Let’s talk about sex.
That is the one statement that makes many parents cringe while others run for holy water and call a priest.
But the reality is that, by the time they turn 19, the majority of Kenyan youth have already had their sexual debut.
In a research published by Consumer Insight this week, 53 per cent of youth under the age of 19 said they are already engaging in sex.
What is even more jarring is the fact that one in every four of these has more than one sexual partner.
This is similar to the national average. The Kenya Demographic and Health Survey (KDHS) says 15 per cent of women aged 20-49 have the first sexual contact by age 15, while 50 per cent have had a similar experience by age 18, and 71 per cent by age 20.
“Men have an earlier sexual debut than women, a pattern that holds true for most age groups,” the KDHS says.
“For example, 22 per cent of men aged 20-49 had first sexual encounter by age 15; 56 per cent by age 18 and 76 per cent by age 20.
Even as they start on the sexual path at such an early age, three in every 10 are not using protection despite the risk of HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases.
In the Consumer Insight research, 32 per cent of the “debutantes” said they pop the morning after pill, while six in every 10 said they use condoms.
As they get older, they may not necessarily get wiser as the usage of the morning after pill nearly doubles.
Half of the women in the 20 to 25 age bracket use emergency contraceptive pills, though 76 per cent are on contraceptives, the preferred one being injections.
Compared to their younger counterparts, the 26 to 30-year-olds are less keen on the use of contraceptives with only 68 per cent on any form of contraceptive, and yes they are still using the emergency pill.
Fifty-one per cent of them, however, said they do have a lower prevalence of multiple partners.
Nationally, more men than women reported having two or more sexual partners at 10 and two per cent respectively.
Among respondents reporting two or more sexual partners in the past 12 months, 38 per cent of women and 69 per cent of men used a condom during their most recent sexual encounter.
“Having multiple sexual partners and having unprotected sex increase one’s chances of both contracting and transmitting HIV,” the KHDS warns.
With 87 per cent of those between 26 and 30 years already active and using injections, the majority said they were more worried about pregnancy than sexually transmitted diseases.
However, the use of “morning after” pills, also known as emergency pills, has become risky business with counterfeits flooding the market.
Last month, the Kenya Anti-Counterfeit Agency confiscated about 31,000 pieces of fake “morning-after” pills estimated to be worth Sh7 million.
The consignment was discovered together with other counterfeit materials at the Embakasi Inland Container Depot in Nairobi.
The result of using such fake drugs is failure to prevent pregnancies, creating ground for illegal and, more often than not, unsafe abortions.
Kenya spent Sh533 million treating complications of unsafe abortions in public health facilities, according to “The Costs of Treating Unsafe Abortion Complications in Public Health Facilities in Kenya” report prepared by the ministry of Health and the African Population and Health Research Centre.
It is recommended that addressing the drivers of unsafe abortion beyond the enhancement of use of contraceptives is the timely and comprehensive sexuality education and a genuine discussion on how to prevent unwanted pregnancies.
However, with limited guidance from schools and parents, the youth are turning to their peers for information on sex.
“Most of them say that they do not fully trust their friends but they seek them out for information on sex,” Mr Maina Ndirangu, assistant research director at Consumer Insight, says.
According to the Consumer Insight survey, a culture of introversion is slowly emerging among the youth and there is a tendency to consult friends and the media for advice.
“Thirty-six per cent would rather confide in their friends, but only 20 per cent trust them as confidants.
"Similarly, 14 per cent consult the Internet but only seven per cent trust the wisdom therein, while six per cent rely on other media but four per cent take that counsel with a pinch of salt,” the report says.
Statistics from Unesco show that only 34 per cent of young people around the world can demonstrate accurate knowledge of HIV prevention and transmission.
“Too many young people receive confusing and conflicting information about relationships and sex, as they make the transition from childhood to adulthood.
"This has led to an increasing demand from young people for reliable information, which prepares them for a safe, productive and fulfilling life,” says Unesco highlighting the importance of comprehensive sexuality education for the young as they transition into adulthood.