To be sensual or not

Wednesday, February 10th, 2021 00:00 |

Uproar, anger, disbelief and even shame seem to be common reactions when it comes to female sensuality.

This is clear with the Silhouette Challenge, a TikTok transformation filter where users of the platform wear less clothing than in the first part of the video— usually in lingerie or nude.

The silhoutte appearance is achieved with the help of a red filter.  Its popularity saw many men say they could never let their wives and mother of their children to take part in such a challenge.

‘Why take part in such a challenge if you already have a man,’ they asked.  Most of them asked why women post such videos if they did not want to be sexualised. 

Yet in a recent video, a Kikuyu doctor is seen advising women not to engage in breast play with their men during sex as they might start producing milk as a result.

The man categorically stated that ‘breasts are children’s food’ and should be, therefore non-sexual in nature.

This video’s claim of delegating women to being asexual childbearing vessels speaks of society’s discomfort with women being sexual.

It begs the question, have we, as Africans always felt so uncomfortable in the face of female sexuality and sensuality? 

Dr Francis Kerre, a don and sociologist at Kenyatta University unequivocally answers in the affirmative.

“Marriage and child bearing were the only two topics that were discussed openly. They were discussed in lieu of sex.

The mechanics of sex were never discussed unless in hushed undertones among friends from the same age set.

It was not something parents discussed with children unless it was to warn them against it,” Dr Kerre shares.

Male gaze

He continues to say most traditional cultural practices, whether practised by both men and women, were in service of the man. Waist beads were worn across Africa.

They were supposed to highlight the curvy figure of a woman and to alert her when she gained weight.

They were also worn to show fertility and to alert men around her she was now a woman and ready for marriage.

While many women are reclaiming the beads for themselves and wearing them to ensure their waists remain trim, it is clear they were traditionally meant to highlight and enhance female sensuality, but only for the male gaze.

Female genital mutilation marked passage from childhood to womanhood and was meant to curb sexual desire in women.

This meant the woman’s ‘baser desires’ were nipped hence the man could marry a virgin bride who would not cheat.

Similarly, the labia elongation process, practised in many African communities, was meant to enhance men’s pleasure. Here, the labia minora was tagged and pulled while green herbs were rubbed on it from when the girl turned eight years to when she was twelve or got her first period.

At times, this practice would continue even in marriage. The elongated labia would swell inwards during intercourse hence providing a tighter passageway for the male phallus hence enhancing male pleasure.

While some researchers in Uganda say the elongated labia were for female pleasure, in other communities it was for the man.

Kunyaza, where the phallus hits the labia until the woman ejaculated, is the only African practice that puts female pleasure at the centre of sex and sexuality.

A largely Rwandan practice that changed its name to kachabali when it crossed over the Ugandan border, dates as far back as the 17th century.

“In such communities, sex and sexuality were more openly discussed, especially among women.

There were even sengas, sexual specialists who taught women all the secrets about sex. They passed this information from generation to generation.

Whereas this can be considered empowering knowledge for the woman, it had a male centric angle to it.

The idea was to be so good at sex so as to keep the man from straying. Moreover, kunyaza was a show and an assertion of masculinity and ego play rather than positive femininity as a man was considered more of a man for having helped her ejaculate.

Those women who could not ejaculate bore the brunt of it as they were called derogatory terms such as mukagatare, which means rock woman,” Dr Kerre expounds.

Maurice Matheka, a psychologist and sexologist, affirms the don’s words saying censorship of female sensuality and sexuality remains to date.

He says many women still do not experience orgasms, yet choose to remain mum about it to avoid enraging their husbands or wound their egos. 

Censorship today

“Our lack of appreciation for female sensuality can be pegged down in part to our Africanism and the oxymoronic idea that women are our pleasure objects, yet any display of pleasure from them such as moans or actual participation in the act portrays the woman as loose. Colonialism also played a huge part in this.

Women in the West were also subjugated and similarly constrained to corsets and dowdy clothes so as not to tempt the man.

A show of the ankles in Victorian times could supposedly cause a man to ‘sin’. This means it was up to the woman to protect the man against his desires.

It is quite interesting to see how men are still afraid of female sensuality and sexuality to date.

As recently as 2014, the British Board of Film Classification joined Australia in banning female ejaculation in porn. Just think about that for a second,” Maurice explains.

He says policing the female body and ensuring it is devoid of all sexuality and sensuality is man’s way of controlling the woman instead of curbing their own desires.

“It is up to each and every woman to own their body and decide what sensuality means to them whether in private or in public, away from the man.

What would be a sexy Valentine’s outfit if men were decentred from the beauty narrative is a question one can start with to discover what sensuality means to them personally.

It means continuously educating those who have outmoded beliefs about the female body and showing them how boxing women in one box, such as mothers devoid of sensuality, and sensual beings devoid of emotions denies women the right to exist in a realm of a large spectrum of possibilities and freedoms that men are freely accorded,” Maurice says in conclusion.

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