are growing—would increase the pool of available women of marriageable age relative to potential husbands in older cohorts. This increase would be likely to intensify competition for husbands, reinforce pressures to prove fertility, and erode lingering disapproval of premarital sex.4 Already, 1 in 10 urban respondents in Ado-Ekiti, Nigeria thinks that no one is a virgin at marriage these days, and some men and women report that virginity is considered antisocial (Orubuloye et al., 1991). Qualitative work with teenagers in Kwazulu/Natal, South Africa, led Preston-Whyte (1994) to observe that whatever parents preach, they will usually help care for offspring of their unmarried teenage daughters. Social sanctions on premarital pregnancy do not run deep, although perhaps deep enough to make sexual education and services targeted at young teens politically difficult.

WHO/GPA survey data show that education is associated with an increase in premarital sex in the teen years, particularly in societies with generally low levels of sexual activity. However, in data analyzed by Meekers (1994), the association more or less disappears when age is held constant. The implication is that since extra years of schooling are likely to delay marriage, they increase exposure to premarital sex. Any observed increase in premarital sexual activity may thus be a function more of later marriage (or changing definitions of marriage) than of earlier first sexual experience.

If we look at sexual initiation regardless of marital status, rates of sexual activity recorded in the WHO/GPA surveys for men and women converge dramatically. In West Africa, sexual initiation tends to occur relatively early: in Côte d'Ivoire and the Central African Republic, 45 to 60 percent of both sexes are sexually active by the age of 15 (see Table 4-3). In Calabar, Nigeria, Ogbuagu and Charles (1993) report lower figures: over one-third of men and 17 percent of women have had sex by the time they are 15. In East and Southern Africa, WHO/GPA surveys show that sexual activity starts slightly later, with a wider gap between the sexes. In some studies (e.g., Anarfi and Awusabo-Asare, 1993, Ghana), people recall that they first had sex when as young as 8 or 10. This young age at sexual debut is important when targeting populations for intervention, particularly in light of the work by Konings et al. (1994) showing a correlation between the early onset of sexual activity and large numbers of partners.

Sex Within Marriage or a Stable Union

It appears that marriage may have been a relatively informal concept in many African societies throughout much of history, becoming more narrowly defined only in response to the dictates of colonial administrators and missionaries. Some


 It would also tend to give men greater opportunity to marry at an earlier age, which could cut the extent of sexual networking for young men.

The National Academies | 500 Fifth St. N.W. | Washington, D.C. 20001
Copyright © National Academy of Sciences. All rights reserved.
Terms of Use and Privacy Statement