Sexual health survey

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A recently published study reveals a change in traditional attitudes towards specific sexual behaviours

PG Shoot July 08 195

When Dr Vijaysarathi Ramanathan conducted a series of focus groups and an online research study on the sexual health of Indian migrant men in Australia, he was pleased to discover some interesting findings.

“There exists very little scientific research information around what Indians think about sex, how well they practice safe sex and where they go for help,” explained Dr Vijay, revealing the basis of his study. According to the Australian Study of Health and Relationships, studying the sexuality of people from different cultural backgrounds would add significantly to the understanding of sex in Australia. This is more true for Indian migrants in Australia as there are about 300,000 of them, constituting 1.37% of the entire population of Australia. “The study was based on the findings of five focus groups, and an anonymous online survey which resulted in 280 responses, more than I expected,” admitted Dr Vijay. “The Indian community media and organisations [including Indian Link] were instrumental in reaching out to respondents to participate, which was very helpful,” he added.

Dr Vijay stated that perceptions about sexuality in Indians is contrary. There is one thought that people from the land that originated the Kamasutra must be well versed in its fundamentals, another being that Indian society is generally conservative and traditional, and that anything of a sexual nature is taboo should not be discussed in public. However, very little data substantiates either of these theories. Dr Vijay’s findings shed light on migrant men’s sexual behaviour in a country with a more liberated approach to sex. “The most important aspect of the study is that some of the findings confirmed, while others challenged, popularly held beliefs about Indian men’s sexual attitudes and behaviours,” stated Dr Vijay.

His PhD thesis in Sexual Health of Indian Immigrant Men in Australia: an exploratory research on help-seeking attitudes aims to study the impacts of migration on attitudes toward human sexuality, sexual behaviours and sexual health of Indian men living in Australia.

Apart from generic information about the respondents, the anonymous online survey asked specific questions in relation to masturbation, help seeking behaviour for sexual health, and identifying how acculturated the respondents had become living in Australia.

Regarding men seeking help for problems of a sexual nature, the findings were clear. “Most of the older respondents in the online survey preferred to seek help from a medical practitioner, while the younger ones preferred to go directly to a specialist,” revealed Dr Vijay. “Indian immigrants are by and large, highly educated and are more liberal in their attitude towards sex”.

“More than 80 per cent of men reported that they used condoms with sexual intercourse. One in two men surveyed agreed that it is difficult for them to discuss safe sex issues with their sexual partners and also said that they use alcoholic beverages prior to or during sexual intercourse,” said Dr Vijay. He particularly stated that alcohol prior to sexual activity was a problem if the person had no specific sexual partner or spouse, since it reduced inhibitions and could result in unprotected sex, further leading to a possibility of contracting sexually transmitted diseases (STD).

In relation to masturbation, a particularly sensitive topic that is traditionally associated with guilt and wrongdoing within the Indian psyche, Dr Vijay was surprised to note that most respondents reacted to this activity as a healthy and necessary one. “While a few respondents admitted that they had mixed feelings towards masturbation, a majority stated that they felt healthy and satisfied. This indicates a significant change in attitude among migrant men, and could well be the result of education and knowing the facts,” said Dr Vijay. Some respondents admitted that they used erotic media such as pornographic DVDs, and rationalised that the activity served the purpose of educating them about sex. Overall, respondents masturbated to gain pleasure and to relax and relieve stress, according to the study.

On how acculturation has helped in changing the mindset of sexual behaviour, Dr Vijay said, “largely the findings have indicated that overall values and thinking among the respondents were mainly Indian in nature, based on their cultural and traditional beliefs. There is some level of western influence, but Indian values are upheld”.

Dr Vijay admitted that the study was exploratory in nature, and related specifically to the masturbatory habits of Indian men. “However, the study has provided vital baseline data for future research, and sexual health practitioners can use this community-based data as a reference when dealing with sexual problems among their male Indian patients,” he said.

“Sex is not such a bad or negative thing to feel ashamed or stigmatised. It is normal, and more importantly, a fundamental aspect of being human. If you have a problem or are not sure whether you have a problem or not, talk to someone you feel safe and whom you can trust. It could be your partner, a medical doctor or a sex therapist. While it is our fundamental right to enjoy the pleasure of sex, it is equally important to be responsible by practising safer sex, treating the other person with respect and not combining sex and alcohol,” concluded Dr Vijay.

Dr Vijay arrived in Sydney in 2005 to do his Masters in Medicine, specialising in sexually transmitted infections (STI) and HIV medicine. He became interested in sexual behaviours when he realised that to control STI’s and HIV, which are a product of sexual behaviour, he would first need to understand these behaviours. On completing his thesis, Dr Vijay moved back to India and now consults at a clinic for sexual health in Chennai. He has been providing online consultations for the past five years, for those patients who are too shy to seek help from a doctor. In Sydney, the RPA and Parramatta Sexual Health clinic, as well as private sexual health care specialists, provide excellent service for those with sex-related problems. He is also the Founding Director of SSS Centre for Sexual Health.