Romance and sex: Pre-marital partnership formation among young women and men, Pune District, India

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Article (peer-reviewed)

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Using qualitative and survey data in a rural and an urban slum setting in Pune district, India, this paper describes patterns of pre-marital romantic partnerships among young people aged 15-24, in spite of norms that discourage opposite-sex interaction before marriage. 25-40% of young men and 14-17% of young women reported opposite-sex friends. Most young people devised strategies to interact with others, largely from the same neighbourhood. There were wide gender differences with regard to making or receiving romantic proposals, having a romantic partner and experiencing hand-holding, kissing and sexual relations. For those who engaged in sexual relations, the time from the onset of the partnership to having sexual relations was short. Sex most often took place without protection or communication, and for a disturbing minority of young women only after persuasion or without consent. Among those who were unmarried, a large percentage had expected to marry their romantic partner, but for a third of young women and half of young men the relationship had been discontinued. Partnership formation often leads to physical intimacy, but intimacy should be wanted, informed and safe. Findings call for programmes that inform youth in non-threatening, non-judgmental and confidential ways, respect their sexual rights and equip them to make safe choices and negotiate wanted outcomes.