Reproductive health experts as well as chemists say the youth — some as young as 16 — are actively buying sex-enhancing drugs.
In using the cheap aphrodisiacs, the youths are exposing themselves to serious health risks, including stroke, heart attack, and prostate cancer.
“From the feedback we are getting through health care providers, the youth is actively using sex-enhancing drugs,” says Mr Simon Wahome, a reproductive health expert with Family Health Options of Kenya.
Chemists interviewed admitted that youths are actively buying the sex-enhancing pills over the counter, especially over the holidays.
“Sometimes up to 10 come to our chemist asking for the drugs. They do not even ask for instructions on how to use them,” says one Nairobi chemist who did not want to be named for fear of hurting her business.
Reproductive health experts and chemists warn that pornography and alcoholism are fuelling the abuse of cheap aphrodisiacs among the youth.
Due to advances in communication technology, pornography is readily available as long one has an Internet-enabled cellphone which can be had for as little as Sh2,500.
Sexual enhancement drugs marketers largely ply their trade through the Internet, as well as easily available pornographic magazines. And with increased access to the Internet, the marketers are carving a niche in what reproductive experts call the experimenting age.
“Pornography makes sex look like fun — something you can do continuously. In the absence of correct information, young people swallow this lie, leading to their misuse of sex-enhancing drugs,” says Mr Wahome.
These revelations might shock many parents. Sex-enhancing drugs are, after all, largely associated with elderly men seeking medical help for erectile dysfunction.
The National Campaign Against Drug Abuse Authority (NACADA) admits to having little concrete data on the abuse of sex-enhancing drugs among the youth. However, it categorises them as the fifth most abused prescription drugs in the country, after painkillers, sedatives, stimulants, and steroids.
Some of the easily available sex-enhancing drugs include Vega, Stamina, Miagra, Cialis, Levita, and Enzoy.
Pharmacists say Enzoy, a starchy powder sold at Sh50 a sachet, is the most popular with the youth.
Experts say these cheap aphrodisiacs, which have flooded the market, can only complicate matters for a country that has no official sex education syllabus, although 20 per cent of youths admit to experimenting with sex by their 16th birthday.
They claim that these cheap aphrodisiacs help them live up to the benchmarks of sexuality mostly set by un-censored information readily available on the Internet.
“It is about image; they all want to impress their girlfriends with their sexual prowess,” says Denis Junior, a First Year business student at Mount Kenya University.
Although Denis does not use the drugs, he confides that they are the latest sexuality trend among young men eager to live up to their Casanova image.
In the tumultuous world of relationships, he says, young men live in constant fear of their girlfriends walking out if certain performance benchmarks are not met. And much of the information regarding sex falsely sets the benchmark around virility.
The Centre for the Study of Adolescence concurs. As long as the mass media, more so, the Internet, continues to portray the ideal man in sexual terms, then more young people will continue to experiment with such drugs.
“In the absence of adequate and correct information about sexuality, the youths are experimenting with what they gather from the Internet and the mass media,” says Mr Albert Obbuyi, a researcher at the Centre for the Study of Adolescence.
The National Aids/STD Control Programme (NASCOP) warns that more young people are likely to engage in unprotected sex if the abuse of sex-enhancing drugs is not checked.
Dr Nicholas Muraguri, the NASCOP director, says as more young men fall victim to the macho image of sexuality served up by the mass media, sexually transmitted diseases, including HIV and Aids, will take their toll on the youth.
“The urge to show that you are a good performer is likely to lead a person to have multiple partners. And young people are likely to have unprotected sex,” says Dr Muraguri.
According to NASCOP, one in every five teenagers in the country admits to experimenting with sex by their 16th birthday. Only 25 per cent of them use protection.
“If they now start experimenting with sex-enhancing drugs, the gains we have made against the spread of STDs will be reversed,” says Dr Muraguri.
So what is the way forward? Definitely not restricting the avalanche of information about sex-enhancing drugs available to the youth today, says the Centre for the Study of Adolescence.
“On the contrary, we need to talk to them more about their sexuality, at school, at home, and in churches. Give them adequate and correct information on sexuality,” advises Mr Obbuyi.
This approach, he says, will counter the avalanche of un-censored information that is luring the youth to the sex-enhancing drugs market. “Above everything else,” adds Mr Obbuyi, “it will counter the macho image of manhood that revolves around sexual performance and size.”
But for the national sexually transmitted diseases control watchdog, NASCOP, pharmacies should simply stop selling sex-enhancing drugs over the counter.
“These are prescription drugs for people suffering from erectile dysfunction. It is illegal to sell them over the counter,” says Dr Muraguri.
But NACADA concedes that policing thousands of pharmacies around the country to ensure that they don’t sell the drugs to the youth is currently not a priority.
The authority says it is preoccupied with fighting harder drugs like heroin and cocaine.
“We have not done much basic research on the abuse of sex-enhancing drugs among the youth,” concedes a NACADA official.
The Pharmacy and Poisons Board warns that abuse of sex-enhancing drugs exposes the youth to a host of medical complications, including stroke, heart attack, and priapism — a condition in which the penis is continually erect. It is painful and seldom caused by sexual arousal.
“A drug like Sildenasil, or what is commonly called viagra, was initially meant to treat high blood pressure. Abusing it could lead to low blood pressure, causing a host of other medical complications,” warns Dr Jayesh Pandit, head of medicines information at the Pharmacy and Poisons Board.
But all these fly in the face of a multi-million sexual enhancement drug industry, one that is backed by a powerful mass media that continues to propagate the ideal sexual man myth.
And until something is done to counter these sales drives, more youths will continue swallowing the myth that ideal manhood can be purchased — over the counter.