Why women indulge in risky sex?

According to a recent study, exposure to violence makes women prone to risky sex. Experts tell. Lisa Antao this holds true for Indian women too.

Ever wondered what prompts some women to indulge in risky sex? The reason cannot be attributed to their sexual liberation or their loose morals, as some people might accuse them of. A recent study that throws light on this subject matter says that women who have witnessed crimes and forms of violence both in their childhood and adulthood are more prone to risky sex. Also, women who had been abused were more likely to indulge in unprotected sex and use alcohol or drugs before having sex.

But what is the definition of risky sex, you may ask. Everybody has their own ideas and opinions of what is sexy. What some consider as ‘kinky’ may seem distasteful to others. Sexual practices that put one at risk for HIV, Sexually Transmitted Diseases (STDs) and unplanned pregnancies, is what the study refers to as “risky sex”. The study was conducted primarily among African-American women out of which most were at a socio-economically disadvantage. BT asked experts if the study holds true for Indian women too.

Common among young and old
Psychiatrist and psychotherapist Dr Anjali Chhabria who agrees with the findings of the study, says, “In my 20 years of practice, I have come across a lot of women who indulge in risky sexual behaviour. And if you take a detailed history you find emotional abuse, physical violence, sexual abuse — commonly incest — in the past. This study also holds true in the Indian context where sexuality may not be discussed openly but that does not mean it does not happen. This happens everywhere, in all levels of society and is common in teenagers as well as 50-year-olds.”

Agrees consultant psychiatrist Dr Milan Balakrishnan and says that this is true of Indian society as well, with those who have been exposed to violence especially childhood sexual abuse, making them prone to not only externalising behaviours (namely high risk sexual behavior and substance dependence) but also to internalising behaviours which include high incidence of depression and anxiety disorders. Also, a greater degree of impulsive behaviour is common among those who are exposed to a difficult childhood which makes them risk takers and leads to more reckless sexual behaviors.

If you’re wondering what are the reasons that prompt this risky behaviour, Dr Chhabria explains that people exposed to violence may get sensitised to violence, so their tolerance increases. They may get used to a certain level of excitement and find regular sex with one partner boring so subconsciously they may look for excitement which includes risky sex along with other risk-taking behaviours. Also, they may have suppressed their early experiences resulting in anger again at a subconscious level which is repressed and finds expression as risky behaviour. Revenge against the opposite sex by luring and attracting them and indulging in risky sex is commonly seen.

Preventing domestic violence and intolerance to violence against women is the most important step in preventing such problems. Educating adolescents about the problems associated with high risk sexual practices like STDs and unwanted pregnancies, and promoting safe sex should be undertaken. Such women’s impulsive behaviour can be controlled with the help of techniques like Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT), combines behavioural therapy with the principles of Zen meditation. Also, Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) can help deal with depression and anxiety problems. These individuals who have been exposed to violence see the world as either very good (white) or very bad (black), and therapy helps them see the shades of grey.

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