Why is it important to create a safe space to discuss sexual and reproductive health?
Dr Kshitiz Murdia, CEO & Co-Founder of Indira IVF explains the importance to create a safe space to discuss sexual and reproductive health.
In all menstruating females, the maintenance of good hygiene practices is of utmost importance. However, in developing countries such as ours, the conversation on such practices and realising them, in reality, maybe a distant dream due to inadequate access to sanitation, feminine hygiene products, education among women, and the lack of a safe space to discuss menstruation. Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed on May 28 every year and its significance is closely tied with diseases such as urinary infections and reproductive tract infections such as vulvovaginal candidiasis or bacterial vaginosis, paving way for even more serious ailments. Women’s sexual and reproductive health, thus, becomes an essential topic of discussion.
In 1994, ‘sexual and reproductive health’ was given a proper definition based on the international consensus at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD). The crux of sexual and reproductive health lies in the promotion of reproductive health, consensual and safe sexual choices for individuals as well as couples, while including decisions on size of the family and time of marriage. Both sexuality and reproductive health are essential aspects of one’s personality and also affects their partners. There is a growing need to fight the stigma around reproductive and sexual health to help today’s youth and help them face any challenges with open minds.
In India, various studies suggest the widespread prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and reproductive tract infections. A community-based study conducted across India highlighted that the prevalence of STIs was nearly 6% in the 15-50 years age group. Maintaining sound reproductive health and having safe sexual practices is imperative to keep these diseases at bay. These reproductive or sexually transmitted infections have also been identified as a factor leading to infertility.
While, these figures and information are necessary to be passed on, it is even more important to fight the stigma around sexual and reproductive health.
Here are few suggestions that can be helpful:
Creating a safe space for open dialogue is very important. Teenagers or even adults tend to have lots of questions regarding sexual practices and their bodies; starting the conversation early can go a long way in building understanding positively. It is important to answer the questions, bust myths, provide right information and share experiences. Puberty is a curious phase in the life of teenagers and having a trustworthy source would help in battling the challenges that come with it
All bodies are different and so is everyone’s experience with menstruation. It is important to educate and spread the word about reproductive challenges like polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. It is important to understand about PCOS and endometriosis early as they can cause complications in conception at later stage in life and can also affect fertility. There should be awareness about STIs and reproductive infections such as human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), syphilis, hepatitis B, chlamydia, gonorrhoea, herpes, and human pappilomavirus (HPV) to take necessary precautions or seek medical help. Awareness about the symptoms and treatments is essential and would help in managing overall health.
In the era of computers, smart phones and tablets, daily physical activity has drastically reduced. Swimming, jogging, cycling and other sports can help in developing life-skills and a healthy lifestyle. Regular exercise would help in building immunity, remaining active, maintaining hormone levels, especially in the case of PCOS and endometriosis.
In addition to having an active lifestyle regime, it is also important to have a healthy and balanced diet. Consumption of fruits, vegetables and plenty of water make up for a nutritious diet. Junk food and processed food can prove to be harmful in the longer run and hamper hormone levels in the body. A nutritional diet would help in ensuring not just a strong reproductive health but also overall health
Period supplies for females:
As per the first phase of recently conducted National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), the percentage of women using sanitary products and practising hygiene during menstrual cycle has increased across India, in the past decade-and-a-half. However, even today, some girls use old dirty rags, leaves, moss and dirt during periods. These can prove to be harmful and in some cases even fatal. Therefore, awareness regarding the use of proper menstrual hygiene or period products is extremely important and is a huge part of ensuring sexual and reproductive health.
Hygiene is an important factor in ensuring reproductive and overall health. Personal hygiene such as washing hands after using the toilet, keeping the genital region clean, maintaining a track of menstrual cycles, wearing clean and breathable underwear and ensuring general cleanliness are essential. These habits should be introduced at a young age to avoid diseases and infections caused by an unsterile environment.
While there is a variety of reproductive and sexual health information available for people to read, what is lacking is the platform to discuss these concerns in the open without any reservations and fight the taboo surrounding the subject.
Healthy discourse and suggestions would go a long way in preparing youth to maintain their general and reproductive health better.