What you need to know:
- The average age when many Kenyans start having sex is between the ages of 15 to 24 years.
- However, some men and women decide to wait until marriage to get sexually intimate with their partners.
Here is a scenario. You meet someone you are attracted to and you fall in love. He or she also does.
But then they let you know, immediately, that they have been, and are planning to keep off any kind of sexual or physical intimacy until both of you are married. Would you wait with them?
Truthfully, most people would not. When I posed this question to a WhatsApp group of friends that I am part of, most of the answers I got were to the effect that they would not:
“I would not wait. I would not marry without making sure we were sexually compatible. There can be zero sexual chemistry and physical issues as well,” said one person.
“What if I get to our marriage bed and I realise that I hate the sex? Now I’m stuck with something I don’t even want and then I can’t even say I’ll cheat because I don’t think I’d get into a marriage I want to cheat in,” said another.
“My question is, what’s their reason? If they are a virgin, then I can understand, but if they have had sex with some other people before then I would find it very suspicious,” someone else added.
“If I like them, I can give it a try. Sex is overrated anyway.”
These sentiments are not at all surprising. Generally, sex before marriage is common.
The latest Kenya Demographic Health Survey (KDHS) shows that the average age when many Kenyans start having sex is between the ages of 15 to 24 years, and at this age, they may not necessarily be married.
Rubie Miseda, a psychologist at Africa Jipende Wellness Center, says physical intimacy in a relationship is important because it complements emotional intimacy.
"This is because human beings are physical beings. Sex in a relationship is crucial not only because it bonds the couple and fosters feelings of closeness, but also because it has other physical and psychological benefits,” she says.
However, some men and women decide to wait until marriage to get sexually intimate with their partners, and for a variety of reasons. From religion to personal decisions such as ‘wanting the first night to feel special’.
Three couples spoke to Saturday Magazine about what prompted them to wait until marriage.
Janice*, 34, accountant
I can’t say I was a complete virgin when I married my ex-husband. I had been physically intimate before in a previous relationship when I was in university. You know how university life is. A lot of things happen, and by the second year, most of your friends are dating and you meet someone you like and the rest is history, as they say.
However, in my last year on campus, I had a very tough period. My aunt, who I was living with died, and around that time I found out my then-boyfriend was cheating on me and we had a bad fight. I was very depressed, and when I got over the breakup, I made a personal decision to stay celibate until marriage. I guess I was just feeling like my ex-boyfriend had used me and then dumped me for a girl he later married.
I met my ex-husband three years after I finished university, and the first thing I disclosed to him was that I was planning to be celibate until marriage. It was all new to him, but he agreed and was very supportive. We got married after about a year. On my part, I found our sex life generally okay. I did not have problems with it, but it was the opposite for him. He didn’t ever tell me until we were separating.
I guess maybe the waiting got to him eventually.
I would still do it again. I have been celibate since. When we divorced, time passed by quickly at first because I was taking care of our young children then. Now that the pressure has eased, I am still able to keep it up. I haven’t met somebody that I am seriously considering sharing my life with, but when I do, I will let them know of my decision.
Hanifa* Mohamed, 27
When I got married two years ago, I was still a virgin. I am Muslim, and our culture teaches us to wait until marriage for sex. In Islam, premarital sex and sex outside marriage are forbidden and considered grave sins that bear serious consequences in this world and the afterlife. Abstaining from sex until marriage is in line with the teachings of the Quran.
For me, it was not a struggle to abstain. Even when I went to college, I did not find it challenging, mostly because most of my friends were Muslims and even those that were not did not pressure me into any kind of misbehaviour.
I think it was also very easy for me because I was brought up like that since childhood. Abstaining from sex until marriage helps build good character and helps keep the soul pure.
Yes, there are advantages to waiting until marriage. Those who wait, Allah blesses their union. It is important to have Allah’s blessing in any marriage.
Waiting also makes sex special between the married, couple, especially because the man has not seen a lot of other women's bodies and so will find his wife attractive and not compare her to other people.
Anita Marita Mbae, Nairobi
There are three main reasons couples may decide to wait till marriage. First, the commandment. The commandment can be the religious demands that a couple submit to and they include waiting till marriage for sex. The commandment is also the conscience.
The second reason is the Amendment, where some couples choose to set right their past failure at abstinence due to the consequences they faced. It could be emotional baggage, conceptions, pregnancy scares, sexually transmitted diseases and their scares among others.
The last reason is choice. Couples may add principles to their already dignified nature. They start with the conscious reality of their sense of worth and dignity. They therefore go ahead and set principles to ensure that their sense of worth and dignity is preserved. I chose to wait for all these and honour them.
Waiting means taking note of the triggers and deliberately veering off from them. Sex is dominantly reliant on the laws of activation. There is a part in each part of what defines a human being that is sexual. These parts should not be activated before their time.
In the body, there are erogenous zones that are stimulated through seductive touches and proximal body contact. So, waiting involves establishing physical boundaries including avoiding not only sex but even seductive touches.
There are challenges, of course. For instance, isolation due to convictions. We are in a generation that sneers at both male and female virginity. It may even mean the loss of potentially good and helpful friendships. There is also the fear of whether prospective partners will have matching convictions.
Finally, it is also not easy to abstain. Many factors like emotional closeness and mental agreeability mostly want to determine physical intimacy before marriage. So much endurance is needed.
Thankfully, my husband and I had made the decision together and so we were at peace with our decision, so it was easy to encourage and see each other through.
I am a Christian, a wife, a minister of the Gospel, a digital creator and a graduate of law. I mostly work with young students in university through discipleship programmes and with women through various platforms of faith empowerment.
Now, for such couples (who decide to wait until marriage to get physically intimate with each other) the elephant in the room (forgive the pun) becomes, what do they do to replace sex in expressing their affection to each other during courtship?
For Janice, she had to be accommodating to her then-partner.
“He was very supportive, so I had to sacrifice some things in return to meet him midway. We agreed that the penetrative act of sex was completely off the table. Instead, we could cuddle and kiss.
Most of the time, we just held hands and hugged, but sometimes we got a little too cosy and we caressed, but we would always stop ourselves before it was too late,” she says.
“So, we were still physical in that way. Initially, I wasn’t so comfortable with the turn this arrangement took, but I loved him and we were willing to give up parts of ourselves for each other. It was a worthwhile sacrifice.”
According to Hanifa, outdoor activities worked the magic.
“You know when you are brought up in a religion with doctrines like I was, you don’t ever even think of sex before marriage at all. And again, there’s no pressure from your partner because they also subscribe to the same laws. For us, we would go for dinner dates, take walks together, go to movies or just hang out with friends. For us, it was never a challenge at all,” she says.
“Marriage is honourable because of the bed (the context of sexual intimacy) that is undefiled,” says Anita. “We set clear boundaries because we both were happy and excited to wait until we were married in church. We understood that things like sexual conversations, audio and visual materials that are erotic could trigger sexual imaginations and so we avoided all of those in entirety. We also avoided exclusivity in proximity like being alone in the house and seductive touches.”
Instead, Anita and her fiancée at the time replaced these potentially sex-triggering activities with praying together and going to missions together and like Hanifa, went out for dinner dates whenever they could, all of which brought them even closer and strengthened their bond as a couple.