For The Girls: Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah Wants To Have Frank Conversations About Sex

African women deserve to have their sexual experiences honoured

African women have always discussed sex among themselves. However, to write about the sex of the everyday African women and tell those intricate intimate stories from the perspective of those who lived them is something unheard of in our patriarchal society. Yet, telling that story with a lot of care and intentionality is what Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah has done with her latest book, ‘The Sex Lives of African Women.’

The writer, activist and feminist Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah has been advocating for the safe and healthy sex lives of African women for a very long time. In 2009, she started ‘Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women’ with Malaka Grant, offering a space for African Women to share experiences of sex and our diverse sexualities. Since then, he work has championed and supported African women living their lives audaciously, without the monitoring gaze of society.

In a world that vilifies, silences, and marginalises women who engage in owning their own sexual agency, we need more platforms like Sekyiamah’s that are tell the daily, mundane, and majestic sexual stories of African women. Nana has been doing precisely that through her work for many years, whether by hosting panel discussions, hosting a digital forum, intimate events around sexual liberation for adventures and now her book.


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For most young African girls, the stories we hear about sex are that of fear, caution, and public state-sanctioned violence. This has created a void in the available knowledge around sexual agency, liberation, and exploration of one’s sexuality from a young age that then leads to a life of unenthusiastic and unfulfilling sex lives that is geared to serve the patriarchic status quo.

Speaking with Nana has always felt like speaking with an elder sister, who is fearless and will truthfully share her wisdom, insights, and pleasurable experiences of sex. This is very much why most of the young African feminists I asked about Nana’s latest book described her as the real Shero ally, who knows how to tell stories and when to tell stories that see many of us at the base of our emotions.

Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah is simply creating a lane of her own, a foundation of which she has consistently worked for ages, her lane is brilliantly impactful to all African women of all ages, classes, and ways of life. For Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah, it is pertinent that stories of all African women include our stories of intimacy, healing, please, freedom, exploration, and thus sex.

In a conversation with Adeola Naomi, Nana talks about her new book, the significance of telling sexual stories of African women, and reclaiming our sexual agency.

The conversation which follows below has been lightly edited for clarity.

Can you tell us a little bit about yourself, Who is Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah?

NANA: I will say my primary identity, the one that I always describe myself as is that of an African feminist, I will add to that a writer. I think it took a while for me to feel confident enough to step into my authority as a writer because it sounds so big. But, actually having a book that is published by a sort of mainstream publisher that is available in different countries around the world makes me feel like okay I can finally call myself a writer. I am also a sister, a daughter, a friend, a mother. These are kind of my identities.

You said that you identify as an African feminist and I know you went to an all-girls boarding school in Ghana growing up, does that shape your feminism or inform how you present yourself as a feminist or how you even come into feminism?

NANA: Not at all actually, it is quite sad when you put it that way because you would think going to an all-girls boarding school would somehow imbed in me a feminist spirit. If anything I feel like my all-girls school tried to take away my feminist spirit, because it was a Catholic boarding school where the nuns had a really strong influence. Some of my memories of the school are things like literally being called a devil because I shaved my eyebrows and a whole bunch of other girls also then decided to shave their eyebrows. So, I actually feel like I am a feminist in spite of having attended a school that tries to get me to conform to a particular notion of girlhood/womanhood and respectability. For me, feminism is the opposite of all of that. Feminism is revolutionary, it is not about accepting the status quo. It is about questioning, it is about dismantling and rebuilding. Unfortunately, I don’t think I got that kind of education from my Catholic boarding school.

Your book is about the sexual lives of African women, and how sex is performed in society and sexuality. With everything going on right now on the continent, you are in Accra Ghana where there is an anti-LGBTQ bill discourse, there is a lot of conversations on the continent that repress sexuality, would you say sex is political?

NANA: Absolutely, the mere fact that the state tries to control who we love, who we sleep with who we form relationships with, shows us how political sex is. On the one hand, people like to present sex as a deeply personal issue but it is also a deeply political issue and one that as far as I am concerned we need to speak about. It is one of those issues people say ‘we don’t need to talk about what goes on in the bedroom’, and I feel like whenever people try to say there is no need to talk about something, that is the more reason one needs to talk about it. It is like with money, people say we shouldn’t really be talking about money, people shouldn’t know what others earn but that is because they don’t want you to know that you are being cheated, you are not being paid a fair wage. So, as far as I am concerned, sex is absolutely political and that is why I choose to write about sex.


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Is that also the reason for your other feminist work as the communication director of the association for women’s rights in development (AWID)?

NANA: I will be leaving AWID in march, which I am super excited about, I love Awid, I have had a really good run there. But, it is coming up to seven years and I want to focus on my creative pursuit. The only way I can do that, especially now that I am a mother and don’t have as much free time as I used to have is to do that within my working hours. So, yes I am leaving Awid to focus on my next book, my other projects, including a podcast, and whatever else I feel like doing.

I love all the creative side of you and you embrace it all, your book is very creative and I would like to know what was going on in your mind when you were talking to all these women? Did you feel like you saw yourself in their stories or there was a specific interviewee where you thought this could be my story?

NANA: The process of speaking to people and hearing their experiences was super interesting. You know, like I used to warn people beforehand, saying ‘I am interviewing you about sex, which means I am going to ask you lots and lots of intimate details. I knew I wanted to write the stories in the first person, it meant, I really needed to know what it felt like to be in the person’s body. So, I would ask, ‘what else was going on, what could you see?’ because I wanted to put in a lot of texture and details in the stories. That was enjoyable, especially while writing about it, as I could almost imagine that I am not, for example, Chantelle, and this is what is going on. Of course, there are some stories that I identify with more than others. There are some stories I was like ‘this is the life that I want to lead, like Helen Banda, I also want to be Alexis when I grow up. I want to be Helen Banda right now and to be Alexis when I grow up. It was an enjoyable process.

What was your writing process like for this book, was there a preparation because it is such an intimate topic? Especially for the fact that some very sensitive and triggering stories might hurt to revisit?

NANA: Obviously talking about sex, you also inadvertently bring up issues of traumatic sexual abuse. In the beginning that was kind of unexpected for me, it may sound a little bit naive. I don’t think I had fully realised how many women had experienced child sex abuse. So, in the beginning, there was a particular question I was asking, then I realise afterward, that question was triggering people to tell me their experiences of child sexual abuse. Frankly, it got to a point where I didn’t want to hear it anymore, so I just stopped asking that question, and people stopped telling me. There was a question that I was asking and that would always come up for people.

What was the question if you don’t mind sharing?

NANA: I don’t mind at all, it was ‘what was your earliest sexual memory as a child?’ something along those lines or ‘what was your earliest awareness of sex?’ For a lot of people, it was an instance of abuse.

And what did that make you feel about the writing of sex as a topic? The need for this type of writing especially of African women as you were hearing all these stories of abuse?

NANA: It was a lot of fear as a mother of a young child. It just makes you really worried like can I do everything in my power to protect her? Is there a risk that she can be abused and what do I need to do to protect her? Because the reality is parents can’t be there 100 percent of the time and it is actually the people who are closest to you who tend to abuse the children. So, for me that is scary. That is really scary.


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When you talked about freedom in the book, do you think that a lot of African women do know what freedom feels like in intimate relationships? You interviewed around 30 women for the book.

NANA: That’s a very good question. I feel like some women know what freedom is like and some women are living lives that think they are modelling many aspects of freedom for us. I am sure there are very few people who feel free in every single area of their lives. So, I think a lot of women who are working on being free, will always claim that sense of freedom, If I think of Fatou for example, the woman from Senegal, she always says, “I am a free woman.” She would say that to all partners, she claimed freedom for herself and that was the strongest value for her. She always made sure that she held onto that. I think sometimes we don’t know what freedom looks like and we need to figure out what freedom looks like for us so that we can claim it for ourselves. I think what freedom looks like for one person, looks very different for the other person.

Who are the African feminists that you would recommend to a young African girl to start their sexual liberation journey with?

NANA: It is easy for me because I actually bought two books by African feminists on sex and sent them to my goddaughter who just turned 17, I think I sent her the books when she was 16. So, I will say ‘the quirky quick guide to sex by Tiffany Kagure Mugo, and Dr. T: A Guide to Sexual Health and Pleasure.

Are there any more books around the sexual freedom of African women in your future?

NANA: I am starting to work on a second book which is actually about sexual freedom! Laughs.

I cannot wait to see and read it. When you chose to share the story of a trans woman and sex workers, would you say this was an intentional political decision before you even begin their interviews for the book and I want you to tell us more about that decision?

NANA: For me it is basic, trans women are women and there is no way I will write a book about the sex lives of African women and only include the experiences of cis women, that wouldn’t be a book about the sex lives of African women. So, for me, it was a given that I included every one of us. And if I am interviewing women about sex, surely I have to interview people who are experts about sex. Experts to the point that it is their profession. The book would be invalid without that, some people that I was planning to interview, I didn’t know they were sex workers, it just sort of came up in conversation. Kuchenga for example, I didn’t know was a sex worker. I knew Kuchenga was trans, but I didn’t know she was a sex worker.

This book is not just for African women, it is for all who relate to African women. What are the final words you want to say to all the people who relate to African women about the being of African women when it comes to freedom and liberation?

NANA: I will say support African women, love African women, listen to African women, know that we are the experts of our own lives. We don’t have one story, we are not a monolith, we don’t all think the same thoughts, and it is not bad if we don’t think the same thoughts. Like everyone else, we have our struggles, moments when we can come together, and moments when we need to stand apart. We are unique, we are complex, we are diverse, we are beautiful, we are horrible, we are everything, We are human.

Featured image credits/NATIVE