- Ask any Kenyan parent if their 15-year-olds are sexually active and they will swear on their lives that their kids are as chaste as a new-born.
- The reality however is, a good number of teenagers are sexually active, yet their parents have no clue.
However, forget about use of contraceptives such as condoms and abstinence. The methods they use to stop pregnancies will shock you. This sad state of affairs is confirmed by revelations in the Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) 2014 Report, which shows 15 percent of women aged 15019 have already given birth. The average number of sexual partners for women between 15 and 19 years is 1.5 and 2.8 for boys, the report reveals.
The reasons young people give for having premarital sex — despite knowledge of the dangers involved —are weird. Among others, “I want to show my boyfriend that I love him”, “I need to feel like a man” and “Sex is part of life” are some of the common reasons they give. Also, some girls believe male semen is necessary for widening and growing their hips and backsides.
This sounds absurd, but wait until you hear the methods these young, mischievous girls lot employ to avoid pregnancy. Jane Otai, a Kenyan community health educator with Jhpiego, an international health nonprofit organisation and an affiliate of Johns Hopkins University, regularly gives talks to girls aged between 11 and 15. And what they tell her is simply astonishing.
As to why they have sex at their tender age, some told her that they believe: “Sex reduces pains from their period and that a girl is able to dance well if she regularly engages in sex”.
Writing on a blog, she described their pregnancy prevention tricks: “Their strategies didn’t involve abstaining from sex or using condoms. Here’s what they said would prevent pregnancy: taking a hot bath, drinking hot water, jumping vigorously after sex, having sex in a standing position, or having sex when it is raining or in a swimming pool.”
There are many myths on sexuality among youth. Some girls believe if they allow an older man to fondle their breasts, they become bigger and perky.
Unfortunately, none of the aforementioned methods can prevent pregnancy. Dr John Ong’ech, an obstetrician/gynaecologist at Kenyatta National Hospital (KNH), says pregnancy just requires one sperm cell to meet a fertile egg in a woman. “Sperms are living cells and swim up on their own through the womb and into the fallopian tube. Gravity therefore cannot block fertilisation from occurring,” Ong’ech says.
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However much a girl jumps up and down, as long as a sperm has the energy to swim, it is difficult to ‘shake’ it off. As for drinking and bathing hot water, the doctor says there’s nothing more to it than wasted heat energy. Is sex that important to warrant every excuse just to engage in it? “I had never had sex until I joined the university. My roommate was already deep in it. I would be forced to seek refuge at a friend’s hostel often whenever he came over and she would signal that he was staying for the night,” admits Sheila Wanjiru, a fourth year student at a public university in Nairobi.
Her roommate’s penchant for frequent coitus built the tension in her until eventually, in her third year of study; she decided to get a release. From there on Sheila was on a roll and she says it is difficult to go a week without sex. “First, I used emergency pills,” she says, “but then they would affect my moods and body. That is when we decided to try withdrawal and safe days.”
Sheila refuses to let us in on whether withdrawal or safe days worked for her testosterone charged boyfriend, only choosing to say: “I have learnt my mistakes.” Back in the slums, life is challenging. One has to navigate a labyrinth of social nonsense to make it through. This is why youth in informal settlements still grapple with keeping chaste: to avoid unplanned pregnancies as well as unsolicited gonorrhoea; or syphilis; or HIV. “It is tough life out here for the youth. There is peer pressure. Add life’s stresses and they lose control over their lives,” says Angela Tatua, the director of Family Health Options Kenya Youth Centre in Eastleigh.
Her job is to draw young people from the haphazard street life to safety, away from “hard core drugs, thieving, gang memberships and dangerous sexual behaviour.”
How dangerous? Think young girls giving their bodies to old men for as little as Sh50. A girl admitted to not giving a hoot about HIV. “I am worried about pregnancy only. All of us are. Pregnancy will show but syphilis or HIV hardly has an impact. Plus, my father would definitely kick me out for attempting to add an extra mouth. The virus can be contained in the body.” For boys, wearing a condom would be to prevent infection with HIV. Some wore two condoms for better protection, ironically elevating risks of infection and pregnancy. According to Emmah Kariuki, a nurse, also with Jhpiego, “young people think that they know much about their sexuality, but the truth is that many barely know 50 per cent. Parents can do better and educate their sons and daughters on what sex and contraception are and are not.”
A teenage mother told this writer how, in her formative years, the father to her kid duped into having sex, claiming he was on his safe days and could not get her pregnant. This was after she complained she was on her unsafe days and feared getting pregnant. Clearly, many young people are ignorant of sex education and a lot needs to be done.