Sexting, Hook-Ups and Consent. Exploring Desire from a Pan-African Perspective

The good people at Ottar Magazine invited me to write an article about desire earlier this year. This article appears in Swedish, but if you’re not up on your Nordic languages, I’ve got the English version for you here. @bougiefeminist, this post is just for you!

Lust is a powerful psychological force as old as humanity itself. If you are a believer of Abrahamic religion, one could say the power of lust is responsible for the way we experience our humanity today. As part of His curse for eating the Forbidden Fruit, God pronounced that Eve’s “…desire will be for your husband, and he will rule over you…” (Genesis 3:16; emphasis mine). Medieval scholars pointed to this scripture as evidence that women, by nature, were unable to control their lusts and sexual desires unlike men, and that the more chaste a woman was, the greater demonstration of her godliness.

Beliefs about lust are as myriad and dynamic as they are in expression; and those beliefs and expressions are ever changing in response to new knowledge and events. Through a series of panel discussions during our annual Adventures Live! Festival, Adventures From the Bedrooms of African Women explored the concept of lust under the theme The Odyssey of Desire.  We hoped to explore the diverse journeys to discovering desire through communal reflection and sought to answer questions like: 

When do we first become aware of our sexual desires? What is the first societal messaging we internalize about desire? What discoveries do we make about our desire? How did we discover our desire? How can I safely indulge and explore my desires in the midst of a global pandemic?

Technology has had a clear effect on how we indulge in and express our lusts, especially in a context where the COVID-19 pandemic and the politics surrounding it, have made travel even more prohibitive for African denizens. Through sending nudes, explicit texts (sexting) and creating sensual videos (e.g. #silhouettechallenge), women have been able to give themselves over to voyeuristic fantasies, celebrate their bodies and excite the sexual ardor of an intended recipient/audience.

Lust is child’s play. Some people shared that their earliest memories of their sexual awakening and foundational ideas about lust stemmed from games such as ‘Mummy & Daddy’, where children in a group (usually older) would mimic the dynamics of married couples at home. The re-creations of romantic encounters could be as mundane as a kiss “after work” to simulating copulation.

Though many African cultures are conservative, with a premium placed on (heterosexual coupled) marriage, hook-up culture has always existed and continues to thrive. These casual sexual encounters with myriad partners allow us to tap into aspects of our passions that one particular partner may not be able to fulfill. As this behavior flies in opposition of the notion that monogamous relationships ought to provide complete sexual satisfaction, hook-ups are treated as shameful.  

Consent is sexy, and African feminists across the Continent have been working hard to build a culture of enthusiastic consent in cultures where women’s sexual agency is very often dimished. Sexual encounters predicated by consent are empowering and thrilling, most especially in settings where women are socialized to preserve and present their bodies for male pleasure and consumption. When we fully engage with our desires from a place of liberty, it sparks creativity and excitement, rather than fear and resentment. 

Does location have an effect on erotic exploration? Absolutely! The question of “your place or mine?” is one that many couples have to answer before they can get hot between the sheets. Unlike in the West where housing is generally affordable and abundant, many people live with their parents well into their 30s in many countries across the continent where housing is a crisis. A big “lust fail” is having your parents/family walk in, in the midst of constructing an orgasm!   

Famia Nkansah is a feminist thinker who writes about sex. In an Odyssey festival panel on Body Politics and Desire, she described our desires in post-colonial societies as “a mass of contradictions.” While we have our own established traditional beauty standards – such as rings around necks, gapped teeth and full bodies – Western influences and media create internalized conflicts as they dictate a narrow and opposite type of Blackness as lust-worthy. (That would be women with long hair, light skin and of slender build.) Even where fat bodies are included in the desireability dynamic, they should be “slim-thick” rather than overtly round and obese. Body politics affect queer perceptions of desireabilty in similar ways where gay men with definitive masculine features (e.g. defined abs, broad chests, etc.) are considered legitimate objects of lust, rather than effeminate men who have flabbier bodies. What we know is that fat, dark-skinned women end up pregnant all over Ghana, for example, so there is a clear disparity between what people admit that they lust after and what they actually find desirable.   

While changing geopolitics, economics and culture may influence how we indulge our lusts, one thing will remain unchanged: we will continue to use any resource at our disposal to satisfy them.   

You can learn more about the Adventures Live! festival on our YouTube channel. Like, comment, subscribe and all dem tingz.