Adolescent Male Reproductive Health: Awareness and Behavior among Peri-Urban and Rural Boys in West Bengal, India

By Das, Bhubon Mohan; Ray, Subha | International Journal of Men's Health, Summer 2007 | Go to article overview

Adolescent Male Reproductive Health: Awareness and Behavior among Peri-Urban and Rural Boys in West Bengal, India


Das, Bhubon Mohan, Ray, Subha, International Journal of Men's Health


Reproductive health is a serious concern not only for adults but also for male and female adolescents. The present study looks at the similarities and differences in reproductive health awareness and behavior among adolescent males living in peri-urban and rural areas of the State of West Bengal, India. Questionnaire data was collected from 111 school-age adolescent boys (55 peri-urban and 56 rural) between the ages of 15 and 18. Results show that the level of awareness about some aspects of reproductive health seems greater among peri-urban boys than their rural counterparts. However, in terms of reproductive health behaviors both groups appear similar.

Keywords: adolescent males, reproductive health, reproductive behaviors, West Bengal, India, peri-urban, rural

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The World Health Organization (WHO) refers to "adolescence" the period between 10-19 years. According to the Program for Appropriate Technology for Health (PATH) (2004), the world's adolescent population has exceeded the 1 billion mark, 85% of which live in developing countries (United Nations [UN], 1999; WHO, 1999); while some 700 million adolescents live in Asia (UN, 2000). In India, for example, adolescents make up about 22% of the population (IIPS & Macro, 2000; UN, 2001); while projections estimate that 15-19 year olds will make up 22.4% of the total national population by 2006 (Central Statistical Organisation [CSO], 1998).

Adolescence is a period of marked development regarding reproductive biology, and yet adolescents often lack knowledge of reproductive health issues. Adolescents' lack of knowledge concerning reproduction can be attributed to social and cultural barriers and their hesitancy to access family planning and reproductive health services compared to adults (Kilbourne-Brook, 1998). Consquently, adolescents may be at an increased risk of sexually transmitted diseases (STDs) including HIV, unintended pregnancy, and other consequences that can affect their futures as well as the future of their communities. Thus the reproductive and sexual health needs of adolescents are different from those of adults and are still poorly understood in most of the world. It is also true that the reproductive health needs and sexual behavior of adolescents vary with sex, marital status, class, region and cultural context (WHO, 2003; Pacahuri & Santhya, 2002).

Adolescent Males

At the meeting of International Council for Population Development (ICPD) held in Cairo in 1994 (UN, 1995a) and at the Fourth UN Conference on Women held in Beijing in 1995 (UN, 1995b), the importance of attending to the reproductive health of adolescent males along with that of females was recognized. Participants at both conferences concluded the reproductive health behaviors of adolescent males are not only directly related to the reproductive health of adolescent females, but also to their own health as future adults (WHO, 2000a). Across cultures, beginning in childhood, males and females are socialized by separate sets of practices, symbols, representations, norms, and social values that influence their expressions of masculinity and femininity, respectively (Bruce, Lloyd, & Leonard, 1995; Lamas, 1996; Ortner & Whitehead, 1996; Scott, 1996; Verma, 1997). In general, men are socialized to be dominant, aggressive, to cultivate toughness, and to take risks (O'Neil, Good, & Holmes, 1995). These qualities may have harmful consequences for both young men and their sexual partners, as these qualities may lead to young men to engage in high-risk sexual behaviors (Brown, Jejeebhoy, Shah, & Yount, 2001; Pleck, 1993). Moreover, males are socialized to be independent, self-reliant, to show little emotion, and to not seek assistance for health problems. Young men frequently ignore their reproductive health problems and rely mostly on self-treatments (WHO, 2000b). Adolescent males form one of the largest groups with unmet needs for reproductive health information and services. …

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