“Keep it in the bedroom.” This was said to me in the course of a heated discussion I had about why I write about sex. I tried to explain my need to engage with something that is such a fundamental part of social engagement.
My interlocutor retorted that I was doing it for attention and asked whether I had been sexually abused. She rounded off her diatribe by saying I need counselling. This was suggested because I dared to talk about sex in a public forum, because I discussed something as natural as breathing. Would I need counselling if I spoke in a public space about our inability to breathe underwater?
We insist on keeping sexual matters private, as though to let them spill forth would expose who we are far more accurately than is done by our careers, friends, politics or the pages we like on Facebook.
The problem is that sex is not a private matter – not in the way people purport it to be. It is everywhere.
It is easier to get porn on the internet than the latest Disney film. Twitter was recently awash with a debate about Tumi Molekane’s controversial video in which he holds two women on a leash – this is the same man who made Yvonne, a song that condemned rape.
I was sitting in a taxi. The song playing told me, and women around me with bodacious booties, that “I know what to do with that big fat butt”. When I alight at the taxi rank, there will be at least one man who tells me I am just his size. Somewhere, a woman will be stripped in the streets. Somewhere else she will be raped. These acts are sexual and by no means private.
The sentiment that sex is a private matter is echoed in the corridors of power with calls for the closure of centres for abused women because these matters should be handled “at home”, and that men should be the focus in the struggle to end gender-based violence because they are the “protectors of society”. So, if my husband comes home and rapes me every night it is a “private matter”. We have shamed people into silence to such an extent that, when they are sexually assaulted, they dare not speak out.
It goes past the point of talking about sex with some girlfriends over a few glasses of chardonnay. To speak about sex in any form is taboo – unless it’s by those who make billions off it. This has plunged people into a silence that leaves many of them vulnerable.
If we talk about sex, we can question it. For instance, we can question why the penis is considered the centre of all sexual acts when so few women achieve orgasm as a result of penetration. We can question why some people do not believe marital rape exists. We can question the ideas behind child marriages. We can question a world in which the power dynamics between men and women are such that Bill Cosby can be accused of rape after decades of being the epitome of “a good man”. We can discuss what this frustration and aggression men have towards women is about. We could fix things. Yet we continue to talk around the issue of sexual violence, without addressing it directly. “Don’t rape” should be something that does not need to be said.
The question is: Why does the person who has raped not feel that it is rape? Why is it that rapists believe they can rape with impunity? Possibly because of ideas about who is entitled to sex and pleasure, and who is supposed to provide it.
A man I spoke to said: “Every man has raped, whether they admit it or not. There has been a time you have been told to stop, even during the act, and haven’t, or continued to push for it.” This is because men believe it is their right, especially if the woman said yes at any point.
How can we address this issue without talking about the dynamics of pleasure, consent, partnership and enjoyment between two people? I want to change a world in which my university-level daughter speaks to friends who say things such as “sex is for men” while pursuing some of the most difficult degrees on the continent – and doing it like a champ.
So I will write articles on how to go down on a woman so well she forgets her own name. I will produce pieces that talk about the African erotic and the power of the female sex organ before it was tainted by the phallocentric ideas of the Greek tradition.
In the words of SaltNPepper, let’s talk about sex, baby.
Kagure Mugo is the co-founder and full-time curator of HOLAAfrica! (holaafrica.org)