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

Columba K. Mbekenga, Andrea B. Pembe, Elisabeth Darj, Kyllike Christensson, Pia Olsson

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

29 Citations (Scopus)


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.

Original languageEnglish
Article number4
JournalBMC International Health and Human Rights
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 2013
Externally publishedYes


  • After childbirth
  • FGD
  • First-time parents
  • Gender relations
  • Prolonged sexual abstinence
  • Tanzania


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