Exploring context and dynamics of homosexual experiences among rural youth in India

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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There is a lack of community-based studies that have examined level and context of homosexual activity in India among male youth. As part of a larger study on sexual behavior and gender attitudes of rural youth in Northern India, this study identified a subgroup of young men who reported homosexual experiences, even though they did not identify themselves as homosexual. This article attempts to examine the levels and range of sexual practices and attitudes of the homosexually active male youth by comparing them with their peers who reported heterosexual experiences. Study findings indicate that about one-fifth of sexually active male youth reported homosexual experiences. These young men begin their sexual careers early; engage with a higher number of sexual partners, both male and female; and are more likely to report inconsistent condom use, as compared to their heterosexually active peers. With high levels of partner mixing and inconsistent condom, use it appears that, for this subgroup of young men with high risk behaviors, homosexual experiences are only one part of their sexual lives and not the main factor that would contribute to their HIV vulnerability. Interventions need to be mindful of these issues, rather than rushing into labelling youth as homosexual or heterosexual for programmatic purposes. At the same time, as high-risk behaviors are largely unexplored among a general population of rural male youth, there is need for more in-depth ethnographic and culturally specific sexuality research to explore if there is a subculture that may promote sexual practices including same-sex activities that influences HIV vulnerability.