Why African Women SHOULD Talk About Sex Part 3: Because We Do Have Sex

First of all, if you are a believer in chastity, look up to the top right hand corner of this web page. You should see a small red box with a white X in it. Click on that X. Have yourself a good day. Wrong blog post for you.

Still here? OK. I tried to warn you.

So we’ve talked about little girls and adolescents…now we edge into the arena of young adult women. This post is targeted towards women like me who are in their 20’s. Psychology says at this point in our lives, the greatest struggle before career and education is the conflict between Intimacy and Isolation. Intimacy being where we successfully cultivate close relationships with some one of the same or opposite sex (which can have a sexual component). Isolation occurs when we don’t, often with less than desirable results.

Various traditional  Cameroonian cultures and I daresay African cultures for the most part, place high value on a woman’s virginity. Historically, a lot of effort has been and continues to be put into ensuring that women remain chaste until marriage…efforts that often result in pain and trauma for women, both physically and psychologically. Female Genital Mutilation is an example. This is a practice which, for those of you have have not really thought about it, involves taking a blade and literally cutting off parts of a woman’s vagina, either to remove the areas that enable her to feel sexual pleasure, or to reduce the width of her vaginal opening so sex is as painful and uncomfortable as possible, partly as a deterrent to pre-marital sex. Interestingly enough, when she marries, no ceremony is or can be done to open that passage, or restore her ability to feel pleasure so… yes, sex remains painful, traumatic and generally un-pleasurable even when she is “allowed” to have it. For those of you clenching your thighs together in imagined pain, yes it is real and it is still not completely illegal in Cameroon and many other parts of Africa. Chew on that for a bit. 

We could go into an exploration as to why this value is placed on female virginity  and have intellectual conversations over preservation of blood lines and the fabric of society but until you can convince me of how a woman having sex before or outside of marriage is  more harmful than a man doing the same:

Don’t get me wrong. Marriage vows are sacred. The problem in our communities is that when a man has pre- or extramarital sex… “He’s a guy… Men are dogs. Na so they dey.” It is almost expected that men will have sex…I daresay it is odd if a guy is NOT having sex by a certain age. When a woman does… “Kill am! Kill am die! Ashawo! Akwara!” Panties bunch up so tight, the resulting wedgies must be epic. If  we’re ensuring women remain virgins, can make sure men do the same. Why would I keep my floor “clean” just  for a guy to come walk on it with his dirty feet? 

And then we have the religious argument. I have no problem with a faith choosing and promoting the path of chastity. I think it is an admirable path and quite honestly it would probably save Africa  from a lot of it’s troubles, if one successfully remained perfectly chaste. However, not everyone is devoutly religious and not all religions subscribe to the chaste model of sexual behavior. Oh and not all religious people are chaste. Don’t let that Bible or Rosary or Misbaha  fool you.  So, if this is your cup of tea:

The simple truth is that young people male and female  are interested in sex and no matter what religious or cultural context they are in , no matter what the health risks are, odds are they will eventually be doing it. Now, African young adult men can talk about it, openly sometimes without fear of censure. They can share experiences, buy protection and freely enjoy the sexual aspect of their beings without too much stress. African Young adult women, not so much. But at the same time they are the women these men take to their beds. What sense of decency and purity are we trying to protect? The illusion or the non-reality?

This post is for young African women like me  who have chosen to acknowledge the fact that we are human beings –  females with sexual desires which we can choose to or not to fulfill. Who realize that sex is not the “bad, scary thing that will ruin your life” that it has been made out to be and that it is NOT the devil’s tool of deception. That  it is not solely a biological mechanism for reproduction. It is not some shameful activity that we let ourselves fall into and afterwards swim in oceans of guilt and self recrimination and promises never to do it again…until we do. This is for the African women who do not conflate being sexually active with being promiscuous, because that is the biggest and most incorrect assumption that is often made. “You’re not a virgin, so you must be sleeping around.” Well not necessarily so and even if so, it’s still really none of your business what I do unless I seek your counsel.

This is for the African women who recognize that choosing to give oneself to a man is our prerogative. A prerogative which no one has any business controlling, unless we choose to cede that control. This is for the African women who refuse to be ashamed of their bodies or afraid of the power we have to feel, to discover our bodies, to experience pleasure and share that experience with someone we deem worthy. This post is for the African women who arm themselves with knowledge to protect themselves. This is for the African women who above all recognize that while sex is a wonderful and fun thing, sex is not a joke. Who recognize that it is an act which has dimensions that could have very real consequences if not approached with some good old common sense.

 This is for the African woman who is ready  to be sexual but also to be smart. To  take responsibility for her actions, make sensible sexual choices and face the consequences  they bring, whatever they are, because you see  it’s easy to shout “I’m a grown woman and I can do whatever I want” but grown women can have unplanned pregnancies, or STD’s. Grown women can get involved with men who do not care about them beyond hitting and quitting. Grown women can get into abusive sexual relationships. Grown women can miscalculate and trust their bodies to the wrong guy and end up hurt or even dead.

This is for the African women who can be discreet and understated when that is needed. So you’re a sexual being. Yay you! But there is a time and place where that sexuality can reasonably be put on display and  I’m not sure that work and /or school or some other professional environment is quite the right place, especially if you want the focus to be on your talent and intelligence not on your boobs falling out of your dress. No, I’m not trying to police your body, I’m drawing attention to the fact that your place of work or your classroom is really not the ideal place to unleash your inner Yonce. Also, us African women know we live in contexts where sex is still a taboo (especially to our African  parents) and while we work to change things, to open up the discussion we need to realize that in-your-face sexuality the way it is done in the West is still not the norm for us. A little discretion never hurt anyone.

No, this is neither appropriate workplace attire nor behavior.

I remember an old condom commercial that aired on CRTV. A young woman was about to go out for a night on the town. While saying good bye to her mother, her mother slipped her a packet of condoms. I remember there being some outrage over the ad with some saying the  mother encouraged  her daughter to be promiscuous…you know because it is only when parents talk to young people about sex that they go out and have sex. I was a child when this ad aired and I remember feeling confused by it. My upbringing had taught me that women are supposed to be chaste and not have sex, but I also knew that girls have ended up pregnant( the most visible sign of female sexual activity) and that AIDS is incurable. So perhaps the mother, realizing that ultimately her daughters actions were out of her control just wanted to provide her with the tools to ensure maximum safety whatever her choices are? 

Of course we’re African so we cannot ignore the issue of disease or gloss over it. I find the argument that people (read: women) should just not have sex so they can avoid these risks, extremely annoying. Dear reader, if you can point me to a time period in history when chastity in humans was the norm not only in word but also in deed, I pledge my present and future earnings to you. And no, the story of Adam and Eve really does not constitute history… and if you insist, see how quickly that fell apart? 

Sexual activity before marriage in sub-Saharan Africa. 

Recent trends in rates of sexual activity in sub-Saharan Africa.

The focus of these studies tend to be on the high rates of disease and pregnancies… but the point that is often missed, is the amount of sex that needs to be happening for these rates to be what they are. Which only points to the fact that tradition and religion nothwithstanding, we are doing it… and we’re not being careful. Many of us don’t know to be careful and many us don’t have access to the things that will help us  be careful because we are afraid to even show interest in sex as that would make us seem like bad women. Truth is it is not doing us any good. The sooner we realize that the ideal of complete abstinence for all is just not feasible, the better.

Young African women should talk about sex with each other, with sisters who will listen, with friends and aunties and mothers, because we are having sex, we have been having sex for ages. It’s not anything new that the “corrupt West” has introduced us to. Young African women should talk about sex with each other because sex is a normal aspect of the human experience. Young women should talk about sex because there is a lot we can learn from each others experiences, many pitfalls we can avoid. Young African women could try to be the kinds of friends that others feel comfortable talking to about sex, because we need each other as sounding boards, as voices of reason, as GPS navigators in an often confusing terrain fraught with emotion and confusion.

So this post, the last of my thoughts on sex is for you, my sisters. My brave sisters who choose to live their truths. Stay safe. Stay smart. Stay sexy.

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