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Sexting- Is it the new trend among teenagers?

By Gardy Chacha | Friday, Apr 28th 2017 at 11:36
Photo: Courtesy

She said she was Latishia, 16. Regardless of her age she would easily camouflage amidst a group of women.

Latishia was sitting next to me in a public transport vehicle when we struck a conversation. Here we were; travelling in a 14-seater filled with high school students – travelling back to Nairobi after end term – but myself.

Throughout the journey, from Machakos town, Latishia and her girlfriends churned through conversation after conversation. All – or most – revolved around boys and sex.

A breakfast show on radio, riding roughshod over conservative opinion, discussing bedroom innuendo, seemed to egg them along.

The girls squirm and shrieked with excitement every time a lewd lyric played.

'The folly of youth,' a thought crossed my mind.

Among them, one could sense, they shared a sisterhood bond as they discussed, with daylight openness, boy crushes and boyfriends.

"Look," one said, drawing the attention of the others, "this is the message he sent me before that Friday."

In turns, the girls shared their WhatsApp messages: streams of communication with love interests.

Then, probably by mistake, a video with a voice calling for quick ravisher began playing from one girl's phone as she fidgeted to press Stop, attracting cheers from her colleagues.

"Let us see," one called out.

"No. You were not supposed to see that," the girl pushed back.

"Is that what you sent him? Girl, you are bad!" another one said, crackling in owe.

It is as the frenzy calmed down that I asked Latishia [whether it was a real name or not I couldn't tell] why the whole group seemed enraptured in fun.

"This is just normal for us," she said. "There's nothing much to it."

"And, are you guys allowed by school authorities to have smartphones," I ask, before she could declare me boring.

"It is a boarding school: how else are we supposed to keep in touch with people?" back comes her reply.

A smartphone, in the hands of a young person, is a conduit for communication – even outside normal paradigm. For bourgeois Latishia, and her friends, they're guaranteed unfettered use of mobile phones.

The journey from Machakos was not the first time this writer came across a raucous group of high school students pandering to sexual innuendo with reckless abandon.

A study showing that sexting – sending or receiving of sexually explicit messages, photographs or images primarily through the mobile phone – has driven risky sexual behaviour to an all-time-high among students in Kenya was published two months ago.

"The pace, frequency and impact of sexting on the children's lives is mind boggling. It is a time bomb in our hands," Stephen Asatsa, the principle investigator on the study, told our journalist.

According to the study, by the department of psychology at Catholic University of Eastern Africa (CUEA), 98 per cent of secondary school students in Nairobi County engage in sexting.

The study further finds a correlation between sexting and risky sexual behaviour; concluding that 65 per cent of students who sext daily frequently masturbate; 62 per cent have multiple sexual partners; 40 per cent consume pornographic material and 30 per cent have frequent sexual intercourse.

In contrast, only five per cent of the students who don't sext masturbate. One per cent have sex with more than one person; a similar number have frequent sexual intercourse and only two per cent indulge pornographic material.

Masturbation

The findings further showed a linear relationship between sexting and high prevalence of masturbation, pornography, and frequent sexual intercourse.

The CUEA study, set up to gain more understanding on the relationship between sexting and sexual behaviour, profiled day secondary school students all over Nairobi.

Regardless of the cohort, it would be foolhardy to conclude that these findings mirror only the popular culture among Nairobi's teenagers.

In 2016 September, Anthony Kimemia and Mercy Mugambi of Masinde Muliro University of Science and Technology conducted a similar survey, aimed at unearthing the correlation between sexting, social media increase in teen pregnancy in Meru County.

"We established that access by students to social sites was high, with the sexting of sexually explicit music and images having direct impact on the students' sexual outcomes," the two concurred in the study published in the journal IJSRM.

The Kenya Demographics health survey (KDHS) of 2014 found that 15 per cent of women aged 15-19 have already had a birth.

The percentage of women who have begun childbearing increases rapidly with age, from about three per cent among those aged 15 to 40 percent among those aged 19.

KDHS 2014 also showed that men and women aged 15-24, 10 per cent and two per cent respectively, admitted to having multiple sexual partners.

Further, the survey found that 21 per cent of young men and 12 per cent of young women engaged in their first sexual intercourse before age 15.

Majority of high school students are not of legal age. By law, they should not be in possession of mobile phone lines and hence mobile phone handsets. However, Asatsa and his group found that 100 per cent of their respondents reported having access to mobile phones.

"Consumption of sexual text, pictures or images leads to a bottomless pit where even the deepest of desires cannot be sufficiently quenched," says Philomena Ndambuki, a professor of psychology, human growth and development at Kenyatta University.

"Adolescents find themselves swimming in a soup of hormones. Sex, from their perspective, is very pleasurable. They develop a high affinity to sexual material," Ndambuki says.

Sexual desire

Like a moth that finds light irresistible, eventually dying when it gets close to the fire, a teenager finds awe in sexual desire.

According to Ndambuki, the reason why these young people have a penchant for sexting is because it is a quick route to communicate emotions and feelings.

She says: "It is a short cut to pervasion. That is why as they send and receive sexual communication some will be masturbating. For them it is at least a build up to actual intercourse or intercourse itself."

Just like heroin addicts find themselves knee dip in abuse so does sexting arrest its subjects into addiction and lacking in morals, Prof. Ndambuki adds.

Sexting, admonishes Ndambuki, is an entry into hard-core pornography. In the immediate aftermath it will provoke unquenchable thirst for sex and sex material.

The damage this has for the young mind, says Prof. Ndambuki, could easily span into the future when they need to marry and settle down into a traditional family.

"When you are used to consuming sexual imagery via the phone it may be difficult to stay faithful to a spouse," Prof. Ndambuki says.

But that is not what Latishia imagined when she said, "This is just small-time fun."

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