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AIDS and the Myth of the Oversexed Negro
Posted on Jul 24, 2008
The Turks also top the chart when it comes to extramarital affairs; 58 percent of Turks have extramarital affairs. The Norwegians top the “one-night stand” list, with 70 percent of Norwegians prone to one-night stands, followed by the Finns, New Zealanders and Swedes, all reporting a rate of 64 percent.
Icelanders are having sex younger than any other nationality. Their average age at first sexual experience is 15.6 years. They are followed closely by the Germans (15.9), Swedes (16.1) and Danes (16.1).
And talking about safe sex, 73 percent of Norwegians are not likely to take precautions, followed by the Greeks (70 percent) and Swedes (66 percent).
In none of these lists do Africans come out tops. The only significant mention of Africans is in the 2007 Sexual Wellbeing Report, which states that “Nigerians take the longest time over sex, at 24 minutes per session, while Indians have the quickest sex, at 13 minutes per session.”
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To be sure I was not missing out on anything, I took the trouble of surveying friends, relations, acquaintances and every Nigerian I could contact—young, middle-aged and old. All their accounts hover around the Indian 13-minutes variety. So who are these bionic “24 minutes per session” Nigerians?
On a more serious note, empirical evidence suggests that Africans are by no means “more sexual” than the other races. A 1991 study by researchers from the French group Medicins Sans Frontieres and the Harvard School of Public Health surveyed sexual behavior in the Moyo district of northwest Uganda (one of the countries most affected by AIDS in Africa) and found that, on average, women had their first sex at age 17 and men at 19. Eighteen percent of women and 50 percent of men reported premarital sex; 1.6 percent of the women and 4.1 percent of the men had casual sex in the month preceding the study, while 2 percent of women and 15 percent of men reported premarital sex in the preceding year. Do these findings reveal anything different from what happens in Europe and America?
Indeed, many ethnographic studies point not to the hypersexuality of Africans, but to the corrupting influence of European colonialism and the loosening of traditional controls that have come with Christianization, modernization and Westernization. European missionaries ensured that Africans gave up their elaborate pagan initiation rites without considering the cultural relevance of those rites. It turns out that older members of the community gave sex and sexuality education to initiates during these rites of passage into adulthood. That traditional education has gradually been replaced by media “education” and Hollywood movies. Everyone knows what kind of influence that combination has.
For instance, writing about the Yoruba of Nigeria (West Africa), William Bascom (1969) states that, in former times, virginity was expected of the bride and was the case for 90 percent of brides. Jerry Eades (1980) also attests that among the Yoruba early in the 20th century, great importance was attached to a girl’s virginity at marriage. The author states that while virginity is less important today, it still constitutes an ideal from the male point of view.
Suzette Heald (1995) also argues that Caldwell’s African sexuality thesis (1989) fails to grasp the way sexual restraints and restrictions form the basis of the moral order in East African societies. In her work with East African cultures, she found that sacred power was and still is attributed to coitus as a life-creating force. She also found evidence of extreme reticence and restriction in the actual conduct of sexuality. According to the author, there was a preoccupation with the control of sexuality, so that the controls surrounding sex, and the self-control that one must exercise with regard to it, epitomized social and moral behavior. She reports that coitus, among these cultures, was fraught with danger, circumscribed by taboo and subject to restrictions unknown in the West.
Heald attests further that, just as conjugal sexuality was subject to restriction in many East African societies, so too it appears that the issue of premarital chastity was not taken lightly. Prestige and value were attached to the virgin bride. Extra bridewealth was paid and cattle were slaughtered in the virgin bride’s honor, and there was corresponding shame for the non-virgin bride.
Hugo Lambert (1956) also asserts that among the Meru (East Africa), “customary opportunities for intercourse were in fact reduced in native life to a rarity which the European would certainly find irksome.” Lambert, a British administrator, was commissioner of the Meru district for many years.
Jane Chege (1993) found that among the Meru, coitus was a central religious act, the medium for the reception of blessings or to seal a curse. Sexual relations were regulated by an elaborate series of prohibitions, which determined permissible partners, places and times.
According to Thabisile Buthelezi (2006), the Zulu communities of South Africa emphasized abstinence before marriage. To promote this, some communities in KwaZulu-Natal practiced virginity testing among some girls.
Charles Geshekter (1994) attests that the Somalis, Afars, Oromos and Amharas of northeast Africa think that public displays of sexual feelings demean a woman’s “gift,” so that sexual contacts are restricted to ceremonial touching or dancing. Initial sexual relationships among these ethnic groups are geared to the beginnings of making a family. He also reports that the notion of “boyfriends” and “girlfriends,” virtually universal in the West, has no parallel in most traditional African cultures.
To present an exhaustive catalog of the different sexual habits found across Africa would be impossible in this article. While these traditional habits may have been considerably eroded by modernization, they remain the standard and are still rewarded and celebrated. For the curious, an ethnographic index of sexual practices in sub-Saharan Africa can be found in Janssen’s “Growing Up Sexually in Sub-Saharan Africa” (2002).
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