One can be cured of many things and the act of ‘self-love’ is supposedly one of them. A Zimbabwean female church goer was ‘cured of chronic masturbation’ by Pastor Walter Magaya after having had engaged in the act four times a day. The idea was that the act of solo stroking was a cardinal sin and the demon of lust needed to go. According to the article the woman has since returned to her husband and is now well with the world.
In all honesty, she was cured more of bad time management more than anything else.
The level at which she masturbated could raise a number of questions however it seems one of them is not ‘what level of sexual frustration within a marriage would lead a woman to engage in such high levels of masturbation?’ Had no one considered, God forbid, that her husband was simply a lacklustre lover or did not have a sex drive that could match hers? It seems to boil down to the notion that a woman who clearly enjoys sex must have some sort of demon residing in her loins, itching to get out. Sex and sexual pleasure are not seen as being part of the woman’s realm of things, best to stick with child birth when thinking of lady parts.
There is also the small matter that Jesus may be watching you and when you bring up masturbation at your next confessional, you will be told to say ‘Hail Mary’s. True story. If confession is not your thing you could stumble onto the Facebook group called ‘Christians Against Addiction’ which reprimands women who masturbate saying that ‘the clitoris is the key to the devil, touch it and you unlock his door’. This thinking tragically leads to one finding a great number of women suffering from ‘itchy vagina’ needing to ease that discomfort in some way or another, be it through better coitus or some other form of release. Despite this seemingly widespread need, speaking to a number of women you discover how these conversations are so taboo and people seldom, even amongst friends, have them.
Earlier this year HOLAA had a Twitter chat on the topic of masturbation entitled #TouchUrself and it seemed like only eight people were engaging. But to look behind the scenes at the Twitter analytics there were tens of thousands of impressions from all around the continent. The women on the continent were not engaging but silently listening. One Ugandan woman spoke to me about how she never had the space to have discussions about sex within her group which later led her one friend to one day blurt out some very disturbing questions about orgasms.
It is no surprise as to why we are not speaking about it. Between being told that bad things will happen if you look between your legs, that we are dirty for trying to find out what is down there and having our hands slapped if caught having a curious poke, we are afraid to even discuss masturbation. You quickly learn where your hands don’t belong. This cloak of silence, reprimands, lack of sexual education and shaming covers the notion of women’s sexual pleasure. There is little to no space to talk about sex and pleasure even within spaces where the matter should be discussed such as bachelorette parties, because at the end of the day ‘these are not your things to play with – they are for your husband.’ However this is not just about the ability to wet the sheets but about ownership of one’s body. Having knowledge of your own body from an early age does not mean that you will instantly run into the night to engage in an orgy. More likely than not, it will give you the ability to recognise and protect yourself from less-than-savoury situations.
When one thinks about sexual assault it does not just come down to a stranger pinning you down and forcing himself on you. It can come in a variety of subtle ways that often women brush aside due to entrenched ideas of bodily ownership. An experience I had when I was much younger had me questioning whether something had actually happened. At the time, the naiveté that I had around sex as well entrenched notions of being a ‘vessel from which to draw pleasure’ had me wondering if what had happened was really all that bad. It most certainly was.
In hindsight I should have dragged him by the genitals to the police station and raised all hell. But this 20/20 vision only comes now after knowing my body and the true logistics of sex, pleasure and consent. This only came after years of deep, insightful conversations with open and amazing women who were not scared to discuss these matters.
This resounding silence is a problem because as Africans we come from a rich sexual history. We come from a history that can still be found in traces such as ssengas and aunties who teach about sexual pleasure and intimacy. We come from a history of the African erotic which celebrated the female sexual organ as an engulfing force rather than passive recipient (see: Osunality). There was an understanding that knowledge is power within sex as is partnership rather than domination.
Now we only want to talk about sex in religious conservative contexts framing it only in the guise of marriage and procreation. Although there is nothing wrong with this it precludes a whole host of aspects that are important within the act of coitus even within the religious. The Song Of Psalms does not speak only of popping out the next generation and the Karma Sutra is an actual religious text.
Pleasure is even within a religious context, paramount. So women should touch themselves. They should know exactly what their bodies are about because it is only then can they truly know pleasure and engage with sex. Furthermore they should do it understanding their role within the sexual experience is not a passive one because, yes their body can and should feel like that when you have sex. And when it does not, there is a problem for everyone involved.