The Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah review – extraordinarily dynamic

A sensitive and honest collection of interviews explores freedom and sexuality beyond every conceivable stereotype

Here is a book like none you will have read before. It draws on interviews conducted over six years by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah – a Ghanaian feminist activist and award-winning blogger – with more than 30 black and Afro-descendant contributors from across the African continent and its global diaspora in Europe, the Americas and the Caribbean.

It both documents and legitimises the desires and sexuality of African women, beyond every conceivable stereotype, in three sections: self-discovery, freedom and healing – and if the first two feel more substantial than the third, that reflects real life, just as at the heart of it all is the desire for freedom to be oneself. No topic is off limits as these conversations reveal and explore similarities and differences, about questioning societal norms, religious edicts, confronting the trauma of sexual abuse and searching for new narratives and identities on the path towards wholeness.

The women speak openly and invariably for the first time about their experiences of sex and relationships as they seek to claim individual agency, however that expresses itself. They share emotion-filled stories with honesty, addressing everyday personal dramas within the wider context in which self-worth and confidence are affected by racism and patriarchy, with revolution in the streets and revolution in the sheets being two sides of the same coin.

The quest for self-discovery may involve a literal journey, moving to another country for the sake of love, or an exploration of the unfamiliar. Bravery and vulnerability are apparent in equal measures. Growing up as the offspring of monogamous parents can be tough preparation for the challenge of being one of several wives. Heterosexuality and celibacy are just two of a vast range of options. While one participant is “pansexual, polyamorous and kinky”, others identify as bisexual, transexual, queer, or simply “a work-in-progress sexually free woman”.

With sensitivity, this book has facilitated astonishing breaking of silences. The ending may not be “and they lived happily ever after”, but if the conversations have proved therapeutic for those involved, that is its own reward. One piece ends with the observation: “I’ve learnt to ask myself every day: Are you happy today? And if the answer is no I make a change.”

Sekyiamah has delivered an extraordinarily dynamic work, true to her own precept that “Freedom is a constant state of being … that we need to nurture and protect. Freedom is a safe home that one can return to over and over again.”

The Sex Lives of African Women is published by Dialogue (£18.99). To support the Guardian and the Observer buy a copy at guardianbookshop.com. Delivery charges may apply.

Contributor

Margaret Busby

The GuardianTramp

Related Content

Article image
Polygamy in Senegal, lesbian hookups in Cairo: inside the sex lives of African women
Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah’s new book The Sex Lives of African Women examines self-discovery, freedom and healing. She talks about everything she has learned

Nesrine Malik

24, Jul, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
Untrue by Wednesday Martin review – the ‘new science’ on infidelity
How much does anthropology help to destroy the myth that women ‘naturally’ seek one steady partner?

Kathryn Hughes

04, Oct, 2018 @1:59 PM

Article image
Strange Antics by Clement Knox review – a history of seduction
Is seduction about deceit and power or a free pursuit of sexual pleasure? An imperfect account from Casanova to #MeToo ...

Helen McCarthy

14, Feb, 2020 @8:58 AM

Article image
Lisa Taddeo on her bestseller Three Women: 'I thought I was writing a quiet little book'
Lisa Taddeo spent eight years talking to three women about sex and desire – and had no idea the result would be a publishing sensation. She tells Hadley Freeman what happened next

Hadley Freeman

06, Dec, 2019 @11:00 AM

Article image
The Right to Sex by Amia Srinivasan review – the politics of sexual attraction
A daring feminist collection considers pornography, desire and the boundaries within student-teacher relationships

Rafia Zakaria

19, Aug, 2021 @8:00 AM

Article image
What Do Women Want?: Adventures in the Science of Female Desire by Daniel Bergner – review

On prosmiscuity, porn, monogamy ... this study of female sexuality overturns some tenacious assumptions, writes Emma Brockes

Emma Brockes

11, Jul, 2013 @9:00 AM

Article image
Sex and Lies by Leïla Slimani review – exploring secret lives
The Moroccan-born writer of Lullaby returns to north Africa to explore sex, pornography and hypocrisy

Aida Edemariam

12, Feb, 2020 @7:30 AM

Article image
The Pink Line by Mark Gevisser review – the world's queer frontiers
An engrossing study, full of stories, of the extent to which the world has changed in its attitudes to LGBT people

Colm Tóibín

20, Jun, 2020 @6:30 AM

Article image
Queer City by Peter Ackroyd review – a celebration of gay London
The capital’s great chronicler delineates in eye-popping detail the topography of queer desire across the city, from 14th-century brothels to chemsex

Simon Callow

31, May, 2017 @6:30 AM

Article image
Tomorrow Sex Will Be Good Again by Katherine Angel – review
From ‘No means No’ to #MeToo – original thoughts on consent and the complexities of female desire

Hettie O'Brien

20, Feb, 2021 @7:30 AM