The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah is a bold, exceptional and well-curated book about…wait for it…the sex lives of African women within and outside the continent. I say bold because we do not talk about sex where I am from. The African woman is not expected to be a sexual being, much less be open about her desires. The orgasm gap exists in heterosexual relationships because as a result of years of conditioning, male satisfaction is prioritized in sexual encounters. Women are not taught to assertively seek their own pleasure in the bedroom and sex ends after the man reaches an orgasm.
“If I don’t cum the next time I have sex, I’m going to charge the guy $100. You cum and then you pass out? What about me? I might as well get paid for it.”
Shrouding sex in shame and guilt does not prevent people from having sex, it causes them to approach it wrongly. The resultant effect is that people have unsafe and mediocre sex because they do not have enough sex education or people to talk to about their curiosities and problems. A young girl who is being abused may not able to seek help from older women because she may either not know that what is happening to her is wrong or fear that she will be blamed and punished for being a victim.
The Sex Lives of African Women is divided into three sections: Self-discovery, Freedom and Healing. These three elements are significant in ensuring a healthy (sex) life. Self-discovery ultimately leads to being true to the self you have found and accepted. Once you have done the work of knowing and loving yourself, you are able to have meaningful relationships. Knowing who you are and what pleases you affords you the freedom to then seek out like-minded people and relationships in which you can thrive. It also grants you the boldness to leave situations that do not serve and nurture you.
I initially thought the healing section should have come first, or at least before freedom. I felt you had to process and deal with all types of traumas, and unlearn the societal, religious and patriarchal standards that have been laid down for the African woman before you discover a self that is free of all those influences. This view in itself may not be wrong, but I am gradually learning that both healing and self-discovery are life-long journeys, and therefore you cannot hold off living authentically until the work is done. You may not be alive to live the pleasurable life you absolutely deserve. Moreover, the placement of the sections did not in any way take away from the messages they carried. You leave this reading experience utterly convinced that you too can step into your sexual power.
Through the recounted realities of these women, the author creates a well of knowledge on sex, sexuality and different types of relationships. I’m not going to lie, some of these concepts sounded wild to me as I was hearing them for the first time. But what knowledge does is it opens up your mind, and with open-mindedness comes the ability to hold space for people who are brave enough to live their truths. Eventually, you find the courage to also live yours with openness, respect, honesty and consent.
What impressed me most about this book was how diverse the stories were. No matter who you are – young, old, cis/trans or gender non-conforming, hetero/lesbian/bi/pansexual, polyamorous, monogamous, Christian, Muslim, spiritual or not – or what you’re into, you are bound to find a relatable spot. There is a wide array of themes that cause the reader to smile, laugh, scream, sigh, remember and even tear up. Some of the experiences are light and enjoyable while others are dark and heavy. Stories have the most impact when you genuinely feel like they could be yours and so the importance of such representation was not at all lost on me.
The honest, raw and witty language the book is written in reinforces its enjoyability. It reads like conversations with your very cool big sister. I do have to warn that some triggering subjects are discussed here. Every day, we hear of horrendous acts of injustice being committed against women around the world. Hearing our sisters speak up about how they are dealing with racism, rape, molestation, female genital mutilation, physical, verbal and emotional abuse in relationships helps us find within us the strength to embark on our own healing journeys.
You do not approach this book as you would any other collection of short stories. Each of these stories causes you to pause and ponder. They are designed to help liberate the African woman, every woman, from the shackles of abuse, religion and patriarchy that cause us to approach sex and sexuality with fear and timidity. Our bodies are our own and we are at liberty to make all the choices concerning it. You take time to savour a book like this. You learn from the mistakes shared within. You buy one for your sister, another for your best friend and save a copy for when your daughter is old enough to read it.
Thirty-two African women, just like us, audaciously sharing their good and bad experiences with sex, sexuality and relationships teach us that it is okay to have these conversations. Not only is it okay, but it is also imperative that we do. This is why this book is so important. I felt an immense form of gratitude towards the author while reading this book. As an unmarried, Ghanaian woman born into a deeply religious home and society who has not quite unlearned the shame and guilt that is attached to sex, reading this book affirmed me in ways that cannot be fully expressed with words. Following these women’s journeys through self-discovery, freedom and healing, I felt seen and heard. I found the courage to let go of the negative thoughts and attitudes I had towards sex and sexuality and to love freely. So, thank you, Nana Darkoa.
I hope Nana Darkoa writes another one featuring more women who live in Africa and interviews me for it because I have been empowered to share my story. I cannot recommend this book enough.