Home/ Politics / Policy/  Sex in India: What data shows

Mumbai/New Delhi:If your first sexual encounter happened after you crossed 30, you belong to a small minority in India. Among Indians who have sex, more than 90% had their first sexual intercourse before reaching the age of 30, according to data from the National Family Health Survey (NFHS), a large-scale nationally representative survey conducted in 2015-16.

Men are mostly likely to have had their first sexual intercourse at the age of 20-24, the data shows. For women, the peak age at first sex is lower at 15-19.

The difference between the genders is primarily on account of the difference in the ages at which they tend to get married. Most sexual encounters in India tend to be of the conjugal kind, the data suggests. Thus, women tend to have sex at an earlier age because they get married at a younger age.

However, there are important differences across people with different educational attainments. People with higher levels of education tend to stay in college longer, and hence get married later. The age at first intercourse for such people therefore tends to be later. As the chart shows, the curves shift right-wards for both men and women when their educational attainment goes up.

The data suggests that pre-marital sex is still a taboo across large swathes of the country. Only about 11% of single men and 2% of single women in the 15-24 age-group reported having had sex. The proportion of single men (15-24 age-group) reporting pre-marital sex was relatively higher in Chhattisgarh (21.1%) and Madhya Pradesh (20.7%) among the major states. The NFHS data on sexual relations is based on a sample of more than 100,000 men and women each.

The data shows that north Indians report a more active sex life compared to those in the South. More than 55% of both men and women respondents in states such as Haryana, Punjab, Chhattisgarh and West Bengal reported having sex in the four weeks prior to being surveyed. Other states where a majority of people reported an active sex life are Madhya Pradesh and Rajasthan.

Nationally, 47% of men and 48% of women reported having sex over the past four weeks. One caveat worth keeping in mind is that the figures are based entirely on self-reported data, and it is difficult to gauge the extent of false reporting.

The proportion of single people who reported an active sex life is lower compared to the overall average: 3% of single men (across all age groups) reported having sex in the four weeks prior to the survey. Among single women, the figure is even lower at less than 1%.

The proportion of sexually active single males is relatively higher (above 5%) in states such as Punjab, Haryana, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh. The proportion of sexually active single females is relatively higher in Karnataka (2%) and Gujarat (1.9%). Singles include never-married persons as well as those who were married but are not married now.

Fourteen percent of never-married men and 2% of never-married women reported having had sex. The rates vary across states, but there is a close correlation across states between the proportion of never-married males and the proportion of never-married females who reported having had sex.

Of those singles who reported having sex, a majority had sex with their boyfriends or girlfriends (who do not share the same accommodation). Roughly a tenth of them reported having sex with their live-in partners.

Twelve percent of single men who have had sex reported having sex with casual acquaintances while 6% of such men reported using the services of a commercial sex worker. The corresponding figures for single women are extremely low. But given that a significant chunk of women reported “other" as their sexual partner it is possible that the actual number of women who have had sex with casual acquaintances is higher than what they choose to report.

This is the first in a two-part data journalism series on sexual relations and sexual awareness among Indians.

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Updated: 25 May 2018, 10:19 AM IST
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