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Using Pleasure to Reach Young Kenyans with Reproductive Health Information
By Christine Oduor, PSI Digital Program Manager, and Florah Muchiri, PSI Digital Communications Associate
What if you could go beyond a search engine and get honest, validated answers to your sexual and reproductive health (SRH) questions — especially questions about sexual pleasure — right on your mobile device? Imagine the difference this convenient, 24-hour information source could make in the life of youth and young adults, who might struggle otherwise to find reliable, stigma-free information on these topics from other sources.
PSI piloted a chatbot to serve this purpose. By programming it with content about SRH health and pleasure, marketing it, and tracking use, we demonstrated that integrating SRH information with facts about pleasure can increase the engagement of young women and men with this critical health information. We started with the following hypothesis: If Kenyan young adults (ages 18–29) can access sex-positive SRH information privately and on-demand with digital linkages to health services via a chatbot, then they will engage in less risky sexual behaviors and increased contraceptive method use, resulting in fewer unintended pregnancies and sexually transmitted infections.
With funding from UK Aid, we designed the Kenya Pleasure Bot, named “NENA” or “Speak” in Swahili, over the course of three design sprints:
Sprint 1: We conducted preliminary consumer research, a literature review, and market research to verify the feasibility and consumer perception of this project.

Sprint 2: Building on insights collected from young people during Sprint 1, we developed and tested the chatbot prototype. To improve its functionality, we gathered feedback on how young people wanted to engage with it.
Sprint 3: Finally, we launched the pilot test of the refined chatbot over an eight-week period, using a phased-in approach. During the first four-week phase, users interacted with only SRH-focused content focusing on contraceptive methods and menstruation to establish a baseline measurement of engagement and an overall satisfaction rating. During the second phase, the team layered pleasure content into the chatbot and social media marketing communications reflecting as much. To read about the first two sprints, check out “Young People, and The Intersection of Sex and Pleasure” for Sprint 1. Read “What We Have Learned, Building and Testing a Youth-Powered Digital Sexual Reproductive Health Bot,” to learn about Sprint 2. Below, we are excited to share results from Sprint 3.
Sprint 3: Phase 1
GOAL: Soft launch to test chatbot functionality with a pilot audience and catch any major issues we might have missed during development and initial testing in Sprint 2.
PSI, employing the digital expertise of its Global Services Hub in Kenya, soft-launched NENA on 27 August 2020 to university students through two WhatsApp groups with a membership of approximately 100 students. Links were posted directing students and their peers to the chatbot access channels: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger and a microsite. This soft launch was used to test the chatbot so that we could address any immediate system errors before the official launch.
Over the first week, 46 targeted users helped to reveal key functional challenges they experienced while interacting with the chatbot. Some users reported issues calculating their next menstrual cycle as the bot did not properly recognize the responses they were providing. Users wanted a calendar within the bot that could help them track their next period and safe days for sexual activity. Thanks to this feedback, the developers had time to address this functionality before going live to a larger audience.
LEARNING: The soft launch is a critical step to take before going live with a larger audience. It provided additional information on areas of improvement on functionality and an opportunity to confirm that the chatbot was capturing certain data points of interest to both the project and the user.
GOAL: Expand awareness to a larger group within our target audience and drive traffic to the chatbot.
In Week 2, we commenced the Awareness Raising phase of the project. PSI launched content through a digital marketing campaign that built awareness of what NENA is, what benefit it could provide to our target audience and how they could use it.
This campaign was initiated in collaboration with PSI’s independent network member PS Kenya and a Kenya-based digital marketing firm. The local NGO employed its youth social media pages and through the firm, PSI contacted 11 social media influencers (SMIs), all of which created a buzz around NENA and what it is. For the first two days of the campaign, they all promoted a video and two posters. The objective was to introduce NENA as a trusted digital companion with credible information at consumers’ fingertips. The initial days were meant to increase curiosity and ultimately drive traffic to WhatsApp, Facebook, and a microsite on the third day when the links were included in all communications. Below are four pieces of content specifically developed to introduce and explain NENA.