A team from Nigerian entertainment channel Battabox recently hit the streets of Lagos to find out what ordinary Nigerians thought of sex toys. Most, if not all, of the respondents said they would not buy one, that sex toys were wrong and against the teachings of the Bible. Only one man seemed comfortable with the idea, his reason being that sex toys are better and safer that having sex with multiple partners.
Listening to the responses, I was reminded of an even more recent interview with Nollywood actress Chika Oguine in which she was asked “Do you believe in vibrators?” to which she replied “Why do I have to get a vibrator when there are so many able men out there?” Chika’s response is in line with the general attitude Nigerians have towards sex toys, at least in public. Personally I do not understand why anyone would compare men to vibrators; men are not machines. How many men can vibrate at 12 different settings? Taking people’s public responses at face value, Nigerians are extremely confident about their skills in the bedroom.
Even taking into account the unlikelihood of getting most Nigerians to talk candidly in public about sex toys, the Battabox presenter’s conclusion that Nigerians are hiding from the truth is one I am inclined to agree with. As far as I know sex toys are quite popular with Nigerians, judging from the number of shops selling them. It is not strange to see adverts for sexual aids and toys in the pages of newspapers. As is the case with most things to do with sex, our public face and the reality are two different matters: pious in public, fascinated, titillated, even obsessed with sex, in private. As the shop owner in the Battabox video confesses, while turnover might not be encouraging due to “the problem of religion”, he’s been in business since 2008. Nigerians are not renowned for persisting with business ideas that don’t pay.
I am aware of at least three shops that sell sex toys in Abuja alone, and one in Lagos, and I think it’s reasonable to assume that their continued existence is a sign that there is a market for toys here. Intimate Pleasures is one that also operates online. The amazing blog Adventures in the Bedroom of African women has an interview with Mrs Iheoma Obibi aka Madam Butterfly, the woman behind Intimate Pleasures. Besides sex toys, the company also provides a handful of related services: bridal showers, wedding anniversary services, and counselling. They also host sexual health sessions.
I had the opportunity to attend one of Madam Butterfly’s “Wellness and Intimacy” afternoon sessions in Abuja last year. True to its name, it was an intimate session with about a dozen participants. Sex toys were displayed and bought, of course, but the session was also a crash course in sex education. Sex education in Nigeria is mostly abysmal. As young girls in secondary school we were told by female teachers to close our legs and not let any boys touch us, and most of the girls in my set promised to remain virgins until they got married—that was the extent of our “sex education”. I am not sure how many kept their promise.
That “Wellness and Intimacy” afternoon was very informative; it provided a comfortable and safe space in which to discuss sex without worrying about the next person judging us for engaging in pre-marital sex (although some of the women present were married). Even so, those of us with questions we weren’t comfortable voicing in the small group could write them on bits of paper for Madam Butterfly to respond to without revealing who wrote what. The great thing about that was that there was a lot of input from the other women as Madam Butterfly responded, so each question opened up a discussion. I have been in few situations in Nigeria where I was surrounded by women speaking as frankly about sex. The experience was liberating, and though I didn’t buy any sex toys afterwards I did learn a lot.
According to a sex toy merchant I spoke with, married couples are the frequent customers, with men buying sex toys for their wives. I like to think this means adults have no problem learning and exploring their sexuality, even if they’re doing so in ways they know other Nigerians might frown upon. They just don’t like talking about it in public.