MICHEL MARTIN, HOST:
And now we'd like to tell you about a blog that's been bringing new spice and new information to the continent. "Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women" features short stories, tips on how to shake things up in the bedroom and information on how to stay safe. The women behind the blog say they want to challenge the idea that sex is something that only men can talk about and only men can enjoy.
Its founders Nana Darkoa Sekyiamah and Malaka Grant say it's more than just a racy blog about sex, however it's a place where African women can find their voices, and they're with us now to tell us more about it. Welcome to you both. Thank you both so much for talking with us.
MALAKA GRANT: Thank you for having us.
NANA DARKOA SEKYIAMAH: Thank you for inviting us, Michel.
MARTIN: And again, I want to mention that we'd like to speak frankly, so if this is not appropriate conversation for whoever's listening with you, this might be a good time to step away and come back later and join us. So Malaka, let me start with you. What gave you what gave you the idea for the blog?
GRANT: Before we started the blog, we used to email each other stories or escapades about, you know, things that we'd done individually or heard of other girls doing. And I got the idea to write a book of humorous short stories surrounding sex, and she had recently become acquainted with blogging. And so, she said, well, instead of doing a book, why don't we do a blog? And I'd previously never heard of a blog, so she introduced me to the world of blogging. And I'd already had in mind a title for the book "Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women," so that's what we titled the blog.
MARTIN: OK, Nana, what about you? You were saying - I think you were telling us that a lot of the young women you knew were getting their information from places like Cosmopolitan magazine or "Sex and the City" or something like that?
DARKOA SEKYIAMA: I used to read a lot of Nelson Boone, Harlequin, Silhouette. I would cover the books up with newspapers so nobody could see the racy covers. And that's how I learned about sex, which, of course, really means you know nothing about sex because that's just fantasy. And growing up, even older, then we were reading books and we were reading magazines.
We were reading Cosmo and we needed a space for African women, where you had African women talking openly and frankly about sex because we didn't have that growing up. We didn't have any sort of sex education, and, really, all the messages you got from your parents was, don't do it, without really much of an explanation as to what it was.
MARTIN: But are there things about Cosmo, particularly, and some of these kind of Western media products that are just really not suitable for the audience that you're trying to reach? Could you just kind of give us an example of why it's just not that helpful?
DARKOA SEKYIAMA: So if you're talking about sex in Ghana, for example, and you're talking about how - experiences of young people, you'd be talking about, really, how young people have no privacy. Even if wanted to have sex as a young person, it's impossible because you have no home of your own. It's very expensive to rent a place in Ghana. Usually, to pay rent, you have to pay two years rent in advance. Even if you're a woman of 30, or even a woman of 35, you know, unless you're married, you're probably staying at home. So even...
MARTIN: With your parents. With your parents or your elders.
DARKOA SEKYIAMA: With your parents, exactly. You're not going to bring a partner to your home, are you? You know, so some of the stories we write about have involved people having sex in cars, you know, people checking into hotels or going away for the weekend. And those are the kind of stories that make a story around sex and sexuality realistic, because the person writing about the story knows the local context.
MARTIN: If you're just joining us, we're speaking with the creators of the blog "Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women." And I want to remind our listeners that we are having a frank conversation which does include some sexual topics, so if that's not appropriate for you right now, a good time to take a short break. Malaka, could you just pick up the thread there and tell us about some of the topics that are most popular on the blog. What are the things that people really want to talk about?
GRANT: Our most popular topic has been surrounding oral sex. Men seem to be more eager, almost, to perform oral sex on women now, and I have talked about it openly on the blog. One of the less happier things that have touched a nerve with a lot of women has been around the subject of violence. In Ghana, in particular, or in Africa overall, violence against women, sexually, is really pervasive. We have the policies in place, but they're just not implemented, where we have right - people or police officers going out and arresting these perpetrators who do things violently.
So it's very likely that you will have, you know, one out of two women, if not more, who have been sexually assaulted or violated in some way in their youth.
MARTIN: And what do they want to talk - do people want to share the experience, do they just want to tell somebody that it happened? Do they want to talk about how it could've been prevented? What kinds of conversations do people want to have about that?
GRANT: Usually, it covers all of those things. How do we prevent us from going on in the future? You know, I want to stand in solidarity and let you know you're not the only one who's been through this. I've been through this, too. Or how did my family handle that? And you know - and a lot of women feel betrayed by their families because they don't go out and seek justice for these little girls. They try to sweep it under the rug because, as Nana said, when you have sex, it's not something that's done privately. It's - it's almost a communal event in a way, in a really weird way.
So, you know, if you have an older auntie who's influential over the family, you know, she might say, well, let's not pursue this in court and bring shame over the family. Let's just have this guy or whoever has done the act, you know, pay as compensation to the family.
And there's usually no counseling for the girl. You know, the girl is encouraged to just forget it as though it never happened and it's just - it's not really helpful. So these are the kinds of things that, you know, women on the blog like to talk about on that particular subject.
MARTIN: You know, on the one hand - this seems like this might be tricky for you because, on the one hand, one of the things you're try to change with the blog is the idea that women are only ever objects and victims, and that women can be free agents or have their own desires and thoughts on this. I'm just wondering how you feel about the conversation around violence on the blog. Does it disappoint you? What do you think about that?
DARKOA SEKYIAMA: So when we have a conversation around abuse, it's important. It affects women's ability to have pleasurable sex. It affects women's psyche around sex and how they think about sex. But it's also - talking about it as an important part of moving forward. And some other contributors, for example, who have written about abuse have also gone on to write about other experiences where they've had pleasurable sex or have gone on to share tips around how to have pleasurable sex.
MARTIN: I do want to mention that you also have a section on the website for lesbian women, which is interesting because there's been a lot of news, you know, on our side of the ocean, about sort of legal efforts to further restrict homosexuality and so forth and I just - I was interested in that and how the site for lesbian women came about. Has it always been a part of the blog, and what kind of response are you getting to that?
DARKOA SEKYIAMA: It's always been a part of the blog in the sense that we have chosen to reflect the diverse range of African sexuality, which also includes same-sex relationships. So for example, I've had somebody pass a comment on the blog saying, I am beyond grateful to find a site that actually talks about lesbian relationships because I'm Ghanaian, I've never left the country, and, you know, what people say about lesbians, they say, it's not, you know, it's not Ghanaian, it's not African. And so, for that person and that situation, that's really affirming to have space where they are women who have relationships with women, talking openly about that.
MARTIN: Can I ask how writing this blog, how editing this blog has affected your own lives? I mean, Malaka, I understand that you are married. How has this affected you?
GRANT: We've run the blog for almost five years now, and my husband and I have gone through several dynamics where, you know, first he wanted me to stop writing for the blog, and then I wanted him to stop reading the blog, and so now we've come to an understanding. But he's always made it very clear that he did not want our personal sex lives featured on the blog in any way. I work around the issue by just writing creative fiction.
MARTIN: Nana, what about you?
DARKOA SEKYIAMA: Well, I'm in the reverse situation. I'm single. So in many ways, I'm very much free to write whatever I want. I write about my own personal experiences. I write about my own sexual experiences, and I'm very open about that. So it's been really positive. Of course, there's a downside to it. So I'm really interested in politics, but I am not going to pursue my desire to enter politics because I have put my skeletons out in cyberspace.
And you know, that's one of the ways people get at African women politicians, by criticizing their sexuality. I think this is a choice I've had to make, and I might still pursue my political ambitions, you know. Maybe I run on the ticket as being an the open sexually liberated African woman politician.
MARTIN: I'm so wondering if you and I are to speak, if we are, the three of us, to get together five years from now and have the same conversation, I'm wondering how it will be different, whether people will feel that there's been a - see change in how they are able to talk about these issues and get access to these issues.
GRANT: My hope is that, you know, as we discuss these issues, that it'll become less taboo, and that we will have healthier sex lives, that there will be less violence around it, that people will find their pleasure and their happiness.
MARTIN: We've been speaking with the founders of the website "Adventures from the Bedrooms of African Women." They are Malaka Grant and Nana Darkoa Sekyiama. Nana was with us from Accra, Ghana, and Malaka was with us from member station WCLK in Atlanta, Georgia. Thank you both so much for speaking with us.
GRANT: Thank you, Michel.
DARKOA SEKYIAMA: Thank you for having us, Michel. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.