The Sexuality Blog: Sex isn’t all it’s cut out to be

“A man might think he needs a pillow to sleep well, but he’ll sleep just as well without one”

– Jane Rosenal.

Sex is wonderful. Save for possible STD’s and unwanted babies and feelings you really didn’t anticipate catching, sex is largely guilt free satisfaction. It is probably why we obsess so much about it, why we go to great lengths to have it. Sex with someone who knows what they’re doing, someone who knows your body in its entirety and isn’t squeamish or afraid to explore every inch of you is life changing. We remember the best sex of our lives the way we remember our great loves; tinted with nostalgia and exaggerated in such vast ways that reality can’t compete. But sex is also just that, sex. It is ephemeral, transient and more often than not very, very underwhelming. I guess this is why we attach so much emotion and meaning to sex, because if it is going to play such a huge role in our lives, it has to be more, right?

One of our biggest problems as millennial Nigerians is that we were raised and socialized to see sex as transactional. Raising and socializing are two different things by the way, and we’ll discuss that in another post, let’s not get derailed. We are all conditioned to see sex as means of payment, of reassurance, a bargaining chip on both sides of the divide. I spent a good period of my time as a teenager in Benin City and there, more than anywhere else in Nigeria, sex is transactional. Perhaps it is because many women who made their fortunes there did so from stints of prostitution abroad. They were living, breathing ‘proof’ that if you were going to have sex, you might as well make a fortune off it.

When I lived there, I saw constant reminders that sex was social currency. Boys my age were respected predominantly for how many girls they’d slept with, the more inaccessible the girls were, the more respect they gained. I can’t count how many times I saw them aggressively pursue married women, girls that were dating their friends, older women. They were relentless, their pursuing often borderline sexual harassment or material incentives. Once the girls/women gave in, they’d tell anyone who’d listen, after all what’s the point of racking up a body count if you can’t tell anyone. The girls I was friends with told me, they knew anyone they had sex with outside of their relationships would rat them out anyway so they asked for things, made unrealistic requests of these boys so at least when news broke, they didn’t come off as total losers. I’ve seen the dynamics change subtly as I’ve grown older but the underlying mechanics remain the same. Even in non-heterosexual relationships.

The idea of transactional sex isn’t new. Pre-industrialization, there were minimal opportunities for women to support themselves financially. Women were (and are still) criminally underpaid and were denied access to well paying occupations. Inheritances were passed down patrilineally so marriage was a legitimate way to secure one’s future or as we say ‘marry into money’. All the power in marriages lay in the hands of the man so sex and consequentially children were a legitimate way to secure one’s future. Industrialization and advances in women’s rights has challenged this standard, but in Nigeria economic disparities mean many women still have to live like this.    

Transactional sex operates on the premise that for sex to work one party gains and the other loses. The man/dominant partner gains either social currency or control and the woman/submissive partner loses social currency or chastity. It makes no sense because sex is mutually satisfying (some of the time) and has to be consensual to be valid.

How do we fix this?

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