Demographics and a Historical Perspective
1. Basic Sexological Premises
2. Religious and Ethnic Factors Affecting Sexuality
3. Sexual Knowledge and Education
4. Autoerotic Behaviors and Patterns
5. Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors
6. Homoerotic, Homosexual, and Ambisexual Behaviors
7. Gender Conflicted Persons
8. Significant Unconventional Sexual Behaviors
9. Contraception, Abortion, and Population Planning
10. Sexually Transmitted Diseases
12. Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling, and Therapies
13. Research and Advanced Education
References and Suggested Readings

(Jamhuri ya Kenya)

Norbert Brockman, Ph.D.*

*Additional comments provided by Paul Mwangi Kariuki are given in brackets with his name in parentheses are the end of the comment.

Demographics and a Historical Perspective

A. Demographics

Most African nations, being political artifacts of colonialism, are multiethnic and multilinguistic. Patterns of sexual behavior are therefore quite varied, the result being complexity rather than uniformity. Nowhere is this more clearly demonstrated than in Kenya, a nation slightly smaller than the state of Texas.

One in four Kenyans lives in modern urban areas, notably the capital Nairobi, which has become a melting pot for all Kenyan cultures, and Mombasa, a tourist mecca on the Indian Ocean. Kenya is the leading Black African tourist destination, with splendid coastal areas, highly developed wildlife-viewing opportunities, and an infrastructure that has been very safe, comfortable, and competently run.

[Nairobi, the capital and center of industrialization, has a population of more than one million. Mombasa, Nakuru, Eldoret, Kisumu, Nyeri, Embu, Meru, and Thika are other large cities with a diversity and employment opportunities that attract many people from the rural areas, creating the usual urban problems. Recent unrest with political tribal clashes have occurred primarily in the Rift Valley region from which the president hails. Kenya has, since independence, had only one political party. The advent of multiparty politics in 1992 was decried by the president as a Western idea that would divide the people along tribal lines and plunge the country into lawlessness and anarchy. At the same time, legislators from the Rift Valley started preaching and demanding publically a change from the “Majimboism” (federal) system. Many tribes have co-existed peacefully in the Rift Valley for many years. These legislators asked the indigenous people, the people who originally owned the land before it was sold to others, to drive out these other people. With strong backing from the government, this effort resulted in a deadly, indiscriminate massacre of defenseless citizens, loss of property, and increased poverty, since a good percentage of the country’s corn and pyrethrum is grown in this area. The children lost out on educational opportunities when the schools were closed and no teachers were willing to work in these areas. Most of the people found refuge in church buildings, but in recent times the government has driven them out. Nevertheless, the current situation is calm, and the churches and opposition parties have kept up their significant work for peace, restoration and reconciliation. (Kariuki)]

Kenya’s population at the end of 1995 was close to 29 million. The age distribution was 48 percent, age 14 or younger; 49 percent between ages 15 and 64; and 3 percent age 65 and older. Life expectancy at birth in 1995 was 51 for males and 54 for females. The 1995 birthrate was 42 per 1,000 population; the death rate 12 per 1,000, for an annual natural increase of 3 percent. Kenya had one physician per 7,410 persons and one hospital bed per 737 persons. Infant mortality rate in 1995 was 73 per 1,000 live births. Half of the population are literate, with 86 percent attending primary school. The 1995 per capita gross domestic product was $1,200.

Economic and social factors that impact upon sexual patterns, therefore, include traditional cultures (initiation, courtship, and marriage customs), colonial imports (Christian and Islamic values, and education), and contemporary Western influences (consumerism, and the media).

B. A Brief Historical Perspective

When the vast Bantu migration of the late medieval period - perhaps the largest human movement in history - turned south at Lake Victoria, it found small groups of well-entrenched Hamitic tribes and a few bushmen. The Bantus also encountered large Nilotic tribes that had arrived from the north, and these racially diverse nations settled into an uneasy relationship around the Lake region. Their descendents number about twenty-five million in Kenya, which straddles the equator on the east coast of Africa. Arab colonies exported slaves and spices from the coast of today’s Kenya from the 700s on. Britain took over the country in the nineteenth century. In 1959, the Mau Mau uprising swept the country. British colonialism brought half a million East Asians and about a quarter million Caucasians in the early 1930s, both settler families and short-term expatriates connected with commercial, missionary, and international organizations.

[The agenda of the Mau Mau organization was to gain independence from the British, win control of their land, and self-rule, and obtain the release of Jomo Kenyatta, then in British detention. Violence was widespread as the Mau Mau forces in the forests fighting the British were supported by a nationwide network involving the majority of Kenyas, both men and women. Detectors, traitors, and those who collaborated with the British were killed.

[For two decades, following Kenya’s independence in 1963, the country was politically stable and prosperous, with a steady growth in its industry and agriculture, under Presidents Jomo Kenyatta (1963-78) and Daniel arap Moi (1978-), under a modified private-enterprise systems. In 1982, the military Air Force attempted to overthrow the government. Since then, government corruption, top-level scandals, the employment of unqualified people in upper-level positions, serious inflation, and the collapse of government services and systems have resulted in low morale throughout the work force and an unstable economy. Recent years have seen increased challenges to Moi’s authoritarian rule, however, and only divisions among his opponents allowed Moi to triumph in the country’s first multiparty elections in 1992. The lead-in to the elections included significant social turmoil and violence, often along tribal lines. The rigging of elections and a partisan electoral commission that set electoral boundaries favored Moi’s victory. Representation in the Parliament gave the ruling party one seat for 19,000 votes while the opposition seats required 43,000 votes, giving the Moi party a three-to-one advantage. (Kariuki)]

1. Basic Sexological Premises

A. Character of Gender Roles

Social reinforcement maintains clear gender roles in all Kenyan societies. Western education has produced a small female professional class, but expansion of women into new spheres of activity occurs only in Western roles that were unknown in traditional society, Western medicine, education, and bureaucracy. The Kenyan government has given strong support to educated women, appointing government officials, diplomats, and leaders from among them.

B. Sociolegal Status of Males and Females

Among all Kenyans, there is strong belief in the existence of ancestral spirits. The ancestors assume functions of social control and must be placated when offended. There is a bond between the worlds of the living and the dead, and a mutual interdependence. It is important, therefore, to maintain a balance in populations between the two worlds by having children. The “living dead” need descendants to perform rites in their honor. Add to this the economic incentive of having large numbers of children in order to provide for old age, and the cultural resistance to population control becomes apparent. In the African family, children are received with delight and treasured. The firstborn is especially important in the family. The orphaned are taken in by their extended families. Institutional orphanages are almost unknown.

Infanticide was practiced in traditional culture, but is now illegal, and practiced rarely and surreptitiously. A baby may be killed if it is the result of an incestuous union or, in different ethnic groups, if an albino, triplets, or born feet first. The newborn of an uncircumcized Nandi girl is exposed to die if no one adopts it.

Life from childhood is organized around progress through age sets within a kinship system, each with its own preparation and responsibilities. These stages vary from tribe to tribe, but always include childhood, an initiation period leading to junior adulthood, marriage, family building, and the status of elder.

C. General Concepts of Sexuality and Love

Sexuality is always a part of the kinship system, controlled within it, and subject to its purposes. Love is recognized and accepted as part of personal relationships. One may choose a marriage partner because of personal attraction, even though arranged marriages continue. Nevertheless, love is not a high value in itself. In polygamous marriages, junior wives will often be chosen by the first wife to meet work needs.

A great deal of sexual freedom for both sexes is allowed within these social controls. Unmarried boys and girls slept communally in many Kenyan societies, and several provide youth huts. [In a number of tribes, the Kikuyus, for instance, young men and women are allowed to dance, play, and even sleep together at certain organized times (guiko, among the Kikuyus), but no sexual activity is allowed although it may occur in these situations. Generally, premarital pregnancy disgraces a girl. Love, as an emotionally expressed feeling, was never valued in the tribal tradition. Today, it is treated as a Western idea and viewed with a lot of suspicion especially by the older people. However, love as an act of the will has always existed. (Kariuki)j

2. Religious and Ethnic Factors Affecting Sexuality

A. Source and Character of Religious Values

For Africans, religion is a natural, present, and pervading influence, deeply interwoven with culture. Everyday life is nowhere secularized as in the West, and religion as a personal and private activity is quite foreign to African sensibility. This is indicated by the presence of a mere 0.1 percent atheists and nonreligious persons in the country (see Table 1). The importance of religion for sexuality, therefore, is far beyond the issues of moral behavior so dominant in Western thinking.

Table 1
Estimated Religious Distribution in Kenya


Percentage of Population

Roman Catholics


Protestants and Anglicans


African independent churches




Christian Total


Traditional animists




East Asian religions


Both Catholic and Protestant churches are very conservative theologically and morally, the former because of dependence upon expatriate (Irish/Italian) missionaries, and the latter due to a mass evangelical movement that has dominated Protestantism for several generations. Kenya is a center for the independent church movement, with over five hundred groups ranging from African denominations to prophetic cults. Many allow polygamy and permit women prophetic figures, but are intolerant of abortion, contraception, sex education, and social equality for women. President Daniel arap Moi is a member of an evangelical Kenyan denomination, the African Inland Church.

Many Kenyan Moslems are East Asian disciples of the Aga Khan. African Moslems, primarily Swahilis on the coast, follow a moderate, relaxed form of Islam, and their numbers are declining.

B. Source and Character of Ethnic Values

The ethnic distribution in Kenya in 1995 was: Kikuyu 21 percent, Luhya 14 percent, Luo 13 percent, Kalenjin 12 percent, Kamba 11 percent, and the remainder divided among Europeans, Asians, and Arabs.

There are essentially two layers of cultural influences in every Kenyan. The first is the traditional tribal value system, and the second consists of Western influences. Sexual values, traditions, and behavior arise from the matrix of these influences, which vary among individuals. One family may speak a tribal mother tongue, continue traditional practices of initiation, bride wealth, and taboos, while another may speak Swahili or English predominantly, take many values from Christianity and the media, and feel free of tribal tradition. Several factors influence these differences: degree of urbanization, tribal intermarriage, religion, and level of education.

Moral strictures within Kenyan societies tend to be based on shame rather than on guilt. Disapproved sexual behaviors cast shame upon one’s age group, clan, or tribe, rather than produce feelings of personal unworthiness through guilt. There is a strong social element to all ethical norms, including sexual norms. Sexual behavior in Kenyan societies is significant only in terms of the social realities of childbearing and family alliances. Consequently, where ethnic influence breaks down, as when a Kenyan moves to an urban area outside the tribal milieu, the inhibition of shame may be removed, resulting in behavior that by Western standards seems promiscuous and irresponsible.

There are contrasts in sexual norms among different ethnic groups. In some groups such as the Luo, women who give birth before marriage are disgraced, while in other groups this is seen as a valuable sign of fertility. Virginity in women is highly prized in some groups such as the Somali, Maragoli, and Luo, and regarded as unimportant in others, among the Kisii, Kikuyu, and Nandi. Among the Kikuyu, an infertile or impotent husband may provide another sex partner for his wife. Among the Nandi, a married woman can continue to have sex with her former lover or other members of her husband’s age set. In contrast, the Maragoli regard extramarital sex as adultery. Therefore, the sexual culture shock in urban areas comes not only from contact with Western ideas and media, but also from interaction with diverse traditional value systems.

3. Sexual Knowledge and Education

A. Government Policies and Programs for Sex Education

Sex education is treated with great ambivalence in Kenya. School curricula are nationalized, and there is no curriculum for sex education. Nevertheless, the idea is endorsed, and units of Family Life Education (FLE) are integrated into various curricula. These have been designed by nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), particularly the National Christian Council of Kenya, the Kenya Family Planning Association, the YMCA, the Kenya Catholic Secretariat, and the National Women’s Federation (Maendaleo wa Wanawake). All of these organizations also provide various training programs for sex education teachers.

When tested in 1991 on six topics - menstruation, wet dreams, pregnancy, contraception, STDs, and AIDS - 80 percent of the adolescents had received instruction on at least one topic between the ages of 12 and 15. Further testing on specific issues, however, showed that only 23 to 37 percent had practical knowledge on specific topics.

The government attempted to use television for sex education in the late 1980s, developing a popular soap opera series in Swahili. After several episodes, President Moi ordered the program stopped, endorsing instead traditional sex education by tribal elders. The fact that today, fewer youths live in rural areas or undergo traditional initiation, was never broached. Media such as television and comic books are used well in AIDS education, but this is the only topic systematically dealt with.

[The issue of sex education has become a major issue in Kenya. As mentioned, the government has made some efforts to introduce it in the schools, but this has met with considerable resistance from religious groups, particularly the Muslims and the Catholic Church. The Boy Scout movement, with the help of pathfinder funds, published a book on family life education for their members. This book discussed topical issues on sex education, human anatomy, and abortion. Subsequently, the government used this book as the basis for a sex education syllabus to be taught in the schools. Following much resistance and criticism from the religious groups and parents, the President ordered the book’s withdrawal from all bookshops and stores in 1985.

[The issue of AIDS, which is alarming, has complicated the issue of sex education for several reasons. For one thing, the people do not take the AIDS threat seriously. Neither the government nor the churches consider AIDS a priority. The problem is with the level of information given, coupled with and complicated by the prevention methods advocated. The people in the churches who could be most effective in communicating the needed information believe the information about condom use as a way to reduce the spread of AIDS is scientifically false and that the people are not being told the truth. They are also aware of the economic factors in the sale of condoms: the manufacturers are out to make money with ineffective condoms while the users continue to die as AIDS spreads. There is a widespread belief that the whole issue is linked with a eugenics movement whose aim is to produce a “thoroughbred” race through genetic engineering. Africans are aware that some have classified them as a lower race. This belief in a eugenics-oriented link is supported by the requirement of the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund that 20 percent of every loaned dollar go to the provision of contraceptives and abortifacients. Government hospitals and clinics like the Maria Stopes clinics are flooded with these drugs, while there are absolutely no other drugs available to treat other ailments. The government preaches ensuring good health for everyone as a national goal. But when the only drugs the people find available are for AIDS and pregnancy prevention, they question the credibility of the government and its policies, and lose faith in anything it tries to advance.

[As a result, the main religious groups organize protest marches through the major towns, where thousands of people young and old attend. These marches are climaxed with the burning of condoms and sex education books. These people call for telling the truth about the effectiveness of condoms. They advocate that sex education be left to parents, and that parents be involved in any decision that would affect their children. They also advocate AIDS prevention through abstinence and chastity. For married couples, they call for “zero grazing,” strict marital faithfulness. (Kariuki)]

B. Informal Sources of Sexual Knowledge

Traditionally, sex education was undertaken as part of the initiation process. It began, however, much earlier in the extended family and social structures of particular ethnic groups.

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.

4. Autoerotic Behaviors and Patterns

In Kenyan tradition, self-pleasuring is unacceptable among girls, and was part of the motive for clitoridectomy. For uninitiated (uncircumcized) boys, however, self-pleasuring is considered a proper preparation for a mature sex life. Boys in the same age group may engage in self-pleasuring together without shame, but all such activities are to be given up with initiation.

Adult male self-pleasuring is regarded as immature and childish after initiation, even for the unmarried. It is therefore surrounded with taboos. A man who has been circumcized is regarded as unready to assume adult responsibilities if he engages in self-pleasuring.

5. Interpersonal Heterosexual Behaviors

A. Children

Living in the unmarried men’s hut, a boy has ample opportunity to listen to sexual conversations and observe older boys with their sweethearts. 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.

Western influences have rendered many of these customs invalid. Many children are sent to boarding schools, where socialization is controlled by older children with little supervision. Nocturnal visits that are manageable in a traditional setting often turn into rape under these circumstances. Older youths who are not part of a tribal social system often feel little responsibility for younger children, and certainly not for female students who include no sisters or members of tabooed clan groups.

The urban family must dispense with age-set socialization entirely and keep their children in the home. Grandparents are seldom available for counseling or instruction. Other children and youths come from differing cultures, so that peer influences rarely reinforce traditional values.

B. Adolescents

The sexual world of the Kenyan adolescent is extremely complex, combining traditional initiation rites, Western values and ideas, and a changing set of social expectations.

In traditional society, adolescents were initiated in a clearly defined period and by a series of events. In all cultures, these included instruction in male/female roles within the tribe, marriage customs, morality, and acceptable sexual behavior. Bantu cultures included circumcision for men, and usually for women. The Luo are the largest group not practicing circumcision. Among the Maasai and Samburu, after initiation, the new warrior could take a mistress from among the unmarried girls.

Initiation was done by age sets that were given distinctive names and provided a strong sense of bonding. While there were differences among ethnic groups, the pattern was essentially the same. Age sets went through various stages of adulthood together and shared a common responsibility for one another. In a few cases (Nandi and Maasai), it was not regarded as adultery if a women slept with an age mate of her husband. Elsewhere, the opposite is the case - adultery within the husband’s age set would be incestuous, and there are taboos against the marriage of a son or daughter to one of another age-set member. However different cultures interpreted it, the age-set bond defines sexual and marital relations.

Male circumcision is an important sign of adulthood, responsibility, and bravery. When performed as a part of an initiation ritual, the boys are expected to receive the surgery without flinching, lest they disgrace their families. It is preceded by a cold dip in a river to deaden the senses. Circumcision is such a public symbol, it is not unusual to hear a man say “I have been to the river,” to mean “I know what I am talking about.” Because of the social significance, youths who do not undergo initiation, either because the family lives away from the tribal area or they are in school, will arrange for private circumcision from a doctor or clinician. After his teens, an uncircumcized male is the butt of ridicule, and at considerable disadvantage in finding sex partners. A youth who cries out during the surgery is disgraced for life, and will be able to find a wife only among the handicapped, elderly, or those with illegitimate children.

Female circumcision will be discussed under Section 8D, Unconventional Sexual Behaviors.

Although custom severely restricts adolescent intercourse, in reality a certain amount of sexual activity takes place. This is most marked in mixed situations (e.g., in cities and boarding schools), but it is also the case in traditional settings. In several cultures, elaborate sex play is institutionalized. Neither penetration nor touching of the genitals is allowed to either partner. Among the Kikuyu, the girl wears a leather apron during this activity, which is conducted in a special hut set aside to provide privacy to young people. Breast fondling is the main stimulant, as well as frottage. The Luo use a method of interfemoral intercourse. Where intercourse is tolerated, the main technique of avoiding pregnancy seems to have been withdrawal.

Detribalized youths experience considerable social pressure to become sexually active, without balancing social support that might make sexual abstinance a viable option.

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. By age 20, 42 percent of rural females and 76 percent of rural males had had intercourse. Almost all of these involved multiple partners. Forty-one percent of rural girls have had intercourse with more than one partner, 17 percent with three or more. The figures for boys are 72 percent and 51 percent respectively. A 1991 cross-cultural study of in-school adolescents reported 48 percent of primary school males, 69 percent of secondary, and 77 percent of vocational to be sexually experienced. The comparable figures for young women are 17,27, and 67 percent. No studies record preferred sex partners, but the widespread prevalence of prostitution is not to be discounted for the disparity between males and females in comparable settings.

Correlates of sexual activity among adolescents are peer influence (males with sexually active peers are seven times more likely to be active themselves); weak religious commitment; risk-taking behaviors (smoking, disco attendance, and alcohol use); dysfunctional family situations (for females); attending boarding school (for males); and attending a rural school.

Only 5 percent of the general adolescent population use any form of contraception. In striking contrast, the figure for students is slightly less than 15 percent who use contraception regularly, indicating that birth-control use is strongly influenced by educational status. It must be remembered that somewhere around 90 percent (statistics are imprecise) of youths terminate schooling after Standard Eight, at about age 14 to 15. Correlates of contraceptive use among school girls are high academic achievement and upper socioeconomic status - each of these triples the likelihood of contraceptive use. There is only one correlate for boys, a sexual relationship with a girl supportive of contraception, which doubles the likelihood of contraception.

C. Adults

Premarital Courtship, Dating, and Relationships

Traditionally, premarital sex activity was circumscribed and controlled. A youth who impregnated a girl was liable for brideprice to her father, and might be punished in addition. While a few nomadic peoples like the Maasai institutionalized mistress relationships for unmarried warriors, this was the exception. Those practicing female circumcision usually demanded proof of virginity at marriage.

Courtship is dominated by brideprice. All marriages involve brideprice or bride wealth, regardless of whether they are traditional or among the educated elites. The origins of this payment to the father’s family is recompense for the lost economic services of the daughter. Brideprice was paid originally in cattle and goats, but today usually involves money. Negotiations are often protracted, and various members of the extended family receive gifts over a period of time which corresponds to the Western engagement period. One Kenyan manufacturer uses a television ad showing the suitability of its blankets for brideprice gifts. A woman with education or skills is highly prized, while someone of low status - a housemaid, single mother, or orphan - might bring only a small bride wealth, and be viewed as appropriate only as a second or third wife.

[The payment of the brideprice has several functions beyond compensating the family of the bride for their investment and loss of the daughter’s economic services. Part of the ceremony is to announce to all the intention of the couple to marry. After the traditional goats and bananas are offered, the clan members of the man and woman meet to negotiate issues like who the daughter is, what her skills are, her level of education, and the general duties she will undertake in her new home. The purpose here is to give the visitors, the man’s relatives, a general overview of the woman’s family, their status, and prosperous attitude as reflected in the daughter. This gives them a better reason to offer something substantial to compensate for the work done by the family on their daughter.

[The brideprice agreed to is always on the high side. This insures that the ties between the two families will never end. A Kikuyu aphorism states that the brideprice never ends. This underlines the purpose of the bride-price in maintaining the clan/family bond. Other ceremonies, involving a goat slaughter, sharing of the meat, and a traditional liquor between the clans, reinforce this bonding. While the brideprice ceremonies differ from one tribe to another, the principle and purpose remain the same. Among the social elite, the primary function may be the economic benefit, but for most Kenyans this is secondary. (Kariuki)]

If a marriage is not successful, the bride wealth is to be returned. Kenyan men marry at a later age than women, in part because of the burden of bride wealth. In Kenya, however, difficulties in acquiring bride wealth do not prevent marriage, as it has in neighboring Uganda, and the Kenyan government continues to support the practice. Brideprice is a further indication that marriage is primarily seen as the alliance of families rather than an interpersonal commitment based on love. Marriage is cemented by the bride wealth, giving a large number of the bride’s family a material stake in the perseverance of the marriage, a form of marital insurance.

Sexual Behavior and Relationships of Single Adults

This area of life has undergone great change. In traditional society, male youths became warriors after initiation, protecting the tribe and its herds. With this function lost, unmarried youths have no clear position in the kinship system. Those fortunate enough to pass rigorous examinations usually attend boarding schools, separated from the influence of their extended families. This has had disastrous results for identity, producing alarming rates of promiscuity, premarital pregnancy, and AIDS. Substantial numbers of women in the university and professional schools drop out because of pregnancy, a tremendous economic loss for the country and a major force holding back the advancement of women. A 1988 government study estimated that 400 to 500 women drop out of normal schools each year due to pregnancy. Pregnancy screening is now a condition for admission to teachers’ colleges, and random screening is conducted among students after admission.

Working-class youths suffer similar dislocation. About 90 percent of young people terminate schooling by the end of Standard Eight, around age 14. [While the 90 percent figure just cited seems high to me, it is clear that the average age of terminating education varies from region to region. Today, the higher percentage of young people end their education by the end of form four (high school) and fewer by the end of Standard Eight (grade or elementary school). In the central region where I worked as education secretary for seven years, the majority ended their education with the completion of high school. (Karuki)]

Where traditional initiation has lapsed, circumcision of boys takes place in a clinic or by bribing a clinic worker to perform the surgery at home. Girls’ circumcision is becoming less common. The sexual information imparted at initiation is not given, and sex education is dominated by peers. Youths have evolved an argot of Kiswahili known as “Sheng,” a street language seldom understood by adults. Kiswahili has a very restricted, even prudish, sexual vocabulary, but Sheng is rich in sexual slang.

Huge populations live in massive slum areas surrounding Nairobi and a few other major towns, and these have become breeding grounds for prostitution, venereal disease, and sexual abuse. Radically altered social conditions have shattered traditional mores in the cities, while providing no alternative social controls.

Marriage and Family

Most Kenyan societies are patrilinear, meaning that descent is reckoned in the father’s line and authority over children rests with the father. In matrilinear societies, children are in the descent group of their mothers, but under the headship of the males in that line. The only significant implication of this presently is in marriage. In matrilinear societies, males are limited in their search for a wife, since they will bear responsibility for children in their sisters’ families.

Matrilinear groups usually also practice levirate marriage, in which a man must take his brother’s widow and children as his own. If the dead man has left no children, the brother may father children in the dead man’s name. This aspect of African traditional law has been accepted into Kenyan jurisprudence in a contentious case involving a deceased Luo lawyer whose widow, from a prominent Kikuyu family, refused to accept Luo traditional law. When she lost the case, the brother’s family seized the body to bury it in traditional fashion. By refusing to attend this ceremony, or to accept her brother-in-law as her new husband, she was regarded as divorced, and the deceased was buried as an unmarried man.

Of the five recognized forms of marriage in Kenyan law, three are monogamous - Christian, civil, and Hindu marriages. Islamic marriages are potentially polygynous, and African customary marriages are polygynous. Although the precise word for marriages of single husband/multiple wives is “polygyny,” Africans use the broader term “polygamy,” and it will be so used here.

A man may take junior wives only if he is able to support them, which limits polygamy. Bride wealth alone inhibits polygamy, but the increasing cost of educating children is equally daunting. A man may take a second wife as a display of wealth or prominence, to provide an assistant in farm work for the first wife, or to begin another family. Each wife has to have living quarters for herself and her children. In practice, men arrange a small plot of land that the wife works to support the children.

A polygynous husband is expected to be sexually active with all his wives. In some groups, she is entitled to a visit between each menstrual period. More commonly in the rural areas, a man will sleep with his wives in rotation, several weeks at a time.

In contemporary society, the husband may take a job in the city, and visit his wife or wives from time to time. It is not uncommon today for a man to live apart from his legal wives for many years in this way.

In some cases, one or more wives may live on the shamba, or garden plot, while another stays in the city, caring for her husband. In addition, many men will take a “city wife,” a form of concubinage in which the man supports the woman in the city while not having a legal relationship with her. Many wives, living on the shamba, prefer this to another legal wife or the probability of her husband’s resorting to prostitutes. Children born to a “city wife” are the father’s, and are raised by his wife.

Polygamous marriages were never in the majority, and today are declining under economic pressures. At the same time, other, less formal arrangements have become common. These include the phenomenon of the “city wife” and polyandrous mistresses. This latter arrangement involves several urban men who jointly support a woman. None of them live with her, but she shares a sexual relationship with each. In one case known to the author, one man paid the woman’s rent, another her food bills, and a third paid for her clothing. Her arrangement was known to her peers since she held a professional position, and she was not regarded as a prostitute. Any children born of such arrangements are regarded as fatherless. [I am not aware of this polyandrous relationship involving a wife openly maintaining a sexual relationship with two or more men. However, a wife or mistress may have sexual relationships with more than one man, for the purpose of obtaining money from each. When the men eventually learn about the multiple relationships, the result is a breakup that may escalate with a thorough beating of the woman or fighting between the men involved. (Kariuki)]

In the tradition, a marriage must be fruitful. The advanced stages of elderhood are marked by fathering children, having them come to the age of initiation, and having grandchildren. Among the Kisii, an impotent husband could recruit an omosoi nyomba, literally “warmer of the house,” to impregnate his wife. He was preferably chosen from descendents of the same grandfather, and any children are the husband’s heirs, not the biological father’s. A childless widow could also make the same arrangement.

Since childbearing is such a central condition of sexuality, female orgasm is not sought in itself. Nevertheless, it is approved and acceptable. Male orgasm, however, is a sign of potency, and men will seek sexual relief even when abstaining from intercourse. Abstinence is observed from the time pregnancy is obvious until some time after birth, and during menstruation. During this period, if a man has only one wife, he may engage in other forms of sex, including fellatio. Kikuyu men, conditioned to breast stimulation, often center on this activity.

An interesting birth practice is found among the Luo, who are Nilotic and not Bantu. Several days after parturition, when a woman is to leave the birth hut with the newborn, her husband must have intercourse with her. Before this act, she may have no contact with anyone who has had intercourse, including midwives or relatives. To do otherwise would afflict the child with chira, a spiritual curse resulting in the child’s death or the parents’ sterility.

Sexuality and the Disabled and Aged

The Kenyan government estimates that 5 percent of the population is physically disabled, mostly with deformed limbs and eye afflictions resulting from poor birth-delivery conditions. No studies of the sexual adaptations of this group have been reported, but the disabled can be observed in all types of relationships, married and otherwise.

Since childbearing so defines a married woman’s importance, later sex is not spoken of. In at least one tribe, parental sex was supposed to stop when the first child was married. A wealthy man might take a young junior wife when his first wife reaches menopause, causing him to cease having sex with her.

Incidence of Oral and Anal Sex

Vaginal intercourse is the norm for marital sexual activity, with little fore-play. Anal sex is associated with homosexual rape, not unknown during civil strife, and both anal and oral sex are culturally abhorrent, though fellatio is acceptable in a few cultures during periods of abstinence, such as the lactation period.

6. Homoerotic, Homosexual, and Ambisexual Behaviors

A. Children and Adolescents

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.

B. Adults

Self-identified gay Africans hardly exist in Kenya, although homosexual activity is not unknown. There are no homosexual gender roles, such as the berdache in Native American societies, or the effeminate gà’tuhy of Thailand. Because homosexuality profoundly violates the traditional social pattern, it has been tabooed to the point that subcultural social norms have never developed.

Kenya has retained many aspects of the colonial British penal code, and homosexuality continues to be illegal as a “crime against nature.” It is regarded with disdain and disgust by the majority of the population, and persons arrested for homosexual activity are treated harshly by the police. In some traditions (e.g., Kikuyu), homosexuality could be punished by death.

Kenyans discriminate against same-sex behaviors. Self-pleasuring with a partner or spouse present is regarded as childish, but relatively harmless, particularly between friends. While socially and legally tabooed, playing the inserter role in same-sex acts does not define a man as homosexual. Accepting insertion, especially in anal intercourse, is regarded with extreme disgust.

There are no gay venues nor any overt gay presence in Kenya. A small white, predominantly British, homosexual society exists in Nairobi. Most expatriate white homosexuals avoid African partners because of the drastic consequences, and confine themselves to sexual activity on trips to Europe.

Male prostitutes are readily available on the streets of Nairobi and Mombasa, usually catering to tourists. They are well dressed in order to be able to enter international hotels. Male prostitution serving an African clientele does not seem to exist. The prostitutes themselves are probably bisexual, many having girlfriends or wives, and considering themselves heterosexual. All religious groups abhor homosexuality and condone its complete suppression. There are no gay activist or support groups in Kenya, nor any gay publications. Foreign gay publications are proscribed.

Lesbian and bisexual relationships are either so rare or so hidden as to be unnoticeable. The “woman-to-woman” marriage discussed in Section 8 should not be confused with lesbianism, even if an occasional sexual exchange may occur.

Homosexuality is often ascribed to the coastal Swahili, Arabs, and Moslems generally as a racist slur, and the few Africans involved are said to be exploited by these groups. The sexual act in these accounts is always sodomy, which as an image of rape and political dominance effectively excludes mutuality in same-sex relationships. Male homosexuality is politically interpreted in terms of racist, anti-black exploitation by whites (former colonial masters) and Arabs (former slavers).

This pattern, both expatriate and African, is typical of sub-Saharan Africa except for the Republic of South Africa. Although the dramatic AIDS pandemic has generated interest in research on same-sex behavior, almost no such research has been done in Africa. A 1995 study indicated that such research is almost unknown in sub-Saharan Africa. In Kenya, all survey research designs must be approved by the Office of the President, a sufficient damper on any same-sex studies. The National AIDS Programme has no literature or outreach to homosexuals in Kenya.

The imposition of Western social notions of homosexual/gay patterns tends to obscure any true picture of same-sex activities in Africa. To say that there is no organized gay community in Kenya does not mean that there is no homosexual activity. There are cliques of men who are predominantly or exclusively homosexual, but who limit their sexual activities to their acquaintance group. In this sense, in urban concentrations such as Nairobi and Mombasa, these serve as homosexual analogs to age-set groups. Occasionally, one finds a group organized as a brotherhood or fraternity, a form of homosexual support group providing casual, although not promiscuous, pairings. A 1995 survey indicated that violent assault was either likely or possible for homosexuals in Africa - at 69 percent, the highest in the Third World. This helps to explain the closed nature of homosexual society in Kenya and other African countries.

7. Gender Conflicted Persons

Gender conflicted persons are regarded as homosexuals, and treated as criminals. Suppression is so complete as to make such persons, to the extent that they exist, invisible.

Kenyan traditional societies did not provide for special gender roles. During the independence movement, sodomy was practiced by some in the Mau Mau society, with the sole intent of making the participants ritually unclean and thus unable to participate in normal society. This is the only ritual use of homosexual behavior known.

8. Significant Unconventional Sexual Behaviors

A. Coercive Sex

Sexual Abuse

Child sexual abuse seems to be increasing, and is part of a generalized child abuse resulting from pressures of social change and loss of the holding power of traditional taboos. An alarming new development, however, has appeared with the rise of AIDS. This is the exploitation of pubescent girls by older men, hoping to find inexperienced partners who are unlikely to be infected. The image of the prosperous “sugar daddy” is a stock figure in Kenyan humor, accompanied by his dogo-dogo (literally, “little-little”).


Incest is as socially condemned in Kenya as in the West, and seems to be rare. The Kisii sometimes excuse it due to drunkenness, but in other societies it would be severely punished by mob justice. In some cases, children conceived incestuously would be killed.


True pedophila, involving sexual contact between adults and prepubescent children, is rare in Kenya, scorned and severely punished. Girls between 12 and 14 are often objects of older men’s attentions, however, even though this is socially disapproved. Peasant fathers may accept bride wealth from men seeking a young wife, and this is not regarded as selling one’s daughter. The government has campaigned against the practice, but has not been able to eradicate it in rural areas. In one district in 1988, only one girl completed Standard Eight, all the rest of her class having been married before completing elementary school.

Sexual Harassment

The forms of sexual harassment found in Western society are probably as common among the professional class of Kenyans as elsewhere. There is also a serious problem of sexual exploitation of schoolgirls by male teachers.

Poverty forces many rural girls, as young as 10, to be employed as housemaids and child minders in middle-class homes. Besides the economic exploitation they endure, sexual harassment by males in the household is common. Being from rural areas, often speaking only a tribal language, these girls have no power to resist sexual advances. If they become pregnant, they are cast out and often forced into prostitution.


Reports of rape have been increasing in Kenya, although exact statistics do not exist. Practically speaking, only violent stranger rape is acknowledged as criminal. Neither Kenyan law nor general attitudes accept the concept of marital rape. Rape of such subordinate women as prostitutes or housemaids is regarded very lightly.

Sexual exploitation of girls in boarding schools and universities is common. A young woman who enters into a social relationship with a male student is expected to be available sexually. Because women have been conditioned to serve men and accept their orders from childhood, refusal of sexual overtures is difficult. In 1991, incidents involving mass rapes in secondary schools, in one case leading to several deaths, brought international publicity leading to government attempts at reform.

B. Prostitution

Female prostitution is widespread, and patronized by both tourists and Kenyans. Technically illegal, it is tolerated by the authorities. Prostitutes tend to come from the less-educated class of women, including single mothers, junior wives driven out of their homes by First wives, abandoned girls, and economically distressed women. A working-class prostitute earns the equivalent of one U.S. dollar per encounter, less in the poorer slums. Under these conditions, by 1990, almost 85 percent of Nairobi prostitutes tested positive for HIV. With weak economic inducement for remaining in prostitution, however, church programs such as Maria House in Nairobi teach cottage-industry and market skills that make it possible for women to earn a comparable living outside the sex trade.

Despite Kenyan government disapproval, sex tourism is promoted by German operators, including a “Sun and Sex Safari” that includes an antibiotic injection on return! Sex tourism in Kenya has never approached the exploitive level found in Thailand and the Philippines, but it is an ever-present element.

Male prostitution is a phenomenon of sex tourism, and is found mostly in coastal resort areas, such as Mombasa and Malindi.

C. Pornography

All forms of erotica and sexually oriented publications are illegal in Kenya, and not available for sale. This includes publications featuring nudity, which is culturally offensive.

D. Female Circumcision

Female circumcision is practiced by Nilotic and some Bantu peoples. It still continues widely among the Somali and Turkhana, and surreptitiously among others. Its purpose is to reduce female sexual pleasure, and make women docile to their husbands and less likely to engage in adultery. Women not circumcised are referred to by traditionalists as “unclean” or as “prostitutes.” As a Kikuyu girls’ circumcision song concludes, “Now we can make love, for our sex is clean.”

The Kikuyu, Maasai, and Meru only removed the clitoris (clitoridectomy) during initiation, at puberty. The Turkhana and Somali practice pharaonic circumcision, removing the clitoris and the labia minora. The wound is then sutured (infibulation), leaving a tiny hole for menstrual flow. This is often inspected at betrothal as a sign of virginity. Pharaonic circumcision is performed on girls between the ages of 3 and 7.

The Anglican Church strongly opposed female circumcision, and it has been illegal since the colonial period. The campaign reached a crisis in 1929 when the Church of Scotland Mission made opposition a condition of employment and school entry. This politicized the question and gave rise to the Kikuyu resistance, and the independent church and school movements. In 1930, an elderly female missionary died after rape, forced circumcision, and mutilation. Jomo Kenyatta, the Father of Kenya, made resistance a cornerstone of liberation, declaring that female circumcision “symbolizes the unification of the whole tribal organization.”

After independence, Kenyatta permitted female circumcision, but President Moi again outlawed it in 1982 after the deaths of fourteen girls. He reaffirmed this in 1990 after a widely publicized tribal ceremony. There are indications that the practice is waning.

E. Woman-to-Woman Marriage

Some thirty Bantu societies provide for marriage between two women, including a dozen Kenyan ethnic groups. Among these are several large tribes - the Kisii, Nandi, Wakamba, and Kikuyu. In other parts of Africa, this was characteristic of status women, such as royals or political leaders, but in East Africa, it ordinarily represents a surrogate female husband who replaces a male kinsman as jural “father.” The wife may bear children for her husband, in whose clan line they then belong. In other cases, women marry women to achieve economic independence, and brideprice is paid. These autonomous female husbands are accepted as men in male economic roles. This dual-female marriage is economic, and illustrates the separation of sex and gender in African societies.

There is no evidence of lesbianism in any of these marriages, and the wife is often provided with a male sexual partner to raise the children. She is not permitted to refuse him when he visits the household for this purpose. The husband figure is henceforth forbidden to have sex with a man, because this would constitute homosexuality due to her legally male status. She may become an elder, and among the Nandi, may attend circumcisions, forbidden for females.

Although Westernization has made female marriages embarrassing, they were confirmed in customary law by the Kenyan courts in 1986, and are subject to divorce legislation.

F. Bestiality

Among pastoral groups and nomads, occasional instances of bestiality take place. When they involve uncircumcised youth, they are punished with a beating. Initiated males are treated more harshly. They are so disgraced after the public judgment of the elders that they would most likely go to a city. For a married man, bestiality is sometimes punished by death by mob justice.

9. Contraception, Abortion, and Population Planning

A. Contraception

Foreign birth-control agencies cooperate with the government population-control program. Condoms are distributed at hospitals and clinics, supplied in large numbers by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and by such nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) as the United Kingdom’s Marie Stopes Institute. The government has forbidden their distribution in schools, and school contraceptive education is severely limited. Condom use runs counter to the common taboo forbidding a wife to touch her husband’s penis with her hand.

Because of cultural resistance to condom use, Natural Family Planning (NFP), using the Billings Method, has had some modest acceptance by combining NFP with traditional periods of abstinence, such as during lactation. Operating throughout the country in both mother tongues and Kiswahili, NFP has promotion and training teams made up of unmarried youth and married couples practicing NFP.

Contraceptive methods requiring medical intervention, IUDs, and the pill, are beyond the means of most Kenyans, and limited to the elites and expatriates.

B. Teenage Unmarried Pregnancies

Having a baby outside marriage is unacceptable in much of Kenyan society, where tribal customs are very strong. Teenage pregnancies reported among schoolgirls between 1985 and 1990 ranged from 6,633 to over 11,000. These rough figures of only a small segment of the adolescent population indicate a serious problem.

C. Abortion

Abortion is illegal, unless the mother’s life is at risk or unless two doctors certify that the pregnant woman is mentally unstable and incapable of caring for a child. It is likely to remain so in the foreseeable future. President Moi strongly disapproves of abortion, and no religious tradition accepts it. Under the law, anyone convicted of assisting in an abortion or killing of an unborn child can face 14 years in prison.

With abortion illegal and the widespread practical ignorance about contraception - and cultural prescriptions that prohibit its use - thousands of Kenyan young women and teenagers are forced every year to turn to illegal and unsafe abortions, which are a lucrative underground business, especially in the sprawling squatter slums of Nairobi.

Statistics are unavailable, but Nairobi’s Kenyatta National Hospital with 2,000 beds treats forty cases of incomplete abortion daily. About 50 percent of its gynecological admissions are due to complications from induced and incomplete abortions. Dr. Khama Rogo, a gynecologist at the private Agha Khan Hospital, has estimated that at least 187,500 illegal abortions were performed in Kenya in 1993. One third of Kenya’s maternal deaths are due to unsafe abortions. With an extensive hospital and clinic system throughout Kenya, this represents only a tiny fraction of botched abortions. [Kenya has both government-run and church-managed nursing schools. While the church-run schools do not permit abortion, the state schools require that nurses record and document how many abortifacients they have inserted in patients to pass their licensing examination. In one state school I visited, the principal informed me that if the student nurses do not do this, irrespective of what they believe, they fail the examination. In the same school, a number of back-door abortions were carried out by the students for money. (Kariuki)]

The Marie Stopes Center, a grassroots organization with 10 clinics, is one of the few to provide counseling and abortion under the mental health provisions. These clinics also provide family planning and medical care (Lorch 1995).

D. Population Control Efforts

Kenya’s population growth rate is among the highest in the world, currently between 3.8 and 4 percent annually, at the current rate doubling every seventeen years. With only 13 percent of its land arable, there is considerable population pressure. The government endorses population control as a national goal, and foreign-aid donors commonly demand active population-control programs as a condition for full assistance.

Kenya has succeeded in increasing contraceptive use to 27 percent of married couples, as compared with 10 percent throughout sub-Saharan Africa. Lifetime number of births per woman went from 7.7 in 1984 to 6.7 in 1989, but this still remains higher than the 6.4 figure for sub-Saharan Africa generally.

[The idea of population control has been unpopular among Kenyans for several reasons. Traditionally, children are embraced as a great blessing: they continue the family and clan lineage and also take care of the aged. The majority of Kenyans are firm in their Muslim or Christian faith, and all the religious sects have worked very hard to decry the Western methods of population control, which are viewed with great suspicion. Most Kenyans view the arguments for population control as overstretched and many times exaggerated. Most of the land is underutilized, and the real solution to the country’s economic ills is not to reduce the population growth, but to provide good political governance and a sound economic system. With proper government and economy, Kenya can support its current growth rate. (Kariuki)]

10. Sexually Transmitted Diseases

Syphilis and gonorrhea are widespread among certain ethnic groups (e.g., the Maasai). Nomadic tribes are heavily infected, as are urban prostitutes, street youth living rough, and the residents of the most degraded squatter slums in Nairobi. Antibiotic treatment is available at all hospitals and clinics, and mobile clinics treat nomadic peoples, who are especially at risk.


Because it borders Uganda and Tanzania, two countries with an extremely high incidence of AIDS, Kenya is vulnerable to AIDS. Since tourism is the greatest hard-currency earner, however, the government downplays the incidence of the disease. The first AIDS case was diagnosed in 1984, but the first death ascribed to AIDS was listed in 1984. In 1992, a powerful party leader argued in parliament that “it is not in the national interest to release alarming AIDS figures.” The Director of Medical Services in the Ministry of Health was dismissed for revealing that 700,000 Kenyans were diagnosed HIV-positive, with 40,000 confirmed AIDS cases, in an estimated population of 28 million. Current (1994) estimates are 800,000 HIV-positive Kenyans, including 30,000 children; an estimated 100,000 have AIDS. Dr. Frank Plummer of the University of Manitoba, who has done fieldwork in Nairobi for several years, calculates the infection rate among urban youth at 12 percent (see also Section 3). The numbers are about equally divided between males and females, and heterosexual contact is the primary source of infection.

In Kenya, AIDS programs are based on a threefold attitude toward the significance of the disease. It is seen simultaneously as a health problem, a threat to the tourist industry, and as a insult to national pride.

Traditional initiation customs encouraged safe-sex practices among youths and limited intercourse outside marriage. With Westernization and urbanization, these controls have lapsed, however, and promiscuity is widespread. Condoms are readily available in the urban areas, but most traditions do not accept them. Christian and Islamic groups both disapprove, and in 1991, a prominent Moslem leader was disgraced when a condom was found in his luggage during a search by militant Islamic youth. The influence of religious groups is high, especially as President Moi is an evangelical Christian. When attempts have been made to use television for safe-sex promotion, he has personally stopped them.

Despite political misgivings, the Ministry of Health has embarked on an extensive AIDS-education program since 1990. Devised by a national committee that has been relatively free of political pressure, it has centered on educating basic health providers and community leaders. This includes professionals such as physicians and nurses, but also herbalists, midwives, ritual circumcisers, and “market mamas,” the influential local traders. Consequently, grassroots understanding of the causes of AIDS is high. For the future elites, use is made of the national service period, which is a condition for admission to higher education. Sex and AIDS education (with condom distribution) is included, and given in mother tongues. Studies done by the Marie Stopes Institute have shown that even university-educated youth respond to safer-sex education when it is given in their mother tongue, even though they may be fluent in English and Swahili.

Blood supplies have been screened for HIV since 1985. Despite this, as a further reassurance for the skittish tourist industry, special safari insurance was introduced, providing for air evacuation of injured tourists to Europe if necessary.

The implications of AIDS are very serious for the tourist industry. In 1987, the United Kingdom Ministry of Defense banned holiday use of recreational facilities on the Kenya coast to British troops. Resultant publicity in Europe caused extensive cancellations at resort areas, with loss of 20 to 50 percent of all bookings that season. Because of the catastrophic effect of this on the economy, the AIDS question is a delicate political issue.

Kenya, like many African countries, has been deeply offended by speculative Western theories that AIDS originated in Africa. This is ascribed to racism and colonialism, and has prompted denial and a defensive attitude towards AIDS and AIDS research. Conversely, it has spurred support for research leading to an “African solution.” The government has strongly supported the work of Dr. Davy Koech of the Kenya Medical Research Institute (KEMRI) on oral alpha interferon (Kemron). Unfortunately, when Kemron was tested by the World Health Organization (WHO) and a Canadian NGO, Dr. Koech’s positive results could not be replicated.

U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) projections in 1993 show Kenya with 1.2 million cases of HIV/AIDS by 1995, 1.7 million by 2000, and 2 million by 2005. The government has acknowledged the problem and admitted that its educational program has not brought about behavioral changes. What seems to have created the crisis mentality in the government is the realization that HIV/AIDS is disproportionately high (and rising) among the best-paid workers, the base of the middle class. This includes urban business and long-haul truck drivers.

The Kenyan government health-care budget for 1993 was $60 million in a falling economy, with 20 percent earmarked for AIDS prevention. Of this, Kenya contributed only $77,000, the rest coming from foreign donors. The United States doubled its $2 million contribution in 1994, but Western pressures to reduce foreign assistance make this source an unreliable one for the future.

There has been a recent shift in attitudes in the national leadership. Both President Moi and his vice president now regularly address AIDS prevention, although they do not speak out with the candidness of President Yoweri Museveni of neighboring Uganda, who openly endorses condom use. Although condoms are available in clinics, the government has not yet allowed them to be distributed to the young in schools. Since the great majority of high school and university students live in dormitories, this effectively removes the largest at-risk group from condom education.

According to a July 1996 report at the eleventh International Conference on AIDS, Kenya ranked fifth in the world with 1.1 million people infected with HIV.

12. Sexual Dysfunctions, Counseling, and Therapies

Professional therapy is a serious lack in Kenya. The University of Nairobi has a post-M.D. psychiatric training program, but it includes very little preparation for dealing with sexual dysfunctions, and has only a few graduates. The services of psychiatrists are also beyond the means of all but the wealthy.

Kenyan cultures exalt the dominant virile male. Erectile dysfunctions are therefore considered serious and deeply shameful. Impotence is often a symptom of the pressures on men from traditional backgrounds who attempt to succeed in a competitive, capitalist, and urban milieu. Successful Western therapies that involve progressive levels of sensate and sexual exploration are seldom successful, since men rarely admit impotence to their wives. Male dominance allows them to assert that they have an outside “girlfriend” and thus no further interest in their wives. The average Kenyan wife would not challenge this. The level of marital communication is very low.

Male self-pleasuring is regarded as a dysfunction after initiation, but an acceptable release before. It is seen as a symptom of immaturity and sexual failure, and is rarely admitted by adult men.

An American Catholic missionary group has established the Amani Counseling Center in Nairobi, where a wide spectrum of services is available on a sliding-fee scale. The most commonly reported presenting issues of a sexual nature are male impotence, sexual abuse of subordinate women (e.g., maids and students), male self-pleasuring, and fear of homosexuality. Amani also sponsors a weekly newspaper column from letters received from around the country.

The Kenyatta National Hospital has operated a sex therapy clinic one afternoon a week since 1981, treating about thirty patients a year. Presenting problems are: erectile failure, 46 percent; ejaculatory problems, 25 percent; and reduced libido, 29 percent.

With no licensing requirements for therapists, charlatans abound. While witchcraft is illegal and vigorously suppressed, traditional healers and herbalists advertise cures for impotence, AIDS, and homosexuality, and are eagerly sought out.

13. Research and Advanced Education

Research on sexual matters is conducted either through the Ministry of Health or the Kenyatta National Hospital. Quality surveys of adolescent sexual behavior have been done, and statistics are kept on AIDS. There are no centers engaged in sex research on a regular basis, and there are no courses at the university level on human sexuality.

Research by expatriates must be approved in advance by State House, the office of the president. This is regardless of topic, and a condition of getting an entry visa. In addition, the results of all approved research may be released only with government approval. Approval for sex research has been rare, and only when of benefit to national policy. A Canadian medical group has been allowed to study the incidence of AIDS among prostitutes.

There are graduate-level programs in counseling (United States International University - Africa, and Catholic University of East Africa), pastoral counselling (Amani Center), and psychiatry (University of Nairobi). All include courses in sexuality or marital therapy, but there is no program devoted to sexuality.

There is no professional association for sexologists, and there are no journals on sexuality in East Africa. However, a related organization, the Family Planning Private Sector Programme, is a possible source of information; address: Fifth Floor, Longonot Place, Kijabe Street, P.O. Box 46042, Nairobi, Kenya. (Phone: 254-2/224646; Fax: 254-2/230392).

References and Suggested Readings

Lorch, Donatella. 1995 (June 4). “Unsafe Abortions Become a Big Problem in Kenya.” The New York Times. p. 3.

Molnos, Angela. 1972-73. Cultural Source Materials for Population Planning in East Africa. Nairobi: University of Nairobi Press. (This four-volume study contains comparative studies of sixteen Kenyan ethnic groups on sex life, marriage, and pregnancy.)