“I was 17, when I first got sexually intimate with my boyfriend,” says Kriya (name changed), a 23-year-old IT professional from Hyderabad, while speaking to The News Minute.
“Later we were very scared, as it was the first time for both of us,” she recalls. She missed her periods that month. The 17-year-old who had never once been to hospital alone, was scared and unsure of what to do next.
Trying to glean more information online just added to her worry over getting pregnant. Finally she discussed the issue with her boyfriend, and both of them decided to consult a gynaecologist.
“I was already very scared. After I told the receptionist my age, she kept staring at me. It made me so uncomfortable. While other patients were called by name, when it was my turn, she said ‘Aey, hello.…go!’ I felt so bad.
I expected at least the doctor to act sensitive. She first asked me what happened. When I told her, she started lecturing to me about our culture, and how young I am. It was a horrible experience. After the check-up, once I reached home, I burst out crying,” she shares.
From then on, Kriya has always felt too scared to discuss any sexual health problem with a gynaecologist. She is now 23, but in her view, nothing much has changed.
“Last month, I had rashes all over my vagina right up to my thigh. I just could not walk. It was painful. In the beginning, I used anti-allergic medication and antiseptic cream. But I was finally forced to go to a doctor. But even this time, I was ill-prepared for those weird looks.
The receptionist first asked for my name, then my husband’s name. For a moment, I panicked. After a pause I said, I am unmarried.”
Kriya feels that such unnecessary queries have nothing to do with a particular health problem and should not be asked: “We are adults and should not be judged for such things. After all, it is my decision. But society does not think so.”
Dr Kalpana Sringra, a Hyderabad-based sexologist agrees:“Doctors should not interfere in a patient’s personal life. But sadly, some do. A few are open-minded. They do not care whether the patient is married or not. We do at times have to ask about how frequently they have sex to ascertain the cause.”
Kalpana believes the rigid cultural restrictions and undue secrecy about anything related to sex are what makes patients uncomfortable sharing sexual health issues with their doctors.
Prapti (name changed), a 21-year old second year engineering student says: “Ï had quite a few relationships, and faced initial problems like bleeding and pain during sex. I sometimes lose interest while having sex, due to this immense pain in the vagina.”
But she does not want to consult a doctor: “I prefer advice from friends. At least, they will not judge me.” She remembers the time she had to consult a doctor two years ago, when after having sex, the pain persisted for a whole day.
“The doctor did not even try to explain the reason. I kept asking her whether it was anything serious. But she deliberately chose to ignore me. Later I heard her murmur ‘this generation….uff’! When I shared this with my friends, I realised they too had been in similar situations.
According to Kalpana, only ten percent women come forward to consult a doctor for sexual well-being, of which the majority are planning to get married soon and want to get themselves checked for infection and related advice.
No woman ever goes to the doctor for this, unless it is absolutely avoidable. Not just unmarried women, but even married ones are ignorant in this regard. Young unmarried women are only more hesitant to ask or seek medical help, fearing society and parents, she says.
“Both married and unmarried women are not comfortable. They mostly come with their partners. To make them feel comfortable, we talk to the women alone. After a while, they open up about their problems.”
She also claims that 20% of women who suffer from vaginal infection like UTI and rashes after marriage too feel shy to discuss it with the doctor: “Men seem more comfortable discussing their sexual problems. 90% of our patients are men. But they tend to come alone.”
That was not the case with Jayesh (name changed), a 27-year old. He used to earlier hesitate to talk about his sexual health: “It was only a year back that I consulted a doctor for premature ejaculation, something that I suffered from the age of 23. I used to think if my friends get to know, they would make fun of me.”
The common issues that men in the age group of 18-80 are premature ejaculation and erectile dysfunction. “Most men confess that they force their wives to use contraceptive pills, as they do not want to wear condoms,” Kalpana says.
Gaurav (name changed), a 29-yearold unmarried man insists that he has never forced his girlfriend to use contraceptive pills, but they do sometimes prefer pills over condoms.
Gaurav who is sexually active does not feel ashamed or uncomfortable consulting a doctor, but that is not the case with his girlfriend: “Four years back, she once started bleeding after we had sex. Honestly, I was clueless how to handle the situation and whom to contact. We did not go the doctor, fearing prejudice.
My girlfriend is not at all comfortable consulting a doctor. She usually avoids going to a gynaecologist, as they ask whether we are married or not. It makes her uncomfortable. It happened a few times with us in Hyderabad. That’s why sometimes she prefers to use emergency contraceptive pills rather than consult a doctor.”
“Sex jokes are allowed, but people are otherwise shy talking about sex. Parents do not talk freely on the topic. It is still a taboo for Indian society,” Gaurav remarks.
When Preeti (name changed) -who is now doing an event management course- was in her final BCom year, she led an active sex life:
“I went for a party and got drunk. That night my friend and I had sex. I did not then realise that we had forgotten to use a condom. After missing my periods, I freaked out. I was confused and went to see a doctor. They first asked if I was married. I lied.”
She also admits to feeling uncomfortable while buying I-pills, condoms or pregnancy test devices: “Once a medical shopkeeper asked whether it was for me, with those around giving me judgmental looks.”
Fearing societal disapproval, several unmarried women tend to take medications, after consulting the internet.
“They go to medical stores or send their partners to buy medicines without consulting a doctor. Emergency contraceptive pills have several side-effects like, dizziness, vomiting etc. Some even try to abort through pills, which is life-threatening and can affect their health in the long run,” warns Kalpana.