Do Kenyans kiss? This was the question posed to a group of about thirty ladies, young and old, from all walks of life on a pretty Saturday afternoon. As you can imagine, the women laughed and threw out various answers:
“Even in public!”
This was the beginning of a rousing discussion entitled “Sexually Speaking” held on 17th October at the Storymoja premises in Spring Valley.
Storymoja organizes a Woman in Leadership forum every month, with a view to providing a comfortable space for women to get together, exchange ideas on topics that concern them, and network. Previous sessions have been held on balancing work and personal life, social etiquette and doing a life audit, to name a few. Participants aid they enjoyed these talks very much. The Sexually Speaking session was no exception, as it was an afternoon of candid conversation on how various issues of our lives affect our sexuality.
The moderator of the session was Storymoja’s MD, Muthoni Garland, who introduced the guest speaker, Valentine Njoroge, a columnist with the Nairobi Star.
Back to the all-important question: “Do Kenyans kiss?”
A lady in blue jacket pointed out that Kenyans do kiss, but in private because Africans generally are uncomfortable with public displays of affection. A popular radio MD was of the opinion that Africans should start kissing more in public. She added that kissing should be depicted in African movies, plays and books so that people get used to it. If this happens then most people will find it a normal act of affection and not off putting.
However, an editor at the meeting disagreed. She asked why should we as Africans, copy the white people and kiss in public?
“Africans have their own way of showing affection!” She emphasized.
The younger ladies in the group were surprised to know from the older ladies that sex gets much better when you grow older!
“You gain more confidence sexually when you get older.”
A former MP said. “It’s like you find yourself!”
A retired banker and counsellor agreed. “When you get older you have a broader idea of what you want from life and you know how to get it.” She added that not only does sex get better with age; it also gets better after birth! “You are more accepting of your body and loose inhibition.”
She summed it up for us: Age doesn’t matter, if you have confidence in your body, and yourself, you have no reason not to have great sex!
One lady lamented that young Kenyan girls don’t have sexual confidence from a young age. The only guy brave enough to attend the session concurred and said a big example is women having the mistaken assumption that the vagina is ugly! It is because from a young age, most Kenyan girls are taught not to look, touch, or even think about their vagina. Valentine talked us into loving all our body parts, including the vagina. “You should examine the vagina, and love it and in fact it, give it a name!” She recommended.
We realized that most of us did not know the equivalent of the word vagina in our local dialects. From the session I learnt that “vagina” in Kikuyu is “keino.” That’s why Kikuyu who know this don’t dare call athlete hero Kipchoge by his second name! So what you do call it in your mother tongue? If you don’t know, find out. Along the way, you will learn more about your traditional sexual practices. It was noted that these practices are not necessarily bad, as we have been taught to believe.
The session was not all play; we became very sombre when we discussed sexual health. Valentine and Muthoni concurred that sexual health is a very serious matter and we should have a “sexual health conversation” with any one we have sex with. How do you ask your sexual partner whether he has ever had an STD? Or that you need to go get tested for HIV together?
A lady with a lovely afro hair-do complained that it usually is a very difficult conversation because men are not engaging. She told us most of the times she has brought up the subject of getting tested; her sexual partners have not been co-operative. “They say something like, I already tested for HIV. Then I ask, but can’t we go together?” she said. This is not an easy conversation to have. But Valentine stressed that you must this conversation with anyone you intend to have sex with because it’s a matter of life and death. If a man doesn’t want to discuss a healthy sexual relationship, then he probably is not worth risking your life for!
A small-bodied girl in red pointed out that the “lets go tested” conversation is way up there with the “meet my parents” conversation. So ladies don’t discuss HIV and other STD’s with people they have casual sex with. If you have such a conversation, you automatically make the relationship serious. This brought about such a hue and cry among the ladies regarding casual sex. Is the Kenyan woman today engaging in casual sex? Or has she always kept it “on the down low” because she feels that the society will judge her as loose?
One proud Luyha woman was adamant that she couldn’t have sex with just anyone! “I have stayed celibate for two years because I cannot have casual sex!” she insisted, sending the whole group into fits of laughter. “I can’t let any man just come to pour things into me as if I were a toilet!” She told us it is not that she doesn’t have sexual urges, she does have a good sexual appetite, but she manages it by going to the gym.
But the lady with the afro hair-do said that such judgments are what make women who have casual sex feel as if they were immoral. The pointing of fingers and the disapproving looks from people is what makes some girls shy to come out and say they do enjoy casual sex. She argued that sometimes the body just wants sex! Yes, just sex, without the emotional connection or the relationship. And if that is so, we should be okay with that, and either have protected sex at all times or learn how to control the urge. The ladies remained divided on this heated point.
Another major discussion that came up was how we should speak to our children about sex. Most us don’t know how because we were never spoken to about it by our parents. A lady banker said, “When we were young, we were just told you should wait till your married to have sex, and that sex before marriage is bad because you could get pregnant.” Valentine told us that parents should be in the loop regarding their children’s sexuality. The conversation should be two-way, and should be informal and frequent. A parent in the meeting said her ten-year-old son was already going to the internet for information on sex, and so today parents need to have this conversation early on. She said she talks to her son to learn what is going in with him, and what he knows, regularly and very casually, for instance in the car on his way to school.
The session was quite animated, spirited and enthusiastic. We even ran out of time and were not able to discuss all the scheduled topics. Valentine concluded by telling us that the modern Kenyan woman can change their sexual behaviour. It is possible to have a healthier sex life, a confident sex life, and an educated sex life. One step is by attending sessions such as this one, with informed, opinionated women who are willing to share their knowledge.
The Storymoja forum was not only informative and entertaining, it was loads of fun! After the session, participants chatted together over cups of tea and cake and continued discussing the hot topic with much enthusiasm. Women made new friends and contacts. A number concluded that this particular topic was pertinent and very broad so we should discuss it some more in future. Please check our website to find out when the next session will be held for this and other topics for “Women in Leadership.”
Report by Phanice Shamalla