In a society where sex is largely viewed as taboo, it is rare to find organised settings where sex education is being taught.
Growing up, most of us were not taken through any sex education.
A majority of those in their 40s, 30s and 20s had to figure their way out of the sex labyrinth.
Some communities were lucky to have an older female relative take their teen girls through a session of reproductive and sexual health. This was common among the coastal communities of the Giriama, Chonyi, Kambe, Duruma, Kauma, Ribe, Rabai, Taita, Jibana and Digo where a ‘Ssenga’ trained the girls and young women on sex and sexuality.
A Ssenga or ‘sex auntie’ is a professional sex consultant usually an older woman who teaches and educates adolescent girls about their sexuality.
The traditional Ssenga was usually a sister from the father’s side of the girl’s family.
They played a key role in sharing information on sexual behaviour. They were pivotal in preparing young women for adulthood and marriage.
The culturally appropriate mode of learning about their sexuality for younger women was to visit the Ssengas.
The Ssenga gained a reputation of providing authoritative information, as they provided concrete information about sexual and reproductive health and advice on relationship issues.
Trained Ssengas provided medically accurate sexual health information about HIV and AIDS, family planning, and safer sexual practices.
Today though, Ssengas are few and far between. We talked to Kadzo Ndhundhi, a trained Ssenga based in Nairobi who has been in the field for 10 years.
“I would sit down with the girls and teach them how to be a lady. I teach them on how to dress appropriately, talk respectfully, walk and sit and carry themselves like a lady should, besides teaching them sex education,” explains Kadzo.
Young adults who benefited from the Ssenga’s sex education talks were more likely to engage in safer sexual behaviours than those who had not received the information. The role of Ssengas emerged due to the difficulty in communication between parents and their children about sexual matters.
Kadzo emphasised that for one to be a Ssenga, it is important for one to have the values of honesty, courage, loyalty and with good morals. Also, one has to be learned and trustworthy. You cannot just wake up and decide to be a Ssenga, she says.
Kadzo explains that women are taught according to their age. “We teach women separately depending on the age bracket from the age of 10 to 18 years. We also hold talks with young women who are older than 18 to prepare them for marriage.”
“The girls and women are taught about the repercussions of engaging in pre-marital sex. They are educated about the dangers of contracting sexually transmitted infections (STI), on how to clean their vaginas and personal hygiene. The women planning on getting married are also taught about various sex positions, which are engaging and enjoyable,” Kadzo added.
Mkacharo, a young woman from the Taita community to The Informer that she was glad to have passed through such teachings as it made her keep and maintain her dignity. “I looked forward to marriage so I could these sexual activities with my husband,” says the 23-year-old.
“Like any normal young woman, I was craving for sex. I desired to explore it but my Ssenga advised me on the importance of waiting till marriage,” she says. “Today I’m happy and enjoy the sex styles I learned from my Ssenga with my husband.”
The significant of this sex education was meant to make the women confident, disciplined and patient. However, in the modern society we leave in today, the role of Ssengas is slowly becoming extinct. Sheila, a doctor in Nairobi says she and her siblings were lucky to learn about sex from their parents. “I came home from school one day to find mum with condoms waiting earnestly for my siblings and I. That was the day we were given the talk about the birds and the bees,” says Sheila.
Sheila is among the lucky few in today’s generation. Most teens and young people learn about sex from the Internet or their equally confused peers. In the modern setting, social and economic shifts have eroded the institution of the Ssenga as the primary communicator of sexual knowledge.
his has left a gap in the process of acquiring knowledge about sex for young girls. Role models who support adolescents in avoiding risky sexual behaviour are hardly available as the role of the Ssenga has been eroded and new forms of sexual communication and information have emerged.