Many sex books have been published, sex shops have also mushroomed all over our country, even in townships, making sex no longer a taboo in our society. But, sadly, the idea that good girls don’t enjoy sex, for the sake of it, is very much alive.
Women who want sex for pleasure are labelled as bad girls and, according to Cape Town-based psycho-sexologist Chantal Fowler, they’re shamed for this. This is commonly known as “slut-shaming”.
“Thankfully, it’s being challenged more and more,” says Fowler, adding that women are socialised to avoid the social reprobation (slut-shaming) that comes with expressing “bad girl” sentiments about sex. These entail having sex purely for pleasure, regardless of the relationship status with the sexual partner.
“Of course, the flip side is that men are lauded for expressing the same sexual desire and virility that women are so harshly shamed for expressing. This leaves women more vulnerable to being judged,” Fowler emphasises.
No freedom of expression
Although the world is advancing and human behaviour is constantly changing to adjust to the moving times, scarlet letters and other forms of slut-shaming and ridicule are used to shame women into not having sex or at least pretending not to be interested in having sex at all.
Sexually liberated women, like socialite Zodwa Wabantu, are labelled as deviant and are often criticised for their openness about sex and sexuality.
We are definitely moving forward
Mmathabo Ndlovu, owner of the first Soweto-based sex shop G Spot Love Style, says that although her customers are mostly male, she’s seeing a growing interest from women in their 20s and even an increasing number of couples entering her shop.
“The shop is in Soweto, it is primarily a black area with middle to lower-income families. When we first opened our doors over two years ago, I expected to see more female customers, but to my surprise, my everyday customers are men looking for sexual enhancement products like libido boosters and that sort of thing,” says Ndlovu.
She adds that even though many women are still shy, she’s happy to see more women taking an interest in buying sex toys to enhance their sexual experience.
“We are also seeing more couples enter the shop together. To me it says two things: that important conversations about sex, pleasure and sexual exploration are happening, and also that they are happening between the right people,” says Ndlovu.
“You can get empathy and a feeling that you are not alone from your friends and even strangers, but if you’re having those conversations with your partner, it means getting a better understanding of each other’s needs and, of course, better sex,” she adds.
Breaking taboos and rebranding sexual pleasure may require many public conversations and a sustained community effort, but Ndlovu and Fowler agree that fundamentally, the sexual revolution is an individual experience and, for the most part, a private victory.
“I believe that the only way to achieve sexual liberation is a personal one. The only way to liberate oneself is to choose to resist the pressure to conform to ideals that dictate that chasteness is a woman’s greatest value. I believe that all liberation battles are won in one’s own heart and mind first, then used to help others in their journey of liberation. But without the personal journey, one cannot impact society, as society represents the collective consciousness of individuals,” says Fowler.
Ndlovu agrees, adding that the revolution we want is one that respects women’s choices, preferences and rights to seeking sex purely for pleasure.
“We are definitely on the right track, but even though sex will always be a private and intimate act between sexual partners, the society we live in and the communities we are a part of influence how we see sex and what we think is acceptable. Changes in the community and society will give us all the room we need to make up our own minds about how we see sex and what pleasure means for us as women,” she says.
Starting an important conversation
While the media has shouldered much of the blame for moulding and feeding society’s negative perceptions, Ndlovu says the media has also helped start an important conversation about sexuality and pleasure.
“We are seeing more normalized views of sex. People are discussing sex more broadly, outside of explicit and pornographic terms, and we are getting honest and open about a very natural part of being human. I loved seeing a woman on Izangoma Zodumo, a reality show about traditional healers that aired on Mzansi Magic, talk openly to her friends about getting a vibrator. It was a clean and fun conversation between friends,” says Ndlovu.
“It’s that type of image that gets people talking, curious and thinking about their own needs and pleasure without thinking of it as dirty or unnatural.”
Explore together with your partner
Being open-minded and free to explore all the pleasures your sexual destiny holds is one thing, but bringing your partner along for the ride isn’t always easy.
Fowler says the best way to break the shackles and taboos around sex and enjoy a good sexual relationship with your partner is through open and honest communication and mutual respect.
Be open to exploring your desires and what gives you pleasure.
You need to have some idea of what you want before you invite your partner to explore with you.
Don’t be judgemental about your partner’s needs or your own. Create a safe space to communicate with each other.
Open communication means being able to say “no” to something you are not comfortable with, but also accepting “no” when your partner is not comfortable with something.
Make time for intimacy. Take your time discovering and enjoying each other’s pleasure with no pressure
Build a repertoire with your partner. Gradually build trust and introduce your likes and dislikes slowly and respectfully. Avoid bringing shaming and disrespect into your bedroom.
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