Constructing Nigeria’s Future: From Sex to Masculinity

I live in a country with the 7th highest population in the world.

Compared to more developed nations, who are more likely to have a significantly older population, the demographic makeup of our country is skewed heavily towards the youth.

It’s been estimated that a third of our country’s population could be classed as ‘young’: aged 19-24 years old. The lives of these young people; their education, upbringing and the socio-economic environment that they grow up in will determine the future of Nigeria.

Unfortunately, ours is a society that has been at the mercy of immense poverty, rigid proto-religious belligerence and an uncaring government – so what can be done to ensure that the millions of young people in Nigeria not only live to reach their potential, but also have a chance to form healthy, balanced sexual relationships?

I believe that a concerted effort has to be made to invest in sexual health services in order for our country to not only survive, but prosper throughout this century and the next. So, what does this investment look like? Unlike other countries who have well structured health systems with employees from a culture with healthy attitudes to sex; Nigeria’s health system is managed and worked by people who have little or no understanding of the importance of education.

It’s important to note that before we invest money in the architects, levels, land surveyors, planners and doctors needed to construct the clinics required to teach and treat these young people, we need to drastically alter the way that our entire country perceives sexual practices and behaviours.

I grew up in Ilorin, a city known throughout Nigeria as ‘the Home of Peace’, however my adolescent years as a woman in this city were anything but peaceful. From the age of 12, I’ve had to guard myself from the eyes, hands and genitalia of the men of this city. I’ve done this through various means. I’ve dressed in shapeless clothes, avoided populous areas and spent many evenings inside my home; this isn’t becauseĀ all men in this city wish to rape me, it’s because there is an underlying culture in our country (and throughout Africa) that encourages male-dominated relationships and discourages female empowerment in all of its forms.

The notion of masculinity in our country has not changed for centuries and is defined by strength, a desire for sex and the subjugation of women in all its forms. Whilst developed Western countries are certainly not free of this kind of ‘toxic masculinity’ (as it is described today), it is the backbone of our male psyche here in Nigeria. Planning, building and opening a sexual health clinic is an easy task compared to the daunting challenge of changing the way that an entire country thinks.

Attitudes, habits and behaviours do not change overnight. They are not changed by with a single pamphlet, or a TV advert, or a celebrity-endorsed billboard. I know that it will take time for significant

Sex Talk: 04/06/18

In this semi-regular series of blogs our writers are going to take a look at what’s been going on in the world of sexual health.

The way that we view sex and sexual health is constantly changing and with the internet providing a continually expanding blank canvas for the thoughts of millions.

We thought it would be interesting to take a couple of recent news stories related to sexual health andĀ gauge the reactions of our culturally diverse writers. This week we’ve asked Max and Ziva to cast their eyes over the Sexual Health news stories from around the world: there’s a lot been going on, from STIs on the rise to social breakthroughs in Ireland…

Dublin University introducing Sex Programme

Open frank discussion of sex in Ireland has always been something of a taboo. In a state where 78% of the population identify as Roman Catholic it is perhaps unsurprising to discover that many young people, living with one foot in a sexually repressed past and the other in a brave new world of gender-norm shifting, have been seeking answers to questions that their parents simply do not have for them. Enter Dublin City University who are due to launch their first ever educational course entirely based around sex and sexual health.

The course will focus on a wide range of topics from the contraction of STIs to the social issues facing the LGBT community. The move comes after a strategy revealed a number of alarming truths about the state of sexual health in both narrow and broad sexually active groups of Irish people.

Max’s take: ‘I’ve always had a certain affinity with Irish people. I believe there’s a lot that we have in common in terms of cultural perceptions; although I feel, despite these similarities in our religious backgrounds, Italians are much more relaxed when it comes to attitudes towards pre-marital sex and LGBT rights, obviously the variables at play here are far reaching, but this course should go a long way in reshaping perspectives.’

STIs on the rise in England

Statistics arguably don’t get much more worrying than this, especially if you’re a sexually active individual with a penchant for unprotected sex. The number of reported diagnoses of syphilis rose by 12 percent between 2015 and 2016 , rising to 5,920 – the highest it has been since 1949. Public Health England, who released the full report recently, noted that a large portion of these cases could be attributed to transmission between gay and bisexual men.

420,000 separate diagnoses of STIs were recorded during 2016, a 4% decline compared to 2015, but still a worryingly high statistic that is said to have the largest effect on heterosexual individuals between the age of 15 and 24, black minorities and men who have sex with other men. PHE have described the current situation as an ‘ongoing sexual health crisis‘ – but is it one that is beyond control?

Ziva’s take: ‘I spend a great deal of my time working with young people, with some of our courses focusing exclusively on carefully educating young people on safe sex. It can be too easy to wag your finger and tell them that unprotected sex is wrong, but shaming or scaring this young demographic doesn’t help the situation. In my groups I’ve found that frank discussion to break down these sociological barriers.’