Unzipped! The African Women Breaking Taboos Of Sexuality
In countries and communities where sexuality is often kept under wraps, more and more women are taking up their microphones, pens and keyboards to talk about intimate issues without filters.
When the subject of African women's sexuality gets media coverage it's almost always a bad thing, says Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, a Ghanaian writer based in London: "through the spectrum of disease, HIV or repeated pregnancies."
While universal access to sexual and reproductive health services remains a central issue in West Africa, Sekyiamah wants to share other narratives. To do this, she co-founded the blog: Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women.
Sex outside of marriage, interracial relationships, threesomes, asexuality or practical and anatomical questions: no sex topic escapes Sekyiamah, who grew up in a very religious country and studied at a Catholic school in Accra.
Polyamory and polygamy
Forget about relations only for procreation and make room for pleasure: "It is a space open to African women where we can talk about sex freely and honestly," says Sekyiamah. More than 10 years after the creation of her blog, she has dedicated her work to sharing a range of sexual experiences, most recently with the book Sex Lives of African Women (Little Brown Book Group, July 2021). The text is a sociological look into the love lives and intimacies of African households through the testimonies of women from 30 countries on the continent.
Not a single word referring to our sexual anatomy is used in a normal way
One of the people featured is Nura (the first name has been changed by the author), a 42-year-old Kenyan woman married to a Senegalese man. Nura tells of her difficulty integrating into a polygamous household, and explains that she feels her sex life is subject to a timetable and to her husband's variable endurance.
"’Oh my God, I'm tired!’ my husband exclaimed one day. ‘I thought we were only going to have sex once a month.’ (...) He probably thought that at 40, my libido would decline," Nura explains.
Herself polyamorous and bisexual, Sekyiamah explores a wide spectrum of living one’s sexuality in the 21st century, including heterosexual and queer relationships as well as monogamous, polygamous or polyamorous couples — sexual practices and preferences she embraces even as homosexual relationships are prohibited in Ghana.
The columnist's blog is a space open to African women where they "can talk about sex freely and honestly"
Sexuality without judgment
Talking about sexuality without judgment and under the cover of anonymity is also the goal of the Sudanese and Jordanian hosts of the podcast Jasadi (“My Body”), launched in 2019 by the production company Kerning Cultures, based in the United Arab Emirates. Named the best podcast in the Middle East and North Africa by Apple, the show invites women to question taboos related to sexuality and the female body in Arab societies.
"Not a single word referring to our sexual anatomy is used in a normal way," laments one of the guests. Another said she regretted the systematic use of anglicisms to name female genitalia, or the schoolyard mockery of the term "mahbal" ("vagina" in Arabic), which is phonetically close to the word "ahbal" (stupid).
In the post #Metoo era, sexual harassment and abuse are no longer ignored
For these "sexperts," there is no question of evading and resorting to innuendos or childish vocabulary to define sexual anatomy. It is on the other hand urgent to free oneself from the dominant heteronormative discourse.
"P as in pansexual, Q as in queer, R as in rim job (anilingus).” This is the kind of sexual primer that can be found on the Instagram page of the successful podcast The Spread, created by 38-year-old Kenyan Kaz Karen Lucas. A lesbian who identifies as non-binary — she uses she/they pronouns —, the ex-rapper has become a leading voice in Kenya’s LGBTQA+ community in five seasons and nearly 90 episodes.
It’s an important role in a country where the film “Rafiki” (by Kenyan director Wanuri Kahiu) was temporarily censored by authorities for depicting a lesbian romance. Lucas intends to "decolonize sexuality" in earnest by inviting gynecologists, obstetricians and other sexologists to speak on her show.
Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah has dedicated her work to sharing a range of sexual experiences, most recently with the book Sex Lives of African Women
Consent is sexy
Another podcast innovator is the British-Nigerian Dami Olonisakin, better known as Oloni. The 31-year-old started The Laid Bare podcast in 2018. She now has built a community of 500,000 followers across social media platforms. On her Instagram page, she uses filters while sporting sexy outfits. And on the mic, she talks about sex without a filter. From the orgasm gap between women and men to solo female pleasure, through the use of sex toys and BDSM practices, her freedom of tone connects sex with emancipation.
And in the post #Metoo era, sexual harassment and abuse are no longer ignored. Oloni, who proclaims in her bio that "consent is sexy," will star in an upcoming Netflix special called “Sex: Unzipped.”
But despite her growing fame, she still takes the time to go to schools and talk to students about sexuality, giving younger generations the resources and knowledge she and other sexperts had to find for themselves.