Archives ofSexualBehavior,


8, No. l, 1979

Sexual Behavior Among University Students in Nigeria Femi Soyinka, M.D., M.P.H. 1

Sexual behavior patterns among Nigerian university students and factors influencing them were studied. While premarital cohabitation is common, a large percentage (48%) had their first coital experience between the ages o f 22 and 27. Religion does not appear to have a strong inhibiting influence on premarital sex, although it does affect the frequency o f changing partners. Contraceptives, although known to almost all the respondents, are not widely used. The use o f contraceptives had little influence on premarital cohabitation, Oral-genital, male-male, and female-female sexual practices are very uncommon. KEY WORDS: sexual behavior; Nigerian students; premarital cohabitation; homosexual.

INTRODUCTION Recent studies into black sexual behavior have concentrated largely on the American black. Some of these studies have shown that, generally, blacks have a more permissive sex code than whites and that white females are the most restrictive of the race/sex groupings (Reiss, 1964). In some studies of African blacks, it was stated that the norms associated with sex are part of the religious values related to reproduction and not to sex itself. This is said to be in contrast to Western values, where sex has become largely separated from procreation (Omari, 1970). The study reported here does not pretend to give the model pattern of sexual behavior among Africans. It is more of an attempt to study the sexual behavior of a homogeneous group with similar environmental and socioeconomic background among a population of Nigeria. This is a group of students who are

University of Ire, Ile-Ife, Nigeria. 15 0 0 0 4 - 0 0 0 2 / 7 9 / 0 1 0 0 - 0 0 1 5 5 0 3 . 0 0 / 0 © 1979 Plenum Publishing Corporation



residents on the university campus situated in an ancient town in Nigeria. Their sexual behaviors might be different from those of another group with a different environmental and socialization process, based just a few kilometers away from this campus.

METHOD The survey took place on a university campus in Nigeria, a setting that could be regarded as semiurban. The total student population at the time of study was 5028, out of which 85% were resident on the campus. After a pretest of a prepared questionnaire had been done at a neighboring university, a final precoded anonymous questionnaire was completed and distributed to the students in their hostels. The questionnaires were distributed on a random basis at the beginning of the academic session, a period when students' academic activities were minimal. The students were instructed to put their answered questionnaires in the ballot boxes placed at strategic positions around the hostels, and the boxes were emptied twice daily for 7 days, after which the ballot boxes were removed. In all, 850 questionnaires were distributed. The variables considered in this report are age, religion, marital status, sex, and the numbers of sessions already spent at the university, including the current one when the questionnaires were completed. The data reported here were collected from a larger study carried out on the same respondents of knowledge, attitude, and practice related to sexually transmitted diseases, contraception, and sex education. The section of the questionnaire related to this report dealt with premarital coitus, frequency of changing sexual partners, age at first coital experience, forms of sexual practices, knowledge and use of contraceptives, visits to prostitutes, and sexual problems.

RESULTS Out of the 850 questionnaires that were sent, 802 were returned. Seventythree of the returned questionnaires were discarded either because they were not completely filled or because frivolous answers were given instead of the coded ones. Final analysis was based on 729 respondents.

General Statistics Table I lists age, sex, and martial status of the respondents. The total student population on the campus at the time of the survey was 5028, with 73.6%


Sexual Behavior Among University Students in Nigeria Table 1. Age Group, Sex, and Marital Status of Respondents Female Age group


Single Married Total

< 16













>27 Total

6 (2.5%) 95 (40.1%) 120 (50.6%) 16 (6.8%) 237

Single Married 3










Total 3 (0.0%) 104 (12.1%) 244 (49.6%) 139 (28.3%) 492

male and 26.4% female. Corresponding figures for respondents were 67.5% for males and 32.5% for females. Of the respondents, 73.1% were single while 26.9% were married. Almost half of the respondents (49.7%) were in the age group o f 2 2 - 2 7 years; 21% were over 27 years old; 27.3% were in the age group 1 6 - 2 1 years and only 9 respondents (1.2%) were less than 16 years old. Of the total respondents, 31.4% were spending their first year in the university, while about 67% were distributed between the second and fifth years. The highest percentage, 32.2%, were in the third year.

Premarital Coitus by Sex and Marital Status Table II shows that 83.4% o f the male and 56.1% o f the female respondents who were single claimed to have had premarital coitus. Of the married respondents, 14.2% o f the males and 8.4% o f the females claimed to have had premarital coitus. Of those who had not had premarital coitus, 4.0% were males and 35.4% were females.

Table II. Premarital Coitus by Sex and Marital Status Premarital coitus Single Male Female Total


402 70 (83.4%) (14.2%) 133 20 (56.1%) (8.4%) 535 90 (73.4%) (12.3%)

No premarital coitus 20 (4.0%) 84 (35.4%) 104 (14.3%)

Total 492 (67.5%) 237 (32.5%) 729


Soyinka Table III. Sex of Respondents and Age at First Coital Experience a Age group < 16

68 23 (28.7%) (9.7%) 36 112 (7.3%) (22.8%)


> 27


100 12 (42.2%) (6.1%) 293 44 (59.6%) (8.6%)

34 (14.3%) 7 (1.4%)

104 135 393 56 (14.3%) (18.5%) (53.9%) (7.7%)

41 (5.6%)

Female Male Total column percentage


a×~ = 125.52922, df = 4.

First Coital Experience Tables III, IV, and V summarize first coital experience. Of the female respondents, 28.7% had their first coital experience when they were below 16; 9.7% when they were between 16 and 21; 42.2%in the age group 2 2 - 2 7 years; 6.1% when they were above 27 years; while 14.3% were virgins. Figures for the same experience among the males in the different age groups are 7.3% for those below 16; 22.8% for the age group 1 6 - 2 1 years; 59.6% for those 2 2 - 2 7 years; 8.6% for those above 27 years; while 1.4% were virgins. There is a significant diffe'rence between males and females who were virginal (×z = 125.52922, p < 0.0005). Eighteen percent of the respondents who were single and 3.6% of those married had their first sexual experience when they were below 16. Seventy percent of those who were married had their first sexual experience between ages 22 and 27, and o f those who were single in the same age group, 7.5% were virginal. (One married female respondent claimed not to have had coitus.)

Table IV. Marital Status of Respondents and Age at First Coital Experiencea Age group < 16 Single Married Total



> 27

Never had sex


97 103 256 37 40 533 (18.2%) (19.3%) (48.0%) (6.9%) (7.5%) (73.1%) 7 32 137 19 1 196 (3.6%) (16.3%) (69.9%) (9.7%) (0.5%) (26.9%) 104 135 393 56 56 41 (14.3%) (18.5%) (53.9%) (7.6%)(7.7%) (5.6%)

a×= = 48.77820, df =4.

Sexual Behavior Among University Students in Nigeria


Table V. Religion of Respondents and Age at First Coital Experience Age group Religion Muslim Christian Traditional and no religious affiliation Total

< 16




Not yet had sex


29 39 121 (13.4%) (18.0%) (56.0%) 56 68 183 (15.7%) (19.1%) (51.4%)

17 l0 (4.8%)(4.0%) 30 19 (8.4%)(5.3%)


19 28 89 (12.1%) (17.8%) (56.6%) 104 135 393 (14.3%) (18.5%) (53.9%)

9 12 (5.7%) (7.6%) 56 41 (7.6%)(7.7%)



729 (100%)

Among the three main religious groups considered (Muslim, Christian, and traditional religion, including no religious affilation), there was no significant difference between the religion of the respondents and age at their first coitus experience. The groups who claimed not to have any religious affiliation whatsoever had a slightly higher percentage among those who had had their first coitus below age 16. This was statistically nonsignificant. Forms of Sexual Practices To the question whether they had ever practiced any of the sexual variations oral-genital, penile-rectal (male-female), penile-rectal (male-male), 5% of the total respondents said they had practiced oral-genital sex. All who had practiced oral-genital sex were in the age group 2 2 - 2 7 . There was no significant sex difference. Only two female married respondents said they had practiced anal intercourse, and two single male respondents had practiced male-male anal intercourse. Frequency o f Changing Sexual Partners Tables VI, VII, and VIII summarize the frequency of changing sexual partners. To the precoded question, "Within the last 6 months, with how many different partners have you had coitus?" 10.9% and 2.1% of the female respondents had had coitus with two or more than two partners, respectively, whereas for male respondents 11.6% and 21.3% had had coitus with two or more than two partners, respectively, within the last 6 months. There is a significant association between the sex of the respondent and the number o f partners within the last 6 months (X2 = 71.36278,p < 0.0005).


Soyinka Table VI. Sex of Respondents and Number of Coital Partners Within Past 6 Months a Number of coital partners 0 Female Male Total




156 (65.8%) 288 (46.3%)

69 7 (29.1%) (10.9%) 99 57 (20.1%) (11.6%)

5 (2.1%) 108 (12.3%)

384 (52.7%)

168 (23.0%)

110 (15.1%)

64 (8.8%)

a×2 = 71.36278, df = 4.

Table VII. Age of Respondents and Number of Coital Partners Within Past 6 Months a Number of coital partners Age group


27 Total



64 (8.8%)


a×2 = 104.719,df= 32.

Table VIII. Marital Status and Number of Coital Partners Within Past 6 Months a Number of sexual partners Marital status Single Married Total





281 (52.7%) 103 (52.6%)

117 50 (22.0%) (9.4%) 51 14 (26.0%) (7.1%)

384 (52.7%)

108 64 110 (23.0%) ( 8 . 8 % ) ( 1 5 . 1 % )

ax2 = 3.06587,df =4.

82 (15.4%) 28 (14.3%)

Sexual Behavior Among University Students in Nigeria


Table IX. Age of Respondents and Use of Birth Control Measure s

Age group 27 Total

Have used birth control measures

Have never used birth control measures


1 (11,1%) 52 (26.1%) 131 (36.0%) 82 (52.9%)

8 (88.8%) 146 (73.9%) 233 (64.0%) 73 (47.1%)

9 (1.2%) 199 (27.3%) 364 (49.9%) 155 (21.3%)

267 (36.6%)

462 (63.4%)

729 (100%)

There is a significant association between the age o f respondents and the number o f partners within the last 6 months. Seventeen percent (63/364) o f the age group 22-27, 22.2% of the age group < 16, and 12.3% o f the age group > 27 had had sexualintercourse with more than two partners within the last 6 months. As for marital status, the difference between the number o f married and single respondents in terms o f the number o f sexual partners within the last 6 months was insignificant (X 2 = 3.06587, df = 4).

Knowledge o f and Use of Contraceptives Tables IX, X, and XI summarize respondents' knowledge o f and use of contraceptives. Ninety-four percent of the respondents had heard o f contraceptives and family planning. One-quarter knew that their partners used some sort o f contraceptive; 64.8% reported that their partners did not use any contracep-

Table X. Sex and Use of Contraceptives and Other Devices Sex Male Female Total

Do not use contraceptives

Use contraceptives

Row and percentage

288 (58.5%) 174 (72.9%) 460 (63,4%)

204 (41.5%) 63 (26.6%) 267 (36,6%)

492 (67.5%) 237 (32.5%) 729 (100.0%)



Table XI. Marital Status and Use of Contraceptivesa Marital status

Do not use contraceptives

Use contraceptives

Row total and percentages


359 (67.4%) 103 (52.6%) 462 (63.4%)

174 (32.6%) 93 (47.4%) 267 (36.3%)

533 (73.1%) 196 (26.9%) 729 (100%)

Married Total

a×2 = 14.03768, p < 0.001.

tive, and 11% were not sure or could not say. Thirty-seven percent o f the respondents had never used any contraceptive. Of the total respondents, 1.9% used the safe-period method of birth control. 1.5% used the "withdrawal" method of birth control, and 18.2% used rubbers or condoms. Of the female respondents, 0.8% used insertions (IUD and CNP), 16.6% used oral contraceptives, and 0.3% used "sperm killer" (Jelly, Paster, etc.). Three-quarters of the males who used condoms replied that they did not mind using condoms, while 20% said that they did not like it. Only 11.1% of the age group below 16 had used any form o f contraceptive. The age group over 27 years had the largest percentage (52.9%) among those who had used contraceptives. There was a significant association between the age o f the respondents and the use o f contrceptive or birth control measures. One-third of the single respondents used contraceptives, while 47.4% o f the married used contraceptives. There was a significant association between the marital status of respondents and the use of contraceptives or birth control measures (X2 = 14.03768, p < 0.001). Sexual Problems

Tables XII and XIII summarize data on sexual problems. To the question whether or not they had any sort of sexual problems, 71,5% of the respondents Table XII. Sex Problems and Sex of Respondents a No sex Have sex problems problems Don't know Total Female Male Total

169 (71.3%) 352 (71.5%) 521 (71.5%)

a×2 = 10.09298, df = 3.

26 (11.0%) 86 (17.5%) 112 (15.4%)

41 (17.3%) 54 (10.6%) 93 (12.8%)

237 492 729

Sexual Behavior Among University Students in Nigeria


Table XIII. Sex Problems and Marital Status of Respon-

dents a No sex Have sex problems problems Don't know Single Married Total

368 (69.0%) 153 (78.1%) 521 (71.4%)

81 (15.2%) 31 (15.8%) 112 (15.3%)


84 533 (15.4%) (73.1%) 12 196 ( 5 . 6 % ) (26.9%) 93 729 (12.7%) (100%)

ax2 = 12.45744, df = 3. gave a negative reply, 15.4% reported that they did, and 12.8% did not know for certain. On-fifth o f the < 16 group reported sexual problems. Eleven percent of the female respondents and 17.5% o f the male respondents had sexual problems. Seventeen percent o f the female respondents could not say whether they had sexual problems, and 10.6% of the male respondents could not say whether they had sexual problems. Concerning sex problems and marital status, the majority o f the respondents, 69.0% o f those single and 78.1% o f those married, said they had no problems. However, of those who did not know whether they had sexual problems, a majority (15.4%) were single, compared to 5.6% married. There is a significant association between marital status and sexual problems (X2 = 12.45744, df = 3). When asked if they had discussed sex freely with anybody before, 83.3% of the respondents said yes, 42.0% said no, and 2.5% did not know. About 90% of those who had discussed sex freely with somebody said that they discussed it with their peers, while 10.7% discussed it with parents. Only 1.6% had discussed it with their doctor. Visits to Prostitutes

Table XIV summarizes experience with prostitutes. Two hundred twentyfive (45.73%) male respondents had had sex with prostitutes. More than half of Table XIV. Analysis by Age Group of Male Respon-

dents Who Have Had Coitus with Prostitutes

Age group ~ 27 Total

Have not had coitus with Have had coitus prostitutes with prostitutes Total 203 (59.5%) 54 (38.8%) 257 (53.5%)

138 (40.5%) 85 (61.2%) 223 (46.4%)

341 139 480



the male respondents over 27 years had had sex with prostitutes. There is a significant difference between the age of male respondents who had had sex with prostitutes and the age of those who had not.

DISCUSSION This study sought to provide some empirical data on students' sexual behavior as well as their knowledge about contraceptives. According to the results of this survey, 66.1% of the students had had premarital sexual intercourse. This percentage could be compared with Bell and Chaskes's (1970) data on sexual behavior in a large urban university in the United States. The percentage of females having had premarital intercourse was given as 23% among those who were dating, 28% among those going steady, and 39% among those engaged. Packard (1970), comparing his figures of the mid-1962s to those obtained by Kinsey around 1950, reported that an average of 69% of students at three Southern universities were coitally experienced. The corresponding figure from our study is 94%. However, our percentage included married respondents. The differences in sampling methods, as well as the time the surveys were carried out, make the figures from United States universities and the one in Nigeria unsuitable for comparison. Using the number of sexual partners the students had had "within 6 months" as a basis for defining random sexual intercourse practice, i.e., defining those who had had two coital partners within the last 6 months as moderately coitally unrestrictive and those with more than two sexual patners as unrestrictive, 8.8% can be defined as moderately unrestrictive and 15.1% as unrestrictive. Age and sex played an important role in the sexual behavioral pattern. The younger age group appeared to be more unrestrictive than the older age group. The male students could be said to be more unrestrictive than the female students, as they had a significantly higher percentage who had had several sexual partners within the last 6 months. In this study, 18.2% of the single respondents had had their first sexual intercourse when they were less than 16 years old. However, a larger majority (48.0%) had had their first sexual intercourse when they were between 22 and 27 years. Age at puberty can be seen as one of the factors that could have an influence on the age at first sexual intercourse. Within the last 10 years, age at puberty has shifted backward in Nigeria and is said to be around 12.5 (Abayomi, 1976). Religion seemed to have played little role in the sexual behavior pattern of the respondents. In various studies it has been documented that religious belief is associated with premarital sexual activities or attitude toward premarital cohabitation (Bell, 1966; Gorer, 1970). It is difficult to truly assess the influence

Sexual Behavior Among University Students in Nigeria


of religion on the premarftal sexual activity in Niageria from this study. The sample is not representative of the different religion practiced in Nigeria. Moreover, one cannot equate the depth of religious involvement with belonging to a religious denomination. A very small number of the respondents who gave their denomination as Scripture Union (S.U.) although not specifically asked in the questionnaire, had had premarital coital experience almost at the same level as members of other religious bodies. All maintained that they had had only one sexual partner within the last 6 months. Members of the S.U. sect are known to be deeply involved in religious practices. It has been said that the one thing the widely differing African societies have in common is the strict regulation of sexual behavior by the customs of the various tribal groupings. This belief might have been true once for Nigeria, but one cannot find justification for this in present Nigeria. Cultural taboo, strict regulation of sexual behavior, and social disapproval can be said to have very little or no influence on the sexual behavioral pattern, particularly in Western and Eastern Nigeria. There is very little sexual taboo in these areas of Nigeria. There might still be in some isolated areas, or among some subcultural groups, a restraining factor such as "importance of purity" before marriage. However, this is fast dying out, especially as a criterion for wedlock. The influence of sexual socialization is shown in the incidence of premarital coital experience according to the length of time spent in the university. Those who had no coital experience before they entered the university quickly acquired it during their first and second years, with the peak during the third year. The introduction of oral contraceptives and the IUD as well as other devices has been said to be partially responsible for the worldwide trend in the alteration of sexual behavioral patterns. The fear of pregnancy outside wedlock or even of "unwanted" pregnancies during wedlock has been said to have been removed by the easy accessibility of these devices. It has been argued that contraception has led to changes in sexual patterns. For instance, group sex and partner swapping appear to be increasing (Hossain, 1967). However, Black and Sykes (1971) have argued that "behavior is unrelated to use or rather nonuse of contraceptive, and that social and personal factors will detemine the likelihood of premarital sex." The results from our studies tena to support Black and Sykes's argument. One-third of the unmarried students had used some sort of contraceptive, as had 47.4% of the married couples. One-quarter of the total female students used some sort of contraceptive, 40% of which were oral contraceptives. Of the 26.9% of the females using a form of contraceptive, only 9% were single. The incidence of usage of contraceptives among the single females is low. However, the total percentage of the single respondents who had had premarital sex was 66.1%. Thus the usage of contraceptives appears to have little influence on the incidence of premarital sex, especially among females.



The so-called deviation from normal sexual practices is a concept of many meanings or interpretations, depending on what model one chooses to use in the definition of "normal." In the Nigerian context, it appears that any sexual act other than direct coitus (penile/vaginal penetration) is considered abnormal. From our data, oral-genital sex and homosexuality appear to be very uncommon.

REFERENCES Abayomi, I. D. (1976). Personal communication, work on "Growth and Development," Imesi-Ile, Oyo State, Nigeria. Bell, R. (1966). Premarital Sex in a Changing Society, Prentice-Hall, Englewood Cliffs, N.J., pp. 124-132. Bell, R. R. and and Chaskes, J. B. (1970). Premarital sexual experience among coeds, 1958 and 1968. J. Mar;'. Fam. 32: 81. Black, S., and Sykes, M. (1971). Promiscuity and oral contraception- The relationship examined. Soe. Sci. Med. 5: 637-643. Gorer, G. (1970). The chaste majority. Sunday Times, March 29. Hossain, S. M. T. (1967). Promiscuity and venereal diseases. Pakist. J. Health. 17: 41-58. Omari, T. P. (1970) Changing attitude of students in West African society towards marriage and family relationships. Br. J. Soe. 2(3). Packard, V. (1970). The Sexual Wilderness, Pan, London. Reiss, I. L. (1964). Premarital sexual permissiveness among Negroes and whites. Am. Soeiol. Rev., pp. 688-698. Staples, R. (1974). The sexuality of black women. In Gross, L. (ed.), Sexual Behavior, Spectrum, New York.

Sexual behavior among university students in Nigera.

An attempt is made to assess the sexual behavior of a group of students with similar environmental and socioeconomic characteristics, and to determine...
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