Growing up in a conservative African Christian household, discussions about sex or sexuality were virtually non-existent. When they were addressed, conversations only reinforced the murky remnants of colonial Christian hegemonic ideals which tie shame to one’s sexual desires and expression.
Church sermons on Sundays focused on policing girls and women’s sexuality as the right way to lead them in the right direction. Stories of unmarried women and girls gone astray or who fell pregnant were used as a launching pad for abstinence rhetoric. Gossip and examples were made of young women who were caught succumbing to their sexual desire. Their public humiliation became apt reminders of what would happen if you too decided to follow suit. Very rarely were men blamed.
In all this, the notion of female sexual pleasure and body autonomy was conveniently skipped over to land firmly into the terrain of procreation.This socializes you to fear sex or see it as a one-dimensional endeavor that serves the singular purpose of reproduction.
Research by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) shows that fewer than half of women in Africa aged 15 to 19 have body autonomy when it comes to reproductive and sexual help. This means that, by and large, most young Black African women, on average, are walking about with little to no knowledge of their bodies, what they like, and what they want, in addition to feeling disempowered to say No to unwanted sexual advances.
As far as we’ve come from African to Western societies, this insistent pervasive thought continues to rob women of their sexual pleasure. You need not look any further than the orgasm gap where 65% of women orgasm, as opposed to 95% of men.
Though women have made strides in embracing and owning their bodies and sexuality in some ways, it seems that Black women's pleasure and sexual expression, particularly in African women, has been under wraps, while being subject to impossible scrutiny when discussed.
Any turn by Black women to fully indulge, explore, and center their bodies on sexual pleasure is derided and questioned. Although I am aware of the complex and disturbing cycle of gender inequality, and post-colonial Christian dogma that excuses society’s nefarious critiques of Black women’s sexual expression, I can’t help but wonder, where is a safe space for Black women to explore their sexual pleasure freely? Where is the discourse surrounding and centering Black female pleasure, without the pressure or judgment? Don’t we deserve that?
I still remember the first few times I enjoyed sexual pleasure with a fling. Echoes of my upbringing brought on waves of guilt that brought my ‘purity’ into question. However hard I tried, I couldn't shake the feelings of being dirty, being destined for hell, and not being worthy of some phantom future husband. Whatever sexual pleasure I experienced was slowly eaten away by the guilt. Breaking free from this repressive and toxic behavior has been an uphill battle, made all the more difficult by the lack of representation. In the popular media discourse addressing sexual pleasure, racialized people, especially Black Women and specifically those of African descent, are often shut from the limelight.
A quick google search attests to the lack of Melanin in the sexual pleasure landscape. That's why seeing sex educator and sexual pleasure advocate Oloni, who is British-Nigerian, has been refreshing and edifying. Seeing this unapologetic dark-skinned Black woman talk freely about sex in a way that is open and free of shame has been the permission slip to lean in. Most importantly, beneath the sexual undercurrent of her content, Oloni reminds us women that we shouldn’t settle, that we are deserving of more. And I for one am here for this message.
Don’t get me wrong, I don’t kid myself in believing that sexual pleasure will do away with the systematic, racial, and gender issues at play, what I will say is that it is a radical act.
Because of women like Oloni, the discourse on sexual pleasure is becoming expansive. Because of her, when I see my reflection in the mirror, I see a woman worthy of exploring and enjoying her sexual desires. I see a woman untethered to experience the fullness of her sexual pleasure. I see a woman actively embracing the joys of her sexual pleasure.
As I continue the journey to embracing my sexual pleasure and expression, divorcing myself from the patriarchal ideology at play when it comes to my body and its desires, has been a difficult but invaluable lesson in deep self-love and acceptance. While the acceptance does not come easily, the more I tap into the inherent freedom to examine my sexuality, what I like or don’t, the more I embrace myself as an erotic woman. The way I see it, Black women deserve to live a life of sexual pleasure, so why not embrace it?
Written by Njideka Kingsley
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