During the AWID Forum, FRIDA will be sharing videos, blogs and reflections by young feminists from around the world in our #YoungFem Voices series.
Below Kagure Mugo from HOLAAfrica! and a FRIDA grantee partner writes about the power and importance of women talking about sexual pleasure.
I love listening to women speak about sex. Not because I am a creepo in a trench-coat but because there is a sense of freedom and power that comes with seeing a group of women talking about what tickles their fancy and wets their appetites. Recently myself and two friends started a monthly group where women gathered to talk about what they like in bed. Or don’t like. Or should like but don’t because they haven’t been able to google how to do it properly.
When you talk about sex with other people you learn things, and knowledge is power. Power is orgasms and orgasms are what gravity and oxygen are made of. (I am sure someone somewhere is working on the science of that). And seeking your pleasure is a radical and incredibly important act.
In world finally speaking about what it means to negotiate safe sex within a society rife with rape culture, the conversation is often missing a key element: pleasure.
The question being: once you say yes, what then? Why is it that we feel it is important to speak about consent but not about what comes after consent is given? We must make a connection between a woman who can not express her sexual needs and wants, and a woman who can not express that she has needs at all. Notions and ideas that surround who deserves sex and pleasure lead to ideas of who can dictate when sex should be had.
Speaking about pleasure when it comes to sex sex is not just a fun pastime with friends, but is very closely linked to ideas of sexual health and sexual agency.
This extends to conversations about sex within Sexual Reproductive Health spaces, especially within the African continent. When you are the only one speaking about pleasure on a panel about sexual health, you often become ‘the party girl of the progressive world’ trying to have fun before the serious issues like FGM, high prevalence of HIV and AIDS and sexual assault is tackled.
And socially, this is even worse. For some reason, as Africans we come across as sexually conservative. However, the truth of the matter is we have an extremely rich sexual past and present. Ideas and notions of pleasure are not just confined to the urban socialites in the major cities. There is a strong cultural and rural element to it as well.
In a paper by Nkiru Nzegwu entitled Osunality, she discusses the pre-colonial notions of the African Erotic. The resultant European/Western conception of eroticism underwrites theoretical, literary and fictional narratives of sexuality from a phallocentric position that emphasises and legitimizes the privileging of men’s needs, desires and fantasies.
It is from a European context that we have derived notions such as the ‘Madonna and the Whore’ where a woman can only embody purity or be frigid when it comes to sex. Historically, we have a notion of women being powerful sexual beings on the African continent. But we have come a long way from this powerful history. Today we have phenomenons like ‘dry vagina sex’, where within South Africa women are putting all sorts of devious devices and ridiculous remedies up there. We live in a society where women are stripped in the streets, and women have to protest the president on the 10 year anniversary of his rape trial. We live in academic spaces where rape is so rife that it triggers nationwide protests.
Tackling these issues takes action but also conversations, among women who can then take those ideas into their private spaces and their thinking.
There are women out there doing just that. Guys W F***ked is an ‘anti-slut shaming’ podcast I am in love with. Closer to home there is Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women which chronicles the sexcapades of women whilst Naija Desires sells sex toys and adds a dose of online knowledge. Dr T based in South Africa is a sexual rights advocate and medical doctor who has online and offline conversations whilst on HOLAAfrica! queer women speak about strap-ons and even have podcasts about faking orgasms.
HOLAAfrica! has done a series on safe sex and pleasure entitled #PleaseHer which has included a series of dialogues, a workshop and a manual on safe sex and pleasure that tackles, kink, consent and even sex toys. It has been all about having women speak out, document and live their sexual rights.
Speaking about sex within multiple frameworks and contexts is important. It cannot simply be a conversation wrapped in human rights jargon with a side of heightened violence. The ability to speak about one’s wants and desires speaks to the idea that a woman has sexual agency. It goes into the realms of being able to control one’s sexual interactions – be they good or bad. To know that you have, as a woman, body autonomy.