By Gatonye Gathura
Local comedy and drama on TV, US music on radio and the Internet are the top media shows shaping sex attitudes among school children in Nairobi.
A recent survey of what media messages adolescents in Nairobi are consuming portrays a high menu of recreational sex.
The survey by a team of local and foreign media scholars involved 464 students from six secondary schools in Nairobi County.
The research for example found a link between local TV programming and perceptions among the students that dating is no more than a recreational sport.
This kind of attitude, the communicators say gives credibility to the justification of casual sex as okay.
The study was led by Ann Miller of the University of Central Florida, US, and involved among others Nancy Achieng Booker of the Graduate School of Media Communications at Aga Khan University.
The work which appears in the current issue of the African Journal of AIDS Research says local media content is hardly promoting a ‘safe sex’ culture among adolescents.
This, the authors say is despite the eminent danger of HIV infection and teen pregnancies facing the young generation.
The team which also included Hellen Maleche of the Communication Department at Daystar University, Nairobi, found comedy the most popular TV shows among these students.
The students aged around 15 years have a wide range of favourite TV and radio programmes. Most favoured on TV are comedies, followed by drama, soaps, teen comedies and teen drama in that order.
Of the top five most favoured TV programmes by this group were Churchill Show, Tahindi High, Machachari, Sam and Cat on Nickelodeon and then Jameni.
Soaps such as Mentir Para Vivir and What Life Took from Me, were also very popular and reported by the students as portraying strong physical relationship.
Soap operas and other TV dramas the authors say provide viewers an opportunity to observe the private love and sex lives of characters from the privacy of their own living rooms, or on the screens of their smart phones.
In many of the scenes, the authors report, the young viewers get to interact with portrayals of sexual contacts between couples who have no established relationship.
On radio, music programmes are the most popular among the students. Almost half of the most favoured artists are from the US mainly presented in FM stations.
The top three most favoured musicians were Nicki Minaj, Chris Brown of the US, and Diamond from Africa all perceived by the students as presenting strong physical sexual relationship.
In general most of the favourite TV shows among this group of media consumers are produced in Africa followed by those from the US.
However the largest proportion of favourite musicians originated from the US, at 42 per cent followed by those from Africa at 27 per cent.
An estimated 70 per cent of American programmes, the authors say contain sexual material, and 1 in 9 programmes include portrayal of sexual intercourse.
“But only four per cent of scenes with such content incorporate messages on the risk and responsibilities of sex.”
The schools were selected to represent the various academic options and social economic structure of Nairobi.
They comprised 196 boys and 268 girls with schools sampled from lower, middle and upper income zones.
There was also a representative sample of boarding, day and mixed and single gender institutions.
While the research noted that students were spending long periods on the Internet this channel was not a focus of the study.
The team was trying to tease out what influence local media content has on adolescents over three aspects: That men are sex driven and have trouble being faithful.
Secondly that women are sexual objects whose value is based on their physical appearance and thirdly that dating is a recreational sport hence casual sex is okay.
The authors say they were largely vindicated that what adolescents are consuming especially from TV shows and western music is strongly influencing their attitude towards sex.
Among boys the researchers report attitudes towards women as sex objects and dating as a sport. Such attitudes were linked to the kind of media content consumed.
The authors say have presented significant evidence on how local media content is shaping sexual attitudes among the youth. They call for more and larger studies that could help inform on policy formulation.