Social and cultural significance of the sexual cleansing ritual and its impact on HIV prevention strategies in western Kenya

Rose Mmboga Ayikukwei, Duncan Ngare, John E. Sidle, David O. Ayuku, Joyce Baliddawa, James Y. Greene

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

12 Scopus citations


Traditional cultural practices and sexual rituals have an important role in the life and structure of tribal groups within Kenya. These cultural practices and rituals also play a significant role in the spread of HIV. The purpose of this descriptive qualitative study was to document the underlying social and cultural significance of the sexual cleansing ritual and to assess its impact on HIV prevention strategies. The study participants were selected by purposive and snowball sampling. Data were collected using in-depth interviews, focus group discussions and observations; they were analyzed using content analysis. The article gives detailed explanations of the meanings and symbols of the ritual in its cultural context as a ritual of social transition. Sexual intercourse is perceived as a sacred rite when performed as a ritual. It is associated with most social cultural activities like planting, harvesting, weddings and burial ceremonies. The underlying intention of this ritual is to cleanse evil spirits and to sanctify. Widows who are not cleansed are ostracized and discriminated. The continued practice of the ritual is perpetuated by a shared common belief system that affects social interactions of the community members. Widows and cleansers are believed to be purveyors of the HIV virus. The ritual encourages unprotected sex with multiple partners. These are barriers to HIV prevention strategies that are aimed at changing sexual behaviors.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)32-50
Number of pages19
JournalSexuality and Culture
Issue number3
StatePublished - Jun 1 2007



  • Culture
  • Rituals
  • Sexual behaviors
  • Sexual cleansing
  • Symbols

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Gender Studies
  • Cultural Studies

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