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Sex Scene African Literature

Chimamanda Adichie has often told the story of the Lagos dentist who chided her for writing about sex in Half of a Yellow Sun. Here is how she puts it in a recent interview:  “This woman wrote me a very lovely email, this woman who is a dentist in Lagos and she said, ‘Chimamanda you mean so much to us. My daughter looks up to you, but please in your next book don’t write about sex. And if you must write about sex, please don’t make it enjoyable.'”

As uncalled-for as the woman’s admonition may seem, it fits the common stereotype that African novelists and readers alike are not keen on sex. Two unspoken rules have thus far governed the inclusion of sex in African novels. The first rule is simple: leave it out of the story entirely. The second rule applies to novelists who feel compelled for whatever reason to touch on the sex lives of their characters: handle sex as cautiously as possible by placing it within a moralizing context.

It was in 1969, three years after Man of the People was published, that someone asked Achebe why he seemed uncharacteristically open about the sex life of the principal character. Achebe is initially taken aback by the question but eventually responds: “The sex is not there just for titillation if that’s what you are worrying about. I think it plays an important part in the development of the character.” Now, I haven’t read Man of the People and so cannot speak for the quality or the explicitness of these scenes. But Achebe makes his feelings about sex in novels quite apparent. Sex has to serve a practical purpose in narratives. There can be no sex for sex sake. To linger and tease out the subtleties of the erotic moment would be indulging and no one wants to do that.

But if, like me, you are interested in these sort of things, you’ll know where to go to dig for erotic treasures in African novels. People who think that African novelists are generally shy about these things just don’t know their African novels well. I meet these kinds of people all the time. They’ve read their Achebe and Ngugi and, therefore, think they know how novelizing is done in Africa. But, they dont.

It all started in the 50s with the Onitsha Market chapbooks. Mable the Sweet Honey That Poured Away or Caroline the One-Guinea Girl may not be Fifty Shades of Grey but the authors of these pamphlets are equally unabashed about taking the reader inside the bedroom. There is plenty of sex in Buchi Emecheta‘s seemingly preachy novels. The way she narrates sexual encounters with a Nollywood-like urgency makes for such a fun and funny read. If you have a taste for literary perversions, I know just where to direct you. First to Sudan. I have in mind Tayib Salih‘s 1969 novel, Seasons of Migration to the North. And then to Somalia: Nuruddin Farah‘s Secrets. Teju Cole’s Open City could easily win the award for the most snooty African novel ever written. But don’t be fooled. Tucked away in that brainy little novel is a freaky afternoon with a stranger in faraway Belgium.

If I haven’t convinced you that African novels are as sexy and sexual as they come, stop by again next week for the first post in a new Brittle Paper series. It is titled “Sex in African Novels” and will feature excerpts of sex scenes and erotic moments in classic and contemporary african novels.


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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

7 Responses to “How Keen Are African Novelists on Sex?” Subscribe

  1. Tayo 2013/06/12 at 16:14 #

    Excepts from A Bouquet of Dilemma by Tayo Emmanuel:

    He is singing into my ears now. It’s Boyz 2 Men’s I’ll make love to you. That’s the only thing he needs to do to keep me going. My breathing becomes heavier as I remove his shirt and my clothes. He goes on kissing me and humming at the same time. My hands and mouth are all over him with sheer hungry passion, caressing, kissing, fondling. I feel his erection, yet he is not hurrying me, in fact he is trying to slow me down, but I am past that point of no return. I am afraid if I stop now, I will never get around it with him and I want him so bad.
    My whole body is taut and tingling and sultry; how do you ever find the right words at this moment. I am on the bed, naked and ready; he manages to extract and wear a condom before lying down next to me. He is still humming, more quietly, when I feel him inside me. Gently at first, then getting bigger and pushing deeper. Must pain and pleasure always go together, I wonder. It’s a sticky burning sensation, it’s consuming, it’s liberating; I’m crying and shouting his name and he is shouting mine too and it seems like I am about to faint, but I don’t. I feel some more stickiness, then silence.
    “I love you so much, baby.”
    “I love you too.”

  2. Ainehi Edoro 2013/06/13 at 12:30 #

    Hi Tayo. Could you please send me an email? I’d like to know more about A Bouquet of Dilemma.

  3. Tayo 2013/08/01 at 11:56 #

    Hello, Sorry I couldn’t meander my way back to the site on time. Here is a brief about a Bouquet of Dilemma. I can’t find your email, but would be glad if you emailed me.

    “Good girls don’t mix with bad boys,” that’s what they told young, conservative Tobi, when she’s smitten by alluring, playboy Richard. Ignoring his background and an uncertain future, she plunges into his exciting world of romance. But Richard disappoints them all, giving Tobi an engagement ring before leaving for London.
    Tobi’s world is shattered when Richard brutally dumps her. Can she ever love again? Or will the refined, self-accomplished Oba remain a distraction from her heart-broken stupor?
    When repentant Richard resurfaces, re-awakening her heart and all the buried passion, Tobi has to define what true love means to her.

    A Bouquet of Dilemma is an enchanting story about the love life of a Nigerian Undergraduate in the 90s. It’s a simple narrative of values, prejudices and challenges that determine the choices we make about love and life.

  4. Eddie Hewitt 2015/06/22 at 15:37 #

    Wow! There’s an African book I’ve read and you haven’t! Man of the People is a fascinating story. And yes, the sex is important for all sorts of reasons. Some of it happens behind closed doors yet it still has a great impact. I’ll leave you to find out more;) And I highly recommend this book.

  5. Ainehi Edoro 2015/06/25 at 20:56 #

    @Eddie: I look forward to reading it.


  1. Sex in African Novels Pt. 1: “Please, Ona, Don’t Wake the Whole Household.” | Brittle Paper - 2013/06/19

    […] is from Buchi Emecheta’s 1980 novel Joys of Motherhood. It’s the debut post in a new Brittle Paper series called “Sex in African Novels.” […]

  2. Sex in African Nevels Pt. 3: “The Ripest Bosom in History” | Brittle Paper - 2013/10/28

    […] How Keen are African Novelists on Sex? […]

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I hold a doctorate in English from Duke University and recently joined the Marquette University English faculty as an Assistant Professor. I love teaching African fiction and contemporary British novels. Brittle Paper is the virtual space/station where I play and experiment with ideas on how to reinvent African fiction and literary culture.

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