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Open Access Highly Accessed Research article

Prolonged sexual abstinence after childbirth: gendered norms and perceived family health risks. Focus group discussions in a Tanzanian suburb

Columba K Mbekenga1*, Andrea B Pembe3, Elisabeth Darj2, Kyllike Christensson4 and Pia Olsson2

Author affiliations

1 Department of Community Health Nursing, School of Nursing, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

2 Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, Uppsala University, Uppsala, Sweden

3 Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology, School of Medicine, Muhimbili University of Health and Allied Sciences, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania

4 Department of Women’s and Children’s Health, Karolinska Institute, Stockholm, Sweden

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Citation and License

BMC International Health and Human Rights 2013, 13:4  doi:10.1186/1472-698X-13-4

Published: 15 January 2013

Abstract

Background

Prolonged sexual abstinence after childbirth is a socio-cultural practice with health implications, and is described in several African countries, including Tanzania. This study explored discourses on prolonged postpartum sexual abstinence in relation to family health after childbirth in low-income suburbs of Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Methods

Data for the discourse analysis were collected through focus group discussions with first-time mothers and fathers and their support people in Ilala, Dar es Salaam, Tanzania.

Results

In this setting, prolonged sexual abstinence intended at promoting child health was the dominant discourse in the period after childbirth. Sexual relations after childbirth involved the control of sexuality for ensuring family health and avoiding the social implications of non-adherence to sexual abstinence norms. Both abstinence and control were emphasised more with regard to women than to men. Although the traditional discourse on prolonged sexual abstinence for protecting child health was reproduced in Ilala, some modern aspects such as the use of condoms and other contraceptives prevailed in the discussion.

Conclusion

Discourses on sexuality after childbirth are instrumental in reproducing gender-power inequalities, with women being subjected to more restrictions and control than men are. Thus, interventions that create openness in discussing sexual relations and health-related matters after childbirth and mitigate gendered norms suppressing women and perpetuating harmful behaviours are needed. The involvement of males in the interventions would benefit men, women, and children through improving the gender relations that promote family health.

Keywords:
Prolonged sexual abstinence; After childbirth; First-time parents; Gender relations; FGD; Tanzania