Our findings point out the need to develop effective strategies to educate young unmarried men in rural India about reproductive health and contraception, and also to improve their access to family-planning information and services, thus reducing the risk of unwanted pregnancies and STIs. The age of marriage among rural men is rising; thus the period after puberty when they are most susceptible to unwanted pregnancies and STIs is increasing. For example, the pressure to achieve financial stability before marriage often forces young men to delay marriage, which increases the risk of unsafe sexual activity if they are not provided with accurate information and appropriate services . At the same time, young men at this stage are curious and willing to absorb new information. A lack of the necessary reproductive health information or services during this period will be detrimental to the reproductive health of young men and married couples.
Overall, the results indicated a good level of knowledge about the existence and effects of condoms. However, little information was available to the young men on other methods, such as IUDs, injectable contraceptives, or even the most common family-planning method in rural India, female sterilization. With the Indian government's promotion of the use of condoms as a result of HIV/AIDS [29, 30], it is not surprising that most young men have heard about this form of contraception and are more comfortable talking about it than about any other method. Since the only available contraceptives for young men in rural India are condoms, it is natural that in the group discussions the subject was not so much one of contraceptives generally than of condoms alone. Also, it was clear that among this group, condoms are discussed more in the context of pleasure and as protection against infections for both parties than to avoid pregnancies. It is important that the responsibilities of these young men, both in terms of health and enjoyment for themselves and their sexual partners, be stressed to them. Communication campaigns should emphasize that the dual merits of condoms are prevention of both STIs/HIV and pregnancies.
Young people face many barriers in accessing services in preventing HIV and unwanted pregnancies. Although national SRH and HIV programs recognize the need to provide such services, concerted action is often hindered by a lack of clear understanding on how to reach young people with the information and services they need. There is often also a level of discomfort about providing young people with such services . A review of various published and unpublished studies has documented the increased use by young people of health services with trained providers, along with increased availability and accessibility of youth-friendly services . Within the Indian family-welfare system, health workers target only married couples with SRH information and services. The FGDs clearly showed that young unmarried men are not targeted with any such information, nor is there any available assistance as to where they might seek services relating to SRH. The little information young men possess comes from television and other mass media. Though television is an important source of family-planning information because of its wide reach, it does not help resolve individual SRH queries, since such media offer generalized information, and this may be insufficient for young men. They wish for more interpersonal communication with credible sources, such as community health workers. The discrepancy between the principal source of information (electronic mass media) and its low status as a preferred source of information among young unmarried men is noteworthy. There is clearly a need for other sources of information on SRH besides that provided by television and other mass media.
Another important source of SRH information, as suggested by the present study, is schools and other educational institutions. With universal education becoming an important program for the Indian government under its campaign "Education for all," more and more young people enroll in schools and complete their school education. A mixture of mass media and school education programs could help improve the information provided to young people.
Only 4% of survey respondents reported contraceptive use, although there were more indications of experience, especially with condoms, during the FGDs. By and large, the young men did not seem very open about their own contraceptive experience. This may be a result of the moral condemnation of premarital sex for both males and females in Indian society. Both the FGD and survey data point to limited reproductive knowledge among young unmarried men. They seem to be unaware or indifferent to the effects of unprotected intercourse on their sexual partners in the form of unwanted pregnancy. For the majority of the young men, contraception means condoms, and their reason for using them is to avoid contracting HIV. This view may partly reflect the fact that if young unmarried men do have sex, it is most probably with sex workers or older married women, and only secondarily with adolescent girls . The almost universal awareness of condoms and HIV/AIDS among young unmarried rural men is a good beginning, but it is a grossly insufficient basis for responsible and safe, present and future sexual behavior. Though evidence of sexual risk taking is not available at the national level, a synthesis of small and admittedly unrepresentative studies undertaken in different geographic settings and among different subpopulations of young people suggests that 15-30% of young men and fewer than 10% of young women have engaged in premarital sexual relations, mostly unprotected . This study confirms that premarital sex among young unmarried Indian men is not as rare as is commonly believed. Three out of five respondents revealed knowing other peers who had used condoms.
The only contraceptive that is suitable for young unmarried men-condoms-is also inaccessible to them in their immediate geographic area. Clearly, young men lack basic access to condoms more because of socio-cultural considerations than practical availability. The men argued that while it is easy for married people to have access to condoms, young unmarried men find it difficult to do so in the vicinity of their villages, and they would rather buy them from shops outside the villages-away from the prying eyes of their village peers/elders. This was also observed in the discussion by Meirik .
Unsurprisingly, very few young men mentioned any plans to discuss family planning with a future wife. They preferred discussing the matter with friends. This brings up yet another important issue: future communication between spouses among these soon-to-be-married young men. This group of young unmarried men does not seem to be aware of or believe in the importance of having an open discussion with their future spouses. However, their present intention not to discuss condoms with their wives does not necessarily determine their eventual actions once married. In the Indian context, marriage is a watershed moment in young men's lives and could change many of their views concerning women.