Why Do We Raise Women To Be Naive About Sex?

One of my favourite novels by an African woman is definitely Stay With Me, which was written by the Nigerian writer Ayobami Adebayo. 

It is a novel that chronicles issues like infertility and how women take on an unequal burden in the search for children.

Without giving too many spoilers, Stay With Me also remains a poignant reminder on the damaging effects of purity culture and the way women are praised for being clueless in issues of sex and sexuality. In it, the main character Yejide used to be surprised when she heard women in her salon discussing how they loved hard penises. That was because her husband Akin convinced her that a limp penis was perfectly normal. He not just convinced her but stood by and watched as she ran from pillar to post looking for children.

I was reminded of Stay With Me, when I saw this article about a couple who found out that the man was impotent after they got married. Now, the man in question was 37 and his wife was 25. He specifically said that he liked her because of her gentle temperament. 

Although the article does say that the man found out he had potency and low sperm count issues after they married, it does beg the question of how valid that stance is. 

This is because the average man does not wait until marriage to have sex and he said that it was during his first time having sex with his wife that he experienced difficulties and a limp penis. Even when they did experience success and potency, they still had to deal with the fact that he had low sperm count. What if he already knew about this?

But back to the issue of women being naive about sex. A lot of women in Nigeria and most African countries are raised to measure their ability to be good wives based on how well they can put up a front of being sexually illiterate. 

The side effect of this is that in situations like the above, these women fall prey and become victims who receive most of the blame when the fault is with the man.

Even more, the effect of teaching women to value sexual purity above all else raises women who genuinely may know something is wrong sexually but may not be able to vocalise their thoughts. Due to wanting to be regarded as a woman who had sex first with her husband, these women keep quiet and nod along when they are told that a limp penis is perfectly normal.

And why does any of this occur? Why have we created a society where grown women are expected to have the sexual knowledge of a five year old? Where grown women are too afraid to tell their partners what they like during sex and how they like it? 

Where grown women develop sexual disorders like vaginismus because even in marriage, they are genuinely disgusted by the thought of being unclean and engaging in what they have been told is an unclean activity for “loose women?”. How do we build a healthy community free of trauma and rape culture if women are taught that sex is shameful and that they must cover their bodies because it “causes men to sin?”. Why does the burden of infertility rests squarely on the shoulders of women and women alone?

Speaking with Blessing, a pharmacist and researcher, she says that purity culture leads to devastating sexual consequences for women.

In her words: “Whew. I think purity culture was designed exclusively to deprive women of sexual agency and keep them under the thumb of their husbands sexually. If you don’t know what is true and what is not about sex and fertility, anybody (especially men), can tell you anything and you’ll believe. I remember a case of a woman who married as a virgin and saw her husband’s penis full of sores and he was like “that’s normal.” Omo, if you see what we were treating her for ehn😩😩😩”.

She went on to say: “On a more personal note, I once overheard my stepmom complaining to a friend that sex was always painful for her. This was two years ago o. The friend was like, “that’s normal nah.” She married my dad later in life and all.

I didn’t know I subconsciously carried that with me into my first disastrous situationship. I only started to enjoy it recently. Imagine I had gotten married with that mentality? Eternal punishment 😩😩”.

For Omoh*, she says that slut shaming can make women keep quiet when encountering sexual problems.

To quote her: “I think for a society like Nigeria that engages in sex a lot, we also shame it a lot and it’s even worse that we’re a hyper religious country.

I feel what it does especially to women is to blind them and clip their wings because what do you mean you’re sexual? What do you mean by you want to ask questions about sex? That means you’re already having it and you’re a prostitute. The outright slut shaming is scary. So most women/girls would rather just keep quiet about whatever problems they’re facing and if at all, be advised to pray it out. Lol.”

Omoh continued by saying: “Then, I believe we don’t exist in a society that actively encourages to love our bodies so sometimes we might see ourselves as the problem when we’re not. We’re instead encouraged to suck up to ashy-lipped men who barely wash their privates and take whatever crumbs we’re given. That’s why when couples struggle with infertility, the woman bears the brunt of it because automatically, the woman is the one with a problem if there are infertility issues.

Funny thing is, in most cases where the man is the one with the problem, his family members know but they’d cover up for him and encourage his pursuit of an unsuspecting, naive girl.”

When asked to share her opinion, Oge* had this to say: “There’s also the factor of women stigmatising women when it comes to the issue of sex and shaming. I know I’ve been a participant when I didn’t know much and it’s as if women are doing the work of men. 

The shaming can come from your mother or your aunt, someone older or someone more religious who shame you for being so vocal about sex or sexual enterprise. They may even ask you why you talk like that and if you are a prostitute. We can and should do better and the way we are raised can alter how we view sex. Women should be able to have comfortable communities where shame free conversations can happen.”

For Jasmine*, she says that teaching girls to be naive about sex can lead to them being manipulated.

In her words: “First of all I feel if you don’t teach a girl about her body and make them understand that sex isn’t everything, or about protection or about what actual sex feels like and she goes into the world ignorant that ignorance would be manipulated big time and I’ve seen it happen time and time again. 

Teaching girls purity culture only pushes more ignorance because you have set the precedent that sex rules everything. This then makes her believe that her worth is tied to how many men she’s not had sex with instead of on who she is as a person and once she enters relationships she would realize that this was all a facade because it carried no water and is exclusive to just the girls. The guilt that can come with falling short of these dangerous expectations can cause a lot of problems.”

She went on to say: “I tried many times to achieve penetration before it actually worked. It was a friend of mine who told me omo this is how you do it oo. You’re supposed to be wet first. All of these things no one told me. 

I think the solutions is to have honest peer conversations about it. Because talking to adults can be misleading especially those with a Christian background. From my experience at least. Even if you’d like to preach abstinence, your message should be you should abstain for personal reasons and not because you think keeping yourself for someone else makes you better than everyone else fucking because you’re not. I reiterate you are not. 

There should also be safe conversations around condom use and contraception. Proper risk factors that are a by product from sex should be discussed like Pregnany, STDs, etc and what one would do if they found themselves in that situation. 

Because we can talk all day about how sex is cool but all of these things could happen to you. You could catch an STD from someone who doesn’t even have physical symptoms. Teach them to keep an eye out for things like warts and fever blisters cause these are markers for Herpes. Teach girls about yeast infections and peeing after sex not to catch a UTI. All of these things are more important then teaching people about purity because the reality of it is you’re human and whatever rules guide your life your humanity is first so it’s better to teach protection than abstinence.”

The reality is that women who do not have proper and adequate sexual knowledge are shortchanging themselves when it comes to issues like marriage and relationships.

True freedom for women will occur when we are not taught that our bodies do not truly belong to us. 

Until then, we must continually teach women and girls about owning their bodies and not thinking it belongs to another person. When this is done, a woman’s confidence will flow outside sex and even to other areas such as the workplace and business negotiations.

*Name changed to protect identity

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