Tuesday, 18 October 2011

Kiru Taye: On Sex and African Romantic Fiction

First, I want to say a big thank you to Adura Ojo for hosting me on her blog today. I feel honoured to be here.

Right, on to the topic of today’s post – Sex and the African Romance novel. I’ve been itching to write a post on this topic for a long time. As a romance novelist, sex is a feature of my writing. But I’ve since noticed that while sex scenes are pretty common place in romance novels in the UK or US, not many African romance authors feel comfortable writing about it.

Let’s face it; sex is still a taboo topic in Africa. This fact really amazes me. Let’s look at some statistics. Africa has some of the countries where populations are rising rapidly. From the last census, Nigeria has a population estimated at well over 150 million people. Africa has 9 countries in the top ten fastest growing populations according to aneki.com.

So one thing is very clear, lots of Africans are having sex. The figures above prove that. Yet it seems no one wants to talk about it or write about it, apparently. If so, then it is worrying because lots of people are having bad sex, in my opinion.

Yep, think about it.

If no one’s talking or writing about it except in Biology text books that show sex merely in terms of body function or religious leaders that classify sexual activity as a sin, then you can bet there will be loads of dysfunctional sexual encounters. There are lots of Africans especially women who are taught that sex should be purely for procreation and not for pleasure. If they seek any more gratification than the ten seconds it takes for their husbands to spill their seeds inside their wombs, they are labelled as sexually deviant.

I met a woman recently who had never experienced an orgasm and she is married with two children. I had to watch her in shock as she told me her story. All I could think was, seriously? The truth is she is not alone. There are loads of sexually frustrated African women out there that simply lie back and think of (insert the African country name) while their husbands have their way. And that saddens as well as annoys me.
That was why when I finally decided I was going to write romance novels, I also made the conscious decision to include sex scenes (or love scenes as they are know in the romance writing world) in my stories.

I wanted to write stories that feature couples making love the way I think it should be within the boundaries of a loving relationship. Of course each story is different and the context of the love-making within each story will be different. But the bottom line is that I wanted to showcase men and women giving and receiving sexual pleasure in the context of love-making. Also a love-scene when written very well plays an important role in moving the characters and story along. Like a first kiss, the love scene is a pretty good indication of whether the romance will be passionate or cosy. If you’ve ever read any of my book excerpts, you’ll know which end of the romance scale I prefer.

When I read Myne Whitman’s A Heart to Mend I noted there was no love-scene, except if you count the couple kissing on the sofa as a love scene. I was slightly disappointed she didn’t go there. However in the context of that story, it made sense. When Myne started writing A Love Rekindled last year and shared some excerpts online, I hoped she would take the plunge and include a consummated love scene. As one of the first Nigerian romance authors, I hoped Myne would set the pace for upcoming Nigerian romance writers. I felt if she didn’t include a love-scene in the story then others may not feel brave enough to go there either. Thankfully, she did and I think A Love Rekindled is a richer story for it.

In Lara Daniels’ romantic suspense novel, Love in Paradise, the closest the amorous couple came to making love was a make-out session on the sofa before being interrupted by a nosy tabloid photographer. As this was her first novel, I can understand Lara’s wariness with having a full on love scene but I hope her future novels are a bit more adventurous in that department.

In my debut romance novella, His Treasure (part of the Men of Valor series) a historical romance set in 13th century Igboland, I have used sex not only as a tool of rebellion but also as gift of love. By refusing to submit to the sexual will of Obinna, Adaku effectively rejects her husband. Yet when she eventually acquiesces, Obinna shows her love beyond her wildest dreams. The love scene is pivotal in terms of moving the story along and showing resolution of some of the conflicts.

I have to accept that writing love scenes can be difficult. If you’re like me, when I read a romance novel, I like to visualise each scene. So I get quite critical if I feel a limb is in the wrong place or the writer has not told me the basics like are they sitting, standing, etc. I remember having a laugh recently when I read a love scene and thought ‘He is either a midget or extremely acrobatic.’ Love scenes have to be realistic.

So I hope more African romance authors will include love scenes in their stories. With the dawn of the eBook age and romance publishers like Sapphire Press, Ankara Press and Africana Publishing springing up, I certainly look forward to a golden age for African romance and sizzling hot novels in the pipeline.

Kiru Taye is the author of His Treasure, a historical romance novella, published by Breathless Press. The book is out 2 December 2011. I can't wait! You can reach her via her blog: http://kirutayewrites.blogspot.com.


Kiru Taye said...


Thank you so much for hosting me on your blog today. I look forward to interacting with your readers.


Adura Ojo said...

You're welcome, Kiru. I hope my lovely readers do share their opinions and/or grill you well well;)

Gina said...

Great post, Kiru. I believe Young Adult Fiction, too, could go a long, long way to educate, and conquer those sexual taboos.

Adura Ojo said...

Good point, Gina. We should start turning the tide with the education of impressionable young adults.

Kiru Taye said...

I agree. The earlier we can start the education, the easier it is to conquer people's fears. Who knows, maybe one day I'll tackle YA fiction. For now, I'm enjoying writing for adults.
Thank you for reading and commenting.


Favoured Girl said...

Interesting post and topic. The issue of sex scenes in 'African' novels isn't limited to the romance genre. I remember a book club discussion on Half of a Yellow Sun, where there was a discussion of the sex scenes in the book. Most people were squeamish about them, some applauded Chimamanda's boldness for not shying away from the fact that her characters are sexual beings.

I think it will become easier to write sex scenes as time goes on, and romance writers lose their initial inhibitions. I don't mind, as long as they are tasteful and realistic. For me, it has to add to the story and it has to be meaningful to the parties involved. That's all I ask ;)

Will I include sex scenes in my own writing? Maybe, maybe not. Sometimes, less is more.

Kiru Taye said...

Favoured Girl, great point. I find it amusing though, that people are squeamish about reading it but not about doing it.
For writers, personal inhibitions will always dictate the level of love scenes they include in their stories. I accept that not every one is as liberal-minded as I am. I just hope those who feel inclined will be emboldened to do so.
Thanks for stopping by.

Empi said...

Funny, Kiru. I just posted something on my blog about sex scenes. Nice post and good points. I write love scenes too and I love reading love scenes.

I like to think that my love scenes are tasteful and pivotal to the story (hehe). I don't so much mind when there isn't sex, but when it is clear that the writer simply didn't want to write the sex scene, then it peeves me. e.g. if the tension has been really high and there's been some heavy duty kissing and making out, then close-door sex just isn't right. LOL.

I do love your sex scenes, Kiru. At least, the ones I've read are really good and as far as I could tell, worked for the genre/plot


Kiru Taye said...

Hi Empi, great point.
I agree about getting frustrated with stories where the sexual tension is so high and there's no consummated love scene. I tend to feel like throwing the book at the wall. These days with my Kindle I can't do that. :(

I'm glad you think my love scenes are really good. I loved the one I read in MEB. I hope to see that on sale soon. Thank you.

LD said...

Personally, I really don't think a sex scene is that vital to romance. The most vital part of romance is the attraction, the chemistry. The writer needs to write about that chemistry such that it makes the reader go "oooooh" and "aaaah" ...you know, make them want to fall in love. I 'm all about that first touch, that first kiss, that first confession of love ...all that sensual energy. That was what got me hooked to romance novels in the first place.

Emmanuella Nduonofit said...

Well, em, Kiru, I agree with almost everything you said here, yeah. First of all, it isn't that easy to talk or even write about sex that openly here in Nigeria, let alone Africa as a whole. The taboo placed on that can't be easily removed, even from the family unit. For instance, when I was small, like around eight, my mum would freak out if she as much as sees me near a boy, but now she's even wondering why I haven't gotten married. A few of my maternal family members are now wondering why I don't have a boyfriend, but it was criminal of me to engage in love affairs at my adolescence and young youth. How ironic!

Remember that Salt & Pepper old-skool hip-hop music track 'Let's talk about sex'? Well, such an avenue and this one just might be that anti-adhesive to this taboo. If there's any attempt to modernise the anatomy of Africa, nay Nigeria, it is this, this broadmindedness about sex in Africa.

Soft sell magazine like Tickles, Better Lover, et cetera, in my opinion present the ugly side of sex. The sexual atmosphere created in those magazines makes me blink severally in amazement sometimes. It was my encounter with an yet-to-be-published writer of eroticas that even made me decide to lace some of my prose fiction with 'romance'.

Epi, maybe the reason why some writers didn't want to write the sex scene is because of the fear of writing it poorly.

Well, I understand people praising Chimamanda for the way she described sex in the novel HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, but in my opinion, she did it poorly in the short story HALF OF A YELLOW SUN, but I may err if I leave my opinion like that, you know. :)

If I want to describe sex in my writings, I want to be thorough about it, be very detailed about it, the feelings and emotions that transpired however brief. I want it to blow my mind as well as my readers' because the sex would be so crazy, so out-of-this-world, and yet so realistic. But let me ask: Should a writer have sexual experiences of his or her own in order to be 'qualified' enough to talk about sex in his or her story? And who is better at it in writing romance - the male or female writer? Here, I could say that if a woman, in writing romance, described sex in detail, that female writer appears to be very intimidating and stubborn in a male's world. Believe you me, it isn't even easy to pen down the various 'sexual attractions' going on in romance stories. Basically, Africans believe it is a Western thing, you know.

Well, I'm yet to work hard on this 'special' sub-genre anyway, but I do know that open sex talk is one of the winds of change blowing in the African continent, and Africans cannot deny its inevitability.

Kiru Taye said...

LD, I agree that sex scenes are not vital in all stories. But for some stories, it is pivotal in moving the story forward and showing resolution of conflict.
As I mentioned earlier, I had a mission when I started writing romance. I wanted to educate as well entertain. So my stories will contextually involve a level of sex, if not totally consummated.
Thanks for stopping by.

missmeddle said...

I fully understand your point and admire your boldness in actually writing "love scenes" and not anonymously, either! In my opinion, though, it will still be a while before Africa opens up to talking about the proverbial elephant in the room.

Kiru Taye said...

Emmanuella, thank you for stopping by.
In my opinion, whilst first-hand sexual experience is great for a writer writing sex scenes, it is not necessary as you can read about sex in other books.
I'm not really sure who writes sex scenes best. Most romance authors are female but there are also men who write romance too.

Kiru Taye said...

Missmeddle, thank you. I agree it will be a while before Africa opens up. But as they say 'the journey of a thousand miles begins with the first step.'
Let's all start walking.

Raymond said...

*Rambling mode activated*

[Crucify me at the end...]

Taa! Tufiakwa! Aruu! Abomi-aaaaargggh! Who punched me in the neck. I ask WHO PUNCHED ME IN THE NECK!?!?

Okay, I will still talk...small.

Sex. Very uncomfortable topic. I think one reason is the society in which we live in. I think it is safe to say that the West (read: UK/US/Europe/etc...etc) came into sexual awareness waaaay earlier than us. We Africans all come from, and mostly live in a Conservative society, which in turn affects the way we write. So I can understand the awkwardness in portraying the act that if discussed openly is considered something of a 'Taboo' not just by the society, but by most of our Parents. E hard na! Remember this is a society that usually leaves the young ones to figure out the Sex issue on their own, and for some they get to Valhalla...for others, not so good an ending...

Which also brings me to another issue: use n the young 'uns. I remember back in my day (not so long ago-don't let the white hair fool U; I be fyn boi) when the girls had to hide to read Mills&Boon et al (I follow read too sha *_O) in the privacy of their hostels, or at least in hiding while in school, cos ANYBODY caught reading that sort of thing was usually seen as 'Bad', 'Corrupt' or Corrupting/Badding etc... Now, we know that kids (read: Teenagers...nut kids too) are inquisitive bundles of energy who can't sit still. Now, if they get this pleasurable, light-headed feeling from just reading this stuff, who's to say what's gonna happen from a physical experience? Heh. Some try it...and get....unexpected results, somewhat. So, this raises a question: how do we, as writers, portray sex? Do we just show it as a moment of gratification between two (or more, for the kinky ones, hehe) characters, or as something special, as it should be? Cos let's face it; we all know that old horse called 'Target Audience', but truthfully if we'd followed that, I daresay there would be a lot LESS writers in the world today. So it is inevitable that our work will find its way down the age ladder, which is where they usually end up anyway (I am not a Romance Writer by the way, but I am hoping my work will go down the age ladder as well ^_^).

So there U have it...my two cents. I want my change back.

On a totally related/unrelated note, there was this advice I got from a Sex Educator who came to my Secondary School: "Oranges and Pineapples are sweeter when Ripe." While that statement helped me see sex in a whole new way whenever I read about it in books n stuff, the unfortunate/fortunate downside is that I now see females as Fruits...
Now where's my knife? Time to peel these ripe fruits...what? Yes fruits, not female; I'm hungry! We good now? Can I go back to my snack? Yeah, I'm gonna hold onto this Mossberg Shotgun while I eat the fruits...just in case U wanna start sum'n...

Sandra said...

Interesting discussion. I am an author who has her first book coming out in May with Genesis Press. I like writing sex scenes because I think attraction and sex go hand in hand, particularly in romance novels. That being said, I sometimes wonder what friends or other "Moms" will think about my sex scenes. Some people are very repressed about reading novels with sex in them. I always feel its a bit strange to feel that way, but to each their own. I consider myself lucky to have grown up in a household with two parents who NEVER discouraged me from reading Harlequins when I was around 11 or so. Reading those novels taught me one great lesson...I went through my love and had the good sense to be choosy about my partners. Also, I hate books that have the characters fade to black when they are having sex....RIPOFF.

Kiru Taye said...

Raymond, I had to laugh at oranges and pineapples.
For me, sex is a special thing.
There are various ways you can connect with another individual but making love is the most intimately beautiful and emotional way of expressing love. I work hard at showing that in my books. I hope my readers see it too.

Kiru Taye said...

Sandra, you said it. Sex is a natural progress from attraction. Shutting the door on readers can feel like a rip-off. As I wrote in one of my previous comments, I used to throw the books at the wall when I get to a love scene and the author has 'shut the bedroom door.'

But as you say, to each their own. I just want authors to make it clear in the blurb of books that their stories are 'no-sex'/sweet so I know before I start reading it.

Best wishes with your book. Do let me know when it's out.

Adura Ojo said...

Fantastic job, Kiru! Great debate here! I'm not going to say which side I'm on. Though it is prolly pretty clear to regular readers of my blogs, lol. There are interesting points all round, though.

You're very funny.

thewordsmythe said...

Kiru, I think the reluctance of writers to include sex in their writing is reflective of our society and culture. I cannot speak for the whole continent but being Nigerian and having spent my formative years there, I can say that sex has such a bad rap that writers shy away from it so as not to be labeled.

This view and attitude towards sex has created so many dysfunctional relationships.

It is my prayer that the new crop of African romance writers will help educate and re-orientate the minds of people. Hopefully myths will be dispelled and the truth about the beauty and uniqueness of sex in a loving and committed relationship will become readily available and acceptable.

Kiru Taye said...

thewordsmythe, great point. For some, the bonds of society and culture will keep them restrained for a long while to come.

I hope more and more people will break out of those crippling bonds, in my opinion.

Sex is not a 'dirty' word. As you quite rightly pointed out, it is a 'beautiful and unique' act in a loving and committed relationship.

Thank you for stopping by.

eccentricyoruba said...

IMHO, it is fascinating the way Nigerians shy away from talking about sex and label sex as a taboo when Nigerians alone are having so much sex in all forms and manners. We are constantly surrounded by sex even though we seem to enjoy ignoring it. In some ways our attitude towards sex is very hypocritical. Nevertheless, I've had the fortune of meeting, hearing about and knowing Nigerian women who are not shy about enjoying sex.

I don't wish to turn my comment into a history lesson but I believe that in pre-colonial African societies, there were avenues through which sex could be discussed candidly and openly. Such institutions were mostly wiped out with colonisation. I've written and discussed female initiation rites and the kind of talk that went on within these ceremonies on my blog. That post focused on a particular group of Swahili speakers but I've come across similar rites in other ethnic groups.

That being said I look forward to reading romance works that have Africans not only falling in love but having great sex too. That's another reason Naa Shalman's work makes me so happy, she did not shy away from the sex scenes.

Emmanuella Nduonofit said...

Raymond (is it the 'Raymond' I know, the 'decrypter' or 'decryptor'?), I concur with you, man, on the issue of the 'hide-hide' thing when it came to reading Mills&Boons, only in my case, I was a Mills&Boons thief back in the days of my secondary school when I was a boarder. I steal from them and 'they' steal from me. God, a sense of adventure is necessary, o! That pulls us away from our supposed 'sainthood'.

Raymond said...

Emmanuella, it is the Raymond U know oh!

Kiru Taye said...

Eccentricyoruba, you hit the nail on the head there. The taboo attitude to discussing sex was imported via Christianity and other imported religions.

I remember someone asked me once if people practised oral sex in pre-colonial times. And I had to reply that it wasn't a 21st century invention. Sex in all forms were practised by the ancients. Except, some forms were more prevalent than others.

Thank you for stopping by.

Adura Ojo said...

Kiru Taye:
I would echo your comments, Kiru, particularly the bit about sex discussion taboos being imported via 'organised' religions.

Re: practice of oral sex in pre-colonial times, there is in fact a Yoruba proverb that touches on oral sex and acknowledges it nicely...namely cunnilingus. I can't remember the proverb in its entirety and I slap myself every time I remember that I've forgotten it. As we know, most African proverbs date back to pre-colonial times. And the wording of this one is such that it is quite old. An old friend told me about it and quoted it word for word. Sadly, We've lost contact. It's very likely there are similar proverbs in other African cultures.

Adura Ojo said...

Kiru Taye:
On behalf of readers, commenters (and myself), Thank you so much for guest hosting this lively and stimulating debate on Sex and African Romantic Fiction. We hope to see you here again real soon and we look forward to your first novel due out in December.

L'Aussie said...

Hi Adura. Hi Kiru. This was fascinating. It's wonderful to see your novella coming out and that you have addressed this 'taboo' issue within its pages. It sounds like we're on the cusp of African romance. Can't wait.


Kiru Taye said...

Adura, you are so welcome. I thoroughly enjoyed this and we'd certainly do it again soon. Thank you.

Denise, thanks for stopping by. Good things are coming fro African romance.

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