Not many other women out there will be willing to admit this without a gun to their head, so here’s a truth-I’ve watched porn. Not many women in Africa anyway. So have very many girls, boys, women and men. Porn at that time, I thought would answer questions I had about sex, and no one that I knew could offer me explanations that satiated my questions. And that’s the truth.
Now, as we know, or can imagine, accessing porn in my day was harder that it is today. Much harder. Porn came in tapes, VHS tapes. Remember those? They were played by VCR’s and travelled a hell of a long way before they found their way to your neighbourhood. Once word spread in the neighbourhood that there was a ‘blue movie’ around, you had to send your closest, most trusted male friend to track it down. All this only after you made him swear on the lives of his six siblings and his ailing grandmother. God forbid that anyone knew that a woman was enquiring after something so salacious. When you got the porn, you told your inner circle of girl friends and organized a meet-up at the house with the latest and most reliable VCR. Worst case scenario would be the tape being chewed up by the machine or horror of horrors-get stuck in there. Once you had your posse of curious, nervous, scared as hell girls together, you would watch exactly five to ten minutes of sixties porn. Saucer shaped eyes would be glued to the very grainy pictures of what we thought sex was. At that time there was no dialogue-no conversations. Kool And The Gang played in the background, and seemingly strangers would come together and have sex. Our curiosity satiated, we would switch off the porno, sit in disgusted silence and part ways with this deep, dark secret for us to keep for the rest of our days.
Even though we finally knew what goes where-the porn did not create a context for sex that we could understand. In the community I grew up, I had to be married to have sex. Were the characters in that porno married? Maybe they were. What conversation do people have that lead to sex? Did the handlebar moustache and afro play a role in determining what kind of sex people had? I needed a context and porn never created that for me. Watching that porn only confused me further. In high school, everyone I knew had read at least two ‘forbidden’ romance novels. There was always a man, and a woman that hated each other. But underneath this hatred was simmering some passion that would explode into heaving bosoms and throbbing members that naïve people such as myself had a hard time conceptualizing. The books created the conversational context, showed desire and mutual consent-but the intricacies of the sex act itself would remain a mystery still. Which meant in my day that sex was going to forever be a mystery, either until the day I got married or the day I had sex.
Fast forward 20 odd years later and the tables have turned. Pornography pervades everything we see around us. And is so easily accessible to anyone with a WAP enabled phone and curiosity. Sex and porn, whether we realize it, or acknowledge it are young people’s primary source of sex education. And just as it’s access has been simplified, it’s diversity has increased. If a young boy, or a group of young boys introduction to sex is a gangbang porno where a group of men have sex with an ‘eager’ and ‘willing’ female participant, shake hands then go their separate ways. Again, without a context and a clear understanding of the circumstances under which the porno was filmed, and an understanding that when it comes to sex that there should be informed consent and a mutual understanding reached regarding the kind of sexual intercourse that is to take place. Pornography doesn’t offer this. Even when watched by young women, such pornography presents the idea that one woman can be expected to sexually satisfy a man, or indeed a group of men without any particular expectation from herself or the men. Porn as a source of sex education is damning for both girls and boys. But as far as ten headed monsters go, the internet presents twenty alternative options for every 10 that firewalls and cyber nannies take away.
So where does that leave us? And young people with hormones like tennis balls at a Serena Williams match? Back at square one it seems. There are certain things that parents, guardians and indeed grandparents need to understand and accept-young people are curious about sex. The act itself. What it feels like. What goes where. Why is it only done by adults. All the difficult to answer questions. And if they cannot get the truth from a source that gives them real, honest and context based answers to their sex questions, then there are a couple of porn films floating around in cyber space waiting to give them the wrong information about sex.
When I think of the many women and girls that have been victims and survivors of rape, sometimes gang rapes, carried out by 14 year old boys on 12 year old girls in some cases, it really makes me sure that wrong messages about sex are being passed around as truth. That young men, boys really, have been led to believe that it is okay to rape a girl, film it, and upload it on YouTube. That the possibly 6 million views of a similar pornographic film online are the seal of approval that tell him it’s okay to do that. When it comes to influencing and controlling the kind of information that young people can access, that influences their understanding of what sex is-we cannot be too careful. Information empowers, but the wrong information disempowers completely.