of other major economies in the world. He opined that efforts need to be taken to overcome the barriers, especially psychological barriers, affecting condom usage. This gained importance in the wake of the size of the population, especially a country with the largest youth population.

Cultural and societal difference
The first condom report points to the cultural and societal differences between the youth in India and Western World.  In India, there exists a taboo related to sex. However, Western countries do not come with such taboo.  The youth in western world have no barrier or shame about use or procurement of condoms. Unlike Indian youth, those in developed western countries walk through popular super markets, pick up condoms, and place them before the cashier, without the fear of any judgment, glares or whispers. In these countries, condom is only seen as any other product on the grocery list. The youth in these countries are comfortable discussing about sex and protection with friends and family. Another notable thing is that the youth in western countries move out of their parents at the age of 18. But in India, they still live with their parents.
Mystery of low condom usage

Some people refrain from using condom even if they might be carrying one because of the fear of being seen as promiscuous. For women in India, it is especially true. With men, they have the misconception that condom reduces physical pleasure. They fear that condom breaks the flow of the moment, reducing excitement and thrill. Apart from this, the report notes that first-time users fear they might fumble while using it.

The Condom report points out that majority of the women feel that the onus of using the condom lies with their partner. Most of the time, they do not have the courage to ask their partner to use one.

“How do I procure a condom?”

The procurement of condom is another taboo. Mostly the onus of buying condom lies with men. In western Countries, anyone can pick up a pack from any grocery shop and walk out and no taboo associated with it. This is not the case in India.  In India, chemists contribute 78 per cent of the volume and 81 per cent of the value of market for condoms and Grocers/General Stores is a distant number two with 14% volume and 11% value share. This means that buying a condom in India involves one on one interaction and the societal mindset adds to the discomfort of the buyer, as he feels judged by the retailer and those around him at the sale counter. This could be more cumbersome for a woman who wants to buy condom from a dealer.

Moreover, the report states that people are also not aware of what condom to buy. While there are multiple brands and varieties available, most advertisements focus on creating bold sensual imagery, instead of offering a clear understanding of the product differentiation offered or the value add. Moreover, a buyer who already is embarrassed to ask for the condom at a shop will fumble at figuring out the type of condom he needs. And it is left with the mercy of the Chemist.

The Condom report mentions that buying the wrong kind of condom can create an unpleasant experience.

Call of Action

The Report calls for providing comprehensive sexuality education to all adolescents. They say that the health situation of the youth is a key determinant of India’s overall health, mortality, morbidity and population growth scenario.

The Condom Report calls for public private partnership models for reach and distribution of condoms. Building insightful and educational campaigns that stress on the implications of unsafe sex such as unplanned pregnancies and life threatening STIs is another way, the report said.

The Condom Alliance wants to bring condoms into mainstream conversation by removing restrictions regarding broadcasting timing of condom related media content. They said that Advertising Standards Council of India should create a clear set of guidelines that are industry agnostic and intently monitor the same. Marketers also need to be cognizant of the content.

The report said that making condoms more visible and increasing access would encourage conversations, challenge misinformation, and encourage condom uptake. The Think Tanks must champion the cause of improving the reproductive health of the youth. The retailers must be sensitised to better handle condom related queries in partnership with Chemists and Druggists Association.

With the influx of smartphones amongst the youth, most of them have easy access to various dating apps as well as adult videos; however, they lack the same access to information and encouragement to indulge in safe sex. Technology can play a key role in making information more accessible. The creative use of gaming and other youth centric platforms can help disseminate the messaging around the safe sex and the use of condoms in a fun and engaging manner, the report said. Filmmakers and OTT players should display appropriate public health messages.

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