The Protective Role of Religious Coping in Adolescents’ Responses to Poverty and Sexual Decision-Making in Rural Kenya


  • This project was funded in part by the Duke Global Health Institute, Johnson & Johnson Corporation, Duke University Center for AIDS Research (CFAR), an NIH funded program (P30 AI 64518), and the Fogarty Center through the International Clinical Research fellowship (first author). The authors thank the team of research assistants who translated and administered the interviews in this study, and the adolescents who participated. We also acknowledge the Women's Institute for Secondary Education and Research (WISER) for serving as the host non-governmental organization in this study, and the Africa Mental Health Foundation (AMHF) for providing administrative support.

Requests for reprints should be sent to Eve S. Puffer, International Rescue Committee, 422 East 42nd Street, 12th floor, New York, NY 10009. E-mail:


In this study, we explored how adolescents in rural Kenya apply religious coping in sexual decision-making in the context of high rates of poverty and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV). Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 34 adolescents. One-third (13) reported religious coping related to economic stress, HIV, or sexual decision-making; the majority (29) reported religious coping with these or other stressors. Adolescents reported praying to God to partner with them to engage in positive behaviors, praying for strength to resist unwanted behaviors, and passive strategies characterized by waiting for God to provide resources or protection from HIV. Adolescents in sub-Saharan Africa may benefit from HIV prevention interventions that integrate and build upon their use of religious coping.