UGANDA (Ik, Gisu, Acholi, Sebei, Bahima/Bahuma [Hima, Bahuma Bajoro], Bachiga, Lango, Nkole, Ganda, Kiziba, Lugbara, Jie, Iteso, Bwamba, Baamba, So, Guang, Sabiny) 


IndexAfrica Uganda


In the Uganda protectorate, “[a]t any stage of its infant life a child may be betrothed to some other infant or to one many years older than itself” (Kitching, 1912:p173)[1].

In one study, coitarche occurred at age seven to nine in 23% of boys and 8% of girls; by age twelve, 64% of boys and 76% of girls had had intercourse. Another study[2] among school students found that “[a]mong girls, the earliest reported age for initiation of sexual intercourse was eight years, but the mean age for first sexual intercourse was 16.1 years for boys and 16.6 years for girls”.

Muyinda et al. (2001)[3], Muyinda et al. (2003)[4], and Muyinda et al. (2004)[5] detail the contemporary fate of the senga (father’s sister), the “traditional channel for socializing adolescent girls into sex and marriage among many ethnic groups in Uganda” providing both traditional services (such as advice on and assistance with labial elongation) and modern health and sex education. Fifteen percent practised labial elongation, while about a quarter indicated they had not heard about it at all (Kisekka, 1976)[6]. In one study (Turyasingura, 1989)[7], coitarche occurred at age 15. In another (Kahazura, 1991)[8], coitarche occurred at age 13.6 (non-school group), and 14.4 (students); the lowest age encountered was nine. A 1988/9 survey among 15-24-year-old Ugandans found that the mean age of first coitus was 15.1 among males and 15.5 among females (Agyei and Epema, 1992)[9].

In one study of 86 patients with acute PID (Grech et al., 1973)[10], 48% claimed to have begun sexual intercourse at age fourteen or earlier. In a study reported by Arya and Bennett (1968)[11], the first sexual experience occurred before age ten in 8% of Uganda college students. In a recent study (Stewart, 2000)[12], first penetrative coitus was to occur at ages 15.4 (girls) and 15.0 (boys).

Among the Uganda Bamba (Bundibugyo district), a boy is not allowed to engage in sex before circumcision (Standing and Kisekka, 1989:p218).

Parikh (2001)[13] notes:


“The effect of the mass-mediated technologies is a breakdown and rearrangement of social categories, or as Lawrence Birken (1988)[[14]] observes a “democratization of sexual information”, in which a genderless and ageless public consumes an abundance of images. In Uganda, this has meant that sexual learning, which was provided by the paternal aunt and uncle, shifted from the kin networks to the public sphere, causing further stain on an already fading system of sex education of youth”.


Parikh (2003)[15]:


"An analysis of over 250 love letters and 2 ½ years of ethnographic research reveals that young males and females traverse the pubic in very different ways.  Boys are highly performative in their letters and use emotional display to establish relationships and initiate sex.  Girls, conversely, use letters to maintain and negotiate the terms of the relationship, often by expressing disappointment over the actions of their love interest.  To understand these differences is to gain access to the way class, gender and age converge around the access to and management of public reputation.  Implicit in any discussion of the way youth mediate intimacy and their public reputation is the notion of shame, which motivates the need for secrecy.  Because of HIV/AIDS and other reproductive concerns there are heightened stakes for secrecy around youth sexual exploration and a widened gap between authoritative adults and sexually maturing young people.  The entire process of love letters—from the conditions under which they are written, to the way in which they are circulated to their response from their intended recipient and the community at large—provides an ideal window into of the dialectic between regulation and romance of youth sexuality".



In a study (Bohmer and Kirumira, 2000)[16] among out of school 12-19 year olds, it was found that sexual information may be derived from a multitude of sources, including overhearing adult conversation or activities.


“Older females (14-16 years) and males (17-19 years) said that sexual activity begins between ages 12-16, males (17-19 years) reported that younger boys these days start earlier (i.e., age 12) than they themselves did (average of 14.5). Younger boys (12-13) expressed the view that sexual activity begins much earlier (ages ranged from 4 to 18), although they often spoke about both sexual play that occurs among children in addition to full sexual intercourse. Some boys believe that sexual intercourse takes place as early as 6-10 years, while others said that mature sexual relationships for males occur between 15-17 years when one is capable of sexually satisfying his partner. Thus, some males make a distinction between full sexual intercourse and less mature relationships where a boy is not yet capable of satisfying his partner […]. With regard to ages of sexual initiation for females, a third of boys in the 12-13 year group believed that females begin having sex as young as 4-6 years, although they felt that waiting until 13 years would be more appropriate. Males from both older and younger age groups felt that partnerships with younger girls are best as one does not need to worry about satisfying them sexually and as an older female may “lure them into sex” ”.


“Girls in the 12-13 year group said that most often money or clothes entice girls to have sex with “big men”. A married woman would argue: “And once the breasts come, she catches a boss. She does not go in for her age mates”. Boys were ambivalent to age disparate contacts with adult females. The actual incidence does not become apparent.

In the early 1990s, new laws designed to curb the spread of the disease by sexual contact raised the age of consent for sexual intercourse from 14 to 18 years of age, made prostitution and homosexuality illegal and redefined incest to include extended family members.[17]
Morrow et al. (2004)[18] report on
“[…] a previously unreported phenomenon uncovered during a study of youth sexual behavior in Uganda. The “Matalisi,’’ a go-between, played a central role in sexual relationships of most youth in Mpigi, Uganda. […] it became evident that matalisis were used in most courtships and initial sexual liaisons. […] Among youth interviewed, […] For 88%, participating as someone’s Matalisi preceded first coitus. By understanding the role of the Matalisi, interventions may be developed to improve sex education and more effectively address sexual behaviors that lead to unwanted pregnancies, STIs, and HIV infection.”


Ethnographic Peculiarities


See: Ik, Gisu, Acholi, Sebei, Bahima/Bahuma [Hima, Bahuma Bajoro], Bachiga, Lango, Nkole, Ganda, Kiziba, Lugbara, Jie, Iteso, Bwamba, Baamba, So, Guang, Sabiny) 


Additional refs.:


·         Nyanzi, S., Pool, R. & Kinsman, J. (2001) The negotiation of sexual relationships among school pupils in south-western Uganda, AIDS-Care 13,1:83-98

·         Romberg, Ch. (2003) Sacredness and secrecy: Discourse and the experience of sexuality among adolescents in Rukungiri District, Southwest Uganda. 4th Conference of the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS) ‘Sex and Secrecy’

·         Skovdal, Morten (2003) Gender, Youth and AIDS - Collective Struggles and Strategies in Uganda and Zimbabwe. WVP [,%20Youth%20and%20HIV%20Journal.pdf]

·         "Sengas" can effectively teach HIV prevention behavior to Ugandan girls. Biotech Week, 2/4/2004, p279

·         GROWING UP - Improving the Management of Growing Up and Sexual Maturation at Primary School. QUEST Research Reports 2004, Kyambogo University. Reports linked from

·         GROWING UP - Improving the Management of Growing Up and Sexual Maturation at Secondary School. QUEST Research Reports 2004, Kyambogo University. Reports linked from

·         Jaenson C. (1991) Community structure affects behaviour, Network 12,1:24-5

  • Cherkosie, A. (2000) Situational Analysis Report on Commercial Sexual Exploitation of Children in East Africa. ECPAT International, Addis Abeba, Ethiopia, p33-45 [fulltext at]
  • Damalie, Nakkazi (2001) Communication between Mothers and Their Adolescent Daughters on the Subject of Sexuality and HIV/AIDS in Uganda. Gender Issues Research Report Series, no.14. Addis Ababa: OSSREA [ et seq.]
  • Candiru, E. L. (1997) Exploring the Need for Sex Education in Ugandan Secondary Schools: A study of Parents', Teachers' and Adolescents' Attitudes, , in Okuni, A. & Tembe, J. (Eds.) Capacity Building in Educational Research in East Africa: Empirical Insights into Qualitative Research Methodology. Bonn, Germany: Deutsche Stiftung fur Internationale Entwicklung, p129-42
  • Busulwa, W. R. (1995) Abstinence for AIDS control: A study of adolescents in Jinja district [dissertation]. Kampala, Uganda: Makerere University
  • Sengendo, J. & Sekatawa, E. K. (1999) A Cultural Approach To Hiv/Aids Prevention And Care: Uganda’s Experience. Unesco/Unaids Research Project, Country Report. Kampala, Uganda. Studies And Reports, Special Series, Issue No. 1, Cultural Policies For Development Unit, Unesco []
  • Parikh, Shanti A. (2005) From Auntie to Disco: The Bifurcation of Risk and Pleasure in Sex Education in Uganda, in Sex in Development: Science, Sexuality, and Morality in Global Perspective. Edited by Vincanne Adams et al. Duke University Press, p125 et seq.



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

Last revised: Sept 2005



[1]Kitching, A. L. (1912) On the Backwaters of the Nile. London

[2] Twa-Twa, J. M. (1997) The role of the environment in the sexual activity of school students in Tororo and Pallisa districts of Uganda, Health Transition Rev, Suppl. to Vol. 7:67-81

[3] Muyinda, H., Kengeya, J., Pool, R. & Whitworth, J. (2001) Traditional sex counselling and STI/HIV prevention among young women in rural Uganda, Culture, Health & Sexuality 3,3:353-61

[4] Muyinda, H., Nakuya, J., Pool, R. & Whitworth J. (2003) Harnessing the senga institution of adolescent sex education for the control of HIV and STDs in rural Uganda, AIDS Care 15,2:159-67

[5] Muyinda, H., Nakuya, J., Whitworth, J. & Pool, R. (2004) Community sex education among adolescents in rural Uganda: utilizing indigenous institutions, AIDS Care 16,1:69-79

[6] Kisekka, M. N. (1976) Sexual attitudes and behavior among students in Uganda, J Sex Res 12,2:104-16

[7] Turyasingura, G. B. (1989) Sexual Behavior and Contraception Knowledge, Attitudes and Practice among Youth of Jinja District in Uganda. Dissertation, Makarere

[8] Kahazura, F. (1991) The Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices of Contraception and Sexuality of Adolescents of Kampala, Uganda. Dissertation, Makarere

[9] Agyei, W. K. A. & Epema, E. J. (1992) Sexual Behavior and Contraceptive Use Among 15-24-Year-Olds in Uganda, Int Fam Plann Perspect 18,1:13-7

[10] Grech, E. S. et al. (1973) Epidemiology of acute pelvic inflammatory disease in Uganda, Tropical Doctor 3:123-7

[11] Arya, O. P. & Bennett, F. J. (1968) Attitudes of college students in East Africa to sexual activity and venereal disease, Br J Ven Dis 44:160-6

[12] Stewart, K. A. (2000) Toward a historical perspective on sexuality in Uganda, Africa Today 47,3/4:123-48

[13] Parikh, Sh. A. (2001) Regulating Romance: The Poetics and Politics of Youth Sexuality in Uganda’s Time of AIDS. Paper delivered at the conference Gender, Sexuality and HIV/AIDS: Research and Intervention in Africa, April 23-24, Department of Women and Gender Research in Medicine, Institute of Public Health, University of Copenhagen

[14] Birken, L. (1988) Consuming Desire: Sexual Science and the Emergence of a Culture of Abundance 1871-1914. Ithaca & London: Cornell University Press

[15] Parikh, Sh. A. (2003) Private Acts, Public Shame: Reading Youth Love Letters as National Romance in Uganda. 4th Conference of the International Association for the Study of Sexuality, Culture and Society (IASSCS) ‘Sex and Secrecy’

[16] Bohmer, L. & Kirumira, E. K. (2000) Socio-economic context and the sexual behavior of Ugandan out of school youth, Culture, Health & Sex 2,3:269-85

[17] Tebere, R. (1991) Uganda opens new fronts, WorldAIDS Mar (14):3-4

[18] Morrow, Odaybea; Michael Sweat; Richard Morrow (2004) The Matalisi: Pathway to Early Sexual Initiation Among the Youth of Mpigi, Uganda, AIDS & Behavior, December 2004, vol. 8, no. 4, pp. 365-378