This could come as a shocker for those resisting introduction of sex education in Indian schools.
Premarital sex has been found to be common among young men but a higher percentage of women aged 15-24 years have had sex before reaching the age of 15.
A large scale youth survey conducted under the aegis of the Union health ministry in the six states of Andhra Pradesh, Bihar, Jharkhand, Maharashtra, Rajasthan and Tamil Nadu has thrown up some interesting findings.
Around 15% of young men and 4% young women interviewed admitted to having pre-marital sex. Shockingly, 24% of the women had premarital sex for the first time before age 15 compared to 9% men.
Premarital sex was also found to be more common in rural India.
According to the report prepared by Population Council, Delhi, and International Institute of Population Sciences, Mumbai, youth in rural areas were also more likely than those in urban areas to have initiated a pre-marital romantic relationship at age 15 (29% compared to 17% among young men, and 46% compared to 31% among young women).
Around 6% of rural youth compared to 1% of urban youth had their sexual debut before age 18.
Over 26% of young men and 40% of young women reported that they had spent time alone with their first romantic partner at age 15 or below.
Many of the pre-marital sexual experiences reported by the youth were risky. Around 25% of young men and 21% of young women reporting pre-marital sex had sex with more than one partner. Moreover, consistent condom use was limited only 13% of young men and 3% of young women reported condom use in all pre-marital encounters.
While sexual relations were generally unsafe across all the six states, some notable state-level differences were found. For example, among young men, multiple partner relations were reported by 32% in five of the six states, but by relatively few (14%) in Rajasthan.
Releasing the study, Union health minister Ghulam Nabi Azad said young people in India face multiple risks associated with sexual and reproductive health that include pregnancy related morbidity and mortality, delayed abortion seeking, unmet contraceptive need and lack of knowledge to make informed decisions.
“One-third of the total reported AIDS cases are below the age of 29 years. More than 8% of young people in the age group of 15-19 years have experimented with sex either before or outside marriage. And only 37% of young men and 45% of young women knew that a woman can get pregnant at first sex. It is, therefore, of utmost importance that India addresses the challenges of youth effectively,” Azad said.
The surveyors spoke to nearly 51,000 married and unmarried young males and females for this youth study.
The survey found that significant minorities of young men and women had made or received a proposal for a romantic relationship (23%) before marriage, with one in four such relationships progressing to becoming sexual.
The first reported romantic partner was typically a neighbour or friend (reported by 33% of young men and women), a fellow student or colleague (reported by 30% of young men and 16% of young women) or an acquaintance from outside the village/neighbourhood (reported by 25% of young men and 19% of young women).
Around 27% of young women compared to 9% of young men reported that their first pre-marital partner was a relative.
As far as consensuality of first sex is concerned, a larger percentage of young men than young women reported that their first experience of pre-marital sex was mutually consensual (76% versus 66%).
One in seven young women (14%) reported that their partner had forced them to have sex the first time.