Sex positivity is an interesting point that is allowing us publicly discus sex beyond the hush of home and church. This means that there are a range of perspectives on sex, especially for women who have traditionally had sex presented as chore rather than a site of pleasure. Specifically, in Nigeria, we see sex-education directed more towards women than men as we seek to dissuade women from sexual exploration without doing the same for men. This has resulted in differing gendered approaches to sex that seems to benefit men over women.
Sitting in conversation with women across age ranges about their first sexual experiences brought home to me just how affected women’s approaches to sex have been by biased narratives aimed at repressing female sexual desire.
A common emotion women took into first sexual experiences was the feeling of sex as sinful. This was a feeling women who had sex outside of and within marriages shared with me. The idea of female nakedness as sin is reiterated culturally and religiously. This means that women go into the bedroom with contradictory feelings of sensuality and sin making that first time a complex emotional space that affects ability to enjoy the moment.
There also seemed to be, for women, prior to the first sexual experience, the belief that sex is only enjoyable for men. This led, specifically a woman now in her mid-twenties, to view sex as something be endured, with her vagina serving solely as “a hole through which a man gets his pleasure.” Her partner, unconcerned about her pleasure, was fooled by the “fake moaning” employed as a way of soothing his ego. In this sexual place, she, despite being extremely unsatisfied, placed the placation of the male ego over pleasure. Time has allowed her to unlearn some of these views but orgasm from a man still eludes her as she works on getting to know her vagina as more than a site to be exploited. The myth of the single vagina has seen many women left embarrassed after experience with a sexual partner. Men commenting on the elasticity of their partner’s vagina, citing looser vaginas as a sign of sexual promiscuity in judgemental way, has left women, following their first experience, scarred at how their natural construct will be perceived by simple minded partners. For a young woman experiencing sex for the first time at 18, her partner’s comment about her vagina’s “looseness” left her “reeling” not only because of it’s rudeness but also because this comment followed shambolic sex.
Another laughable one is the attachment society has regarding the hymen and blood following first sexual encounters. A woman now in her late thirties spoke to me about the fear she felt at the lack of blood when she and her husband finally had sex on their wedding night. Her fear was tied to what his perception of her would be and how he would interpret the lack of vaginal evidence. Luckily, she found herself in a relationship with someone in her word over archaic evidential standards.
Retrospectively speaking about it she said to me, “it’s ridiculous the level of fear I felt that day – for a moment I lost sight of the person I had married and exalted an old wife’s tale over the trust we had between ourselves.” While she can laugh about it now, she knows if women whose husbands were not as forgiving, of women who have been paraded at family meetings and had their purity questioned over ideas about the “ideal virgin”. The irony of course is that one can never tell a man’s sexual experience, because experience does not necessarily make them proficient lovers so they escape censure in more ways than one.
The most interesting discussion I had, explored male relationships to oral sex especially in West Africa. After being told by a man that performing oral sex on a woman was impossible because periods make the vagina both “sacred and repulsive”, this woman was taken aback. The logic of the man was muddled, laughable and a bit worrying that I laugh as I recount this conversation. Culturally, we hold the shedding of blood to a poignancy that is near worship. For this man, that the period is a sign of the woman’s ability to birth life made the vagina a sacred ground and oral sex, for whatever reason, a defilement. Confusingly, period blood also repulsed him and just the fact that the vagina had the audacity to bleed monthly, rendered the vagina forever a condemned site. Luckily, the woman these comments were addressed to was above believing this nonsense, but that this view is so confidently espoused to women, makes me concerned for the women who believe and have had their ideas about sex further reduced.