Updated: Feb 24, 2019
By Dasha Asienga, Staff Writer
A contraceptive is a device or drug used to prevent pregnancy such as condoms, cervical caps, intrauterine devices (commonly referred to as IUDs), and contraceptive pills. In addition, some opt to permanently terminate any chance of pregnancy through a process referred to as either sterilization or vasectomy for women or men, respectively. These are all modern methods of preventing pregnancy; however, there are countries, such as Kenya, that value the more traditional methods of withdrawal (pulling out method) and abstinence. These are views that stem from those countries’ religious and cultural beliefs. That being said, more than half of married women in Kenya use contraceptives. Kenya supports methods of birth control, mainly for logistical purposes regarding population size, but the country emphasizes the use of the term family planning instead. How are those who engage in sexual activities before marriage factored into the equation?
Kenya is a fairly conservative country — its main religion is Christianity, which heavily encourages abstinence before marriage. Despite this, most women begin engaging in sexual intercourse at around 16.7 years of age. In addition, of those engaging in sexual intercourse between the ages of 15 and 19, only 45% use some form of birth control; not surprisingly, one in six women aged 15 to 19 in Kenya are pregnant and/or mothers. There is, evidently, an overwhelming lack of sexual awareness among teenagers, leading to an increase in unwanted births, abortion, and dropouts. Hosting such statistics, the country is in dire need of improved sexual education among school-going teenagers. Even so, there has been a heated debate about the role of education regarding contraception for the younger population.
The benefits of using birth control undoubtedly outweigh the negatives. Primarily, contraceptives allow couples to freely engage in sexual activity without the concern of unwanted pregnancies. Additionally, contraceptives such as condoms help reduce the spread of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), such as HIV: an unequivocal benefit. Slower population growth is another advantage of using birth control, as it allows the nation to better plan the distribution of resources among the population. There are, however, some disadvantages to certain methods of birth control: notably, the birth control pill. For women who take birth control pills, negative side effects include bleeding in between menstrual periods, nausea, or headaches. Some opt against hormonally-based contraceptives like the birth control pill because of symptoms that result from hormonal imbalances; interestingly, though, those who oppose the education of teenagers on contraceptives in Kenya entirely overlook the urgent health needs, and instead, base their opposition on culturally-centered morals.
Will increased awareness and distribution of contraceptives increase the number of students engaging in sexual intercourse? That is the question present in many Kenyan parents’ and teachers’ minds. Ironically, instead of worrying about the large number of students dropping out of school due to unwanted pregnancies or those dying due to failed attempts at abortion, many are concerned about contraceptives resulting in an increase in the number of teenagers engaging in sexual intercourse. Just last year, in 2017, parents and teachers had activists from an organization called Marie Stopes Kenya, which supplied contraceptives to a secondary school in Kenya, arrested. “It’s sad that this happened inside a school that we sponsor but more fundamentally the negative effect in spoiling the girls morally,” remarked a priest from the organization. Through instances such as these, the issue of discussion around birth control, let alone the distribution of contraceptives, is met with fury because many view it as a means of encouraging immorality.
Moral attitudes that reprimand fornication should not blur the urgent need to take action against unhealthy sexual practices. The truth of the matter is, as seen in the facts, that teenagers are engaging in sexual activities, and increased awareness can help sexually active teenagers and adults make healthier and better-informed decisions. It is still possible, of course, to emphasize the importance of abstinence, but the Kenyan government cannot ignore reality: many teenagers still choose to have sex.