This is the first part of a series. In fact it is a follow-up post to three “prequel” articles I translated from Causette magazine’s 49th edition. These articles focus on the subject of virginity, but I don’t think this subject can be adequately covered without discussing sex as a whole.
Sex* is a thing that happens. It is neither inherently good nor inherently evil, though the situation under which it takes place could easily make it one or the other, or still, neither. Some people have sex, and some people don’t have sex. Some people have sex a lot, others, less. I don’t think their decisions to have sex (or not) necessarily define them as human beings. Sex is only one aspect of life, albeit a somewhat significant one, considering that it can result in a new human being.
From ads with airbrushed women in “suggestive” positions, and discreet posters in Abuja promising solutions to impotence, to “love scenes” in films and not-at-all-subtle innuendos in popular music videos, down to billboards in my city saying “HIV is real, abstinence is the key”, sex is everywhere. When I was younger, I was able to ignore all these references to the birds and the bees because I figured the “sex” question was something that sorted itself out neatly in adulthood. How wrong I was. While I have currently resolved my position on sex, the process of getting there was a long and sinuous one that I have decided to document so I can organize it. It is important for me to organize my thoughts because in our “globalized” world, and especially thanks to the porn industry, the advertising industry (which sometimes acts as a subsection of the porn industry) and Islamo-Judeo-Christianity, we receive a wide range of conflicting ideas about sex, including:
- Sex and sexual thoughts are evil and must be avoided at all costs
- If you’re not having sex, there’s something seriously wrong with you
- Have sex with as many people as possible
- Have sex with only your husband (there is generally less emphasis on men staying faithful to their wives)
- Women are not supposed to enjoy sex – sex is just an inconvenience they have to endure from their husbands (in order to produce children)
- If you’re in a relationship, it is not a relationship unless you’re having sex
- Boys/men are supposed to prove their virility (to whom exactly, I don’t know) by having sex with as many different girls as they can.
- Simultaneously, girls are supposed to remain virgins until they are married. One therefore wonders whom these males on a quest to prove their virility are supposed to sleep with.
- It is a man’s obligation to impress a woman with his sexual prowess
- If a woman wears “revealing” clothing it means she really wants someone to sleep with her – even if she doesn’t say so explicitly. In fact, women never say they want to have sex. In fact, if they say “no” to sex, they are just fronting; they secretly mean “yes”
- Sex outside of marriage is bad
- Sex outside of a relationship is bad
- Sex is just plain bad
- Sex is good
- Sex is great
- Sex is the best thing that ever happened to anyone.
- Anyone who expresses any reservations about/criticisms of casual sex is obviously either repressed or a religious fanatic
- If people have sex without being married, they have committed the sin of fornication and are destined for Hell
- You are supposed to satisfy your every sexual urge, otherwise this is repression and repression is bad
- It is imperative that you have sex with your partner before you are married – like test driving a car (because people are cars)
- It is “old-fashioned” to wait until marriage before having sex.
- If a man wants sex, it is a woman’s primary duty to give it to him
- It is ok for 13-year-old teenagers to have sex – just educate them about safe sex and let them explore their newly-discovered sexuality
- 13-year-old children having sex? Ehn?! What were their parents doing? God forbid!
This list could go on for a while, but I won’t let it. I feel sorry for young people today who have to navigate this mess. I felt sorry for myself when I was trying to navigate this mess. I put it off for as long as I could, but I finally had to confront it when a guy who claimed he was my boyfriend1 decided that we were going to have sex whether I wanted to or not. I didn’t want to. I was certain about that. And if he had bothered to ask me why – which he didn’t – I would have said “because I simply don’t want to and it only works when both parties want to”. I’ve come a long way since then, but this encounter jumpstarted the observation, research, and self-interrogation that led me to my current place today. So here we go…
In Amherst, Massachusetts where I lived for four years on a university campus, people couldn’t seem to make up their minds about sex. Ostensibly, since it was a “liberal” campus, everyone’s views on sex were accepted, as long as we were all agreed that rape was bad. So, if you believed that no one should have sex, ever, that was welcome. If you believed that everyone should have sex all the time, that was also welcome. And if you fell anywhere in between, then your views were also welcome. The important thing was to respect everyone else’s views. Which sounded alright in theory, but since no practical advice was proffered on how exactly this respect was supposed to manifest itself, what actually happened was a palpable but hushed resentment of anyone who didn’t agree with your own views on sex, sexual tension if it ever existed. The “Christians” condemned the fornicators in their prayer meetings and casual conversations amongst themselves; the “progressives” smugly scoffed at the “conservatives” for their “backwards” views on sex; the people who were not sexually active for religious or other personal reasons, but who weren’t vocal about their views scurried along, quietly very uncomfortable; the LGBQT community intermittently interjected into the conversation that wasn’t really happening by reminding everyone that not all sex is heterosexual; the asexuals and sexually frustrated quietly seethed at everyone. There were free condoms in every dorm bathroom that emptied out slowly or quickly depending on the dorm in question; Saturday night was officially the time for drunken sex to happen, and many a student walked into their room at night to find their roommate care-freely engaged in coitus (sexiled was the official term); some people had really loud sex that everyone else on their corridor could hear since all the dorms had thin walls (I often wondered about that: where they oblivious? Boasting? Indifferent?). While the mêlée did puzzle me a lot, it didn’t bother me as much as the “culture of silence” did.
There were many alleged cases of rape on my campus2. I say alleged because I never witnessed any of these rapes, and unless a rape kit is used within 72 hours, it is particularly hard to prove rape. But just because I use the word, it doesn’t mean that I don’t believe that people raped and were raped. Still, it was always difficult to know what actually happened when an accusation was made. To my knowledge, all the reported rapes at my university (while I was there) were situations where boys raped girls. A large number of these rapes occurred when the girl was too drunk to give (informed) consent, and sometimes she was straight up unconscious. In a few cases, the boys were also drunk and therefore not in the right state of mind to think of asking for consent. However, alcohol was not always a catalyst. In one story of violation that made it to national news, neither party was under the influence. But the factor that was common to all these occurrences was the school administration’s unbroken tendency to sweep them all under a giant carpet of silence. Girls were “advised” not to report their rapes to the police, go public with their stories or press charges against their rapists, especially if the rapist in question was from a family with deep pockets. However, in some cases where the roles were reversed and the girl was from a powerful family, and the boy without the same extensive connections, he was either dismissed (advised to transfer) or suspended.
On the whole, the attitude to sex that I witnessed in Amherst was not a healthy one and it only added to my confusion. The “anything-goes-except-rape” theme that seemed to pervade the campus was clearly not working, particularly since it appeared that rape happened often (if rape happens more than once, it’s often in my book), and in several cases, people couldn’t agree on what the definition of rape was. Add to the fact that some of the defendants in rape cases argued that the sex they had was in fact consensual, but that the girls were accusing them as retribution for ending a relationship, and one wonders if sex does not equal anarchy. At least I asked myself the question. Fortunately, before my head could explode, I left Amherst.
*End of part one*
*For the purposes of this article, I have chosen to focus only on sex between men and women
- I really don’t know what the official definition of a boyfriend is. And quite frankly, I’m not sure that I care to know. In any case, the fellow in question called me one summer, kept showing up at my house to take me to places, kissed me one day and told me that I was his girl. At the time, I was so distracted with the downward spiral of my life that I simply did not have the presence of mind or the energy to shoo him away. But after he pressured me for sex, I got it together at least well enough to send him packing.
- All the cases I discuss here come from conversations at my university with friends of rape victims, friends of people who’d been disciplined for rape, Area Coordinators who were usually the ones who handled all the delicate issues within Student Life, people who’d been on disciplinary committees to try cases of rape, and faculty and staff who’d had students confide in them. I have read no official police reports or statistics on this.