The first time it happened to me, I had no idea what it was and I felt humiliated by my body. I was 23. The shame I felt took me back to my bed-wetting 7-year-old self but the persistent pleasure derived from this mysterious, odorless, towel requiring and completely arbitrary new skill left me confused and wary of it. My partner at the time, a fool in hindsight, wasn’t so keen on it and not long after this discovery, we weren’t too keen on each other.
In Rwanda, Kunyaza, the culturally-sanctioned sexual practice that facilitates female ejaculation or what is called “squirting” in the west, has not only been practised, but encouraged between partners for centuries. The men in the Great Lakes region nations of Uganda, Burundi, Congo and Tanzania have long been inducing female orgasms, using this relatively modern trend in western sexual consciousness to the degree that frequent female ejaculators are colloquially referred to as shami ryiikivu or “put a bucket under her”.
Written content on the compelling subject of traditional sexual practices in African societies, is few and far between. But scratching the surface does produce results and, for me, begs the question how do Africans have sex?
A 2012 short film called How Do Africans Kiss? by Zina Saro-Wiwa sought to ask similar questions, but most of the talking heads in the 11 minute documentary, concluded that Africans don’t really have a kissing culture. Regardless of whether this is true or not, the subject intrigues me. In the historical context of sexual practices before The Bold and The Beautiful popularized the French Kiss in black communities, could it be true that kissing was un-African? Are contemporary bedroom staples like blow-jobs and cunnilingus (or the now mainstream annilingus) included in Africa’s oral history?
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In the globalised world, sex has not been excluded from the universal Internet of Things. While the Internet can be blamed for enabling the dark side of the business of sex such as child pornography and human trafficking, it has also, quite surreptitiously and unwittingly, facilitated the egalitarian consumption of pornography for modern humans, which isn’t necessarily bad. No longer confined to the attentions and trousers of dirty old men and adolescent boys, pornography is so ubiquitous that it has seemingly transcended its characteristic depravity. I want to declare it dull but that would be diminishing its impact on our globalised society’s sexual practices and attitudes.
Globally, Cosmopolitan Magazine has played its part in liberating women’s ideas about their own sexuality, but also done a little damage by sexualising sex too much. Its monthly sex features have a very patriarchal, physical and goal-orientated approach to having sex.
Traditional Nguni cultural practices such as ukumetsha, where teenage boys and girls would be allowed to engage in sexual play that didn’t involve penetration but rather thigh sex and genital stimulation, are no longer known or practised in urban black communities. These practices encouraged the understanding of developing bodies. Exploring the pleasure of youthful sexuality was not marred by the Victorian attitude of shame towards sex.
Today, the way urban children and young adults understand sex is largely influenced by media and pornography, where women are slut-shamed just by virtue of their gender and their bodies used as literal cum buckets by the perpetually virile brand of masculinity that pornography sells.
In its popular format, pornographic sex is an intrinsically externalised and physical-ised form of stimulation, all about performance and reaching the goal of orgasm. If a child’s understanding of sex is realized through hours of consuming pornography, bar the misogyny-training and a hazing brand of masculinity, when that child becomes a sexually active adult, his or her understanding of sex will largely exist within a framework that is devoid of the love in love making. The emotional, spiritual, mental and even innocuous path to being a fully realized sexual being is something that exists outside our culture’s dominant cultural discourse around sex. This is problematic.
While porn can be fun and stimulating for couples and individuals to watch, if not supplemented by an entirely different approach to understanding sex and sexuality, its consumption has the capacity to inhibit the parameters of a society’s sexual culture to what pornographic ideology propagates, which is mostly violent against women and unrepresentative of men.
If we can use the Internet to broaden the current scope of our sexual discourse, if we can use it to reimagine sex and sexuality, to include material that teaches closeted and proud porn consumers the sexual practices of different ancient and contemporary cultures, then the culture in our bedrooms stands a chance against being pornographic i.e. boring and conventional.
This article first appeared in South Africa’s City Press newspaper and was reused by the author on her personal blog. It has been republished here with her permission.