Reading Progress:

“I want the book to create space in our imaginations”: A conversation with Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah

and Jane Link

Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah cares about African women, sex, and sexualities. In 2009 she co-founded the award-winning blog Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women with her best friend Makala Grant after an inspiring girls holiday in Ghana. Last summer, she published The Sex Lives of African Women, a collection of over 30 interviews with women from Africa and her diaspora that together paint a liberated tapestry of sexual identities across the sexuality, gender, political, religious, geographic, ethnic, and even racial spectra.

Your award-winning blog, Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women, has been running since 2009. Why are you so passionate about sex and sexuality?

It took me until the age of thirty to talk honestly to other African women about sex and sexuality. I had a eureka moment: why has it taken me so long to be able to have the type of conversation about sex and sexuality that feels non-judgemental, open, and honest? Growing up, a lot of us African women were told almost nothing about sex. We were just told to not do it. We did not have access to comprehensive sex education. There was no space to learn and share with one another. I wanted to create a space where we could do those things. 

I found this book so freeing, both a realisation of how many societal conventions constrain me, but also how physically and psychically present my true desires are even when they are not cognitively clear. What do you want people to get out of this book?

I want people to arrive at a recognition that sexuality is on a spectrum, that our desires are legitimate, that there are multiple ways of being and multiple relationship structures that are valid. It’s all within and what’s most important is that we give ourselves the space and time to figure out who we are. We must recognise that as we age, we will change and shift and who we are in our 20s may not be who we are in our 30s or 40s—and that’s okay. I also want the book to create space, especially psychic space in our imaginations. To imagine other possibilities for yourself is very important.

Growing up, a lot of us African women were told almost nothing about sex. We were just told to not do it.

Do you have any favourite interviews?

I love the women I included in the freedom section of the book, just because I feel they are living true to who they are. They are truly happy in a way I found inspirational. Many of those women are regarded as living on the margins of society and so, for me, it was an important reminder that often the happiest people are those who live outside the boxes. As somebody who’s now in her 40s, I also felt very inspired by the older women I interviewed. I think society likes to pretend that older women do not have sex. But the older women in my book are in happy relationships, have great sex lives, and find contentment.

Every single one of these women shares their experience openly and honestly. How do you get your interviewees to be comfortable with vulnerability?

I think this is where the blog helped. Having spoken to women about sex over the years made it easier and the longer I did this, the easier it became. I am now comfortable talking about sex and because of that, I can create an environment where other people are able to open up. For example, in my first interview, all we did was drink wine together and get to know one another. The actual interview happened later over a second and third meeting. By the end, I was interviewing people on Zoom and getting straight to the point within a few minutes of chit-chat.

I was struck by the structure of the book, which is divided into three sections: “Self-discovery, “Freedom”, and “Healing”. How do we reach self-discovery and freedom before healing?

I love that question. I don’t think healing comes last, but I do think that healing is continuous. It would be ideal to heal, move on, discover yourself, and ultimately find freedom. But it doesn’t really happen like that, right? The structure is pragmatic and designed to allow people to ease themselves in. There are some really tough stories in the healing section, and I didn’t want people to begin with difficult material. I started with self-discovery because I feel that a lot of us will be able to identify ourselves in that section. Many of us are on a journey, trying to figure out who we are.

Often the happiest people are those who live outside the boxes.

Are there any stories you feel are missing?

When I started, my somewhat utopian dream was to interview a woman from each country on the African continent. That wasn’t possible [laughs]. I do wish I had interviewed somebody based in Uganda. I’ve been visiting for several years and it’s one of the countries where people advocated strongly to have the book delivered to their bookstores. That’s a loss I feel. I wish I had been able to interview more women from North Africa. When we speak of Africa, there’s this arbitrary division between sub-Saharan Africa and North Africa which I think is false. There are, of course, some language limitations. I speak mainly English and my French is not that great. Even though I employed a translator—for example, the woman from São Tomé spoke to me in Portuguese—I have a fear that the call-out in English isolates some. I also wish I had interviewed people who are on the asexual spectrum.

Give us three recommendations for people who loved The Sex Lives of African Women.

I would recommend She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak. I would also recommend Quirky Quick Guide to Having Great Sex. I really love that one. The third one is The Secret Lives of Church Ladies.

NANA DARKOA SEKYIAMAH is a feminist activist, writer, and blogger. She is the co-founder of Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women, an award-winning blog that focuses on African women, sex, and sexualities. She works with the Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) as Director of Communications and Media. Find her on Twitter @nas009.

JANE LINK is the founder of bigblackbooks. She is also a publishing professional holding two master’s in literature from The University of Edinburgh and SOAS. Find her on Twitter @verybookishjane.

“I want the book to create space in our imaginations”: A conversation with Nana Darkoa SekyiamahThe Sex Lives of African Women by Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah
Published by Dialogue on 22 July 2021
Genres: Sexuality, Womanism
Pages: 304

The Sex Lives of African Women uniquely amplifies individual women from across the African continent and its global diaspora, as they speak of their diverse experiences of sex, sexualities and relationships. Many of the women who tell their stories in this collection recall the journeys they have travelled in order to own their own sexualities. They do this by grappling with experiences of child sexual abuse, resisting the religious edicts of their childhood, and by asserting their sexual power. From finding queer community in Egypt to living a polyamorous life in Senegal to understanding the intersectionality of religion and pleasure in Cameroon to choosing to leave relationships that no longer serve them, these narratives are as individual and illuminating as the women who share them.

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