Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah cares about African women, sex, and sexuality. 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 kaleidoscopic tapestry of sexual identities across the gender, religious, and ethnic spectra. Some will find affirmation in how this collection validates sexuality in all its wonderfully curious guises, and some will find an invitation to step outside their social confines and touch—if only imaginatively—another mode of existence. But everyone will come away standing a little taller and breathing a little lighter, buoyed by the affirmation that we are all normal and that the marginal is central. The Sex Lives of African Women is a safe space: it is pure, unadulterated freedom, somehow magically distilled and transformed into a 304-page book. In this interview, Nana gives us her perspective on the book’s genesis, ethos, and her best book recommendations.

Jane: The Sex Lives of African Women came out on 22 July 2021. How has the book launch been?

NANA: It’s been good! It’s been a mix of in-person and virtual. Almost everything in the UK has been virtual, but in October I’m appearing at Africa Writes and that will be my first in-person event in the UK. So far, I’ve done three in-person events in Ghana and still have to do one more before I fly to London.

Jane: This book is born out of your award-winning blog, Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women, which has been running since 2009. Why are you so passionate about African women, sex, and sexuality?

NANA: I wouldn’t really say it’s born out of the blog, although there is clearly a connection in the sense that both are creating space to share stories about African women’s sex and sexuality. But you know, I kind of consider it a different project [laughs]. I think it took me up until the age of 30 to reach a space where I felt I was talking openly and honestly to other African women about sex and sexuality. I had a eureka moment in which I was like, 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?

I wanted to create a space where African women could come together and talk openly about these things. When growing up, a lot of us 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 think it took me up until the age of 30 to reach a space where I felt I was talking openly and honestly to other African women about sex and sexuality.”

Jane: I loved this book and read it very quickly. It was freeing. It was both a realisation of how many societal conventions constrain me, but also of 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?

NANA: Thank you. What I really want people to get out of the book is an understanding and a recognition that sexuality is on a spectrum, that our desires are legitimate, and 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 space and time to figure out who we are, and that we recognise that as we age, we may change and shift. 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. 

Jane: Do you have any favourite interviews?

NANA: Gosh, I feel like in every interview I will probably name different people [both laugh]. I love the women I included in the freedom section of the book, just because I felt like a lot of them were living true to who they were. They were truly happy in a way I found inspirational. Many of those women are women who will be regarded as living on the margins of society and so, for me, it was an important reminder that often the happiest people are the people who live outside the boxes.

I also felt very inspired by the older women I interviewed. I think that society likes to pretend that older women do not have sex and are trapped in their shells. But the older women in my book were in happy relationships, have great sex lives, and were content. As somebody who’s now in her 40s, those are important role models for me to look up to.

“It was an important reminder that often the happiest people are the people who live outside the boxes.”

Jane: Every single one of these women has a strong voice and have clearly chosen to let down the barriers. How do you get your interviewees to be so vulnerable?

NANA: I think this is where the blog helped. I have been sharing my own experiences of sex for over a decade and have gotten comfortable talking about sex. I think that some people knew me from the blog or had heard of the blog. Because of that, I can create an environment where other people are able to open up and share. Having spoken to women about sex over the years made it easier. The longer I did this, the easier it became.

At the very first meeting for the very first interview, all we did was drink wine together and get to know one another. The actual interview happened subsequently 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-chatting. I would usually tell people about my interest in the work, and everyone felt it was important. I think that helped people be vulnerable. 

Jane: I was struck by the structure of the book, which is divided into three sections titled self-discovery, freedom, and healing. How do we attain self-discovery and freedom before healing?

NANA: 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 happen that way, right? I mainly divided it like that because there are some really tough stories in the healing section, and I didn’t want people to begin with difficult material. It is a pragmatic structure designed to allow people to ease themselves into the stories. 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.

“I don’t think healing comes last, but I do think that healing is continuous.”

Jane: If we wait to heal, we might be waiting forever. Are there any stories you feel are missing?

NANA: 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 have been going to that country for several years and it’s one of the countries where people advocated strongly to have it delivered to their bookstores. I love that and that’s a loss I feel.

I wish I had been able to interview more women from North Africa. I did interview women from Egypt and one who originates from Sudan, but some of the other interviews I set up with people in North Africa didn’t happen. 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. A lot of North African countries speak French and Arabic. Even though I employed a translator—for example, a woman for São Tomé spoke to me in Portuguese—I have a feeling that the call out in English isolates some people. Maybe I should do a call out in Arabic

I also wish I had interviewed people who are on the asexual spectrum. I think all of those things would have made the book even stronger.

Jane: Will there be a part two or are you working on something else?

NANA: There will not be a part two [laughs], but I am already working on something else. It will be a continued exploration of these themes, just from a more personal point of view.

Jane: Sounds good. Give us three recommendations for people who loved The Sex Lives of African Women.

NANA: I would recommend She Called Me Woman: Nigeria’s Queer Women Speak by the editors Azeenarh Mohammed, Chitra Nagarajan, and Aisha Salau. It is published by Cassava Republic. I would also recommend Quirky Quick Guide to Having Great Sex by Tiffany Kagure Mugo. I really love that one. The third one is The Secret Lives of Church Ladies by Deesha Philyaw.

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. You can find her on Twitter.

JANE LINK is a master’s student and an editor for Split Lip MagazineThe Publishing Post, and her own beloved bigblackbooks. When not trying to land her first job in publishing, Jane loves to read historical fiction, self-help, and everything by Black voices. She dreams of one day setting up an independent dedicated to publishing those voices. You can find her @verybookishjane on Twitter.

“I want the book to create space, especially psychic 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: #ownvoices, African, African American, Afro-Caribbean, Afro-Latinx, Afropean, Black British, Contemporary, Debut, Feminism, Womanism, Non-fiction, Queer, Sexuality
Pages: 304
Format: Hardcover
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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. The Sex Lives of African Women provides a deep insight into women's quest for freedom, highlights the complex tapestry of African women's sexuality, and bestows upon all women inspirational examples to live a truly liberated life.