Journal Article

“We don’t fear HIV. We just fear walking around pregnant.”: A qualitative analysis of adolescent sexuality and pregnancy stigma in informal settlements in Kisumu, Kenya

In Kenya, adolescent pregnancy rates are high, contraception utilization is low, and adolescent sexuality is stigmatized. We describe how perceptions of sexuality and pregnancy stigma influence decision-making among adolescents in the informal settlements of Kisumu. We used purposive sampling to recruit 120 adolescent boys and girls aged 15–19 for focus group discussions. A semistructured interview guide was used to elicit social norms and community attitudes about sexual and reproductive health. We analyzed the data using the Framework Approach. The social stigma of adolescent sexuality and the related fear of pregnancy as an unambiguous marker of sexual activity emerged as main themes. This stigma led adolescents to fear social retribution but did not lead to more frequent contraception use due to additional stigma. The intensity of this fear was most acutely expressed by girls, leading some to seek unsafe, sometimes fatal, abortions, and to contemplate suicide. Fear of pregnancy outweighed fear of contracting HIV that was viewed as both treatable and less stigmatized. Our findings illustrate how fear of pregnancy among these adolescents is driven primarily by fears that their community will discover that they are sexually active. Interventions are urgently needed to address adolescent sexual stigma and to prevent negative outcomes.

Published in a peer-reviewed journal of the Population Council.