Africa Eccentricities Feminism Nigeria

On A ‘New Sexual Revolution in Africa’

I’ve had a few illuminating discussions on Shuga and in one, it was suggested that Shuga which takes a glossy, open approach to sex, sexuality and related topics may be a sign that there is a new sexual revolution sweeping the African continent. Shuga is produced by MTV and is set in Kenya, however anyone in any African country with access to MTV Base and internet should be able to watch the series and identify with some of the topics brought up. Perhaps this new sexual revolution may be limited to the growing African middle class that people like talking about these days. This post is me trying to share why I think Shuga is important, maybe not revolutionary but close enough.

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Speaking from my 23 years of experience as a Nigerian cis-gendered woman. My parents never talked to me about sex except for that one time when I was 16 or 17 and my mother told me in so much words not to have sex until I got married. I only have one or two friends who openly talk to their mothers (never their fathers) about sex. I recall in secondary school sometimes, they’d call all the girls in certain classes aside and basically tell us the same thing. That sex was bad and we should keep our legs “crossed”. At the very least they did teach us about HIV/AIDS and sexually transmitted diseases in a factual way. But sex, abortion and rape were taboo topics that were hardly ever discussed unless it was to tell us about their evilness. Last year, I came across a note I had written while in secondary school containing promises to myself that I wanted to keep when I was “grown up”. I laughed when I read my own teenage words about how important ‘virginity’ was and how it was a sin to have sex before my marriage. It was fun tearing up that note.

From secondary school to university, I encountered Nigerians who adopted and preached puritanical attitudes towards sex. At university the Nigerian men would complain that Nigerian women were too “closed”, too “holy holy” and they’d stereotype Zambian women as being more “open”. In the university where I studied for my undergraduate degree, several Nigerian men were in relationships with Zambian women. While the Nigerian men complained that Nigerian women were too “strict”, on the other hand, the Nigerian women regularly slut-shamed Zambian women for being too “open”.

These experiences really tricked me into believing things about Nigerians and their attitudes towards sex. Obviously I knew Nigerians had sex, but I was very naive about sex in Nigeria. To say the puritanical world view did not have any effects on me would be a gross understatement. I literally had to take myself aside and out of that influence to form healthy ideas about sex and sexuality. And yet…

I was shocked when I returned home to Nigeria after spending those years studying in the UK. Sex was and still is not openly discussed, at least not as much as I’d like it to. It confused me that in a society where young men and women lie and say that they are “virgins” to their recently acquired boyfriends and girlfriends, that the most extreme stuff was happening around them. I noticed that, when sex was discussed in public, it is almost always grotesque. It wasn’t just about two (or more!) partners having sexy fun times, rather it was mostly stuff I wouldn’t expect to hear from so-called “holy” people. I wrote about sexism and rape culture in Nollywood, and looking at Nollywood to get an idea of how Nigerian society views sex, here is a depiction of a ‘sex-crazed woman’.

I believe this is from White Hunters, there is another film I’ve come across in which a woman is “cursed” with an insatiable libido. If you watch this video on YouTube, you’ll see more videos on the sidebar with women “seducing” men, “sex scandal” and what looks like the ABSU gang rape video.

Why is it that we ignore sex and all things related, then we make movies depicting women marrying and “falling in love” with their rapists, women dying because they thought to have abortions, women cursed to become “sex-crazed”, “evil” women seducing “innocent” men and vice versa? What does this say?

Even out of Nollywood, the two or three friends I can talk sex with have spent time abroad. When it comes to even attempting to talk sex with friends who have spent most of their lives in Nigeria…it is either grown Nigerian women my age and older tell me how I’m such a ‘bad girl’ for saying “sex”, men asking me stupid questions about my sexuality (sorry it is not my job to teach you) or the “grotesque” stories I was not expecting from a society that has been giving me puritanical lectures about sex for most of my life. They tell me about oral sex in public underneath those big hijabs, drunk foursomes, women who apparently have scars on their bodies because they had so much sex (this one confuses me too), people having sex with animals (mostly goats)…a wise person asked, why is it always the religiously holier than thou people, regardless of denomination who end up doing the fucked up stuff? I personally wouldn’t mind much if proud perverts were not constantly shamed in Nigerian society, if people were not going around trying to dictate which sort of sexual liaisons are “unAfrican”, if women were not constantly slut-shamed, if young girls were not encouraged to take oaths swearing they’d be “virgins” till marriage.

Which is why I appreciate Shuga, the more we talk about this in the open, the more the two extremes (between the “puritanical” facade and the “grotesque” layer underneath) may fade. I’d be very pleased with a sexual revolution sweeping through Nigeria and Africa. Perhaps we could learn from pre-colonial societies where there were structures set up in which women and men could learn about sex in healthy ways. Till then there will be more “grotesque” stuff like this.


  1. Question: how did those Zambian students end up at your university in Nigeria? I know we’re in the global age and all, but I’d expect students mostly from countries close by to be in the majority of “foreign” students—it seems there was a sizable enough population of Zambians to allow people to have an impression between which group was “open” and which one “cross-legged” (I’m being sarcastic here; I don’t like these terms).

    I have noticed some of what you write about here. What bugs me is people talking about sex and punishment together, for example, woman X had sex and therefore she got pregnant, or, woman X denied me sex, but I heard some other dude forced himself on her. Or (my favorite) after getting rebuffed by some woman, you hear a brother saying, “She ain’t that beautiful anyway.” I could go on and on, but in most of the conversations I’ve had with hetero men, sex stories seem either about sexual triumph or some woman who had sex and get punished in some way for it.

    Good old patriarchy, no?

    1. Question: Who said I went to university in Nigeria? 😛 I studied in the UK.

      Talking about sex and punishment is really part of the grotesqueness I’m talking about. Perhaps conversations about sex within the patriarchy are mostly grotesque. I should have mentioned in the post how there have been cases of acid being thrown at women who rejected the advances of men, I’ve also heard of that, women being raped because they rejected unwanted advances. Apparently this all has to do with women being “haughty”.

      Down with the patriarchy! The thing is it affects both men and women…ugh.

  2. Huh. Uni in the UK makes that even more interesting, indeed.

    It’s disturbing, really. How we make up these stories where women suffer for being sexual—they are either asexual, or insatiable. No healthy sexuality.

    We need this conversation. Thanks for keeping it going. Or for starting it.

    1. Really? Now I think about it, I believe the university had some sort of scheme in Zambia where people could take a few classes there before moving to the UK. This may have been why there were so many Zambians, I wonder if there were more Zambian students than Nigerian students there. When it came to the African student population, there were a lot of Nigerians, Zambians and Malawians.

      It’s not healthy at all, and that’s the same dichotomy…of the “virgin” and the “whore”, Mary mother of Jesus and Mary Magdalene. It suggests that a woman can only be one or the other. There’s a lot of work to be done to create healthy views of sexuality.

      Thank you! I have more posts scheduled to discuss this topic further.

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