Why Demonize Pleasure?

When I was a child, I asked my mother why the sea “boils.” The wording of my question set the stage for the magnificent lie that was told to me in answer; there’s a great fire under the sea which makes it boil. This didn’t sit well with me. A body of water that large sitting on fire? The fire would definitely go out. I said this, and my mum deadass told me that this fire doesn’t quench. It’s a different kind of fire, made specifically for the sea. I believed this for years until I read The Magic School Bus series and learned that the boiling was called waves and was caused by wind. 

This is one of the many harmless untruths our parents told us. Harms nobody, and it’s just a little bit of fun to have at their kids’ expense. When does the untruth become harmful though? At what point in time do our parents acknowledge to themselves that my child is old enough to be told the facts of life as they are – no matter how mundane – not sheathed in some shoddy half-truth?

My mum called me some time ago, sounding very scandalised and agitated. She’d discovered that my younger sister who’s nineteen masturbates, and is probably having sex. I had no reaction to the information because, at nineteen, I’d been masturbating for years, and had already had sex. (Unknown to my mum, of course) I failed to see how my sister’s actions were out of the ordinary.

My lack of response was baffling to my mum and she asked did you hear what I said? I said your sister has started fingering herself! I remembered then that I was supposed to be scandalised too because I’m a chaste young woman who avoids all things sexual. After all, it’s what she taught me.

My sister and mum came to see me and I was told to advise my younger sister because things were getting out of hand. The most hilarious part of that whole story is that my mother asked my sister to be more like me. Look at your older sister. Do you think she doesn’t know how to chase men? But you’ve never heard me fighting with her over the issue of men because she’s waiting for marriage. My sister and I exchanged a look and nearly burst into giggles on the spot because first of all, my sister knows my ass is gay. I ain’t got time for these niggas. Also, who’s waiting for what? Ei.

To prevent us from having sex, they tell us horror stories. Or, they exaggerate the truth so much that even the truth begins to doubt itself. I was eleven, maybe, when I figured out that having sex with a boy didn’t automatically mean pregnancy. I was about thirteen when my body started to make demands of me that I didn’t understand. The dull ache between my legs happened often, especially when I thought about this person in particular. I wanted to talk about it with my mum but I instinctively knew that it was a bad idea. So, I talked to people my age about it. People, like me, who were also trying to figure out what was going on with their bodies. Remember the adage about one blind person leading another blind person? Many of the mistakes I made at that age could have been avoided if someone older than me, most preferably the person I trusted the most, had told me the facts the way they were. 

Adolescents figure out the lies soon enough, and since they don’t trust adults to tell them the truth anymore, they seek the answers from sources that aren’t as knowledgeable as they are perceived to be. 

I don’t think sex in itself is the problem. The problem is any carnal pleasure experienced outside of the confines of marriage. Watching porn, reading erotica, masturbating and anything else which alludes to sex and the pleasure it brings is problematic. 

Even for married people, some churches teach “prescribed” ways to have sex. I’ve read before in a church’s pamphlet that anal sex, even within marriage, is sinful. I’ve heard a pastor preach on the radio once that blowjobs are not godly and giving a woman head is giving her control over your life. I stared at the radio set for an entire minute because ei.

It’s not with sexual pleasure alone. Anything that brings gratification is something that African societies latch on to and preach against because how dare you enjoy yourself? All the jokes and memes about African mothers should give you a hint that there’s something wrong. Your mother doesn’t understand why you’re sleeping or watching TV in the middle of the day. Leisure is almost a foreign notion. 

One of the things people tell me is that moderation is necessary and discipline is key. I agree. Too much of anything can be problematic. However, moderation exists because indulgence exists. A person can only be moderate about an activity if they do it in the first place. So why give them hell for doing it?

If pleasure isn’t the problem, then why is it a problem to masturbate? Sex with one’s self has its problems yes, but it’s safer than other forms of sex, especially for a teenager.  My mother’s reaction to her discovery of my sister’s masturbation didn’t surprise me. However, it baffles me that my mum still expects a nineteen-year-old woman to have no sexual inclinations. My sister is being taught like I was taught, that she must not masturbate, that she must not have sex, and that she must not even think about sex.  So, what should she do when she’s horny? 

After my mum had finished her spiel, I suggested that perhaps instead of being angry, she could have a talk with my sister about sex and its possible consequences at her age. She could also teach my sister about protection.  I was taken aback by the vehemence with which my mum rejected the suggestion. Apparently, the simple act of talking with the girl and teaching her about protection is endorsing my sister’s actions and she refuses to be the one to lead her down the path of sin. 

“So, you’d rather deal with the consequences when they come rather than teach her how to prevent them in the first place?” My mum is yet to answer this question.

It’s imperative that a person explore themselves so they know what pleases them. It makes for much more pleasurable sex with partners because you know what you want and you can be vocal about it. 

Desire is a natural thing, and desire is slaked by pleasure.  When we get thirsty, we drink water. When we’re hungry, we eat. When we’re tired, we rest. When we’re horny, we fuck. If there’s no one to have sex with, we masturbate. It is a natural response. Then again, it’s not news that we demonise sex because we find a way to demonise anything at all that brings humans pleasure. It’s like there’s a scale for measuring gratification and nobody is allowed past a certain level. 

The culture of denying that pleasure exists and it is a human thing to seek it, is causing ramifications that we don’t readily see. It permeates other aspects of our lives so subtly that we don’t realise it. People are afraid to ask for pleasure. A person may want something very much and would never speak up because they fear the response to their request. We’re afraid to invest in our own pleasure because deep down, we think we’re not allowed to enjoy ourselves this much.

People are afraid to let you know they’re having fun. There is subconscious guilt associated with enjoying one’s self that it almost doesn’t occur to a person to be vocal about their pleasure. Speaking up only happens after something goes wrong. Sometimes, this translates into sex. There’s no feedback from your partner; all you’re doing is touch and go and hoping one of the touches does the trick. How do I do what you like if you don’t tell me what you like?

Another result of this, which I am very familiar with, is performance and pretence. I like sex and its related activities. I’ve been having sex for years. My mother, however, would swear that I’m a straight virgin who has never masturbated because I am not ready for the drama that would ensue if she found out that neither of those things was true. I haven’t told her explicitly any lies, but I haven’t felt the need to correct her assumptions, which is still lying. I am an entirely different individual around her, and she believes this person to be me when it is all an act. Why do I have to pretend around the person who is supposed to know me the most, outside of myself? I’ve become a liar and I don’t want to be one. All the performance and pretence get exhausting. However, it’s what I have to do if I want to avoid endless drama.

Me, I told my sister the plain truth. You’re going to get horny. There’s nothing you can do about it. Sex is good but it has consequences you may not be equipped to deal with. I won’t say don’t do but I also won’t say do. You decide for yourself.  If you want to go ahead and do it, here are the ways to ensure that you’re safe. Also, wash your hands before you masturbate so you don’t give yourself an infection. And try to be quiet when you touch yourself so Mummy doesn’t burst in on you and call me again about how you’re fingering yourself because I really can’t deal with more of her drama. And for shege reasons, I added; get a tube of lube.

I think it is much simpler to tell each other the truth that this is fun, yes, but it could also be problematic because… Exaggerating the effects of anything in the hope of deterring people from doing it hasn’t proven very effective. When we have healthy, open discussions about pleasure, our society is going to be healthier and happier. The performances, the lies, would stop. All the barriers we put up because we fear judgement would fall slowly. It won’t happen overnight, but imagine if you told your kids the truth when they asked you a question instead of exaggerating the truth, or making up horror stories to scare them? Think of the long-term effects that would have when they have their own kids, and those kids have their own kids. That’s a good place to start.

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