EROTICA IN NIGERIA: FORBIDDEN BUT POPULAR
The documentation and expression of sexuality has been proven to be in existence for as long as humans have been able to communicate. From the etching of drawings depicting sexual activity on the walls of caves by aborigines, ancient roman texts, records of erotic art in china to what is termed erotic literature in today’s world, there has always existed, a medium for humans to express their desires and document sexual experiences. However, the meaning of this term and what can be termed erotica has changed over the years. Despite this, the general reaction to erotica has been that of disgust which began to lessen as the years went by.
Other examples of erotic literature are the Kama-sutra and other Sanskrit literature from about the 5th century AD, Persian lyric poems called ghazals, Ovid’s Ars Amatoria (Ancient Rome), the 16th-century Chinese novel Chin p’ing, William Shakespeare’s Venus and Adonis, the writings of the Marquis de Sade, and D.H. Lawrence’s Lady Chatterley’s Lover.
Erotic literature as we know it today became mainstream in the twentieth century with the release of such works as Lolita by Vladimir Labokov (although declassified after some years), Delta of Venus by Anais Nin, and in the works of Kate Chopin, Henry Miller alongside several others. This has given rise to the online publication in today’s world. Notable sites like literotica.com, lush stories.com, etc, feature stories and even lengthy series although the writers write under pseudonyms. Steadily, the mainstream nature of this genre came to a climax in recent years with the publication of E. L James’ Fifty Shades trilogy.
The publication of the Fifty Shades book series and its subsequent adaptation into three movies has brought about a significant shift in perception and attitude towards erotica. A number of people began to accept its existence despite misgivings about the book series and its portrayal of women. It is safe to say that the book, like others gave a voice to the acknowledgement that women and men are fascinated by their sexuality and often indulge this by reading erotic books. After Fifty Shades, what followed was the demystification of erotic literature and stripping of the shame that often accompanied discussions about reading sensual literature. In Awanthi Vardaraj’s piece about Fifty Shades on ‘The New Indian Express’, she writes:
…it swept erotica as a genre out from under the carpets and from behind furniture and dragged it into the open…
Here in Nigeria, a hint at sex or sexuality in serious conversations would make the average Nigerian go hysterical with laughter or preach to you about saving your soul from the devil and hell, or become taciturn with derision or disgust. On several occasions, with the exception of closed door bantering with friends, the subject of sex and sexuality seem to be hushed especially among members of the female gender. Among young Nigerian women, the jokes are subtle with each party claiming coyly to not have been exposed to sexual literature.
Among young men, dirty jokes—especially demeaning ones to females—are rolled out, and most informal conversations revolve around sexual practices. In a very brief encounter with an acquaintance, he once joked that he was very open to me choking him. This of course, is someone who says he avoids sex or sensual literature. We all know that choking, when said with a suggestive wink, hints at BDSM. You can’t get to know this without reading a little erotica or watching a bit of porn.
As abstinence-fixated as our sex education classes are, there is a brand of books teenagers often encounter accidentally. It could be on the internet, among forgotten stacks of books at home or in school or just anywhere they seem to be at that point in time. Of course, nobody admits openly that they have read this, because a part of us subscribes to the prim and proper definition that we have internalised. Sometimes, among the teenagers, this need to explore manifests in the touting of romance books. A good number of students admit to having read more than a fair share of Mills and Boon and Harlequin while growing up. Sometimes while reading, people even decide to skip the prior pages of their Mills and Boon and Harlequin and go straight to the pages with the steamy sex scenes. A student who once admitted to this was shunned by several of her classmates in school (it was a conservative Catholic school so…figures). Basically, we agree that we all need sexual stimulation, and indeed read books on the subject more than we admit to.
But, reading romance is one thing while reading erotica is another. Erotica is a term used to describe works of art in fictional or non-fictional forms with passionate descriptions of sexual and sometimes romantic encounters or relationships. These works are often “erotically stimulating or sexually arousing but is not generally considered pornographic” It is worthy of note that erotica must not contain explicit or graphic descriptions of sex scenes. It simply suggests; this differentiates it from pornography whose major aim is sexual arousal and gratification.
So, now, going by the above definition, you begin to question how much of this exists on the Nigerian literary scene. A quick google search with the keyword “erotica in Nigeria” gives you a lot of stories about sexual encounters written often times and anonymously by Nigerians. There are several stories and accounts of real-life or fictitious experiences. These stories range from short pieces on blogs to serial publications on literary websites.
Judging from the above, you can say that erotica does indeed have a place on the Nigerian literary scene although it is not openly discussed even in the company of friends. In the later part of the last century, there were magazines which told stories like this. The publishers of the Hints and Hearts magazines made a lot of money from circulating their works in the market. Although these magazines have gone out of print, they are fondly remembered by people, especially millennials, who smuggled and read it at the time. On nairaland.com, there have been nostalgic discussions about its influence on the life of its readers, showing that indeed Kayode Ajala established a solid readership for his content. Despite the interest reflected in the response to Hints and Hearts, there has been a sort of apathy to the reading and writing of works in this genre.
In recent times, a lot of people have challenged this long held notion and have gone ahead to create writing circles and websites for people who write and read erotica. On ripplesnigeria.com, medium.com, there are sections or columns dedicated to the writing of stories or series with a sexual bend. These stories are often humourous and feature persons from different classes.
Intriguing too, is the fact that even religion is not exempted. Stories set in churches or featuring church ministers are incorporated. There too, have been stories about sexual encounters with coy Muslim girls (this is despite the average Nigerian Muslim’s reverence for virginity). A perfect example of this is the Brittlepaper series “Holy Sex” published by Obinna Udenwe on the trysts of a pastor with female members of his church. Udenwe’s series gives a voice to a phenomenon that is only acknowledged in secret. It also serves as a sort of witty satire. This shows that erotica is not as one-dimensional as the average Nigerian thinks it is. It, like every work of art, has form and shape and could be used to make intelligent statements about life. In the first episode of Udenwe’s series, he writes:
The widow receives holy milk from him, too, and that is not a problem because he is the anointed one. Who can say no to God’s anointed Your pastor secretes holy milk and that is why every Sunday, women who were barren come to give testimonies of what God has done for them…
The above is an attempt at ridicule though done in an amusing manner by Udenwe.
Despite the truckloads of traffic on pages with stories like this, writers of erotica often face the problem of identity and readership. Very few writers do so with their real names and they often complain that there are very few people who appreciate their works. The erotica reading public in Nigeria consumes erotica in private and hardly leave comments on published stories. In Maeve Shearlaw’s July 2015 article on theguardian.com, this is cited:
…Writer Aluta-Obueh blames Nigerian culture’s conservative attitudes to sex for choking the market: “There are so many talented erotic writers out there but fear of being vilified curbs their zeal to write,”. But despite what she describes as a ‘hypocrisy’ where ‘anything sexual is frowned upon’, her feedback from readers has been overwhelmingly positive…
In conclusion, despite the view that erotica is a taboo genre in Nigeria, there are still positive reactions to efforts made by writers of this genre. This comment by an anonymous commenter on Brittlepaper in reaction to Obinna Udenwe’s series enkindled the hope that there is a booming market for erotica in Nigeria:
Brilliant. I cringed at holy milk each time but in Naija; reality is stranger than fiction
Whether or not erotic literature will spring from its underground fame to the limelight is left for time and the Nigerian public to decide.
Editors, Encyclopaedia Britannica. Erotica. Accessed at https://www.britannica.com/art/erotica on 06/03/21
Shearlaw, Maeve, Nigerian erotica: how the church leader became a sex symbol. Accessed at https://www.google.com/amp/s/amp.theguardian.com/world/2015/jul/29/sex-church-nigeria-africa-erotica-fiction-books on 05/03/21
Udenwe, Obinna, Holy Sex: Episode 1 | Obinna Udenwe | Nigerian Church Erotica. Accessed at https://brittlepaper.com/2015/05/holy-sex-pt-1-obinna-udenwe-nigerian-church-literature/ on 05/03/21
Vardaraj, Awanthi, When books bring about fifty shades of sexual revolution. Accessed at https://www.newindianexpress.com/opinions/2017/apr/29/when-books-bring-about-fifty-shades-of-sexual-revolution-1598880.html on 05/03/21
Chideraa Ike-Akaenyi (Deraa)is a writer and essayist. Her works have been featured on ngigareview.com, the Kreative Diadem ‘Isolation’ issue for 2020 and was recently longlisted for the Collins Elesiro literary prize in 2020. Her story was published on the CFW Freedom Magazine issue in January, 2021. Currently, she is in her third year of studying English Language and Literature at Nnamdi Azikiwe University, Awka.
Deraa is a believer in the power of stories to change toxic narratives. She believes in telling stories thought of that remain unspoken. She spends her free time reading, sewing or seeing wildlife documentaries. She is a dog-lover and a sucker for mangoes.