Monica Mwai is a 22-year-old final year university student at Moi University in Eldoret, Kenya. Set to graduate next year, she is studying Linguistics, Media and Communication. In this article, Monica takes us through her journey as a young campus girl, focusing on her experiences with sexual and reproductive health information and services.
Joining university was my first go at adulting. I had a new-found freedom, accompanied by lots of new experiences. Away from the constant, glaring watch of my parents, I was both excited and scared – yet to learn how to be a responsible adult, but expected to act like one. But with time I got the hang of it, mostly through trial and error.
Popularity of Condoms
As a 17-year-old freshman girl, I was still trying to understand my body. Then boom! I realized that I needed to understand contraceptives too. At that time, my knowledge was limited to condoms which were readily accessible in the campus hostels. However, they often ran out fast because their demand always exceeded the supply.
I later learnt of the existence of other contraceptive methods from a friend who had attended a camp on sexual health and awareness. From the brief information she shared, I became curious to learn more about contraceptives and turned to the internet for information. However, I found some of the terminologies difficult to understand. Furthermore, different websites provided different information on the same contraceptive method which left me confused.
I briefly consulted my mother who gave me some information, but I was afraid to ask too much. I feared she would ask why I was so curious, considering she was not always as open-minded as I hoped she’d be.
Peer Discussions on Sex Matters
To my relief, the topic came up among my peers. At least I was not the only one curious about learning more.
We would regularly have discussions on sex and contraceptives while in our hostel rooms. During these discussions, we would talk about what we knew, which was not always accurate as our information was mainly gotten from older relatives (mostly cousins), television shows, radio, YouTube channels or from search engines.
Sharing information among peers was easy because our experiences were all relatable. Most of us preferred condoms because of their numerous benefits – their quick availability in shops and chemists, minimal side effects, effective in preventing unplanned pregnancies, HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases. However, some of our friends who were in stable relationships shared how, tired of frequent pregnancy scares, they had opted for long-term methods, such as implants.
Judged for Being Young and Unmarried
Interestingly, most of us talked about our reluctance to visit a health center for contraceptive information because we feared being judged, mostly because we were young and unmarried.
With time however, I realized that it was necessary for me to get more accurate information from a professional, so I overcame that fear and visited a health centre near the university. I was disappointed when I learnt they did not offer contraceptive services, and neither did they refer me to a place where I could get these services.
Fortunately, a friend informed me of a mobile outreach clinic that was happening near the university and took me there. At the mobile clinic, we found nurses who answered all our questions and helped clarify some of the misinformation we had. They were so nice and friendly, which put us at ease.
I was now able to differentiate the different types of contraceptives, benefits, potential side effects and the efficiency level of each. We were further advised that contraceptives do not offer 100% guaranteed protection.
Parents’ 'Sex Talk' With their Children
From my experiences, information on sexual reproductive health is not easily available to young people, yet it is necessary.
The problem starts with the community, parents and guardians who have made talking about sex with their children a taboo. This leads to children not being able to freely consult them, and they end up seeking information from their peers and other unreliable sources where they get misled and end up making bad choices. Parents should be educated on the role they play in enabling a sexually responsible generation.
Need for Comprehensive Sexuality Education
Age-appropriate sexual education should also be ingrained into the school curriculum. And it is also important to include boys in this conversation!
To reach young people effectively, the channel for message delivery should be well thought-out. Social media campaigns and fun, catchy, educative adverts work well with young people.
Sexual reproductive health and services should be readily available to both married and unmarried youth. Some service providers are a major barrier to young people’s access to reproductive health information by their attitude. They should be more youth-friendly, open to questions and ready to offer information.
I graduate next year and after four years of campus, I honestly don’t think I know enough as there is always something new to learn every day. Adulting is a tough but a very interesting journey with new experiences but with a lot to process. However, I appreciate being young and learning from my different experiences - both positive and negative. These experiences are enabling me to thrive as a healthy, empowered young woman.