by Simon Khayala

Women from the African Church of the Holy Spirit (ACHS), in a women conference held on 12/9/2009 at “Ishirulu branch” in western Kenya, for the first time were able to talk about sex publicly. Talking about sex in public in most African cultures is a taboo, but with westernization some people especially in urban setting can now freely discuss.

In their argument they said that the words we use to talk about sex reveal our attitude towards sex. Language is a powerful agent of social control. It not only colors our thinking but actually shapes our thoughts. Words we hear on television or read in newspapers, magazines and books or words casually used in conversations mould our thinking and our feelings about attitudes to what is happening around us.

If we are uncomfortable with a subject, there is usually a range of terms we can use to avoid mentioning the offensive or difficult words connected with it. For example, many people do not like to talk about death in a way that upsets other people, so they use many euphemistic ways of saying that someone has died, such as “passed away” or “gone to be with the Lord”. Like all other emotive subject, sex is a taboo topic in African context that draws around it a number of euphemisms.

Most people are uncomfortable using the sex in their language as well as most of the alternatives available. This is why we result  to talking about sexual intercourse as “sleeping with” or “going to bed with”, which are vague terms. In many Kenyan languages, there is no way to describe  sexual acts, and very few people can say in their own language what it is they do when they engage in sexual intercourse.

Looking at the modern terms used as an alternative for sex, many people still feel uncomfortable using them because they are unpleasant as well, i.e. “fuck”, “screw”, “bang” and so on. These women asserted that these words are often used as an insult; to many people they are inappropriate to describe a warm, loving, and tender sexual relationship. These words portray sex as an aggressive act preferred by a male on a passive female. Since the words are often violent, they imply that the woman is harmed.

To these women this means, in the subject of sex a woman is weak and a man is strong, something they claim is gender biased and has to be balanced.