Sexual health in Mexican indigenous women

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This article was exclusively written for The European Sting by Mr. Hassler Stefan Macías Sánchez, a fourth-year medical student at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla in San Andrés Cholula, Puebla, México. He is affiliated with the International Federation of Medical Students Associations (IFMSA), cordial partner of The Sting. The opinions expressed in this piece belong strictly to the writers and do not necessarily reflect IFMSA’s view on the topic, nor The European Sting’s one.

Sexual health defines the different reproductive patterns in the population by different factors, particularly the indigenous population compared with non-indigenous women, being that almost 42% of them are associated with not having access to health services caused by the conditions of poverty and marginality, during their reproductive age.1

In Latin America, the socioeconomic development and health indicators for indigenous peoples are worse than the country averages, mirroring global trends. In Mexico, 15.7 million people self-identify as indigenous, this represents 13.9% of the population. These women make health decisions driven by a culture of secrecy and embarrassment, and a system of knowledge purporting a humoral understanding of health/illness.2 One fact is that only around 8% of indigenous men take part in the use of contraceptives, leaving the whole respon

sibility on the women, who then have a significant percentage of non-satisfied contraceptive needs.3
Although fertility rates have declined among both indigenous and non-indigenous Mexican women, the indigenous during fertile age report 2.7 births on average, one more birth than the national mean. Furthermore, 15.9% of indigenous adolescents have at least one child, significantly higher than the 12.6% of non-indigenous counterparts.2

In Mexico, indigenous youth are declining the customary practice of arranged marriage at a young age, thereby enabling them to spend this time engaging in educational or work activities.2 Despite that, 93.6% of indigenous women in fertile ages are in some type of civil union. A recent demographic study showed that within indigenous communities, those civil unions are more frequent in households with low quality of life, putting them in a tough spot to freely enjoy their sexual rights, while non-indigenous women tend to be in civil unions when their quality of life is better.3

The need to discuss issues related to sexuality has been recognized as a health need for both rural and urban context people: the country’s indigenous girls and young women marry early and expect to have many children, in accordance with agrarian modes of reproduction.2

However, they agree with the idea of delaying romantic commitments to avoid sexual activities. They recognize that these teachings should be aimed at educational achievement and a healthy lifestyle, in contrast to the difficulties their parents experienced in following the tradition. Also, the youth must understand the importance of women achieving their complete growth and development, in order to conceive optimally.2

For the Mexican indigenous woman, the scarcity of resources implies low living conditions such as insecurity, underdevelopment of the youngsters, and contraceptives based on a calendar not being as effective due to their menstrual irregularities.2
In Mexico, this kind of NGO activities better the lives of indigenous women by transforming their environment in an educated way. They’re able to engage in protective practices and focus on academic achievement and development as means to overcome hardship.2

We acknowledge the following people by contributing to this article: Xavier Abraham Rodríguez Bello, Tzanda Lizeth López Camarena, Camila Edith Muñoz Salgado, and Hannia Madelein Moreno Briones.

• “Breve Análisis de La Situación de Salud Reproductiva de Mujeres de Habla Indígena Y No Indigena Resultados de La Encuesta Nacional Sobre La Dinámica Demográfica 2006 Y 2009.” Instituto Nacional de La Mujer, 2009,
• Priego-Hernández J. Sexual health in transition: A social representations study with indigenous Mexican young women. J Health Psychol. 2017;22(5):661-673. doi:10.1177/1359105315611954
• Hernández MF, Ramírez M, Sánchez M & Mejía-Paillés G. Condiciones de bienestar en las viviendas de las mujeres indígenas y el ejercicio de sus derechos sexuales y reproductivos. La situación demográfica de México. 2021; 3(3): 45-70.

About the author

Hassler Stefan Macías Sánchez is a fourth-year medical student at the Universidad de las Américas Puebla in San Andrés Cholula, Puebla, México. Serving as SCOME Regional Assistant for the Americas for the term 2022-2023 and as NOME for AMMEF Mexico for the term 2022-2023.

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