By Abeke Lawal

Photograph by Malick Sidibé

It’s time we saw sex as the truly sacred art that it is. A deep meditation, a holy communion and a dance with the force of creation – Marcus Allen

Sexuality is a concept difficult to define because of its broad nature and because it encompasses a large aspect of human existence. Reduced to its simplest form, it can be described as the way people experience and express themselves sexually. This involves biological, physical, emotional, social or spiritual feelings and behaviours.

In Africa - and I say Africa to include all its cultures and their different ways of handling

female sexuality- sexuality is very complicated for women. The prevalent view that most Africans have on African sexuality is that it is male, heterosexual and straightforward. The belief is that men are sexually moved by what they see, and women should be visually appealing to the male gaze and desire, exhibiting, yet concealing a sexual nature that pleases the male of her (or their) choosing.

It seems as if Africans want their women to be sexual so that men can enjoy them but limited lest the extent of the discovered sexuality threaten the man. We see evidence of this phenomenon in the nature of coming-of -age ceremonies, where women show off their newly matured bodies but may have their clitorises (and/or other parts of their vaginas) cut so that they never feel any sexual pleasure. This may be dismissed as outdated, but there is more than a subtle trace of this repression/expression dilemma in contemporary African societies. This transcends just cultural and societal ideals, as it is present in our adopted western religions, where God and sexuality lie on completely different sides of a huge chasm and must never be associated. Where then does that leave the modern African woman trying to find her sexuality?

As a young girl growing up in Nigeria, I was very interested in sex. I uncovered all the dirty

magazines, erotic novels, sexually-stimulating movies and music videos that all the adult

women around me tried to hide, not just from me but from each other.

They all looked like conforming, 'normal' sexually repressed women on the outside, but they indulged themselves (or at least tried to) on the inside. Such was the hush hush, Madonna versus Jezebel world that I grew up in.

As a child, I never got any open discussions on sexuality. I learned to hide and deny or at least limit any association to sex that I had on the outside, while continuing my exploration on the inside. This of course led to negative sexual experiences, where I was both trying to express my sexuality to the fullest and sweep it under the carpet- with the same person! It led to me being so ashamed to admit to myself why I was slightly attracted to the girl across the long passage, why I indulged in steamy novels that disgusted me while turning me on and why I enjoyed heterosexual sex but would only watch girl-on-girl pornography.

What I was going to discover later (quite recently), through my research, my job and

interaction with many other African women is that sexuality is on a spectrum, it is so diverse,

and it is up to you and you alone to decide which one fits you best. I learnt that I don’t have to choose between a spiritual side, intellectual side, social life and sexual side because all these aspects of me can and do bleed into one another. All parts of our sexuality do not have to be on full display or restrained to prove a point. Additionally, women do not need men or any other person to be sexual. We do not even need actual sex to be sexual!

According to the late musical legend Prince, who was one of Jehovah’s witnesses, “the love of God and the sexual urges we feel are one and the same somehow…. the urge itself is holy”. Another legendary figure with a strong opinion on sexuality was Sigmund Freud, who founded the psychosexual theory of child development. According to him, the libido or sexual desire is very important in development and its restriction or repression leads to a number of negative consequences which may include sexual perversion like paedophilia. The sexual urge itself leads to a desire to proCREATE, to produce something outside of ourselves. It’s why the word libido, which represents sexual energy, also translates to 'life force’. It is indeed very powerful.

When discovering your sexuality, it is important to prepare for the journey adequately. Do not be afraid to look within yourself and accept whatever you see in there.

According to Author Sera Beak, true sexuality is less about the actual act of having sex and

more about surrounding yourself with an ever-simmering sensual energy, pulsing just

underneath your daily life and infusing almost everything you do, so it is very important to

commune with yourself about how you’re going to feel and express your sensual energy.

It is also very important to set boundaries with yourself and other people. Spoken and

unspoken boundaries are very important, but it is necessary to understand that boundaries

begin in the mind- your mind. What are the limits to your search? What parts are others

going to play? What will their limit be? Exactly what part will society and religion play, if any?

When these have been established within you, it will be much easier to draw lines outside

your mind. More importantly, it will give you a thicker skin against naysayers, unsolicited

critics and abusers.

In Africa, we still have a long way to go in discovering and appreciating female sexuality as

constructive and powerful and something to incorporate into everyday life, but here’s hoping

we take giant strides as a continent to get there. Meanwhile, keep being YOU.

Abeke Lawal is a Psychologist and writer from Nigeria. She writes about mental health, gender issues, female empowerment and all the forms of abuse.