KENYA (Generalia) 




Featured (alphabetical on the left): Pokomo, Amwimbe, Kore, Kuria, Masai, N’Jemp, Ariaal Rendille, Kamba, Tiriki, Chuka, Maragoli, Kikuyu, Kipsigis, Gusii, Luo, Meru, Samburu, Tuken, Nandi, Okiek, Borana; ®Iteso



Kenya: “The degree to which an older boy may “play sex,” as youth slang puts it, depends upon social custom. An uncircumcized Nandi boy rarely has an opportunity for intercourse, due to the strict controls of the warrior age set. Maragoli girls often participate in sex play with boys, although intercourse does not take place until after puberty. The Kisii tolerate extensive sex play among smaller children, although shame taboos require that after about age 7, such activities are not to be seen by parents” (Brockman, 1997)[1]. “Western influences have rendered many of these customs invalid”. Also, “[c]ertain types of same-sex activity were tolerated in tribal tradition, but only as childish behaviors unworthy of an initiate”.


In Kenya (Ajayi et al., 1991)[2], the mean age of coitarche for student males aged 12-15 is 12.1; for female students, it is 11.6. According to a 1989 study[3], mean age of first “sex” was 13 years among sexually experienced males, compared with almost 16 years among females[4]. Another study found that a majority sexually experienced girls (some quarter of secondary school girls aged 12 to 19) had started coitus within one to two years of attaining menarche or having a boyfriend.[5]

Female circumcision is still practised among the Kuria, Suba, Meru and Abagusii (Gwako, 1995)[6]. Administrators in the politically peripheral area of Meru vitiated the policy of criminalising clitoridectomy by enforcing initiation at an earlier age in order to combat abortion. European officers believed that in transforming the prenuptial process of female initiation into a prepubescent rite, they could eradicate unwanted pregnancies and abortions by eliminating the period when sexually mature (but unexcised) girls were “customarily” prohibited from conceiving and giving birth (Thomas, 1998)[7]. In April 1956 the Njuri Ncheke, a council of male elders officially recognised by the colonial administrators in the Meru district of Kenya, banned clitoridectomy. In response to “this novel intrusion of men into female initiation ceremonies” customarily in women’s hands, Meru girls participated in Ngaitana, self-circumcision groups (Thomas, 1996)[8]. Based on oral interviews, it was determined that as late as 1972 60% of the girls in one area had undergone circumcision (Murray, 1976)[9]. “Many communities also believe that circumcision helps girls to remain virgins. Often men who support the idea say the practice represses, the sexual desire of women and is a way of curbing promiscuity. […] Research carried out by the Programs for Appropriate Technology in Health says the practice gives some Kenyan girls the courage to have early sex as a test of their womanhood”[10].

Among the Abagusii, the 19th century scheduling of the operation at age 10-11 has been revised, presumably in regard to the (rare) practice of pubescent marriage; it is now practised at age 6-8.


For an overview of boy’s initiation ceremonies, see De Wolf (1973)[11].


“None of the customary laws in Kenya specify a minimum age at which persons become legally capable of entering into marriage. In general, however, female genital mutilation is a prerequisite to marriage, although many ethnic groups no longer apply this requirement. Certain ethnic groups, including the Kikuyu, also require women to have passed their first menstrual period before marriage”[12].


Kiragu and Zabin (1993)[13] found mean ages for sexual intercourse of 11.9 (Ms) and 12.5 (Fs) among [sexually experienced] primary school students (mean ages 14.6/F to 15.0/M). In Nairobi, the median age at first intercourse was 15 years for slum residents and 18 years for non-slum residents[14]. “Cramped living quarters in slums expose children to the sexual behavior of their parents at an early age. Many people in focus groups identified this early sexual socialization as a cause for relatively early sexual initiation. A female service provider stated, “You see, these houses of ours are small and children see a lot of wonders. That is why you see a child of 13 years pregnant. It is because the parent [had sex]. She saw, and went and tried it with a boy” ”. According to Mbevi[15], child marriage was once customary in Kenya, though dying out at the time of writing.

Polyethnic data on the sexual education of girls in Kenya were collected by Wamahiu et al. (1992)[16] using unstructured interviews with boys and girls aged 12-18. In Mombasa, “[k]nowledge about physical maturity, sex and cleanliness are generally picked up from older siblings and friends”; in school, the subject would be too academically approached. “Discussion of sexuality in Kuria district in Rural Kenya is constrained by relationships of respect between parents and children. Grandparents and peers were, and continue to be the main sources of knowledege and information on the subject” (Prazak, 2000)[17].


Brockman (1997)[18] observes that


“[…] there is no [school-based] curriculum for sex education. […] Sex instruction does not often come from parents. In the presence of their children, they are expected to avoid any words, acts, or gestures of a sexual nature. The rules of shame might allow openness about sexual matters with a grandparent, however, and among the Kisii a grandmother could be the confidant of her grandchildren on their sexual experiences. A small child will remain with its mother until about age 7. At this point, in some tribes, boys move in with their father or older boys. In other groups (Maragoli and Luo) both boys and girls go into separate huts with older children or into the homes of an elderly couple. These village dormitories provide socialization, sex education, and opportunities for sexual experimentation. The last is conducted in secret, although girls often “fail to notice” a youth visiting in the girls’ dormitory. Two lovers might also go into the bush. A father and older sons might build a private hut for a son who reached puberty, especially since initiation ceremonies might be held only every few years. Under these circumstances, young men have free rein to engage in sexual activities. In slang, these huts are sometimes referred to as “the office,” and “going to the office” means having a girl over for sex.

These patterns of sex education have continued into present-day society, where studies show that parents are a negligible source of information, while 31 percent of girls and 38 percent of boys indicate teachers as the most important source. This does not reflect organized sex education in the schools, but the influence of proctors and teachers in boarding-school settings”.


Two 1987 studies reported age at first sexual intercourse to be 14 in the cities, and 13.7 for boys and 14.8 for girls in the rural areas. About homosexuality, it is stated:


“Certain types of same-sex activity were tolerated in tribal tradition, but only as childish behaviors unworthy of an initiate. In tribes where initiation involves long periods of separation from female contact along with powerful emphasis on male group bonding (Maasai), situational homosexuality is not uncommon. When limited to mutual self-pleasuring, it is regarded as merely unmanly. Oral or anal intercourse can, however, result in expulsion from the age set, severe beatings, and disgrace. One finds some nonpenetrative homosexual behavior among Maasai askaris (guards) who have migrated to Nairobi or the coast. Urban poverty has created an underclass of abandoned street youth, almost all male, ranging in age from 7 to late teens. These “parking boys” survive by protecting parking spots, begging, petty crime, and scrounging for garbage. Though the older protect the younger, situational homosexuality is normative”.



Girls children of Islamic or customary marriages in Kenya can be legally married off by their guardian before puberty (Mucai-Kattambo, et al., 1995)[19]. The girl then has the right to repudiate the marriage upon reaching puberty; the practice is diminishing.





Pokomo, Amwimbe, Kore, Kuria, Masai, N’Jemp, Ariaal Rendille, Kamba, Tiriki, Chuka, Maragoli, Kikuyu, Kipsigis, Gusii, Luo, Meru, Samburu, Tuken, Nandi, Okiek; ®Iteso




Additional refs.:


§         Ahlberg, B. M., Njau, V. W., Kiiru, K. & Krantz, I. (2000) ‘Gender Masked or Self-Inflicted Pain: Female Circumcision, Eradication and Persistence in Central Kenya’, African Sociol Rev 4,1:35–54 []

§         Ahlberg, B. M., V.N. Kimani, L.W. Kirumbi, M.W. Kaara & I. Krantz (1997) The Mwomboko Research Project. The practice of male circumcision in Central Kenya and its implications for the transmission and prevention of STD/HIV in Central Kenya, African Sociol Rev 1,1:66-81 []

§         Ahlberg, Beth M.; V.N. Kimani, L.W. Kirumbi, M.W. Kaara, I. Krantz (1998) Male circumcision : practice and implication for transmission and prevention of STD/HIV in Central Kenya, in Charles Becker, Jean-Pierre Dozon, Christine Obbo & Moriba Touré (Eds.) Vivre et penser le sida en Afrique, p599-613 []

  • Cherkosie, A. (2000) Situational Analysis Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in East Africa. ECPAT International, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, p19-32 [fulltext at]

§         Douglas, Carol Anne; McCauley, Moira; Ostrow, Melissa; Wimbrow, Melissa (May/Jun2003) Kenya: new ritual may replace FGM. Off Our Backs, Vol. 33 Issue 5/6, p4

§         GROWING UP - Information needs of Primary School Children. EgertonUniversity (Njoro, Kenya). Research reports linked from

§         Jane Njeri Chege, Ian Askew, Jennifer Liku (2001) An Assessment of the Alternative Rites Approach for Encouraging Abandonment of Female Genital Mutilation in Kenya []

§         Lalor, K. (2004) Child sexual abuse in Tanzania and Kenya, Child Abuse & Neglect 28,8:833-44

§         Mensch, B. S. & Lloyd, C. B. (1998) Gender Differences in the Schooling Experiences of Adolescents in Low-Income Countries: The Case of Kenya, Stud Fam Plann 29,2:167-84

§         Oindo, M. L. (2002) Contraception and sexuality among the youth in Kisumu, Kenya, African Health Sciences 2,1:33-9

§         Sexual Mutilations. Case studies presented at the workshop: African women speak on female circumcision, Khartoum (October 21-25, 1984), Babiker Badri - Scientific Association for Women Studies, p55-7 []

§         Toroitich-Ruto, C. (1997) The Determinants of Teenage Sexuality and their Understanding of STDs/HIV/AIDS in Kenya, UAPS J 12,2 [ /]

§         Watson, Mary Ann & Montgomery, Suki (nd) Instructor’s Manual to Accompany ‘Rites of Passage: Videocases of Traditional African Peoples’, p29-36 []


§         Powers, J. (2000) Female Circumcision and Conflict in Kenya, 1929-1960, online article []




Janssen, D. F., Growing Up Sexually. VolumeI. World Reference Atlas. 0.2 ed. 2004. Berlin: Magnus Hirschfeld Archive for Sexology

Last revised: Jul 2005


[1] Brockman, N. (1997) Kenya, in Francoeur, R. T. (Ed.) The International Encyclopedia of Sexuality. New York: Continuum, Vol. 2. Quoted from the online edition

[2] Ajayi, A. A., Marangu, L. T., Miller, J. & Paxman, J. M. (1991) Adolescent Sexuality and Fertility in Kenya: A Survey of Knowledge, Perceptions, and Practices, Stud Fam Plann 22,4:205-16

[3] Kiragu, K. & Zabin, L. S. (1995) Contraceptive Use Among High School Students in Kenya, Int Fam Plann Perspect 21,3:108-13

[4] See also Ezeh, A. Ch. (1997) Polygyny and Reproductive Behavior in Sub-Saharan Africa: A Contextual Analysis, Demography 34,3:355-68

[5] Lema, V. M. (1990) The determinants of sexuality among adolescent school girls in Kenya, East Afr Med J 67,3: 191-200

[6] Gwako, E. (1995) Continuity and Change in the Practice of Clitoridectomy in Kenya: A Case-Study of the Abagusii, J Modern Afr Stud 33,2:333-7

[7] Thomas, L. M. (1998) Imperial concerns and “women’s affairs”: state efforts to regulate clitoridectomy and eradicate abortion in Meru, Kenya, C. 1910-1950, J Afr Hist 39,1:121-45

[8] Thomas, L. M. (1996) "Ngaitana (i will circumcise myself)": the gender and generational politics of the 1956 ban on clitoridectomy in Meru, Kenya, Gender & History 8,3:338-63

[9] Murray, J. (1976) The church missionary society and the "female circumcision" issue in Kenya, 1929-1932, J Religion in Africa [Netherlands] 8,2:92-104

[10] Mwaura, J. (2000) Female circumcision still prevalent in Kenya, New York Amsterdam News, 04/06/2000; 91,14:2

[11] De Wolf, J. J. (1973) Circumcision and initiation in Western Kenya and Eastern Uganda, Anthropos 78:369-410

[12] Cotran, Eu. (1968), Restatement of African Law I: The Law of Marriage and Divorce: Kenya., p10. As cited by CRLP (2001) Women of the World: Laws and Policies Affecting Their Reproductive Lives: Anglophone Africa. Progress Report, p43-74, at p70

[13] Kiragu, K. & Zabin, L. S. (1993) The Correlates of Premarital Sexual Activity Among School-Age Adolescents in Kenya, Int Fam Plann Perspect19,3:92-7+109

[14] Slum Residence and Adverse Health Consequences Linked in Kenya, Population Briefs 6,3(2000)

[15] Traditional Practices affecting the Health of Women and Children. WHO/EMRO Technical Report No. 2, Vol. 1. Report of a Seminar, Khartoum, 10-15 February, 1979, p138-9

[16] Wamahiu, Sh. et al. (1992) Educational Situation of the Kenyan Girl Child.

[17]Prazak, M. (2000) Talking about Sex: Contemporary Construction of Sexuality in Rural Kenya, Africa Today47,3-4:84 - 97

[18] Op.cit.

[19] Mucai-Kattambo, V. W., Kabeberi-Macharia, J. W. & Kameri-Mbote, P. (1995) Law and the Status of Women in Kenya, in Kabeberi-Macharia, J. W. (Ed.) Women, Laws, Customs and Practices in East Africa: Laying the Foundation. Nariobi: Women and Law in East Africa