Women need to talk about it
Recently I gave a talk about the need for African women to own their sexual narratives. My argument was that they needed to add to the conversation about sex, because often it only seemed to be happening about them and for them – not with them.
The presentation got some good questions, some strange ones, and then there was this gem: “Are you in porn?”
Bar the fact that nothing about me even whispered “small-screen sex siren”, I had, at the beginning of the panel discussion, introduced myself and what I did. The description had made me sound like a 27-year-old version of a soccer mom. I also passed on the information that I was accompanied to the talk by my lovely partner, because I was more nervous than a cow in a steak house.
This, however, did not stop people from coming up to me after my time on the panel, to try to offer me a little more than the doughnuts and tea that were being served during the break. One person even offered a threesome. Thank you, but I would rather have the doughnut.
The experience indicated one thing: as a woman, I could not actively speak about pleasure in a public forum without automatically being seen as a sex worker or some sort of sexually insatiable being who could be approached for sex on a whim. By choosing to speak on the important issue of women’s sexual pleasure, it meant I was up for grabs, financially or socially.
It is this perception that allows women to be shamed into silence about sex; to some extent, even to be wary about discussing it with each other. The stigma that surrounds ideas of women openly talking about sex diminishes their ability to navigate and have agency in the sexual act.
The problem does not stop at notions of pleasure. Even as far as safe sex goes, there are women who do not want to carry condoms with them or have overt conversations about contraceptive protection, because they do not want to appear as though they get too much sex. Worse is the thinking that contraception is a man’s job, as if we were passive participants in the process – until it’s time to have babies.
There are a lot of ideas about sex going around and, right now, porn has the monopoly, as do those movies that show “insta-orgasms”. With women being shamed into silence about sex and pleasure, it is no wonder that a recent Cosmopolitan survey found that only 57% of women are having regular orgasms. This figure is coupled with another: up to 67% are faking them. This is up from 45% in previous surveys. On top of that, a 2005 study of university students in the United States found women just as likely as men to mislabel the clitoris on a diagram.
More research showed that, although some women were getting regular orgasms, 72% of them had partners who did not wait for them to experience la petit mort before packing it in for the night. This directly addresses societal views of pleasure between men and women; namely that pleasure is not a thing for women.
So if you can speak on female pleasure you must be some sort of fiend who can be offered sex over savoury snacks. You surely cannot be the average woman in a relationship, whose wild day out includes quietly reading in cafés and who spends most of her time trying to find her glasses and staring at a computer screen. This is a problem: it is these very women who need to have these conversations, because they are wives, girlfriends and lovers. They are the ones having sex.
Furthermore, in an increasingly hypersexualised world, women need to be able to take control of the way sex is spoken about and framed. When you live in a world where women’s sex is used to sell everything from rice to insurance, we need to add something to the conversation.
One day I will be the 40-year-old version of a suburban mother who has a minivan carrying the greasy handprints of small children. I plan to go to PTA meetings and hold dinner parties with arranged seating. I plan to judge severely any dinner guest who does not bring an appropriate vintage of wine. I plan to buy (yes, buy) cakes for charity bake sales and will still attend church every Sunday. I plan to still look for my glasses, even when they are sitting on my face.
But most of all, I plan to still know about sex and pleasure. The fact that I am an average woman speaking about pleasure will not be out of the norm, because it is the average woman who is having sex – not just porn stars.
Kagure Mugo is the co-founder and curator of the HOLAAfrica! blog