Men are taught to prioritize themselves. Women are taught to prioritize men.
As I was scrolling through Twitter the other day, I saw the quote above. I suddenly became still for a moment, pondering the complexities and truthfulness of the quote. In just a few words/sentences, someone managed to capture the essence of how boys and girls are raised differently in Nigeria. It is interesting the things I choose to commit to memory, so the quote has stuck with me because it encompasses everything we are taught as we are raised and socialized in Nigeria. Therefore, it is not surprising that this quote was at the back of my mind when I read the article “Bedroom Etiquette for Young, but Sexually Experienced African Women” by Loelah. Loelah masterfully captures the plight of many sexually active Nigerian women:
I would like to know what is considered sexually appropriate. Is it alright for me to show him what I like, maybe not verbally but with the movements of my body? … Is it ok for me give him head like I enjoy it or do I have to pretend to have never handled a penis before? … Basically, all I am asking is : Should I honour who I have come to know and love as myself or should I honour what I have been taught that I have to be?
These questions are neither new nor out of the ordinary. They are simple, but penitent questions that every young woman must ask, if not necessarily answer, as she comes into sexual awareness: “How do I maintain the allure of innocence and chastity while still expressing myself as a sexual being?” These are two opposing dichotomies that are nearly impossible to reconcile. It harkens back to the Madonna/Whore complex and all the children it has spawned: Virgin vs. Slut; Home-Trained vs. Wayward; New vs. Used; Wife material vs. Non-wife material; etc. A lot of people have discussed the hypocrisy in the stifling of female sexual agency while male “promiscuity” is, if not explicitly encouraged, certainly condoned. Chimamanda Adichie touches on this in her TED Talk “We Should All be Feminists.” It is in this suppressive Nigerian environment that Loelah’s questions expose the inhumanity of Nigerian patriarchy. I am not going to spend much time discussing the Madonna/Whore complex [that is a topic for another day, which incidentally has been discussed multiple times before], so I am going to focus on the non-reciprocal nature of male and female sexual interactions in Nigeria.
I have talked about sex with quite a few people, men and women. While I cannot claim supreme knowledge of the inner workings of EVERY sexual interaction in Nigeria, I can share the patterns I have realized in the few conversations I have had. In one of these conversations, I was talking to Ken.* Ken was explaining how he likes to receive blow jobs: “My ex-girlfriend used to give me blowjobs all the time, but whenever she asked me to do likewise for her, I said no.” Now, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Ken liking blowjobs or the fact that he found someone willing to perform the act on him. The problem is his unwillingness/adamant refusal to pleasure his partner in the way she wants or has asked to be pleasured.
In another conversation with a different friend, Mike,* he talked about how one lady he was having sex with was too “aggressive.” Being the curious person I am, I asked him to explain what he meant. “She asked for what she wanted,” he exclaimed. My mouth dropped open in shock. Eh … wait … what … “I am not understanding” (Insert Abraham Attah’s “Beasts of No Nation” meme here). To make everything clearer for myself, I asked whether HE asked for what he wanted and he said yes. I then asked if he was aggressive for telling his partner how to please him. I went further to ask him to explain exactly what is aggressive about asking for what one wants. He had no logical explanation when confronted with his hypocrisy.
Finally he muttered, “but, she is a woman.”
That my friends is the crux of the matter in the non-reciprocal nature of male-female sexual relationships in Nigeria. Women are not supposed to be sexual beings. They are not expected to have sexual desires that they want fulfilled. They are to maintain subservience and remain demure during sex, while the man takes the lead. They are not to remotely hint at knowing certain styles or exhibit a wish to explore/push the boundaries of sex or the man will look at them as “wild.” Even with the penis in their vagina, they are still to exhibit a certain level of virginal purity in order to enhance the man’s enjoyment of the act. In other words, women are taught to prioritize men’s sexual needs while men are taught to prioritize their sexual needs.
I doubt that the average Nigerian man battles with all the questions Loelah asks herself when it comes to how much of her sexual agency to own: “will she think I am wayward if I tell her I like getting my dick sucked? Will it be appropriate for me to tell her I know what a vagina is? Will presenting a condom make her believe I am a loose man?” I do not believe Nigerian men ask these questions of themselves because they have not been taught to suppress and/or be ashamed of their sexuality. Women, on the other hand, must navigate the minefield that is the patriarchal bullshit expectation of virginal purity.
Women are full autonomous sexual beings. They should not be afraid to assert their sexuality or to celebrate the fact that they love sex.
I say this to women: Your sexuality is not a crime and nobody should use it as a tool to shame/oppress you. When engaging in any sexual act, do it because YOU WANT to. You should know that giving a man a blowjob does not necessarily mean he is required to reciprocate the favor (he is responsible for what he wants to do and you cannot control that). However, you CAN control what you do. You should not be having sex with a selfish partner. Any man that outrightly refuses to attempt to pleasure you should not be within a hundred feet of your naked body. Any man that expects modesty from you while you are both having sex should be kicked out of bed ASAP. If anyone refuses to worship wholeheartedly at the temple that is your body and refuses to give as much as he is taking, my dear, it is time to go find new worshippers. Celebrate your body. Celebrate your sexuality/love of sex. Don’t let anyone shame you for it.