The case of pleasure and sex in Northern Nigeria is not a matter of forced conservatism or a robotic followership to a certain doctrine. It is an in-built self-censorship mechanism, and the people are comfortable with it as a way of life.
The Sex and Pleasure Experience
For every society to continue to exist, sex is an important function. Generally, under the cultural characteristics of Northern Nigeria, a predominantly Muslim community often tagged as "conservative", any discussion of sex openly is taboo. As such, discussions of sexual activities are never done in a straightforward manner but under the cloud of idiomatic expressions. The female in the society is expected to be modest and never show her desire outwardly. When a man sees a woman he desires, then marriage is the only legality to allow any sexual encounters. The woman will then direct the man to her father, to first seek his approval before any relationship ensues.
However, with globalisation and modernisation comes a different generation of young Northern Nigerians with a different approach to relationships, pleasure and sexual encounters. Now relationships with focus on pleasure, specifically kissing and oral sex are ensuing with the rise of the internet and the globalization of culture, but outright sex is still a taboo especially to the female who will carry the shame and burden in the society.
Amina is a 24-year-old university graduate, and in the climes that is Northern Nigeria has ideally passed the ripe age for marriage. Amina had known right from puberty that she would not have sex, until she is married. This is an instinctive self-regulatory principle imbibed from a cultural and religious upbringing. "I do not want to, because of the risk of bringing an illegitimate child that would bring shame to me and my family," she says. If it takes a long period of abstinence from sexual intercourse until marriage, then how do Northern Nigerians especially women experience pleasure?
"I make out. Everyone with a boyfriend usually does," Jamila, a 25-year old says to me over a phone conversation. "We are all human beings, we are bound to lose control. You have a crush, maybe even from secondary school. You all want to do some crazy things. Mostly, we make out."
Now, with increased use of social media uncovering the veil of conservatism, the hard conservative shell of Northern Nigeria, is breaking slowly and bit by bit, pleasure is demanded.
Kayan Mata - The Women Stuff
Kayan Mata, roughly translated as 'Women Stuff', are herbal aphrodisiacs used to enhance pleasurable sex among couples and make sexual intercourse more enjoyable. Usually these include chicken cooked in herbs and spices, honey, dried cow milk, fish sperm and a whole lot of other Hausa herbs and roots that grow very well in the arid sahel and savannah of the region. Sometimes, these stuffs are also used to control husbands in a married life, and make a spouse attend to the needs of the wife, or stop a husband from having sex with anyone else by making the sex with other women unenjoyable. The materials are specifically made for married women, and are not sold to single ladies.
Today, this centuries-old Kayan Mata has been revamped with a different branding on social media. The dealers now display their wares on Instagram, Snapchat or WhatsApp groups. And on all these platforms, the sellers display comments of satisfied customers - an indication of patronage and the improved pleasures of sex. In these platforms, you find women confessing the power of their sexual prowess in bed over their husbands.
Some of these vendors have also metamorphosed into teaching sex education and techniques via personal online video tutorials to clients. Jaaruma Empire (@jaaruma_empire) is one of the famous online channels with more than 20,000 followers on Instagram, predominantly in Hausa that also provides such mini online tutorials, as well as dealing in beauty enhancing herbs and sexual enhancers. Amra & Kauthar Mansur (@ammimaah), a Health/Beauty Instagram account has almost 90,000 followers and deals in organic and herbal aphrodisiacs for married couples. Amongst the items displayed on the Instagram handle for sale include 'River Flow', which is described as good for extreme wetness and goes for around N10,000. 'Sugar Cum' goes for about N15,000 and is said to make the vagina smell and taste like fruit.
Kayan Mata is a 500-year-old practice in Northern Nigeria handed down through generations of women that served as a way to openly discuss sex amongst the society. Now, with the revamping of this age long practice of pleasure, sex in Northern Nigeria is going viral.
The Pleasure Life of Sex Workers
"Why are you entering this place with Islam all over you?
Do you know the number of cunts that have been fucked here today?
Trailers of cunt every day.
The heat generated here is hotter than that of hell fire.
So better remove that covering from your body!"
These are the fiery words of Maimunatu, one of the sex workers resting in a small apartment room, as the midafternoon sun shone through the curtains, directed to a visitor that entered covered in the Islamic Hijab dressing. This apartment is one of numerous along the Obalande area in Kaduna famous for its active nightlife and the home of sex workers. At Obalande, the women own the night's economy and in the afternoon, they rest and throw banter at friends, colleagues and passersby.
Most cities in Northern Nigeria are at a crossroad between the waves of modernity and a deep-rooted culture of the traditional system. Kaduna, the capital, reflects the whole region as a microcosm. Contributing to the huge chunk of the high birth rate in Nigeria, the Northern Nigerian region definitely engages in a lot of sex. It is not just married couple sex, but also a vibrant nightlife and sex workers patronized by a retinue of interested parties. Kaduna, a garrison city and the melting point of the region is especially sprawling with a mass of sex workers. Young men, religious faces, and shadows with a cultural outlook all lurk in the dark of the night and patronize these alleys for sex and pleasure.
The women that make the economy of Obalande thrive however also do not mix work and pleasure. While they make their living under the dark covers of the night, they also entertain their lovers once the sun begins to blaze during the day. Most of the women provide and cater for these daylight boyfriends from their earnings at night. Joe is a teacher, and lives near one of the apartments in Obalande joint. He says he is a good friend to most of the sex workers, but stays away during their business hours despite the temptation, as he continues to lament about the situation. "I do not go to church, but I know this thing is bad. But the problem is, there is really nothing we can do about it."
The case of pleasure and sex in Northern Nigeria is not a matter of forced conservatism or a robotic followership to a certain doctrine. It is an in-built self-censorship mechanism, and the people are comfortable with it as a way of life. You cannot just bring yourself to have sex outside marriage, even if you want to do it. Yes, people do have sex, married and even unmarried, but it is not something openly discussed in public; pleasure is left in the confines of the bedroom. The effects of sex and pleasure also revolve around pleasing the man at all cost, but ironically, the sexual escapades of the man do not concern the society. Rather, the eyes of the community are focused on the pleasures and sexual life of a woman. The female virginity, sexual drive, birthrate, marriage are all of concern and most of the time drive the discussion around pleasure and sexuality in Northern Nigeria.
The article is part of a series of articles under This is Africa's collection titled, Flame, Fever and Fantasy - A collection of African desire and pleasure.