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KDHS study debunks myth that only men go for younger partners

by kenya-tribune

Radio presenter Maina Kageni once punned that he wondered whether children enjoy childhood the way adults relish adultery. The recently released Kenya Demographic and Health Survey report shows that infidelity is common in Kenya, with 35 per cent of men and 19 per cent of women reporting having had intercourse with a non-spouse 12 months before the study. Other studies show parity between the two.

Earlier, articles in the Daily Nation highlighted reasons cited by married men and women for indulging in extra-marital affairs.

All the women featured were aged 40-50, while their lovers were in their 20s. This debunks the myth that it is men who go for younger partners. The women supported the lovers financially and ensnared them with material comfort, an indicator that lucre gave them the same power men exercise over women using financial muscle.

Sexual drive

Virtually all indicated that their liaisons were motivated by sexual and emotional satisfaction, which they did not receive adequate amounts of from their husbands, who were either too busy with work and business, or had dubious sexual drive. By engaging with younger men, the women psychologically reclaimed their youth and were better affirmed than they were by their husbands.

Interestingly, all were aware that their boyfriends would certainly want to marry at one point, an eventuality they were not opposed to. All would continue with the relationship even if the partner married, except one who said she was too jealous to contemplate this, hence, would end the relationship.

None mentioned that they had strayed to retaliate against philandering husbands. Most of them also indicated that they cherished the material comfort provided by their husbands and, therefore, would not wish to end their marriages. 

Past lives

Contrastingly, one of the major reasons for men’s infidelity was retaliation against their wives’ indulgence with other men, which shattered their egos. In addition, they were distressed by the wives’ dishonesty about their past lives, especially concerning pre-marital children not declared at the time of marriage.

In the end, the men felt hollow, cheated and drained of the power they thought they had. They thus, sought reassurance from alternatives that differed from their wives.

It is clear, from the stories, that emotional support, sexual satisfaction, material comfort and personal affirmation are central to women’s considerations in marriage.


For men, honesty from wives and sense of control are paramount. Whether these are legitimate reasons for infidelity or not, the fact is that extra-marital promiscuity has become routine against a norm that marital relationships are defined by sexual constancy. The behaviour makes one wonder whether promiscuity is perhaps an innate characteristic being suppressed from a mistaken assumption about human nature.

A study on birds offers some insights that might stimulate contrarian thinking on the subject. Featured some time back on a BBC podcast, the study by Prof Tim Birkhead of the University of Sheffield, debunks the myth that female birds are always faithful to their nesting mates.

The initial observation was that female dunghill insects mated with several males before laying their eggs. This generated the idea of sperm competition, that infidelity was a completion by male gametes to fertilise the eggs within the female body.

Feathered creatures

When the observation on dunghill insects was transposed to birds, sceptics dismissed the idea as ridiculous because of a belief that these feathered creatures are monogamous by nature. Professor Birkhead hypothesised, however, that social monogamy, a situation where pairs display public loyalty to one another, did not mean sexual monogamy and that both male and female birds that were appeared to be monogamous could as well be having other sexual relationships.  

When the professor studied the sexual behaviour of guillemorts, a bird species that resembles penguins, he discovered that only 10-15 per cent were sexually faithful, even though most nested as monogamous pairs! In up to 70 per cent of some bird species, there was extra pair paternity where the offspring were fathered by birds other than the usual mate.

It was not clear to him what female birds derived from this; but for males, promiscuity increased chances of reproductive success and perpetuation of their genes.  One incontrovertible fact was that promiscuity widely prevailed among both male and female birds.

Sexual monogamy

Extrapolated to human beings, could we be mistaking social for sexual monogamy? Besides the reasons women and men cite for indulgence in extra-marital affairs, it would be interesting to scientifically establish whether promiscuity is innate to human beings, and other animals, or not.

If it is, then the social and moral foundations of sexual relationships would have to be overhauled, including laws and religious canons that prescribe and romanticise monogamy. In which case, what we now call “open relationships” would be vindicated and justified.  

Dr Miruka is an international gender and development consultant and scholar ([email protected])

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