Mainstreaming conversations on sexual and reproductive health

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Launched in April 2022, the Yash Entrepreneurs Program, led by Jhpiego, together with Villgro Innovations Foundation, invests in solutions that can revolutionize how youth and adolescents access quality family planning and reproductive health services. Various enterprises are coming up with innovative ways to promote and normalise conversations around mental health, sexuality, sexual health and more. With the younger population as the primary audience, these enterprises are harnessing the digital space to expand their reach and impact.

The majority of the Indian population lacks knowledge and access to credible and reliable sources of information, products, resources, and services in the domain of mental and sexual health. People still search for their queries in incognito mode, self-diagnose through internet resources or live in denial of their problems. StandWeSpeak, is a SexEd-tech initiative that provides digital content, professional consultancy services and menstrual hygiene and sexual health products. Their team of psycho-medico-legal experts have also curated an anonymous AI-driven chatbot, called Mae, which can answer queries pertaining to sex, relationships, and more.

The situation is not very different in Tier 2 and 3 cities as compared to metros. However, there are differences in family structures, with more joint families, familiarity with neighbors, and greater use of vernacular language in smaller towns. In smaller cities, people rarely know any practicing psychologists around them. In Shivli Shrivastava’s experience, co-founder and CEO at Shivtensity, people are hesitant to speak about sex, but talking about mental health first gets them to open up about their sexual concerns also. She also highlights the impact of Bollywood and popular culture in shaping people’s perceptions. Clients approach her and say “I have Ayushman Khurana wali problem,” referring to a popular Bollywood actor who has starred in several movies on ‘taboo’ topics related to sexual health. Thus, therapists have to speak the language of the people and decode their media references.

Looking at this issue from a wellness perspective, with increasing disposable incomes, people are becoming more aware of their higher needs of love and belonging, going beyond their physiological and safety needs. GetIntimacy is a sex-positive, pleasure-positive platform which offers one-on-one consultations as well as workshops by experts on a variety of issues such as porn addiction, male and female sexual dysfunction, sexual abuse and more. “We should talk about sex like we talk about the weather,” says Pallavi Barnwal, founder of the platform. She uses mythology and spirituality combined with storytelling in her sessions to normalize these topics.

It is not easy to broadcast content related to sexual wellness, as many social media channels have policies restricting and censuring topics on sexual and reproductive health. This also makes marketing difficult for enterprises working in this space. It is necessary to ensure continuity in dissemination to normalize these issues and make them a part of everyday conversation.

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