Reasons for delaying or engaging in early sexual initiation among adolescents in Nigeria
Augustine Ankomah1, Fatima Mamman-Daura2, Godpower Omoregie1, Jennifer Anyanti1
1Society for Family Health, Abuja; 2Pathfinder International/Nigeria, Kaduna Field Office, Kaduna, Nigeria
Background: Annually, over 1 million births in Nigeria are to teenage mothers. Many of these pregnancies are unwanted and these mothers are also exposed to the risk of human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) infection. Sexual abstinence is a critical preventative health strategy. Several quantitative studies in Nigeria have identified the correlates and determinants of early sex, yet few have explored in depth the underlying reasons for early sex. This paper explores both the key factors that motivate some unmarried young people to engage in early sex and reasons why some delay.
Methods: This qualitative study was based on data from 30 focus group discussions held with unmarried 14- to 19-year-olds in four geographically and culturally dispersed Nigerian states. Focus groups were stratified by sexual experience to capture variations among different subgroups.
Results: Several reasons for early premarital sex were identified. The “push” factors included situations where parents exposed young female adolescents to street trading. “Pull” factors, particularly for males, included the pervasive viewing of locally produced movies, peer pressure and, for females, transactional sex (where adolescent girls exchange sex for gifts, cash, or other favors). Also noted were overtly coercive factors, including rape. There were also myths and misconceptions that “justified” early sexual initiation. Reasons cited for delay included religious injunction against premarital sex; disease prevention (especially HIV/acquired immunodeficiency syndrome); fear of pregnancy, and linked to this, the fear of dropping out of school; and, for females, the fear of bringing shame to the family, which could lead to their inability to get a "good" husband in the future.
Conclusion: The differences observed between sexually active and abstinent adolescents were that the latter were more confident, had greater determination, and, most important, deployed refusal skills to delay first sex. Health promoters need to focus attention on educating adolescents in the skills needed to delay sexual debut.
Keywords: abstinence, sexual initiation, adolescents, qualitative, focus group discussions, Nigeria
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